Nokia is dead, long live Nokia. Having been written off in the Western world, Nokia is throwing all its eggs in one basket and hoping that its latest phone, the Windows Phone 7 powered Nokia Lumia 800, has what it takes to wow.
We’ve been testing it ahead of the UK launch to find out whether your next phone will be a Nokia.
A brief history
The fact that the Lumia 800 looks like the N9 might not mean much to many people. The N9, the last handset before the Lumia, was a beauty that ran the new MeeGo operating system.
Despite being something of a return to form for Nokia, the N9 was dead before it went on sale. But it's also one of the things that caused Nokia to partner with Microsoft to create a Nokia Windows Phone. And the resulting handset takes its cues from the N9, and in our view, that's no bad thing.
Nokia isn't back on top yet though, and there are still some questions to be asked, like: why there is no front facing camera, or Near Field Communication (NFC) for cashless payments.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is hewn from a single piece of black, pink, or cyan coloured polycarbonate that gives you a seamless design. It has curved edge that snugly fits your grip with the screen and the phone’s innards have been slipped into the shell as if it was Cinderella and the glass slipper.
The Micro SIM and Micro USB charging socket are found under covered compartments at the top of the device next to a 3.5mm headphones jack. You'll find a speaker at the bottom of the handset and it offers a good loud sound.
The micro USB charging cover is going to be your biggest complaint of the phone and the part that you are likely to break first as you fiddle to plug in your phone.
We think Nokia has missed a trick in missing out a dock connector. The idea of being able to slip it into a docking station or speaker is very appealing, and there are lots of other phones, like the HTC Rhyme or iPhone 4S where this works brilliantly. Had Nokia included this, you would never need to faff about with silly plastic covers. Also annoying is the fact that the battery isn’t accessible or replaceable and there isn’t a microSD slot either.
The polycarbonate surface is broken with a Carl Zeiss 8 megapixel lens and dual LED flash on the rear. Three buttons on the side of the phone that offer volume, power, and a camera shutter. And there's a gorgeous 3.7-inch AMOLED screen on the front.
Along with the curved design, the screen is the highlight of the device. It is stunning and by far the best we’ve seen on a Windows Phone 7 smartphone to date, and is good enough to impress even your iPhone 4S owning friends. It is only really challenged by the display on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
The screen is ever so slightly curved, and that gives you a very different experience to the flatness of the iPhone for example.
Where it really shines though, is the fantastic viewing angle. It's so good that we would suggest being careful about reading private emails on the train as other passengers will be able to read them easily.
The vivid colours that Windows Phone 7 offers together with the super-vivid AMOLED display means everything pops out of the screen.
Beneath the screen are the three standard buttons; back, home, and search. While these aren’t part of the active screen, the glass does cover them. They come with haptic feedback buzzing as you press them, something that many we have shown really liked.
Beauty is one thing, but without a decent bit of tech inside, it's as unfulfilling as dating a shop manaquin. Thankfully Nokia has packed the Lumia 800 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. The phone is fast, and while the HTC Titan pips it to the post, you aren’t going to notice it in day-to-day running.
Scrolling of your app list whizzes, all of the interactive live tiles - which give you up-to-date info via the home screen - seem to be more interactive than the recently tested HTC Radar. And thanks to hardware acceleration in IE9 web pages load quicker, even if you are in a poor signal area.
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. But if you are, then Nokia has you covered on the music front with a streaming music app called Nokia Music.
Connectivity wise you get all the usual offerings; there's Bluetooth for pairing speakers or a headset, Wi-Fi for surfing the web, and 14.4Mbps HSDPA.
Depending on what you do, and how you do it, will affect how long the battery lasts. Day one, with a number of location-based apps running we struggled to get past 4pm. However after we had reined those pesky apps in, we got considerably better results.
Owners of the Lumia 800 should expect to get a full day of life from a single charge, even using a combination of the phone's features, including GPS. Windows Phone 7’s battery saver certainly helps.
Official stats from Nokia suggest you’ll get 9.5hrs talk time, 7hr playback time, 55hrs music playback time, and 335hrs standby time. We'll tell you now, you aren’t going to get two weeks battery life from this phone.
The Mango user interface and apps
Following the announcement with Microsoft in February, this is the first of a range of new phones from Nokia that come packed with Windows Phone 7 and in particular Windows Phone 7.5, and updated version, with lots of new features. In fact, Microsoft claims it has over 500 new features over the original release.
This means that the operating system as a whole has had a vast improvement. Now you get a faster, better browsing experience, Twitter and LinkedIn integration, better management of groups in the people hub and plenty more. It is by no means perfect, but compared to the original WP7 from October 2010 it's light years ahead. If you're interested, we have a full review of Windows Phone 7 Mango for you to read.
Unlike with Android, Windows Phone manufacturers can't change the interface design. They are, however, allowed to add apps or enhance settings options, but that’s all. The Nokia Lumia 800 comes with a number of dedicated apps including Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, Nokia Music, App Highlights, and Contacts Transfer.
App highlights is designed to give you highlights of the best apps in the Microsoft Marketplace. An "editor’s pick" if you like, and therefore encourage you to see what’s new and hot.
Contact transfer is an app designed to let you suck your contacts out of your old phone - as long as it has Bluetooth. It's simple to use and for those still rocking an Nokia N95 with hundreds of contacts stored on your phone, rather than the cloud, this will come in very handy.
As for other apps, Microsoft and Nokia are doing well to appeal to developers and there are new apps appearing all the time, but it's by no means perfect. There are a lot of apps that just aren't there yet. There's no Spotify, no Tiny Wings, no Amazon shopping app and probably no "whatever your favourite app is on iPhone" either. It's getting better, but it is something to take into account.
