Nokia-loving Windows Phone fans hankering for a bigger screen, rejoice! The Lumia 900 lands in the UK today and is initially available exclusively via Phones 4u.
This Windows Phone whopper is the biggest Lumia yet, boasting a 4.3-inch display versus the Lumia 800's 3.7 inches. But don't be deceived by the sheer size -- the 900 is no more powerful than its curvaceous sibling.
Should I buy the Lumia 900?
Are you truly, madly, deeply in love with the Windows Phone operating system? If you're not screaming out "YES! YES! YES!" right now then this phone is not for you.
The Lumia 900 is a big show pony handset for people who spend their weekends and evenings penning love sonnets to Microsoft's OS. For everyone else, your hard-earned cash would be better spent on an Android or iOS handset.
Rival smart phones in the 900's price range typically boast multi-core chips -- something Windows Phone doesn't currently support. Many also have better cameras such as the HTC One X or Apple's current super-phone, the iPhone 4S. And when it comes to apps, the Lumia is still the laggard behind iOS and Android.
While cheaper Lumias, such as the 710, pack in a lot for the cash you're spending, here at the tippety-top of the range, Nokia and Microsoft's love-in just isn't such good value for money.
And even if you're Windows Phone's biggest fan, the Lumia 900 is still a hard sell since it's not a huge upgrade on the Lumia 800. Both phones offer essentially identical software and very similar hardware. Lumia 900 buyers are basically paying a premium for a front-facing camera and a larger display.
The 900 is certainly a nice-looking phone -- but the 800 is the most attractive of the Lumia bunch. So even on design grounds, the Lumia 900 isn't the winner.
Screen and build quality
The Lumia 900 has a 4.3-inch ClearBlack AMOLED display. The theory behind Nokia's ClearBack screen tech is it makes blacks look really black, helping surrounding colours to pop out. It gives the screen good contrasts, even in strong daylight. I was hard-pressed to find any sunshine amid the classic British spring weather during testing. But on cloudy days at least, the screen is easy to view outdoors.
The display generally looks bright and colourful, with blacks appearing velvety and deep. As is typical of AMOLED screens, colours can appear over-saturated, while the 900's whites have a slight yellowy hue.
Unlike the Lumia 800, the 900's screen is not curved at the edges -- it's stamped straight onto the face of the phone. There's also a thin raised plastic bezel dividing it from the casing plastic so the look is less fluid, even though both phones share the same basic handset shape.
Screen resolution is 800x480 pixels -- the standard Windows Phone res. The 900's glass is slightly less pixel-dense than the Lumia 800, owing to its larger display (217 pixels per inch versus 252ppi). The 900's is definitely not the most pin-sharp screen in telecom town, so while photos looks bright and colourful, they're not super-crisp.
The touchscreen itself is nice and responsive, jumping around on cue to even light taps and swipes.
The handset feels solid and fairly weighty in the hand, thanks to its not inconsiderable heft, at 11.5mm thick. But twist and tug on it and the plastic can be made to flex and creak slightly.
The micro-SIM tray door is a definite weak point in the design. The tray is slightly smaller than the hole it slots into so the door can be made to wobble back and forth. The dedicated camera button also has some wobble in it but the power key and volume rocker are solid.
Elsewhere, the battery is sealed in so it can't be swapped out for a spare. And there's no microSD card slot for expanding storage. You'll have to make do with the 16GB of internal space, plus 25GB of free cloud storage on Microsoft's SkyDrive service.
Software and apps
The Lumia 900 runs the latest iteration of the Windows Phone OS -- 7.5 aka Mango. However, as with all current Windows Phone handsets, there is a question mark over upgrades to the next version of the OS -- Windows Phone 8 aka Apollo.
Microsoft has said all current Windows Phone apps will run on Apollo but hasn't confirmed what happens to Mango devices. It's possible the Lumia 900 will remain forever stuck on Windows Phone 7.5.
Windows Phone itself is a breath of fresh air in these Android and iOS-dominated times. It has a distinctly different look and feel -- setting it apart with a bold tiles-based home screen, panoramic menus and an addiction to typography and signpost-style symbols. If you're in the mood for something new, it should rightly catch your eye. Just don't expect it to be as fully featured as Android or iOS.
Windows Phone is especially not suited to people who like to tinker and customise -- you can't spec out multiple home screens with apps and widgets, as you can on Android handsets, for instance. Overall, Microsoft's phone software can feel slightly sterile and even corporate.
On the plus side, Windows Phone bakes social services such as Facebook and Twitter right into the OS. Once you've hooked up all your various accounts, photos of your Facebook buddies and tweets will start popping up on the home screen tiles. These quasi-personal live tiles are as far as customisation goes with the Windows Phone experience though.
Another area that might disappoint is the lack of Adobe Flash support. This means lots of embedded online video won't play (whereas Android devices generally do have Flash support). Apple's iOS gets around its lack of Flash by having so many apps available. But on Windows Phone, you can't rely on there being 'an app for that' so the lack of Flash is more of an annoyance.
There is a YouTube app on Microsoft's app store but this is actually just a shortcut to the YouTube mobile site. So again, not all videos are playable.
The lack of apps is definitely a big limitation for Windows Phone. Microsoft's Marketplace still lags far behind Apple's iTunes App Store and Google Play for sheer quantity, with some 80,000 apps versus around half a million Android and iOS apps.
