Nokia Lumia 900 Review


WhistleOut
27 August 2012

The Nokia Lumia 900 is currently Nokia’s premier Windows Phone (WP) device and, while we’re hoping to see its successor announced over the next few weeks, we still thought it was high time to give a Lumia 900 a review. It’s true that many Windows Phone devices can come off feeling quite similar, as there isn’t much leeway in terms of interface or hardware currently, so just what is it that has the WP world so deeply in love with the Lumia 900?

Physical Design of the Lumia 900

The Lumia 900 is an attractive looking device based very heavily on the original design of the smaller Lumia 800. Despite the immediate visual similarities, the Lumia 900 feels like quite a different animal than the 800 when it comes to actual use.

Immediately noticeable when picked up is the Lumia 900’s size and weight; both substantially greater than one might expect from a smartphone with a 4.3 inch screen. The display is actually quite small compared to the size of the device, which detracts slightly from the overall impression. The side profile is also quite wide, creating a far more noticeable presence than other smartphones when put in a pocket.

We were also surprised to find that the display does not feature the same concave shape that we enjoyed on the Lumia 800. We imagine that this was done to minimised the already sizable profile, which is a shame. The concave display added not only an extra tactile element, but also a feeling of real structural integrity; it didn’t feel like a screen that would easily crack. The new, flat design certainly doesn’t feel unusually weak, but it definitely lacks the impression of sturdiness.

That being said the unibody polycarbonate design still feels like it could take a decent amount of punishment before succumbing to catastrophic damage. This is where the thicker bezels might actually come in handy, as they offer a larger buffer between the edge of the handset and the display itself.

When held in the hand or against the ear the Lumia 900 is quite comfortable, although we do prefer the matte finish of the coloured variants than that of the glossy white. The gloss looks great, but doesn’t offer a particularly reassuring grip.

Display and UI

The display of the Lumia 900 is by far the best we’ve seen to date on a Windows Phone handset. We put it side by side with the 4.7 inch screen of the HTC Titan and there was no comparison. The Lumia 900 was superior in colour vibrancy, darkness of blacks and clarity of whites. Both handsets support only a 480x800 resolution due to the current restraints of WP7, so there was no real difference there other than that the Lumia 900 had a greater pixel density due to its smaller screen real estate.

As far as fluidity goes the Lumia 900 seems to have its WP7 compatriots beaten again. Moving between screens in the menu was super smooth, apps opened and closed quickly and games functioned without lag.

As per usual the Windows Phone UI was beautiful and elegant. That being said we’re still very much looking forward to the changes coming with the WP8 and WP7.8 updates, as a greater amount of customisation on the Home Screen would certainly be welcome.

Unfortunately the uniformed nature of Windows Phone prohibits the Lumia 900 from offering anything too unique when compared to other WP devices. Nokia Maps is certainly a nice addition. In fact Nokia Maps is so much better than the stock-standard Bing Maps that Microsoft is actually adopting it as the official Windows Phone 8 navigation software.

Nokia Music is also always a funky addition with its Gigs service. Gigs is part of the Nokia Music player that shows you upcoming music gigs in your area. It’s a fantastic idea, but unfortunately one that doesn’t see too much support at the moment. “Local” gigs tends to cover quite a wide area, depending on where you live. Despite that it can still be a pretty useful piece of functionality that does nothing but add to the overall WP experience.

Camera and Battery Life

As is usual with a Windows Phone device, camera integration on the Lumia 900 is great. Jumping straight to the camera app by using the dedicated camera button is super easy. On top of that we just love having a hardware button dedicated to camera use; it really makes taking photos on a phone a much more relaxing experience.

The camera itself takes passable, if not amazing photos. Shots can be taken quite quickly, although not quite as fast as an iPhone, or with a zero-shutter premium Android device. Shots in low-light come out pretty well and shots during the day are clear and vibrant. Once again, due to the easy-access camera button, we found ourselves snapping off more photos than we regularly might with a smartphone, as it was such a simple affair to pull the phone out and activate the hardware key on the side of the handset. This is definitely a feature we’d like to start seeing on other operating systems.

