Nokia Lumia 900 review: Marmite, Simon Cowell, Windows Phone - the three issues that divide Britain today. People who use and like Windows Phone tend to love it with an evangelical fervour. But to the doubters Windows is for spreadsheets, and should be kept as far as possible from such an object of desire as a smartphone.
The Nokia Lumia 900 is the biggest Lumia Windows Phone to date, sporting a 4.3in display that tops the Nokia Lumia 800's 3.7in screen. The Lumia 900 doesn't come cheap: at around £500 SIM free or from around £30 a month over two years, we're firmly in Samsung Galaxy S3 or iPhone 4S territory. So the question is - Nokia Lumia 900: good buy or goodbye?
The answer is straightforward and complicated: if you are a Windows Phone fan, this is the phone for you. If you dislike or are simply amibvalent toward Windows on a smartphone, step away now. Because the Nokia Lumia 900 is not only the biggest Windows Phone we've seen, it's the most Windowsy. See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?
Nokia Lumia 900: display
There's no getting away from the Lumia 900's screen. The extra real estate in the 4.3-inch ClearBlack AMOLED display is bright and colourful - at times too colourful - with good contrast. It looks attractive even when viewed outside in sunlight. It's not the sharpest screen we've seen, but at 480x800 pixels it's certainly not a bad display on which to view photos and video. Unlike, say, Samsung Galaxy phones, there's a reasonable amount of blue plastic surrounding the screen, as well as a sizeable bezel. It's far from an edge-to-edge touchscreen, and this is far from a small phone.
As with most Windows Phones, the Nokia Lumia 900's touchscreen feels super responsive, and you can zip around the OS with the faintest of swipes and taps. Windows Phone looks good, too, and is to our mind the most visually attractive of the major mobile platforms. See also: Group test: what's the best Windows phone?
Nokia Lumia 900: build quality and design
We really like the feel of the Lumia 900. Although the finish is plastic to the touch, the device feels solid and smooth in the hand. It's big (did we mention that?) but lightweight and designed in such a way that it feels slim, even at 11.5mm thick. Like a skyscraper the Lumia 900 is built to flex a little, and we carried it around in our pocket for days with nary a scratch on it.
Its bright blue casing - other colours are available - is another love-it-or-hate-it factor in the Lumia 900's makeup. It's certainly striking, and no-one will mistake this phone for an iPhone, which may be the point. The volume, camera and power buttons are disappointingly plastic and cheap feeling, and the top-loading SIM tray rattled around a bit in its slightly too big tray. Odd let downs in an otherwise nicely finished device.
Like the iPhone, you can neither swap out the battery or add in storage. This is either disappointingly inflexible, or protective and simple, depending on your viewpoint. But in use as a full multimedia device, we reckon the 16GB of onboard storage will fill up fast, so Microsoft's offer of 25GB in cloud storage is welcome, if not entirely satisfactory in broken broadband Britain.
In a brand new device, anyway, we found we could get a full day's moderate use out of the Lumia 900's 1,830mAh battery, which is about what you'd expect for a high-end smartphone. Nokia claims up to seven hours or talk time or eight hours of video playback. And it doesn't take overlong to charge.
There's a 3.5mm jack at the top left, and a micro USB port in the middle of the top side, for charging and synching.
Nokia Lumia 900: Windows Phone 7.5 'Mango'
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: the Lumia 900's Windows OS. The Nokia runs Microsoft Windows Phone 7, or 'Mango'. Windows Phone is, well, different. Its cascading tiles and 3D transitions are a feast for the eyes, and the typography makes Gmail beautiful. I'm serious.
Windows is a great platform for social media users - which is pretty much everyone, these days. Once you've signed in to your Twitter and Facebook accounts, updates and photos appear all over the Lumia 900. Its kind of how Android is supposed to work, and it looks fantastic.
