Tuesday, August 14, 2012

People say: Nokia Lumia 800. I have seen the light !!

Nokia Lumia

While thinking the smartphone world was divided in two ecosystems and that there was no further choice, Jonatan Puga met Windows Phone when his carrier offered him a Nokia Lumia 800 in exchange of their hard earned points. Six months later, he wanted to share with us how it is going on.

Editorial: In this "People say" series of articles, people share a personal view on their smartphones. The opinions are based on their experience and may contain little errors or omissions that should not detract from the overall content. Don't expect a large number of technical details but an honest, down-to-earth writing that contributes to understand the success (or failure) of a particular device.

Jonatan wrote:

If you want to buy an smartphone and ask your geek friend for advice, he will mostly give you two options: You either buy an Android (a Samsung, preferably) or you get an iPhone (from Apple, isn't it?).

By luck (or misfortune, who knows), I noticed about Windows Phone when my carrier offered me a Nokia Lumia from his fidelity program. Truth is most people have never used a Windows Phone and few have seen one (some have never heard of it). I have been using a Lumia 800 for six months now and I must say that it is a very good choice. It is beautiful, simple, smooth and strong, really strong.

Industrial design

In my opinion, the Nokia Lumia 800 is one of the most beautiful smartphones on the market, it definitely has the wow! effect. At the beginning, when I got it out of my pocket, everybody keeps asking which phone it was, and if it was wearing a case (I have the cyan one). It made no one indifferent whether they loved it or they hated it.

My cyan Nokia Lumia 800 resting on my desk
The phone is really pocketable, it fits perfectly into the pocket and you barely notice it's there. It has the perfect size: neither large nor small (for everyday use I would rather prefer phones to tablets).

Nokia (together with Microsoft) did a great job in the software/hardware integration. You don't need to bother about technical specifications such as processor speed, number of cores or even how large the RAM is... the Lumia is simply fast, really fast, and I would say that it is smoother than an iPhone.

One thing that I'm not happy with is the little and clumsy hatch that covers the micro usb port. It is not easy to open and too often I fear of broking it. Two other things that must be improved in the next generation is the lack of Micro SD card for expanding the memory and a removable battery (now it's sealed and can't be replaced)

The phone doesn't have a gyroscope, but I have not noticed for several months because the applications that I use worked perfectly fine without it.

Build quality

Optimal build quality is a must for my everyday phone (together with being children proof). I always prefer carrying the phone without any case or bumper as I don't want to add a single milimeter of thickness to my phone.

A little mark besides the earphone plug
When you hold a Lumia 800 for a while, you will get impressed about the good materials: polycarbonate unibody housing and a gorilla glass screen. It is perfectly assembled, which makes the phone look stronger (and -belive me- it is strong).

My six months old Lumia fell off three times already. First two were solved with a small chip at the corners (up and bottom) that few will notice. Unfortunatelly, last time my handset landed with the display and the awesome gorilla glass screen got a scratch (it doesn't look as durable as it is advertised)

Also, my little Lumia tasted the water recently (and it survived!). I prefer not not to give further details, specially about the rescue operation.

Gorgeous Display

One of the things that makes the phone awesome is the curved screen "floating" over the polycarbonate unibody.. it's so beautiful.

Lumia 800  indoors (left) and under heavy sunlight (right)
When you switch on the display, you'll notice how clear the images are and how accurate the colors are showed (well, a bit too vivid.. maybe). Viewing angles are wide and blacks are very deep (i.e. blacks, not dark grays) giving an overall feel of premium quality.

Visibility is good under direct sunlight; I have never had a problem to read an email or answer a Whatsapp message when outdoors.

The capacitive panel is very responsive. Dealing with tiles, menus or lists is a joy and the Lumia rarely misses a tap. Such precision is crucial when using the virtual keyboard, one of the most usable that I have tested in a display of this size.

Photo and video camera

I have had a lot of camera phones and this is one of the best that I have ever used. The 8Mp camera takes astonishing pictures. I also love its dedicated camera button and how fast it takes the picture (you will get your shot almost instantly, not half a second later like in most other phones).

You can do a lot of configuration for the camera: scenes (black & white, sepia, landscape, sports, night...), white balance, exposure, ISO, light messure, contrast, saturation, resolution. You can also switch off the shutter sound of the camera by switching off the global volume of the phone.

Lumia 800 sample photo Lumia 800 sample photo Lumia 800 sample photo
Shot with a Lumia 800 at sunset Shot with a Lumia 800 at noon Shot with a Lumia 800 at afternoon
A recent Nokia update has added all the features that the camera should have had at launch time: Intelligent shot for groups, continuous shooting, panoramic photos, timer, etc..

Video recording is also quite nice for a phone, image quality is good and focusing is not an issue both outdoors and indoors. Unfortunately, the Lumia 800 shots videos at 720p "only", which is just average nowadays. I've uploaded a sample video for you to judge:

Battery life

The first months were very disappointing because of battery life. I couldn't make the battery last a whole day with average use and that was very frustating. Fortunately, Nokia promptly acknowledged the issue and provided a fix in form of software update. Today, battery life is not a problem anymore as -with normal use- I get about 2 days of juice (if I stay in a place with good 3G coverage).


What I like from Nokia is that they know how to build phones, and the Lumia 800 is a capable smartphone but also a very good phone. You'll get everything you will expect from a solid phone working as it should (something other manufacturers won't even care about).

I would say that the earpiece could be a little louder, because in some situations (when you are in a crowded street with a lot of noise) it is sometimes difficult to understand your counterpart.

I like what Microsoft did with the user interface (Metro). It is clean and provides all the basic information in one view (notifications, calendar events, weather forecasts..). Reminds me of the former Microsoft "Today View" only better; definitely better than having a boring grid of application icons as your home page.

