smartphone reviews

Nokia Lumia 800 Review: You Had Me At Gorgeous

Nokia’s Lumia 800 takes the gorgeous design of the N9 and slaps a new coat of Windows Phone 7 paint. The end result is a phone that’ll be drooled over by Windows Phone 7 aficionados, and could well influence a few switchers along the way, and it’s the subject of this week’s Mobile Monday review.

Why It Matters

When Gizmodo US reviewed the Lumia 800, they referred to it as “unattainable Foreign Beauty” — a gorgeous-looking Windows Phone 7 handset that wasn’t easy to get your hands on. That was some time back, though, and Nokia’s finally got the Lumia 800 out on Australian store shelves, along with quite a large advertising push. It’s easy to see why; Nokia’s essentially bet the farm on Windows Phone 7, and until we get a firm release date for the Lumia 900, the Lumia 800 is its “flagship” Windows Phone 7 device. Indeed, given the glacial pace at which Windows Phone 7 devices have hit the market relative to Android, it’s something of a flagship phone for Windows Phone 7 itself.

What We Like

It’s to Windows Phone 7′s benefit, then that the Lumia 800 is in most respects an excellent smartphone. It’s got the gorgeous visual style of the Nokia N9, for a start, although the review model I tested with was the black one — easily the least visually impressive Lumia 800. The N9 was a phone that I loved visually but couldn’t quite accept due to the fact that it was a lonely wanderer in a smartphone wilderness, given Nokia’s never going to pitch out another Meego-based handset. The Lumia 800 doesn’t have that limitation; clearly Nokia’s got big plans for Windows Phone 7, even if it is starting things off rather slow in terms of handset models.

The US review didn’t much like the top flap which hides the microSIM card slot and microUSB connector, but I think they’re a great bit of design; not only can anyone easily work out what to do with them, but they keep the phone’s primary ports nicely hidden, which adds to its appeal in a small but nice way.

It’s always tough writing about any Windows Phone 7 handset, because so many of them are (and I’m sure I’ll catch some criticism for this), a little “samey”. That’s in the sense that Microsoft’s own Windows Phone 7 guidelines mandate a certain look, until very recently relatively similar innards and a relatively similar set of features. It’s not quite up there in uniformity of look that you get with iPhones — but it’s close.

Vendors can add their own applications, but these have varied in quality, and few have really felt like an organic part of the operating system; more like applications that you might uninstall in order to get a bit of storage space back than a compelling buying argument.

Nokia’s still working within those same restrictions, but they’ve made the most of it with some genuinely impressive applications. Owning Navteq clearly helps here, with the included Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps applications being the real standouts. I’m less of a fan of Nokia Music, simply because it’s merely functional rather than being a real standout… and I’ve got to admit that if Nokia really wanted to make a splash with the Lumia 800, relaunching the “Comes With Music” initiative, which saw a subscription-based free music download service, would be a great way to grab attention. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

What We Don’t Like

There’s only a few things that truly annoyed me with the Lumia 800. Lack of video output is a little jarring on a modern smartphone, as is the limitation on storage at a flat 16GB. Again, that’s as much Microsoft’s design rules as it is Nokia decision, but 16GB these days is what you might expect on a mid-range/budget handset, not something that’s meant to be the pinnacle of handsets. If you’ve got a sizeable portable music collection, you could all too quickly fill the Lumia 800, and while Nokia Music’s mixtape streaming is meant to combat this, it’s not really the same thing as having your own music onboard.

I also hit a very odd (but thankfully only once-off) bug when loading the Xbox LIVE Extras application from the marketplace; at first the marketplace application informed me that I couldn’t run the application in question. A genuinely weird moment; I’m expecting a certain amount of fragmentation when the new entry-level WP7 handsets hit, but not at this stage. Loading it again to grab a quick screenshot saw it install and run flawlessly. Anyone else hit this particular bug?

The Lumia 800′s available with any carrier you’d care to name, or outright, but there’s a catch here that could bite any buyer who decides to shift carriers during the life of the handset. Rather than produce a quad-band 850/900/1900/2100 device, what you’ve got are two models of the Lumia 800, with either 850Mhz (Telstra and new Vodafone) or 900Mhz (Optus, Virgin and old Vodafone) 3G compatibility. Not having both means that if you do buy one and want to switch carriers, you’re stuck within either the Optus/Virgin or Telstra/Vodafone camps. If you’re not going to switch it’s not an issue, but it is a potential trap for those who might do so.

There’s also a few issues which aren’t really Lumia 800 issues, but are worth commenting on in a general Windows Phone 7 sense. The browser has a tendency to be laggy when tested on the same network as Android and iOS phones — in my case I tested with a Galaxy S II (still with stock Gingerbread) and an iPhone 4S running iOS 5.1. Loading standard web pages, the Lumia 800 sat resolutely in third position behind the Galaxy S II and iPhone 4S, which traded speed results back and forth.

Windows Phone 7′s made good progress in the apps department, but from a switching perspective there’s still a price issue to contend with. If you were jumping from iOS or Android, you’d be in for a small amount of bill shock — hopefully if more Windows Phone 7 devices hit the market and it grows there’ll be more competition to keep prices down. Video playback is limited to a set number of formats — which is, to be fair, true also of iOS without jailbreaking. They’re all things that are more in Microsoft’s control than Nokia’s at this stage of the game, but with Microsoft showing it’s willing to expand the WP7 market with lower-end models, maybe we’ll see some higher end ones as well, perhaps with software that can “upgrade” the Lumia 800′s issues in this regard.

Should You Buy It?

For the diehard Windows Phone 7 aficionados, there’s little doubt that the Lumia 800 is the phone to buy now. The Lumia 900 is on the horizon, but it’s anybody’s guess as to when that’ll be — and it’s highly unlikely Nokia would stymie sales of the 800 by announcing it particularly quickly. Actually, I’ve got the suspicion that many of you may have already done so, and how that’ll affect overall Lumia 800 sales is something I’ve pondered on before.

I’m also well aware that, just as there are diehard Apple and Android fans here at Gizmodo, there’s a sizeable number of specifically Nokia-centric fans out there who would tear me a new one in several interesting parts of my anatomy if I said anything about Nokia that wasn’t gushingly positive. I’ll reiterate that I don’t hate Nokia per se, but having said that, I won’t personally be switching to a Lumia 800. Looking at it from a switching perspective, there’s still stuff that from a power user’s perspective that I’d personally like to see in Windows Phone 7 — improved browser, better cut and paste support and consistent search that didn’t all too often just dump me in a generic Bing search, for example — before I’d jump ship full time. The Lumia 800′s a solid step in the right direction, but it’s not enough to convince me personally.

That doesn’t mean that nobody will switch operating system camps, however, and if ever there was a handset that’d make folks take notice, the Lumia 800 is it. It’s gorgeous, and there is an elegant simplicity to Windows Phone 7 that works well with this hardware. Those coming out of contract who want an elegant phone that has one of the best industrial designs going should give a Lumia 800 a test drive; despite Nokia’s missteps over the last decade of smartphones, the Lumia 800 is one of the good ones.

Specifications

Screen 3.7 inch 800×400
CPU 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM8255
RAM 512MB
Camera 8MP rear-facing, no front-facing
Storage 16GB; No expandable storage
3G Either 850MHz or 900Mhz
Weight 142g
Price $699 or on contract

Gallery


Have you subscribed to Gizmodo Australia's email newsletter? You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Product Finder

Find more great products at