Friday, 22 June 2012

Nokia Lumia 900 Review

Introduction


The Nokia Lumia 900, a device from the second round of lovechildren born from the Nokia-Microsoft partnership is the higher-end model of the Lumia fleet.  First introduced at CES 2012 in January, the 900 was announced to be exclusive to AT&T and marked Nokia’s re-entry into the US market. Priced at an aggressive $99 on contract, this 4.3-inch 4G LTE phone is here to stay. Now, the International version of the 900, introduced at MWC 2012 in Barcelona dropped the 4G LTE modem for obvious reasons and retails at around €430 ($538), but does that make it less of an attractive option? Head over after the break to find out.

Connectivity & Call Quality


First of all, it’s not a phone if it can’t make or maintain a phone call. Nothing else matters if it won’t perform its primary function. Fortunately for you prospective Lumia 800/900 buyers, Nokia has designed these devices to be “RF Transparent”; the polycarbonate unibody shell used on these devices adds no barrier to the antennas within. We’ve had no dropped calls even in the busiest areas of Kuala Lumpur city where the device was tested.
Since we’re not in the US, our International version of the 900 comes with HSDPA+ built in rather than 4G LTE which means that theoretically, the 900 is capable of downloading data with speeds of up to 168 Mbit/s and upload at 22 Mbit/s. Repeat, that’s theoretically. In reality however, we managed to achieve speeds averaging 3.53 Mbit/s download and 1.98 Mbit/s upload. You also get the option to share that bandwidth with other devices using the built-in Internet Sharing feature which we’ve all been very anxious to try out. No surprises here, the feature works as it’s supposed to.
Now that we’ve scratched out ‘Antennagate’, we can move on to the good stuff.

Hardware

Similarly to the Lumia 800 before it, the 900 shares many of the same internal specifications, including the 1.4GHz single-core Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1, FM Radio and the usual array of sensors like the accelerometer, digital compass, proximity and ambient light sensors, and assisted GPS. The 900 however adds a gyroscope and a GLONASS chip to the mix. In addition to that, you’ll find the same 8MP Carl Zeiss lens on both devices (accompanied by a dual-LED flash) with the 900 featuring an additional 1.3MP front facing camera. Externally, the Lumia 900 is built of the same color-infused polycarbonate unibody. Aside from our Black review unit, the device also retails in Cyan and White with a rumored Magenta supposedly on its way.


Taking a tour of the device itself, the 4.3” display dominates the majority of the face of the device, along with the 3 capacitive Back, Windows, and Search buttons, a speaker and the front facing camera.


While the left hand side of the device is flush, the right is where all the action happens. You have the volume rockers toward to top, the power/lock button in the middle and the dedicated camera button below it. We’ve heard reports on these buttons being a bit fidgety thus producing an irritating rattling sound when the phone vibrates, our unit doesn’t suffer from that. On the contrary, the buttons are definitely stiffer than the ones found on the Lumia 800.


On the bottom, you’re met with the loud speaker/microphone combo hidden behind a finely drilled grill while the top edge of the device hosts the 3.5mm headphone jack, a secondary noise cancelling mic, the MicroUSB charging/syncing port - which no longer hides behind a magnetically latched door - and the MicroSIM card bay which pops out using an ejector tool that Nokia handily provides in the box.


Flipping the device over reveals the familiar, not-so-scratch-proof metal strip housing the rear camera with the dual-LED flash module beside it. In terms of dimensions, the phone measures 127.8 x 68.5 x 11.5mm (L x W x T) with a weight of 160g.

What’s probably the largest selling point of the 900 is its display. Measuring at 4.3” diagonal, this capacitive AMOLED ClearBlack screen is simply stunning. At 800x480, it might not have the HD resolutions that many Android devices are blessed with but that didn’t stop the phone from achieving the title for the best sunlight visibility EVER on a smartphone. And it’s tough too, making use of Corning’s renowned Gorilla Glass. Thankfully, unlike the Lumia 800, this display is non-PenTile, therefore eliminating the associated grain and green/blue hues. We did prefer the curved glass on the Lumia 800 though with the way it just seamlessly melted into the polycarbonate body around it, but according to Nokia, they excluded it from the 900 to maintain the structural integrity of its larger surface area. Still a bummer.
Overall, colors pop, watching videos and viewing images is a noticeable upgrade over the 800 and the Windows Phone Metro UI scales wonderfully on this larger display. However, because of a pixel density of 217PPI, get ready to zoom in on text heavy websites. Below are a few more images of the Lumia 900 exterior.




