Nokia Lumia 900 review

The Nokia Lumia 900 is the new flagship in Nokia's range and, some would say, the flagship of all Windows Phone 7 phones. But can it live up to this mighty accolade?

More importantly, does it have what it takes to challenge the likes of the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X? We've been living with the new Nokia to find out.

Design

To say the Lumia 900 is identical to the Lumia 800 in design would be a disservice to both. While they are clearly from the same family, there are noticeable differences aside from the Lumia 900 simply being bigger. The Lumia design is different from the norm, is eye-catching, and people will spot that and comment, so be prepared.

Made from black, cyan, white, and possibly magenta coloured polycarbonate, like the Lumia 800 and the HTC One X, the design is seamless with it a clean curved look void of screws or panels. The phone features a matte finish rather than a soft sheen, and that makes the 900 feel very different in the hand from anything else on the market (excluding the back of the HTC One X).

The design itself is punctured only by the perforated speaker grill at the bottom of the handset and the array of buttons and sockets on the side and top of the phone that let you control the device.

The side, like the Lumia 800, features silver volume and power buttons, as well as a dedicated shutter button for the camera. On the top you have a 3.5mm headphones socket, an open Micro-USB socket for charging and a micro SIM tray, which is accessed in a similar way to the iPhone. You don't have to worry about lifting a flap to charge the phone as you did with the Lumia 800. Phew.

Being picky we would still have preferred the now open micro USB socket to be on the bottom and the speaker grill to be on the top so as to offer docking options and the chance to use the speaker when the phone is standing up. It's not the end of the world though, as we rarely use a docking station with the office iPhone either, opting for streaming services instead. The back features the camera and dual LED flash.

The 4.3-inch AMOLED screen dominates the front and sits behind Gorilla Glass (flat not curved) that is the same size as the hugely popular Samsung Galaxy S II. That makes it perfect for reading a book via the Amazon Kindle app or watching a movie or TV show via Netflix. Around the screen is a 1-megapixel front-facing camera and the three standard Windows Phone 7 buttons along the bottom.

Surprisingly there is a lot of space around the screen, making the phone perhaps larger than is has to be. For the record Nokia's dimensions are 127.8 x 58.5 x 11.5mm.

The sheer size of the Nokia 900 means that while it will still fit comfortably in the pocket of your jeans, you may, as we have found, have to move it around from time to time so it sits comfortably.

Day-to-day performance

Beauty is one thing, but without a decent bit of tech inside, it's as unfulfilling as dating a shop mannequin. Thankfully Nokia has packed the Lumia 900 with enough kit for you to enjoy the experience.

A 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor gets the ball rolling and means that it's no slouch when it comes to running apps. The phone is fast, and while the HTC Titan and newer HTC Titan II pips it to the post, you aren’t going to notice it in day-to-day running.

Don't worry that the phone doesn't have "quad-core" written all over the spec sheet - the Lumia 900 is fast enough to do all the tasks we asked of it from playing games, to streaming movies from Netflix, or composing an email. The only thing that will slow you down is a lack of a decent internet connection.

Scrolling of your app list whizzes, all of the interactive live tiles - which give you up-to-date info via the home screen - buzz and as we've said before about Windows Phone 7 it's so quick and simple some may find it a little dull. There really isn't the need to press menu buttons every two minutes.

Like the Lumia 800, the phone comes with 16GB of storage space for apps, music, video, and photos and isn’t expandable via microSD, something that is a limitation of Windows Phone. Even so, that should be plenty unless you are a real music or movie hound and with the addition of extra storage on SkyDrive or Dropbox (Box Files for Dropbox is a good app for this) expanding beyond the storage space of the phone is easy. Music-wise you get Nokia's streaming music app called Nokia Music, which is free, or if you are happy to pay WE7 and Spotify both offer dedicated WP7 apps.

Connectivity-wise you get all the usual offerings: there's Bluetooth for pairing speakers or a headset, Wi-Fi for surfing the web, and 21Mbps HSDPA if you are lucky enough to find a signal where you are.

Battery

Good news. It is big, it is powerful, and it has lasted a lot longer than we expected. In our tests we've happily run the phone for a good 15 hours of average daily use before the battery saver feature of Windows Phone 7 kicks in. That means from 7am when we got up right through to way past midnight, more than enough for most people.