Typing on the onscreen keyboard is a nice experience: we found that we made fewer errors than on the Android equivalent, and the way predicted words appear in a bar above the keyboard is nicely intuitive.
But it's not all fun and games: the lack of customisation makes the iPhone look like a tweaker's dream. The Windows Phone is laid out as Microsoft intended, and you can't personalise or change it. At all. That may be no bad thing, depending on your viewpoint.
There's also no Flash support, which dampens the web-browsing experience further. It's more noticeable with the Lumia 900 than it is with, say, the iPhone, as Apple's device has access to myriad apps that play video. Don't be fooled by the YouTube 'app': it's merely a link to the mobile website, which is pretty useless on a phone that doesn't do Flash.
A Nokia spokesman contacted me and asked me to point out that YouTube videos will actually play on the Lumia 900 via the mobile site, and I'm happy to do so - although not all videos worked in our testing.
Indeed, paucity of apps is a problem for Windows Phone devices. It's not that there aren't any, there are 80,000 or more. But that pales into insignificance next to Google Play and the iTunes App Store. You know how you look for apps on iTunes and they are just there? Not in this case. Windows Phone's app world is growing, but you'll find odd omissions. You do get Nokia Maps, which is a nice addition to the Lumia 900.
As with all Windows handsets, there is no word on whether the Lumia 900 will be upgraded to Windows Phone 8 when that appears later this year.
Nokia Lumia 900: performance
It's big, it looks good, and basic navigation of the OS feels snappy enough. This latter surprised us, because on the face of it, the Lumia 900 is underspecced. Indeed, it has the same single-core processor running at 1.4GHz that powers its little sister the Lumia 800. Perhaps Windows Phone is kinder on hardware than Android or iOS.
Perhaps. But in our experience web browsing with the Lumia 900 was more akin to that of a budget Android phone than the iPhone or Galaxy S3. It's not slow, as such, but demanding pages take a while to pull down. As websites become increasingly complex, and HTML 5 starts to rear its ugly head, that 1.4GHz core is going to sweat as it downloads each element one at a time without being able to spread the effort around.
Call quality using both 3 and O2 SIMS in Surrey and London was pretty good on the Lumia 900. The person on the other side sounded clear and loud, and vice versa.
Nokia Lumia 900: camera
One thing that Windows Phone's true believers often cite is how good the OS is for viewing and sharing photos, but while photos look good on the Lumia 900, we're not sure about its credentials as a camera, despite its Carl Zeiss Tessar lens and 8Mp sensor. Image quality isn't great - snaps look a little soft around the edges, and whites seem to have a yellowish sheen (on the Lumia 900's screen, at least).
In low light conditions we saw some noise, in bright light some colours were slightly over-saturated. It's not a dreadful camera phone, but its not as good as either the iPhone 4S or the Galaxy S2, and that's not really good enough. It's also a bit of a pain to use, although the dedicated camera button is a boon, and once you can find and engage the Macro mode this works reasonably well.
Colours are slightly overblown here...
...whites look a little yellow (he's black and white, honest)...
...and edges are a little soft (although we can't blame the camera for the state of the lawn).
There's a front-facing webcam for taking pictures of yourself (or adjusting your makeup, ladies. And so-minded gents). And as Skype is now on Windows Phone, video calling is here. The 720p video captured or streamed looks and sounds reasonably good, although watch out for jagged exposure correction as the light changes. And horrible big round faces in the case of your author.
Nokia Lumia 900: connectivity
Down here in narrowband Britain, 4G is not for the likes of us, so the UK version of the Lumia 900 is restricted to a 3G chip. It's DC-HSPA, so faster networks will be, well, faster than standard 3G. We found that we got download speeds that were broadly the same as the two other handsets we tried with the same SIMs (around the 1Mbps mark, in Surrey). This may sound like an appalling result considering that DC-HSPA is in principle capable of up to 28Mbps, but it is pretty standard, and very little to do with the handset.