Software

Windows Phone 7.5 looks and runs exactly the same way whether it’s on a device from HTC, Samsung, LG, Nokia or whatever other OEM that decides to embrace the platform. The OS itself is smooth, fluid and never lags. This is because of Microsoft’s strict control over the platforms hardware requirements and UI in order to deliver a seamless and consistent end user experience no matter what manufacturer you get your device from. Part of this control includes banning third party, resource-heavy skins from overlapping the UI, so no Sense from HTC, TouchWiz from Samsung or Optimus UI from LG.

Control over everything from hardware components to UI design reduces the fragmentation that Android suffers from and gives Microsoft a direct link to its devices which results in quicker delivery of OS updates for example, something Apple users have come to appreciate. Windows Phone is the best of both worlds really for the end user; you get a variety of manufacturers and form factors to choose from while still benefiting from a non-fragmented ecosystem.
Although this unified, tightly controlled ecosystem is great for you, it’s not something that manufacturers really appreciate. It gives them fewer options to differentiate themselves from their rivals. One way they can make themselves stand out from the crowd is by offering unique software experiences that are exclusive to their own devices. In this case Nokia (despite having privileges to modify the WP UI) has grasped this opportunity to produce an ever growing list of quality apps for their Lumia range of devices. And the best part, they’re all fully functional, free apps that truly add to the value of joining team Nokia.


Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps both rose to fame on Symbian, they provide detailed information of roads, traffic, landmarks and businesses from all over the world. Drive, with turn-by-turn voice guided navigation even provides you with detailed 3D models of major landmarks and buildings making them easy to spot while driving. You can also download maps of entire countries over Wi-Fi and use Drive in Offline Mode so as to cut down on your data bill, something pre-paid users and frequent travelers will be joyful about. What we found most impressive is Drives ability to somehow know the varying speed limits of highways and streets and warn you when you’ve exceeded them. This should be built into cars! Both Drive and Maps have made it to our list of must-have apps that will certainly keep us tethered to Nokia. And remember, they’re free!


Nokia Music is another exclusive app that allows you to stream music and even download them for offline listening. It’s similar to Microsoft’s Zune Pass except that it’s not subscription based. Streaming is free but downloading tracks will require you to make a purchase. Almost sounded too good to be true…The only downside is that it’s not available in all regions, but if you’re lucky enough to be in a supported region then you’ll get access to over 15 million tracks for your listening pleasure.

Other Nokia exclusive apps include Nokia Trailers, Nokia Transit, ESPN and recently, the official Dark Knight Rises and Goal.com’s (Euro 2012) Finals app among others. The list continues to grow as Nokia restlessly develops new unique software experiences. Oh, and Angry Birds Space has been announced to be a Nokia Lumia exclusive that should be arriving in the near future, even more of a reason to go Lumia.


In terms of upgradability, the Lumia 900 will be upgradable to Microsoft's recently announced Windows Phone 7.8, which will include many of the new features that Windows Phone 8 will bring to the table including the new Start Screen. None of today's Windows Phone will be upgradable to Windows Phone 8 mainly due to hardware limitations.

Camera


The Lumia 900 sports a wide aperture f/2.2 8MP camera from Carl Zeiss on the back and a f/2.4 1.3MP wide-angle lens camera on the front, both capable of shooting video in 720p HD. If you’re familiar with the default camera app on Windows Phone 7.5 then that’s exactly what you’d come to find on the Lumia 900. Unlike HTC Windows Phones that come with additional camera features like panorama and burst mode built right into the camera app, Nokia has opted to add these features via Nokia exclusive apps like Creative Studio.
Windows Phone 7.5 will give you the options of changing camera resolutions, setting the ISO, exposure, contrast, saturation and white balance, switching to macro mode, selecting from different scenes and effects, adjusting the flicker reduction and metering modes, and of course turning flash on, off or setting it to auto. So the standard settings are certainly not lacking by any means but it would have been nice if Nokia put more effort into the camera’s software department like its competitors do.




Does that mean that Nokia makes up what it’s lacking in its camera software with its Carl Zeiss camera hardware? It depends. Under certain conditions, the 900 is capable of taking above average shots. It’s not good enough to replace today’s point-and-shoot cameras but it can come pretty close. The camera module is identical to the one used in the Lumia 800 so if you’ve gotten a chance to test that out then you can expect the same results here.
Although it’s no match to Nokia’s 41MP 808 PureView camera, it will still be able to capture your subjects and scenes sharply, and with good color reproduction. Snapping pictures is relatively fast and easy to do either by hitting the 2-stage dedicated camera button or by tapping on the camera viewfinder to focus and snap. Windows Phone will also allow you to launch the camera app even if the phone is locked by holding down on the camera button, this gives you quick access to the camera and proves useful when you need to capture that fleeting moment.