Video capture is a bit less impressive, but not too bad. Most smartphones don’t really handle video capture in a way that would make one sit up and take notice and the Lumia 900 is no exception. Videos filmed on sunny days come out quite well, but anything in lower light can be a bit fuzzy. There’s also a bit of lag with the autofocus when going between a bright and a dark area, or when adjusting due to lens flare.

Battery life is fantastic. Despite the vibrant 4.3 inch display, we found the Lumia 900 lasted well over a day with medium-to-heavy use. We still couldn’t quite rely on it for two consecutive days with no charge, meaning that nightly charging is still required, but it’s comforting to know that if you miss charging it one night you have a little leeway the next day. This was definitely one of the better experiences we’ve had with smartphone battery consumption.

Text and Browsing

The keyboard of the Lumia 900 is the standard Windows Phone option. It’s fast, easy to hit the keys and doesn’t tend to suffer from random bouts of lag. It’s not the best keyboard we’ve ever used, as it’s fairly Spartan in design and functionality, but we always appreciate a keyboard that can keep up with our speedy typing, while still offering enough space for our large fingers.

The 4.3 inch screen, while no longer the biggest kid on the block, definitely boasts enough screen real-estate to make both typing and browsing super easy.

Web pages load quickly and there’s plenty of room to cram text or images in to without having to zoom in too far.

Local Search is also a great option. Searching for a term as simple as “food” will bring up a list of eateries in your area, as well as locating them for you on a map with numbers that correspond to the result’s place in the queue. Local search results are found by swiping to the right from the regular web results tab, making it super easy to find location-specific information.

Music and Media on the Nokia Lumia 900

All Windows Phone devices sync up their music and media via the Microsoft Zune Player. It’s a similar system employed by Apple through iTunes, although for Windows Phone it’s for pictures and videos captured with your phones camera, too.

It’s a simple system getting media on and off your device and data transfer tends to be quite speedy.

As far as music playback goes the standard app is Nokia Music, which we’ve already talked about a little. Other than the Gigs section that we’re so fond of, Nokia Music really doesn’t offer that much extra in terms of a music player experience. Much like the standard Zune app it’s aesthetically pleasing and, well, plays music.

In previous reviews and articles we’ve talked about how much we like Microsoft’s Zune Pass as a subscription service. Zune Pass, much like Spotify, is a service whereby a member can pay a monthly subscription fee and have unlimited access to music from the Zune Pass library. This library is substantial and very easy to use. Normally we find it a bit restrictive, as most phones can’t download the app, meaning that you can’t take your music with you. However, Windows Phones have full Zune Pass integration, making it more than worth it in our humble opinion.

Where Zune Pass was once a huge tick in the plus column for Windows Phone it’s now really just a minor perk, as both iPhone and Android users can have a similar experience through Spotify (which is not yet available to WP users), so it’s not too much of a perk.

The WhistleOut Opinion

The Nokia Lumia 900 is a fast, stylish Windows Phone option and is definitely our pick of the current WP7 litter. Its screen is unmatched by its current family and Nokia’s unique design style is still very appealing to us. Normally we’d recommend the Nokia Lumia whole-heartedly, but unfortunately right now we cannot.

The reason we’d implore any potential Windows Phone buyers to wait is because Windows Phone 8, the next version of Windows Phone, is soon to make its debut, probably in September (it’s currently late August). The problem with this is that WP8 is going to be so far removed from WP7 that no current Windows Phone 7 handsets will be able to update to Windows Phone 8. As such the Lumia 900 is about to become obsolete and we can’t recommend someone sign up to a 24 month contract with a device that will be supplanted in just a couple of months with only one, mostly aesthetic, update coming to it any time in the near future.

If you absolutely must buy a Windows Phone device right now then yes, we believe the Lumia 900 to be the best Windows Phone device we’ve reviewed. But the way things stand it’s probably wiser to hold off for a little bit. If the Lumia 900 is any indication, the next phase of Nokia Windows Phone 8 handsets should be absolutely fantastic.


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