Slick and well-built, the squared polycarbonate body of the Lumia 800 feels sturdy but elegant, while the 3.7-inch AMOLED screen stretches to the very edges of the chassis for an extra hi-tech look. The minimalist Windows Phone 7 OS is breezy and intuitive
With email and social accounts set up from the first time you start up the phone, it's simple getting to grips with all the power offered by this phone. The single home screen of live updating tiles is a streamlined way to keep tabs on all the programs running in the background
The full lineup of smart features is here - push email, HTML web browser, all-in-one social feeds and, uniquely for a Windows Phone, an excellent maps app in Nokia Maps, complete with free sat nav
Though general navigation is fast thanks to an incredibly responsive touch-screen, the Lumia 800 falls seriously short on the camera, and its phone dialer is clunky compared to what you'd expect from a Nokia. The lack of Windows apps is an ongoing issue
At 13 hours with Wi-Fi, GPS, 3G and push notifications, the Lumia 800 will last you easily through the day but will definitely require nightly charging
The world of smartphones is a scary one - patents wars constantly being fought, lawsuits regularly launched and upstarts from California who've never had anything to do with phones suddenly winning over your customer base. What's a one-time global mobile leader to do?
If you're Nokia, you spend years reanimating an old bit of software, until one year, a fellow giant with similar beef against those Silicon Valley kids makes you an offer you can't refuse. Enter the Lumia 800, Nokia's first Windows Phone 7 handset, the fruit of its alliance with Microsoft. Neither monolith has been able to pose much competition to the currently reigning smartphone leaders Apple and Google - Nokia has millions of customers, but lacks a decent software offering; Microsoft has a woefully underrated phone OS, and a decade of Windows Mobile stink to rub from consumer memory. Together, they can only boost each other to victory, right? Right?
Well, the Lumia 800 looks the part. There's more than a hint of iPhone 4 futuristic elegance about its squared polycarbonate unibody, but unlike the crack-friendly glass-fronted (and backed) iPhone, the Lumia feels sturdy and scratch-resistant. In fact, this is proven by the fact that the metal strip on its back cover housing the Nokia logo was totally nicked from being tossed around in our bag, yet the cover itself remained scuff-free.
Its 3.7-inch AMOLED screen is fronted by Gorilla Glass to resist drop impact, and stretches to the very edges of the chassis with only a thin bezel at the top and bottom eating into screen real estate. It looks great.
The resolution clocks in at WVGA (480x800 pixels) with 252ppi pixel density, which sits very respectably next to the Samsung Galaxy S II (217ppi) and isn't too far below that of the iPhone 4S (330ppi).
At 116.5x61.2x12.1mm, it's not the slimmest phone on the block, but feels perfectly comfortable in the hand, its 142g weight absolutely acceptable. The top houses the most interesting hardware setup we've seen in a while - a sleek, spring-loaded door covering the microUSB charge slot that's, even more interestingly, next to a microSIM slot that you can simply press down, then side-slide to eject.
That's right, no extra tools required, unlike certain iPhones we could mention. (Those are stickers on the slots - not printed on the chassis.)
Also unlike iPhones, reception is excellent, with its polycarbonate body allowing its radio antenna breathing space. In the subterranean cavern where we are forced to undertake exercise, the Lumia 800 was able to pick up calls and texts where an iPhone 4 on the same network wasn't.
At its heart beats a 1.4GHz (single-core) processor, helped along by 512MB of RAM for respectable if not industry-leading multitasking horsepower. Like all Windows phones, there is no microSD slot to bump up the memory for media files and such; you're stuck with the built-in 16GB. It supports A-GPS, HSDPA and Wi-Fi, with its 1450mAh battery offering a decent 13 hours of battery life when all three were running, with background notifications on just about everything. So it's not an overnighter like Nokia's past smartphones – but then again, that's about average for touch-screen smartphones with AMOLED-type displays.
There's an excellent feature as well where even when the phone fades out from a dead battery, its alarms will actually still ring - a godsend for the 90% of us whose phone is our only clock.