Windows Phone is currently less configurable than Android, but it is also simpler, elegant and faster. I will probably not recommend an Android smartphone to my 60 years old mom but I'm convinced she will manage herself with a Windows Phone without many issues.

One of the things that has to be improved is the access to some basic functions of the phone: wireless on/off, bluetooth and airplane toggles are too hiden (you'll need almost 4 taps to get into these functions). There are some applications in the market that allow you to "pin" these switches to your start up menu, but then they will take some precious space.

Windows Lumia 800 keyboard
This place is quite inconvenient!
As I mentioned before, the virtual keyboard is quite accurate. However, there are a couple of worries Microsoft and Nokia should take care of: First is the settings icon below the keyboard, it is too close to the space bar it gets clicked very often. Second is that you can't switch off the predictive text while typing; if you write in a language not supported by the phone (as I do from time to time) you'll get crazy because the phone keeps changing your words (Update: now it's possible to disable the spell checker, one less thing to worry about).

The web browser works flawlessly; web sites are rendered faithfully and the navigation is fast and fluid. Loading times are all right and so is zooming in and out. Also regarding networking, I miss the possibility to share the 3G connection over an USB cable (something my old Nokia X6 had already). Instead, you can use your Lumia as a Wi-Fi hotspot over your 3G data plan, but this eats a lot of battery out of the handset and I'd prefer the wired network nonetheless.

Voice recognition is a nice feature and I use it frequently to make phone calls while driving (pairing the bluetooth connection to my car music player). It works pretty well.

OS upgrades

Upgrades are delivered to end customers as quick as Microsoft publish them. That is the most important reason why I run out from Android (I didn't want to keep my phone three versions below what's available from Google).

All OS updates arrive promptly to my Lumia and I never had any problem with the update process. I just know my Lumia is always sporting the latest version of the OS (I know I'll cry when WP8 is out, more on this later... ).

File system

One of the things that I always hated from iPhone is the planned dependency between iPhone and iTunes. I love how Android deals with this: you're simply given an internal drive where you can read and write files without any restriction (a part from its size).

Windows Phone is more or less in the Apple way I'm afraid (just replace iTunes by Zune and you're done). All the files must be passed through a proprietary application and, although Zune is better than iTunes (IMHO), I don't like walled gardens at all.


Nokia is at it best providing their services to the Lumia series, proving that a good smartphone is more about applications than about the operating system. The Nokia applications are very functional, good looking, great performers and -most importantly- quite useful. These are the applications from Nokia that I use the most, together with other essential stuff that you should have a look at:
  • Nokia Drive: One of the best navigation apps I have ever used. Can't believe how accurate it is, equal -if not better- than its Symbian ancestor.
  • Nokia maps: Good, but there's room for improvement (Google Maps is better). Information is not very up to date and the application lacks integration with Nokia Drive (if you find a place you want to drive to, you can't directly switch to Nokia Drive with the destination pre-set).
  • Nokia Camera: Extra features that we all missed when the phone was launched. 
  • Nokia Music: Music player and music market.
  • Nokia Reading: An application for getting and reading eBooks. Lots of classics for free and a growing catalog of modern titles. Works very well, but I'm using Freda lately. 
  • Nokia Transport: Good for planning public transport trips. Gives you all the options, using different vehicles, bus, train, tube. Nice but -again- why is not everything in Nokia Drive?
  • Nokia City: Lens augmented reality application that uses your camera, compass, GPS and Nokia maps information to overlay information about restaurants, shops, hotels, etc.. On your display, at realtime.
  • Microsoft Office: A must have for reading and editing office documents. Very useful for dealing with e-mail attachments. 
  • Photosynth: A very good application to take 360º (panorama) pictures. 
  • Skydrive: Microsoft cloud service, nicely integrated with the OS. This is a must have application, on par with the offerings for iOS & Android (DropBox, Google Drive et al). 
  • Whatsapp: Last two updates were ok, but dealing with messages is still horrible. It looks like they are downloaded when you open the application and getting them is very slow (about 1 second per message). If you have a lot of messages, you'd better go for a coffee while it is loading. Worst of all, when all the messages have been fetched you still have to scroll a lot to get into the unread messages (the unread were not showed first) and there's a further delay every 10 messages or so..  
  • Pulse: Nice, but lacks many features compared to the Android version.
  • Youtube: No official youtube application available (just a shortcut to the mobile web). Plenty of non-official applications with similar functionality though (Metrotube, TubePro, Primetube, etc).
  • eBay: Very good. You won't need anything else to place your bids. 
  • Twitter: There is an official application, but I'm currently using Gleek and Mehdoh.
  • Linterna7: Flash light for Windows Phone; simple but necessary.

Wrap up

Windows Phone 7 has everything that I need from an smartphone. Nokia designed a beautiful piece of technology and Microsoft dressed it up with a great piece of software; quite a big step forward for mainstream consumers.

There are some flaws here and there (keep on updating Microsoft!) but I think Windows Phone is a promising platform and that the upcoming Windows Phone 8 will be what Microsoft needs to push up their ecosystem and regain some positions in front of iOS or Android.

What's really a pity is that all current WP7 phones won't be honoured with a WP8 update for "technical reasons" (WP7 users will be given a feature pack update to stay loyal). I think Nokia is quite aware of this showstopper as they've launched a campaign where you'll get a refund of up to 50 EUR if you buy a Lumia now (before the new ones, with WP8, are announced).

Would I buy a Lumia 800 again? The answer is yes, no doubts about that. After six months of use I'm not disapointed at all and I'm still in love with my phone. Coming from a Nokia X6, an iPhone 1G, an iPhone 3G, a SE xperia X10 and an HTC Desire HD I think that's saying a lot about the platform.