Don't expect all the big names to be present and correct. There's no iPlayer, for instance. And don't expect to be first in the queue to get that latest cool app either. Developers typically work on iOS and Android long before they get around to Windows Phone (if at all). The apps that are on Windows Phone also tend to be more expensive.
Nokia has stepped into this breach by adding some (free) apps of its own, which come preloaded on the Lumia such as Nokia Drive for turn-by-turn satnav, Mix Radio for streaming music and Local Scout to find stuff near you. These are all welcome additions, especially lower down the Lumia price range. But here at the high end, they definitely look like compensation for all the apps you're not getting.
Processor and performance
The Lumia 900 has the physical appearance of a mobile powerhouse -- with a chunky, solid feel, and some snazzy plastic jackets, including a bright blue option that's guaranteed to turn heads. But this bold clothing is mere padding. Under the hood, the 900 has the same 1.4GHz single-core chip as the Lumia 800.
Navigating around menus, downloading apps or flipping through photos in the gallery is nippy enough -- although the constant 3D menu transitions get tiresome -- but web browsing is a little sluggish, certainly compared to high-end rivals. If you're browsing rich, graphics-heavy or HTML 5-based websites, you might well find yourself wishing for a more powerful phone as you wait seconds for a page to load or render.
On my Lumia 900 review unit, I also encountered a few software bugs. The dedicated camera button, which can be used to start the camera without diving into the app first, crashed during usage. The phone had to be restarted to restore its function.
Tapping on the Google Mail live tile also twice brought up the Pictures menu instead. Generally speaking though, such gremlins were rare and Windows Phone seems stable and reliable.
One hardware foible I noticed was an alarming shuddery buzz deep within the guts of the phone when you plug it in for charging. It's a minor gripe but one that conjures unfortunate visions of clanking pistons hammering away at the Lumia's heart.
Call quality was average -- with people on the other end of the line sounding slightly flat and muffled. I didn't have any trouble being heard, nor did I experience any dropped calls during testing.
A 1,830mAh battery is sealed inside the phone so bad luck if you like to carry spares. Nokia reckons the battery is good for around 7 hours of talk time or 8 hours of video playback. In my experience, battery life seemed standard smart phone fare. Expect to get a day's moderate use out of it before it demands a charge.
The Lumia 800's Carl Zeiss Tessar-branded camera disappointed us when we reviewed the phone last year -- we described it as "much fussier about having the right conditions than the snappers in the Galaxy S2 and especially the iPhone 4S".
I'm sad to say the Lumia 900's 8-megapixel snapper carries on this legacy of disappointment. This is a real shame when you consider that elsewhere in Nokia's Symbian-based mobile portfolio, Finland's finest is kicking up a storm of cameraphone innovation.
The level of detail in Lumia 900 snaps is generally soft rather than crisp. The phone also has a tendency to produce lens flare, and has lots of trouble dealing with variable light and shade across one scene.
The lens is especially fussy in lower light conditions. Shooting outdoors in daylight on an overcast day produced shots speckled with noise, lacking both detail and clarity. Shots taken indoors in a well-lit office environment were also typically grainy.
In London's sunshine-starved environs, I found colours were either murky or slightly over-saturated.
The 900 was especially finicky about snapping close-ups. You have to first switch on the macro mode in the settings, but even with this on, the phone wouldn't always lock on to the subject.
While the Lumia 900 will certainly serve for throwaway snaps of your mates, it fails to outshine the very high-quality snappers of its high-end rivals -- such as the HTC One X, the Sony Xperia S and the iPhone 4S. Samsung's Galaxy S2 also has a stonking camera so I have high hopes the S3 will knock our photographic socks off.
For video, the 900 produces reasonably good 720p-resolution footage although it's slow to correct the exposure as you travel from light to shade, or vice versa. The level of detail in the frame drops off, the more movement there is. Audio quality was pretty good, however.
One app that has now (finally) made it onto Windows Phone is Skype, so you can take advantage of the Lumia's front-facing camera to make video calls.
The version of the Lumia 900 that launched in the US includes a super-speedy 4G network chip. Sadly, here in the UK, we're still stuck on 3G so Nokia hasn't bothered with the 4G chip in our version of the phone. Instead, it's added DC-HSPA technology that can support faster 3G speeds -- potentially up to twice as fast as our current top-line 3G speeds -- provided your mobile operator has upgraded its network to support DC-HSPA.
Vodafone has added a version of DC-HSPA to some of its network -- in central London and other UK cities -- which supports speeds of up to 28.8Mbps. Other UK operators haven't yet upgraded. Three told me it is expecting to roll DC-HSPA out nationwide this summer, while Everything Everywhere -- which owns Orange and T-Mobile -- said it will add it in the last quarter of this year.
So, when buying the 900, you certainly shouldn't bank on getting faster mobile data right out of the box. Network speeds are unreliable at the best of times, with multiple factors affecting the rates achieved. In a speed test of the UK version of Apple's new iPad (which also has DC-HSPA), for instance, conducted in central London using Vodafone's network, it achieved a very sluggish 0.64Mbps -- a far cry from the mooted maximum.
The UK's Lumia 900 has limited appeal. It has less to offer than its US twin, since we don't yet have 4G networks, and its hardware isn't that different from its cheaper, sleeker sibling, the Lumia 800. It's also not a given that any of these Windows Phones will be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8 -- a caveat emptor for this the most expensive of Nokia's Lumias.
If you're not hook, line and sinker in love with Windows Phone, there's no reason to commit to the Lumia 900 -- not when the same amount of money (or even less cash) can bag you a much more capable Android or iOS device.