Nokia has a few dispensations due to said alliance with Microsoft – it's allowed to skate under the strict WP7 hardware requirements and therefore make slightly cheaper phones. But it's still not allowed to add a custom ‘skin' to the base OS (probably a good thing), so the Lumia 800 plays pretty much exactly like other Windows phones.
The single homescreen is comprised of square tiles that update with real-time information like texts, calls, Facebook messages or app updates. The People Hub is a contacts book with ambition – it syncs to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to give a three-screen setup that shows the standard friend list, recent contacts (on any platform including text or call), and an aggregated social feed.
So it's annoying that it practically topples over from the weight of its own accomplishment and doesn't exactly handle the humble phone call with finesse. Unless you dutifully divide your contacts into Groups, a new feature introduced with Mango, or handily had a friend you want to call just call you, you're stuck with a minimum of six -six! – clicks to make a phone call: open dialer, select contacts book, hit search, type name, select name, select phone number. It's not something you expect to see in a Nokia "we get the basics right" phone.
Better implemented is the ‘Me' tile, the square that updates with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn notifications, and also lets you view feeds, post updates or check in. Here's where the meat of the hyper-integrated Windows OS is evident – you really (almost) don't need other apps because their functions are so neatly woven into the interface.
Then there's the excellent email feature – immediate notifications on Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! and Microsoft Exchange corporate mail with an interface that recognises flagged and prioritised mail. The extremely responsive touch-screen and excellent correction algorithm is easily the best messaging experience Nokia has ever offered (though of course that ‘s really a Windows Phone feature) and it stacks up very well to, say, the iPhone 4S.
You can link all or some inboxes to create a universal view, handy if you have a couple personal or work accounts, for example. However, you can't easily flip between the two views, as the separate email tiles actually disappear once you've linked them.
Unique to Nokia's Windows handsets is a pretty important feature that just could give it the edge it so needs - free sat-nav as offered on all Nokia handsets, and Nokia Maps. At the time of this review, Nokia Maps was not actually functioning on our device, but Nokia assures us that when the Lumia 800 goes on sale on November 16, it will be available.
Nokia Maps however, is a pretty full-featured maps offering that, if it's the same as what's on previous Nokias, will easily outstrip the anemic Bing Maps that doesn't even have pedestrian directions.
The Nokia Drive app is working though, and we can tell you it's a proper sat-nav app, placing a front-on view on the homescreen and providing (free) voice directions so that you could easily use this as your in-car navigation device. There's an option to download maps and use them for directions later, saving you data charges and making this an especially good option for free sat-nav when overseas.
A surprise disappointment is in the sounds-good-on-paper eight-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, autofocus and a dual-LED flash. Clarity in any light was mediocre, with blurring obvious even before zooming in. Colours were inaccurately reproduced as well, with light areas overexposing in dimmer settings, and green tinges appearing even in good light.
Its only redeeming feature is the shutter – it's fast, and works via a dedicated button that improves stability and lets you launch the camera from the lock screen. Not that you'll be in any rush to shoot anything or anyone with this. We thought Nokia had camera-phones all sewn up after the N86 and N8 – both of which won our Camera Phone of the Year award - but the Lumia 800 comes nowhere near the heights reached by these two mobile snappers.
There's yet to be a truly good camera on a Windows Phone 7 handset, and unfortunately the Lumia 800 doesn't get to differentiate on this front. Surprisingly, it doesn't sport a front-facing camera either, perhaps in an effort to keep the price down.
Windows phones are by and large very similar with the outer casing the only real differentiator - but Nokia's Windows has a real chance at standing out with Nokia Drive and its less fearsome pricing. The Lumia 800 is a well designed, well built handset; a mediocre camera is its only (albeit serious) hardware flaw. UIt's the best value Windows Phone right now and the best Nokia handset too - but unfortunately, a lack of Windows apps still puts this at a disadvantage to iPhone and Android.