Nokia is doing something different. They aren't following the standards set by other companies; making high-spec devices with a lack of focus on design and, for some, low build quality. Nokia's approach is clearly one which focusses on every aspect of their phones, producing some fantastic results.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is one of the devices which is very much from this new era of impressive, modern design from Nokia. It was released, alongside the Lumia 900, as the first Windows Phone 7 device from the company. After so many run of the mill devices from other manufacturers running WP7, the Lumia 800 was an appreciated change. Here we go: let's have a closer look at the Lumia 800 and its game-changing design.
The Lumia 800 is one of Nokia's less fully featured on the hardware front; not to worry though, the price reflects this. It's equipped with a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage with no option to expand this; Microsoft does offer 7GB of SkyDrive storage with the phone, included with Windows Phone 7, so there's plenty included in total. The connectivity capabilities of the Lumia 800 are in line with most other devices on the market - Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g and n and multiple 3G and 2G bands.
For me, the design of the Lumia 800 is the main feature which makes it stand out in the crowded phone market. It has a design which seems to be unique and very different to anything else available: the device is a slab with the side edges being entirely rounded. The top and bottom of the device are flat, and slightly chamfered towards the front and back faces. I found this basic shape made the phone easy to hold, the bottom being perfect to rest on my pinky and the edge fitting the curvature of my fingers nicely - similar to the design pioneered by the N9.
The button placement on the Lumia 800 is something which had been criticised by others, but I feel that it works well. All of the buttons are located on the right side of the phone - from top to bottom: volume up; volume down; power, two-stage camera. The first three are at the very top of the device which makes them easily accessible in a normal grip, but the camera button is lower down. While this initially seems an unwise position, it makes more sense when the process of pressing it is considered; usually changing the orientation of the device to landscape to take a photo. The only other argument against having all the buttons on one side would be that aesthetically it is unbalanced, but I believe that the clean left side of the device makes up for this. Another piece of odd positioning is the headphone jack at the top of the device, on the left. When you consider how you put your phone in your pocket - usually upside-down - the choice makes little sense. The jack will either dig in to your leg, or you will have to make the effort to change the way you put your phone in your pocket; small issues, I know, but they are still issues nonetheless.
Now that we've looked at the headphone jack, it seems appropriate to move onto the charging port. When you first get your hands on the phone, this is one of the things which is most elusive, but as you use the phone (and after you find the port) you begin to realise how sensible the design choice is. Let me explain: the port is hidden behind a small hinged door, and not one of the cheap doors seen on feature phones that look like they could snap at any moment. It can be flicked open to reveal the micro USB port, then, to the right of this, the micro SIM holder can be popped up. This is a really tidy way to store the parts of the phone that rarely need to be accessed, yet it keeps them available for when they are needed.
The speaker of the Lumia 800 is located at the bottom of the device. This makes it perfect for watching video as the sound produced by the speaker is reflected by your hand which tends to be cupped around the top and bottom of the device while it is in a landscape orientation. The sound quality, too, is very good.
Overall, the design of the Lumia 800's hardware is sleek and sophisticated, especially in the matt black model I reviewed, and the form is very obviously ergonomically engineered. It is physically small and fits snugly in the hand, unlike many of the other bulbous options out there. This makes it the perfect option for anyone who is looking to take a step back from the under-designed, large smartphones on the market, and choose a device that offers more than just high-spec internals.
The camera on the Lumia 800 is one of the few pieces of software I didn't like. On the surface, it has a minimal design, but when it is looked at in further depth, it can be seen that this part of the OS seems to be out of sync with the rest. It seems to me to be over complicated and doesn't follow the design patterns set out by Microsoft - the camera was designed by Nokia. For example, there is a Settings button, which would usually take the form of an ellipse icon, but for some reason, in this case, doesn't. The zoom buttons seem to be oversized as well. Add this together with what seems to me to be the wrong choice of icon to view previously taken photos (I'd have suck with no icon at all) and you have an undesirable app.
The quality of the photos the phone takes is surprisingly good, though. "Surprising" because the quality of the screen does not truly reflect the quality of the photos the camera takes. In fact, the software doesn't seem to either: Nokia has chosen to attempt some fancy auto-correction on all photos, but the correction only occurs when you view a photo and zoom in on it. Oh, and this 'correction' only seemed to make the photos worse. If there were any dark spots in the photos they would be lightened and take on that bluish haze we're all so accustom to seeing in poor low-light performance cameras. This makes for a confusing experience when reviewing photos you've taken as you're unsure which version is the real version: luckily, it appears the zoomed in, auto-corrected one is just a render, not the actual image.
The focussing modes of the camera seemed odd to me. There are two options: tap to auto-focus and take a photo; or use the two-stage camera button, auto-focussing in the centre of the image. These aren't ideal, mainly because the focussing isn't perfect, but also because it means you can't take a precise picture when you have chosen the focal point. This is a recipe for bad results in most cases, and the photos show this - when time is not taken to sort them, at least.
