The Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 710 were well-received debuts for Nokia’s first Windows Phone range back in 2011. The Nokia Lumia 900 is even more significant as it’s the first Nokia Lumia flagship phone for the all-important US market. And it’s now arrived in the UK.
So what’s new? There’s a larger, 4.3-inch screen, but that’s not all. The Lumia 900 also runs an updated version of Windows Phone, codenamed Windows Phone Tango, and comes with some new apps too. But it still may not be enough to compete with the already established Android handsets and the Apple iPhone.
Nokia has been relying on the same design for the best part of a year now. This is basically a slimmer version of the Nokia N8 frame, with inward curves that first appeared on the doomed Nokia N9 and then on the Nokia Lumia 800.
And yet this design still feels fresh, simply because so many rivals are trying to come up with a new type of super-slim black slab. The Nokia Lumia 900 – available in black, white and cyan – is refreshingly different. The colour runs all the way through the material: scratch it and you’ll see it isn’t just paint. And although it’s a millimetre thinner than the Nokia Lumia 800, at 11.5mm it’s still not especially thin.
But that’s OK, because it doesn’t feel like it needs to be. That slight bulk is reassuring, and the whole frame is rock solid. It’s a smooth delight to hold, and capable of crisp sound and call quality, thanks to speaker grilles drilled into the case itself.
The most obvious change from the Nokia Lumia 800 is the size. The display now stretches across a bigger 4.3-inches, but that’s not all. The Micro USB charger is thankfully no longer hidden behind a creaky flap, but is now open to the world, while the Micro SIM card tray now has to be pried open with a supplied pick like an iPhone. Unless you have to change your SIM regularly, however, you won’t find this an issue.
You’ll also find an 8MP camera, but we’re sorry to report that this might be the weakest aspect of the Nokia Lumia 900. You can launch the camera app even from the lock screen, but images are flat, dreary and not particularly sharp. There are rumours Nokia is bringing its astonishing PureView camera tech – seen on the Nokia 808 PureView – to Windows Phone, but sadly the Nokia Lumia 900’s arrived just too soon to benefit.
The screen occupies more of the front face surface area than before. The buttons – Back, Home and Search – are smaller now, but still easy to reach. The large 4.3-inch AMOLED screen makes typing on the excellent Windows Phone keyboard easy and you’ll seldom make a mistake. AMOLED lends itself well to Windows Phone. Blacks are actually black and the OS makes heavy use of this. The bold colours and slight saturation leads to a vivid experience.
Nokia’s ClearBlack technology improves visibility outdoors in direct sunlight, which many AMOLED screens struggle with. But the 480 x 800 pixel resolution over such a big display means images are far from pin-sharp. To be fair, this fixed resolution is a limitation of Windows Phone, and Nokia’s hands are tied, but it’s still poor when viewed against the Retina Display on the Apple iPhone 4S, or the HD displays of the Sony Xperia S and HTC One X.
The Nokia Lumia 900 is also the first device in Europe to run the very latest version of Windows Phone, known as Tango. It’s a minor update of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango and is aimed at adding greater language support. But there are also some good new features, including the ability to add video attachments in texts, for example.
What you get, then, is something very similar to a Nokia Lumia 800. The big home screen is full of large tiles filled with up-to-the-minute information, alerting you to the number of messages you have received or a breaking news story. It’s a great user experience, especially compared to older versions of Android.
The exclusive apps Nokia provides are also superb. The Nokia Drive satnav app offers free worldwide maps and is a reason on its own to buy a Windows Phone, while Nokia Music’s streaming Mix Radio playlists are impressive, considering they’re free.
Unfortunately, the app support really ends with Nokia, however. Although many services, such as Spotify, Amazon Kindle and Netflix are now on Windows Phone, they’re not always frequently updated. And there are still substantial delays for the latest games.
Windows Phone can also still seem confusing at times. You’re never quite sure when the Bing search button will search an app and not the web, or where you are in the confusing People hub. Returning to an app from the multitasking screen drops you back where you were, but tapping its home screen icon restarts it. Internet Explorer is also slow and has an annoying habit of zooming in even when you only use one finger. These little things add up to a frustrating experience compared with the iPhone, for instance.
Thankfully we’ve not experienced some of the glaring software issues that the Nokia Lumia 800 has been plagued with, such as the screen freezing when calls are received. The 1830mAh non-removable battery was also powerful enough to last a day and a half of usage easily. That’s down to the Nokia Lumia 900’s single-core 1.4GHz processor, but Windows Phone works in such a way that you don’t notice speed. If you’re not bothered about the little glitches surrounding Windows Phone, you might just love the Lumia 900.
While the Nokia Lumia 900 can’t quite compete with the Apple iPhone or the best Android handsets, that’s mostly down to the constraints of Windows Phone and a current lack of apps. It’s still a well-built phone, though, that should be strongly considered by those yet to declare their allegiance to an OS, as there’s plenty to like here.