The Lumia 800 may have already launched in Europe and the Lumia 710 has been available on T-Mobile for a couple months, but Nokia’s third Windows Phone is its boldest step yet back into the US market. Launching on AT&T April 8, the Lumia 900 will be one of the wireless carrier’s flagship 4G LTE phones, and will cost only $100 with a two-year contract. Currently the phone is riding high as one of the most talked-about products at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, but is it worth all the hype? Find out below.
Though we have seen the Lumia 900 a few times this year, we didn’t get a chance to hold it much until we got our review unit. Physically, it follows the same design aesthetics as the Lumia 800 and N9, but with a few key adjustments. To accommodate a 4.3-inch screen, it’s both 0.2 inches wider and 0.5 inches taller than the 800, and also ever so slightly thinner. The curved glass front of the 800 has also been replaced with a thin rubber border around the screen, which doesn’t look as nice, but should help prevent the screen from shattering in a fall.
All of the buttons and ports are also in essentially the same places, but they all have a bit more room to breathe. Nokia has wisely ditched the flap covering its Micro USB charging port as well. Though it looked nicer, we Americans are a bit lazy and don’t like dealing with flaps to get to our ports. Or, at least, that’s what Nokia’s betting on.
Overall, the 900 is acceptable, but one of the more uncomfortable phones to hold due to its large size and boxy shape. The corners tend to jam into your hand a bit. Though all of the physical buttons are easy to press, the haptic navigation keys (Back, Windows, and Search) are placed extremely low on the device, requiring quite a thumb stretch to reach them. Oddly, though the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a larger phone than the 900, it’s much easier to reach the navigation on its 4.7-inch screen than the 900’s 4.3-inch screen. The curved corners make it much easier to hold as well. Perhaps due to the smaller size of the 800, we never encountered these issues. It’s not unbearable, but the Lumia 900 can be a bit awkward to use due to its shape and dimensions.
The placement of the main speaker on the bottom of the phone is quite nice. Most smartphones seem to place their main speakers on the back, leading to muffling or muting every time you set your phone on a pillow or soft object. The Galaxy Nexus is especially guilty of this problem, but the 900 skirts the problem entirely by being creative with its speaker placement.
As a final note, it’s nice to see a phone coming in more than just black and white – the Lumia 900 also comes in cyan. More colors, please. The polycarbonate shell is also a plus, since its a solid color the whole way through. If you scratch your blue 900, it will just have a blue scratch.
The Lumia 900’s screen is one of its best qualities, though it runs at a fairly low 480 x 800 pixel resolution, which is much lower than the 1280 x 720 resolution tpopping up in most new high-end devices. Sadly, all Windows phones seem to be limited to this resolution until Microsoft updates the OS. We didn’t complain about this on the smaller 3.7-inch Lumia 800, but on the 4.3-inch 900, there is plenty of space for more pixels.
Aside from its resolution, the screen is fantastic. It’s covered by Gorilla Glass and uses AMOLED technology like the Lumia 800, which is far more vivid and colorful than LCD. When displaying black, pixels in an AMOLED display actually turn off, producing far deeper blacks than LCD screens. This attractive trait of AMOLED displays makes them well suited to the big blocks and solid colors of Windows Phone.
Like all new Nokia smartphones, the Lumia 900 runs on a clean, unmodified version of Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango). Though Google allows Android manufacturers to toy with the look and feel of its interface, Microsoft has locked down Windows Phones so that they all operate the same. The Nokia phones have some custom apps and a nice Nokia blue color to their tiles, but the experience is mostly the same.
As usual, there are a few Microsoft apps like Internet Explorer 9, Xbox Live, Bing Maps, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, but Nokia is also developing a number of custom apps for its Windows Phones. Nokia Maps, Nokia Transport, and Nokia Drive leverage the company’s solid mapping technology, which was one of the major reasons Microsoft made the partnership with Nokia in the first place. The iPhone still doesn’t have a free turn-by-turn navigation app, putting Nokia phones right below Android when it comes to mapping (Google’s turn-by-turn is free and arguably the best).
Other Nokia-exclusive apps include CNN, ESPN, Univision, Creative Studio (photo editing), and App Highlights, which is basically an app that curates the Windows Phone Marketplace. Nokia is the only Windows Phone manufacturer that is aggressively providing custom software for its phones.