In our tests we used the phone as we would do normally, including using it for GPS (on a run for 30 minutes), checking notifications, receiving mail, watching Netflix, playing games, using Spotify, making phone calls, taking pictures and everything else you would expect. Not once in our use have we got to the early part of the evening and needed to panic about charging - we can't say the same about the Lumia 800. It really is a big leap forward for Nokia and one that means you'll still be able to make calls on the way home after a night out at the pub.

Nokia apps

While Nokia works with Microsoft on Windows Phone 8 it has worked to create a number of apps that not only add to the experience, but try to convince you that you want a Nokia Windows Phone 7 phone rather than one from HTC or Samsung.

That means you get access to an ever-expanding list of apps that really add to the experience rather than just being about converting imperial to metric.

At the time of writing Nokia Lumia 900 owners will get a number of apps: Nokia Drive, a very good turn by turn navigation app; Nokia Music, a fantastic free streaming music service that lets you create radio stations or play curated music around certain themes; Nokia Transport, an app that lets you check transport routes and times around the UK and the rest of the world; Nokia Maps, a quicker and easier alternative to WP7's own mapping software; Creative Studio, an app that adds panorama, burst shooting and creative effects to the camera; CNN, a way of checking the latest news from the international news service; ESPN, for the latest sports news; Tango for video calling; and a few others like a Sesame Street app for kids and Nokia's own take on finding the best Apps on offer. Nokia also offers an Augmented Reality app that lets you find stuff around you.

Considering all this is included at no extra cost, and they aren't just limited time trials, it is very impressive.

Nokia has also added tethering to the Nokia Lumia 900 allowing you to share your internet connection with five other devices. The phone lets you do it automatically and you won't have to contact your operator to turn it on. Turning it on and off is very easy.

Windows Phone 7

If you haven't used Windows Phone 7 before, it's a bit of a Marmite experience. What we mean by that is that it is incredibly easy to use, and for some perhaps a little too easy. The operating system, as we've discussed on Pocket-lint many times before, juggles and jostles for your attention. It isn't a grid of apps waiting to be pressed, but a living, breathing phone, waiting to interact with you.

Those who like the endless possibilities that Android offers probably won't like the more restrictive nature, and might mean that the OS comes across as rather boring. Aside from changing the colour scheme, there is little in the way of personalisation. You can read all about Windows Phone 7 Mango in our review.

Camera and photography

Like the Lumia 800, the Lumia 900 features a Carl Zeiss 8-megapixel f/2.2 camera and dual LED flash.

There's a dedicated camera button on the top of the device and you get a more camera-like feel than you do with something like the iPhone. That feeling is compounded by a half press to make the camera focus, before you snap the final picture.

Our test shots were on the whole good, but we still got mixed results. Basically the more light you have the better the shots. Inside and the flash can be overbearing if your subject is too close, and without the flash the pictures can be noisy. Get the right lighting and the results are very good indeed.

The experience is pretty much the same as the Nokia Lumia 800 and consistent with the HTC Titan II (a 16-megapixel WP7 camera phone) we've recently reviewed suggesting this could be an OS problem rather than one isolated to Nokia handsets. Let's hope further updates to the OS improve it.

If that sounds downbeat is shouldn't be. The Lumia 900 can take great photos, just don't expect to produce perfect results every time.

On the video front you get 720p resolution at 30fps. The video performance is good, although not hitting the high resolution you'll find on other smartphones, if that bothers you. The front-facing camera is good enough for video conferencing either via Tango or Skype.

Verdict

So, should you get the Nokia Lumia 900? We are torn between this and the Lumia 800, enjoying both phones as much as each other.

The Lumia 900 delivers a bigger screen, a front-facing camera, faster surfing speeds, internet tethering, a much better battery, and a easier to charge device than the 800. However all those extras come at the cost of a much bigger device that won't be for everyone. Like the Samsung Galaxy S III, Sony Xperia S, and HTC One X, the Lumia 900 is a big phone and that is likely to put some off.

If you fancy the idea of a bigger screen this is the better of the two. It's more brash than the Lumia 800, but the experience is good. The screen's resolution is stretched to its limit at this size, but that's not enough to push it over the edge as in the Titan series from HTC.

We aren't going to witter on about the merits of Windows Phone 7 over and over again. You either like the OS or you don't.

Nokia has done the best it can to make the most of Windows Phone 7, for us making this a viable alternative to Android and the iPhone. The app scene is still lacking though. It is getting better, but if that's your main want, WP7 still won't deliver as much as the other two main platforms. For us, the success with WP7 is with contacts, the interactive tiles, and how easy everything is to use. The apps will come in time.

We like it, but we know many won't.