When it comes to video recording, the 8MP autofocus camera from Carl Zeiss will prove to be a joy to use in most cases, while you won’t be able to truly enjoy your HD video on the 900’s screen, you’ll definitely be able to experience its full glory once its synced to your PC. It’s not without its faults though, we did run into some problems with the camera autofocus, it seems to adjust a little too much and proved annoying at times. Nothing major but since it’s a software issue, we expect Nokia to provide a fix in the near future.



Battery Life


The 1830 mAh battery in the Lumia 900 will get you through 1 day and 17 hours according to Windows Phone’s Battery Saver estimates. That’s with the display on, a couple of push emails, Wi-Fi and 3G turned on, and about half a dozen live tiles pushing in new info.

Stressing the phone with WP Bench’s battery drain test (which uses an algorithm that continuously utilizes 100% of the CPU) left the 900 begging to be plugged in after 5 hours and 43 minutes. It’s important to keep in mind that this is the HSDPA+ version of the Lumia 900. So it’s expected that the US LTE version would drain the battery a little faster. According to Engadget’s Lumia 900 review, the same benchmark drained the phone in 4 hours and 29 minutes, so you either sacrifice cellular data speeds or battery life. Unfortunately, you can’t have both, at least for now.

However, we don’t run benchmarks on our phones on a daily basis, so how does the phone fare for the rest of us “normal” people you ask? Our day of regular usage which includes lots of music playback, light gaming, surfing the web, checking some email and a making/receiving a few calls will last you a good 13 hours on average, that’s almost an entire waking day of battery life. So you’ll likely be charging the device nightly.
Overall, you can rest assured that the Lumia 900 won’t leave you scrambling for a wall outlet while you’re out and about.



Final Words


With the addition of the front-facing camera, a larger display, 4G LTE and sensors like a gyroscrope, the Lumia 900 should have been Nokia’s “first real Windows Phone”. The combination of beautiful industrial design, the fluid Metro UI and the exclusive apps that Nokia has to offer not only makes the device scream premium every time you pick it up, but puts in on par with its Android and iOS counterparts.

So, the question remains, should you invest in the Nokia Lumia 900? The answer boils down to personal preference. Yes that’s not much of an answer so here’s a criteria for you; if you’re impatient to wait for Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 devices that are coming later this year and have to get a phone NOW then you need to prioritize features.

Starting with the OS and more specifically, apps, Windows Phone is currently at 100,000 apps and growing, nothing compared to iOS and Androids 500,000+ but really, you won’t be downloading every app in the marketplace. Make a list of apps that matter to you the most and see if they’re available on Windows Phone, they likely will be or have pretty decent alternatives. Go to your local Nokia, HTC or Samsung store and play around with a Windows Phone. Besides, if you’ve read this far down, you probably know you’ve already made up your mind.

If you like it and are now certain of going the Windows Phone route, move on to the screen. How important is screen size and resolution to you? The Lumia 900 in person is huge, so it’s not for everyone. Again, get a feel of the device first at your local Nokia store, if it’s too big, you might want to consider the Lumia 800 instead. If you want something bigger, there’s always the HTC Titan, but remember, the resolution stays the same at 800x480 so pixel density and sharpness decreases the larger the display.
Next, if you’re a camera fanatic, the 900 takes decent shots, but if you’re looking for something slightly better, then it might be worth investing more to get the HTC Titan II instead. Its 16MP camera takes better pictures in most cases and HTC’s built in panorama and burst shot features will definitely be something you’ll appreciate. Nokia has confirmed that they’re working to add more features into the camera app but haven’t given us a release date yet.

So it’s really up to you and your personal preferences, but as mentioned earlier, the Lumia 900 provides the best all-around package for a Windows Phone. And we’re almost certain that that will remain true until Windows Phone 8 devices hit the market in the near future.

Pros
  • ·         Beautiful and sturdy polycarbonate shell
  • ·         Lag-free user experience
  • ·         Outstanding screen even in direct sunlight
  • ·         Decent camera quality
  • ·         Long lasting battery life
  • ·         Exclusive Nokia apps
  • ·         Strong network quality

Cons
  • ·         Low resolution display
  • ·         Non-expandable storage
  • ·         Marketplace has a little catching up to do

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