26 March 2012
The Lukia 800 is a strong yet smooth Windows Phone, with some genuinely useful Nokia apps and a very decent camera. More like this just might nudge Nokia back towards its glory days.
Some guys may struggle to use the L word, but we're unashamed to say we love Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango. It's almost an exact mid point between Apple's iOS and Android in terms of clean interface and customisability. For example, the Live Tiles are like an interactive love child of an Apple icon and an Android widget. Microsoft's system is also as smooth and consistent as the iPhone.
This is the first Mango phone we've looked at in a while, and initially worried there'd be a shortage of apps compared to the two front runners. We're happy to say our fears have been substantially allayed. For example, there are a decent number of Twitter apps to choose from - just not as many as for Android and Apple. And all the biggies are here - Evernote, Dropbox (admittedly third party and read only). Not surprisingly, Australian-specific apps are harder to find - but Foxtel's there.
Hardware wise, the Lumia 800 again camps in the middle ground. Compared to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S II and Motorola Razr, it's not the easiest on your pocket, but much more comfy in the hand. It's nice to be able to reach everything on the 3.7 inch screen with ease, and though it's a bit thick around the waist for a modern smartphone, its curved back is an ergonomic winner, albeit very slippery. On one occasion, it actually squirted out of my grasp and hit a fellow commuter.
Good thing (at least when it's not colliding with human tissue) the chassis is made of polycarbonate, and the Lumia 800 feels extremely sturdy and is much more scratch resistant than the average Android. The Gorilla glass laughed at our attempts to scratch it with car keys and a fork - you'll be the envy of your cracked screen Apple buddies.
Battery life was okay. Cue our usual gripe about manufacturers giving up on giving phones anything more than an average day's use. And before you shrug and say a nightly charge is easily done - it's when you lean on the phone more, for example in poor reception areas - that you'll feel the pain.
At least Nokia didn't hamstring the camera, as it did with some models in order to prop up N8 sales. Even our evening photos came out decently. The macro focus mode is perfect for snapping food pix.
We've seen some horrendous pics of alleged Nokia Mango skins and are relieved to report they've left Mango alone in the Lumia 800, while including arguably the most useful set of apps we've seen by a vendor. Nokia Maps and Drive offer free turn by turn navigation, and given we already like Bing Maps, and third party apps let you access Google Maps, it's safe to say it's pretty darn hard to get lost.
We've generally been lukewarm on the Music apps that vendors stick on smart phones, but thankfully Mango's restrictive interface keeps Nokia's contribution clean and useful. You can listen to streaming music mixes for free, from Swan Lake to Adele's personal favourites, and there's almost no buffering to speak of - and you can even download them for later listening.
Regrets, there are a few.
Nokia Maps may allow you to download maps of overseas countries, but if you're dreaming of your Lumia saving your life when you're lost in the back streets of Osaka - keep dreaming, because it won't work without a data connection. Sure, it's not much - just to access Assisted GPS - but it should be an option given the criminal costs of international roaming. We were told the Lumia 900 will dispense with this.
The ringing volume is also a considerable let down - it's one of the softest phones ever, so expect plenty of missed calls if you spend a lot of time in noisy environments. It's a shame, because we love the muffle-avoiding speaker placement at the bottom edge compared to the back mounted speakers of most.
While we love Mango, there's work to be done. While we love the tile system of the Windows Phone homepage, there's wasted real estate with a pointless vertical space along the right hand side (with just a solitary arrow to take you to Apps. Given it's already a smallish screen with a reasonably sized bezel, we'd love to see that changed.
The Search soft key is locked to Bing, which we understand - but that's all it does. Android's equivalent will search only within the app you're using - say contacts - whereas the Mango magnifying glass only searches the web. Some might enjoy this - but give us a choice, Microsoft. Finally, the multitasking is primitive, to say the least. You can only switch between the last five apps. The limitation is particularly irksome with the Twitter apps we found since they include long splash screens.
Is now a good time to buy the Lumia 800 with a new flagship around the corner? The 900 will snap to the new non-Apple big screen standard, with a 4.2" screen - but at the same resolution as the 800, which may mean a lower resolution but bigger screen trade off. We say "may", as it seems equal numbers of users struggle to find, or are hit over the head with, the effects of spreading the same resolution over more real estate. The 900 will also come Telstra 4G ready, if you're with our nation's big dog telco. Otherwise, nothing significant under the software or hardware hood changes.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is a pleasure to use, not least because of Mango. If you can handle a smaller screen, and are not particularly wedded to either Apple or Android's look and feel, we think you can't go too wrong.
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