Like the iPhone there is no Flash support, and sadly no BBC iPlayer app to catch-up on TV shows you've missed. That means if you want to watch movies or TV shows on the Lumia 800 you've got to load them in yourself via the Zune software on a PC or Windows Phone 7 Connector on the Mac. Supported video formats include .3gp, .3g2, .mp4, .m4v, mbr, .wmv. Not a brilliant selection.
Lumia 800 app features vs other Windows Phones
While Nokia has focused on getting the core offering of the phone right, there are things that other WP7 smartphones will offer than Nokia doesn’t.
That includes a bevy of free apps installed that come as standard with a HTC Windows Phone 7 device; Flashlight, Unit converter, and Notes, for example. However, before you panic, all are available from other developers in the Marketplace.
The biggest surprise, though, is that there is no internet sharing. So you won't be able to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot to support your other devices.
Nokia Drive is a free turn-by-turn navigation. It comes with voice guidance, the ability to download and install maps on the go from anywhere in the world, and the ability to add extra mapping data via 3G, if you stray too far from your route.
To help you find that route, Nokia has included 69 million places within the service. It claims that you’ll never be lacking suggestions for places to visit, and in our tests it never failed to work out where we wanted to go, be it a postcode, street address, or just a pub. As you might expect, there's a landscape view for using the app in the car, and the option of switching between 2D and 3D views.
A drive around the Berkshire countryside proved easy. Directions are spoken to you, so you get the right turning. The mapping display and interface is very clear and easy to understand and we're very impressed by the performance.
If you are the sort of person that only needs a GPS occasionally, rather than all the time, this is certainly going to be up your street (sorry we couldn’t resist).
The other key, new, app included is Nokia Music, a twist on Microsoft’s Music hub and Zune offering. Rather confusingly sitting separate, but also linked to the Microsoft Music app, Nokia music is a free app only available to Nokia users. It consists of a number of features and is, in reality, the rebirth of the company’s failed Comes With Music offering of yesteryear.
The key selling point however is a feature called MixRadio, a free, global, mobile music-streaming application that delivers hundreds of channels of locally-relevant music to be streamed or saved, for offline listening.
Offline listening is restricted, of course, but not overly so. Users can download up to four stations and up to 14.5 hours of music at any one time. That’s around 200 tracks in total all stored in the AAC+ format.
There will be 100 channels, built according to genre and each contains 50 songs, which are refreshed, once a week. So if you just want to listen to new releases, there’s a channel for that.
To help it create those personalised track lists the app will also scan your music collection (via a website). It uses this to tell what kind of music you have and then makes suggestions, to help you find other music you'll like, but perhaps haven't yet discovered.
But it is not just MixRadio that music fans should look forward to. Also integrated in Nokia Music is Gigfinder, which allows you to find live, local, music and buy tickets from your phone.
Those are the more exciting features of the new app. You can also buy music from Nokia’s 15m track collection, as well as stream Internet radio stations and listen to your own music.
The Nokia Music app is fully integrated into the Windows Phone experience. You'll see your Nokia music in the Zune interface, including the music you've heard most recently.
In practice, it's very good. Within seconds you can be listening to free curated music on your phone. No sign-up. No subscription. No faff. We love it.
Nokia Music is helped even further by a decent speaker in the phone and while it isn’t going be good enough to match your Hi-Fi is good enough to get the party started in a hotel room or just on your desk. Bass fans will probably be disappointed however.
Historically, as well as making phones to call people with, Nokia has also had impressive camera technology. And the camera on the Lumia 800 doesn’t disappoint either, which is terrific news.
Nokia has packed in a Carl Zeiss 8-megapixel f2.2 camera and a 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 an iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S II. 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, coping with what we threw at it. Inside and the flash can be overbearing if your subject is too close, and without the flash the pictures can be a tad noisy. Get the right lighting and the results can be very good indeed.
On the video front you get 720p resolution at 30 fps. The video performance is good, although you don’t get to zoom.
Sadly features like panorama and burst mode, as found in the HTC Radar and Titan, aren’t available on this phone.
You do however get auto-fix, which does what the name suggests to your pictures. For 79p we would recommend the Pictures Lab app that gives you a number of Instagram- and Hipstamatic-like filters too.
Nokia Nostalgia and the famous ringtone
One of the biggest things we’ve noticed while we’ve been testing the Nokia Lumia 800 is the huge amount of nostalgia that the phone evokes in people. Upon seeing the phone, people instantly start reminiscing about their Nokias of yesteryear and how they always have a soft spot for the company.
That nostalgia level goes to 11 when you get a call and the ringtone of your youth comes blurting out. Nokia has changed the der der der der, der der der der der tune, slightly softening it, and there will be a dubstep version coming out soon, for those too-cool sorts.
Beyond the famous Nokia ringtone the company has added dozens of others too.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is far from perfect, but those niggles are just that, niggles.
In future models we would like to see a front facing camera, NFC and we'd love a dock. We'd also like an improvement to the Micro USB flap to something more becoming of such a lovely device.
However, get past those quibbles and the Nokia Lumia 800 is a lovely phone. It's a phone that will evoke fond memories, a phone that makes using your phone fun, and a phone that you will be keen to show off again and again.
That’s mostly down to the screen, which is stunning. But it is also down to Window Phone 7, which seems to shine more here than it does on other Windows Phone 7-powered handsets.
Get this and you will be deemed an agitator and not someone with just another iDevice or a big screened Android smartphone.
Nokia is back.