The former king of the phone market is back and it wants to barge into the ring occupied by Apple and an army of Android handsets
The Lumia 800 is more than just a phone, it’s the first viable attempt by Nokia to enter the smartphone market with proper ammunition.
Nokia’s Stephen Elop famously said that the company had been left behind in the smartphone race and had lost out to Apple and Android.
This frank admission sent Nokia running back to the drawing board and led to the Microsoft–Nokia alliance that powers the new range of Nokia phones through Windows Mobile, starting with the Lumia 800.
On paper, this makes sense – Nokia has a massive reach to users all over the world and Microsoft needs a piece of the mobile phone market to stem the flow of Google Android, which has now become the world’s dominant phone OS.
Buff but tough
There’s traditional Nokia design at work in the Lumia 800. It is almost identical to the company’s recently released N9, which is no bad thing. It’s also the toughest smartphone we’ve held – Kevlar and Gorilla glass help to insulate it from scratches and fingerprints.
There’s no MicroSD slot and the bare minimum of inputs – a Micro USB socket and a headphone input are all you get, leaving space for a big speaker at the bottom of the phone.
Sound from the speaker is surprisingly loud, and better than you’d expect from such a small device.
The SIM card sits in the slot at the top of the phone – it’s awkward first time around and the flap you need to raise for charging is incredibly delicate.
Inside, there’s 16GB storage, 512MB RAM and a 1.4 Ghz single-core processor. It might sound odd against a wave of dual-core phones but – in reality – the Lumia 800 is fast and didn’t show any signs of slowdown during intensive apps in our test.
As a handy bonus, our Lumia 800 automatically connected to all the Wi-Fi networks we had saved, from home to the office and Starbucks and everything in between.
In terms of buttons, there’s the lock button, volume rocker and camera shutter all in silver on the right-hand side of the phone.
The front of the Lumia 800 features the Windows home button and icons for search, and a handy ‘back’ button that is useful for navigating menus and revisiting a lost web page or menu screen.
Windows Mobile was awkward, boring and difficult to love. Windows Phone Mango is an incredible turnaround by comparison.
Tiles flip and flash on your home screen, demanding your attention but not overpowering your eyes with screaming alerts. The BBC News app tile rotates with the latest stories, email and social updates appear as clear numerical notifications and your favourite photos front the big gallery tile.
Windows Phone Mango is smooth and, unbelievably for something from Microsoft, actually fun to use. If you’re a design-obsessed gadget fiend, there’s no OS that looks as cool.
The balance between simple block colours and neat, clear typography is a sign that it’s not just Apple that can do neat, clever and simple.
Swiping across menus is fast and there’s always a little tab or pointer to show you what comes next, as well as background images you can choose or which are simply pulled from a camera roll once you’ve marked them as favourites.
Apps plug into the tiled universe with ease – Spotify and IMDB look like bigger, desktop-style interfaces compared to Android and iOS equivalents. There’s always a background image pushing you to explore horizontally and swipe backwards and forwards.
The sensation of space and width is just a sensation compared to phones of a similar size, but it just flows better than Android and gives Apple something to consider. If you are swayed by such things, another plus is that onlookers will gawp at your screen.
Size and resolution aside, there is clever use of full-screen images in applications that pull in your photos, and Nokia Music simply looks like the next generation of iTunes.
There may not be the apps and the ecosystem surrounding it just yet, but Windows Phone Mango looks and feels great.
Full article in Mobile News issue 503 (December 5, 2011).
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