Occassionally, they did appear washed out and lacking contrast, and in low light, it took time to focus. On the same night, I took photos with my Galaxy Nexus and the Lumia 800 of a fireworks display, and I have to say the Galaxy Nexus performed better, despite the lower megapixel rating. Here are a few shots:
Washed out autumnal leaves (above)
It's fair to say that I was disappointed with the Lumia 800's camera, though I suspect the hardware is not what is at fault.
As I mentioned, the screen of the 800 is not good for reviewing photos, but what it is good for is viewing the very basic, contrasted UI of Windows Phone. Tiles, for example, appear sharp, and the brightness that is achieved is impressive. Nokia's ClearBlack technology works well with the AMOLED display to produce deep blacks which use very little power, thus making for good battery life as well as the impressive visuals while browsing around the phone. It is noticeable, however, that the display is not as good at displaying real-life images: the blocky world of Microsoft's mobile OS is another world when compared to the complexities of real images.
The battery life of the Lumia 800 is fantastic, which is out of the ordinary for modern smartphones. In my tests, it lasted two days or regular use, with no power-saving practices in place. This is next to unheard of nowadays, but the combination of the low-demand display and Windows Phone 7 make the phone reliable.
Windows Phone powers the Nokia Lumia 800: but it is somewhat underpowered. While I love the software itself, the apps available and the ecosystem behind the phone is just not up to scratch.
We'll begin with design: the UI is very modern and far from Apple's skeuomorphic designs. It is flat and styles information into lists and tiles. There are two main colour themes of WP7 - white and black - each with eleven bright foreground colours. These make the UI different from every other platform's, and it's a good difference. This new approach to design is an initiative I believe consumers benefit from greatly, even without realising it. The ease of use of the OS is just incredible. Swiping between menus flows very smoothly, even in third-party apps which have been criticised for scrolling issues in the past, and most apps work very well.
The problem emerges when you try to find new apps. There aren't any. Once you have downloaded the very basics - social networking apps, a few productivity apps, some media consumption and news apps - you'll pretty much have drained the Microsoft Store dry. There is a definite lack of development of apps for the Store, and even some of the large titles available on other platforms can't be found. This simply won't satisfy those who have had a taste of Apple's App Store, or perhaps even the Google Play Store.
Apart from the lack of apps available for the platform - which may change as Windows Phone 8 is released and more interest in the OS rises - the user experience is very good. It's the little things. The use made of the back button is an example of this - an example of very clever software design, targeted directly at improving the user's interaction with the device. When you press the back button, no matter where you are, you will be pulled back one screen. (Like I said, little things.) This means that if you are on the Start Screen and you wish to quickly jump back to an app, you can do so with the push of a button - it's a very simple things that sets the phone ahead of the two other major competitors.
I have to say, I really do love Windows Phone, but the lack of apps available does make me want to avoid WP devices for the time being.
Media is something which Nokia and Microsoft are tackling very well on the Lumia 800. There is no lack of content available on this front. Pre-loaded on the phone come Zune, Microsoft's media marketplace which offers a pass for unlimited streaming of a wide range of music, and Nokia Music which offer's free genre-based streaming like Pandora, or Spotify Radio, to all users. They also give the option to purchase music in each of these stores and it's no trouble to copy music across from a computer.
Another service that comes with the Lumia 800 is SkyDrive, by Microsoft. This offers 7GB of free cloud storage that lets you store all photos, videos and documents off-site, saving space on your phone. This is something that will be appreciated by anyone who is tied to Microsoft's ecosystem, or is willing to make the switch to them.
Microsoft Office is pre-loaded on the Lumia 800 (and all other Windows Phone devices) too, which allows for the viewing and editing of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote files. This is perfect for anyone who is tied to Office for work, but if you aren't tied to this format, I suggest you run from it - run and hide, and log into Google Docs.
Apart from these ecosystem-based services, Nokia has packed a few really nice apps into their phone. These include Nokia Drive (a sat nav app), Nokia Reading, Nokia Map, Local Scout and Camera Extras which enhance the mapping and discoverability capabilities of the phone, and the news-reading and ebook-reading features, and the camera's functions: it offers panorama mode, action shots and group shots.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is a device about which I have many mixed feelings. The hardware is in all regards better than anything else of the market at the moment in this price range, and the design of every aspect of the phone is absolutely beautiful. The software and ecosystem doe shave its flaws though, so if you are a serious smartphone user, I would recommend that you get a HTC 8X (which I will be reviewing in the very near future) or 8S, or perhaps a Nokia Lumia 820 or 920, which run Windows Phone 8, the latest version of Microsoft's software with many improvements, and more apps expected to be written for the platform. However, if you are new to the smartphone game, or are looking for a cheaper device to step back from the intricacies of customisation and an overwhelming number of apps, this may be the way to go.