Like the Lumia 800 (and every Windows Phone), don’t expect to be impressed with the specs. Microsoft has constrained Windows Phone hardware specs, so every device is fairly similar. Like the Lumia 800, the 900 has a 1.4GHz single-core Qualcomm processor, 512MB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (no microSD), Bluetooth 2.1, an audio jack, GPS, common features like an accelerometer, an 8-megapixel rear camera, and a 1-megapixel front camera.
We complimented the Lumia 800’s camera, and the 900 seems to be about on par with its sibling. It can’t match the quality of the iPhone 4S or iPad 3 cameras, and struggles against top HTC and Samsung devices, but it’s right in the mix and certainly isn’t slacking in the camera department. Both front and rear cameras perform nicely. The rear camera performed reasonably well with its fancy f/2.2 aperture, dual-LED flash, and Carl Zeiss optics, though its color filters sometimes produced greener and bluer pictures than other devices (sometimes too green and blue).
Video turned out nice, but the camera is quite slow at adapting to changing light conditions. It can take up to five seconds for the camera to adapt if you move from a light to dark room.
The front camera (absent from the 800) performs quite well, making Apple’s crappy front-facing cameras look terrible (as they should).
Voice and data
We made several calls to and from the 900 to test out its voice capabilities, and everything is just as good (and crappy) as any cell phone. Nothing particularly stood out, but there were no issues with hearing or being heard. Speakerphone works as well.
On AT&T’s 4G LTE network in Manhattan, New York City, we’ve been getting between 10 and 20 Megabits per second download speeds and 5Mbps to 7Mbps upload speeds. These numbers are currently much faster than Verizon’s usual 7Mbps to 9Mbps down and 1Mbps to 4Mbps up. We expect that once more people are actually using AT&T’s LTE network, it will settle down to Verizon’s speeds. We used to see similarly high numbers when Verizon’s network was in its infancy.
We would like to point out that, due to some of the annoying limitations of Windows Phone, you’ll have a hard time utilizing the network fully. Even on AT&T’s LTE network, the built-in Zune podcast player will not download any audio podcasts over the air. It constantly claims that are “too big” to download on AT&T’s network. This isn’t true, as our Android phones download far larger files all the time. While we understand the need to conserve bandwidth, issues like this hurt Windows Phone.
Nokia isn’t claiming any amazing battery life, but we’ve found that it holds up well. The Finnish manufacturer rates the Lumia 900 for 7 hours of talk time on its 1830mAh battery. While that’s about average, the use of 4G clearly has clearly cut into it a bit. Nokia rated the 3G Lumia 800 for 9.5 hours of talk time, despite using a smaller 1450mAh battery. We haven’t had too much of an issue yet, though if you start using the LTE network heavily, we imagine you’ll drain the battery quite quick. We didn’t have trouble making it through a day without a charge. This is partially due to Windows Phone, which goes easy on batteries. Overall, the battery life should neither offend nor impress you.
Like its sibling, the Lumia 900 is certainly one of the best Windows Phones available, partially because of its hardware and partially because of Nokia’s many exclusive apps. Sadly, the increase in size has been a bit hard on the Lumia’s square design, which still looks fantastic, but tends to poke at your palms. The navigation buttons will also be difficult to reach for many users, and the specs are the same as every Windows Phone. The OS may run well on a single-core processor, but the lack of power does cause some third-party apps to stutter and holds back some of the platform’s potential. Though its $100 price point has been lauded as incredible for a flagship phone, neither Nokia or AT&T are losing money on hardware here. This phone’s specs are barely better than the first batch of Windows Phones in late 2010.
Having said all that, it’s hard not to recommend the Lumia 900. It has a gorgeous AMOLED screen, WP7 is still a great operating system, and the inclusion of 4G LTE really helps boost Web browsing speeds. If you’re looking for a good phone for a reasonable price, this is it. Just don’t expect the cutting edge. We’ll have to wait for Windows Phone 8 for Nokia devices that truly try to compete with Android and iPhone on specs.
- Vivid AMOLED screen
- Good custom apps
- Windows Phone 7.5 UI is easy to use
- Affordable $100 price
- High-speed 4G LTE on AT&T
- Large, boxy frame isn’t comfortable to hold
- Navigation buttons hard to reach
- Low-resolution screen
- No microSD
- Single-core processor