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Nokia Lumia 800: A Quick Review

When Nokia released the N9 last year, it repositioned itself as a serious competitor in the smartphone market once more. This had a lot to do with the in-house developed, Linux-based MeeGo operating system. The OS represented a complete shift away from the Symbian operating system that Nokia had used on all its previous smartphone handsets. 

But the MeeGo operating system’s life was very limited. Soon after the launch of the N9, Nokia announced that all future handsets would be based on the Microsoft Windows Phone operating system.

The first of this new generation of phone is the Lumia 800, which runs the Mango or Windows Phone 7.5 OS. But, while the phone uses a completely different OS, the Lumia 800 looks almost identical to the N9.

Aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel
The Lumia 800 looks nearly the same as the N9. It uses the same unibody design, meaning there are no removable batteries or battery flaps, and the shell is finished with curved edges. Unfortunately, it still uses the flimsy flap that covers the mini USB/charging port. 

There are one or two changes though. The most obvious is colour. The Lumia 800 is available in bright pink, blue or black, while the N9 is available only in black. In addition to the Power and volume controls on the right-hand side of the phone, the Lumia 800 also has a dedicated camera button.

If you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty, the Lumia 800 weighs 142 grams, making it slightly heavier than the N9, which comes in at 135 grams.

Overall, like the N9, the Lumia 800 looks and feels solid and strikes you as the type of phone that will handle the odd drop – unlike, for example, the iPhone.

Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed
The Lumia 800 uses a 3.7” AMOLED screen, compared to the N9’s 3.9” screen. Why a smaller screen if the phone has the same dimensions? Blame Windows Phone OS: The three virtual control buttons below the Lumia 800’s screen make the difference. It will, however, be hard to notice the actual difference in screen size, even when you have both of them lying next to each other.

The Lumia 800, like the N9, won’t exactly slip into your pocket unnoticed, but it is compact enough to fit there comfortably. Its smooth edges also give the phone a great feeling when you’re holding it, and the bright colours may lead to the phone to being in carried in a hand or being displayed on a coffee table more often than it hiding in a pocket.

The physical dimensions are exactly the same as the Nokia N9, but the Lumia 800 is still a little too heavy for a cutting edge smartphone.

Speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking
The Lumia 800 uses a 1.4Ghz Qualcomm processor, which is coupled with 16GB of internal storage and only 512Mb of RAM. The RAM falls rather short when compared to other smartphones, where the standard is 1GB, but the processor is on a par and makes up for the RAM. The N9 uses 1GB or RAM but uses a slower 1Ghz Cortex A8 CPU. Overall performance was great. Angry Birds launched in no time and birds were soaring through the air glitch-free. More processor-intensive apps ran fine too, even with an arsenal of apps open in the background.

This seamed a bit strange, as I thought that I would eventually exhaust the meagre 512MB of RAM and start getting some warnings about low memory, or at least see a performance drop. But it turns out that Windows Phone 7.5 does not support true multi-tasking. Yes, music and other apps will run in the background but, once you hold down the virtual Back button, you find only a few applications remain in the memory. The others seem to “disappear” from the list, and the only way to get them back is to restart them. I also found that I couldn't manage open applications like I would on Android phones; I could switch from app to app, but had no way to force an application to close.

Even though every task ran effortlessly on the 512MB of RAM in the phone, the limited multitasking ability offered Windows Phone 7.5 is a slight disappointment.

How’s the battery life?
Nokia’s operating system choice has been questionable in the past, but it has always been constant when squeezing the maximum amount of operating time out of the battery – and the Lumia 800 is no different.

The Lumia 800 uses the same 1 450mAh battery as the N9 but, according to Nokia, the Lumia 800 offers 13 hours of talk time, compared to 11 hours on the N9. Although I didn't talk on the Lumia 800 for 13 hours, I used it for taking calls, checking Twitter and Facebook, performed a few Internet searches and played games on it for a full two days before I was warned that I was running low on battery power. Even then, though, the battery management app popped up and asked me if I wanted to tweak the phone to get even more life from the battery.

Once again, Nokia’s battery life – and management – is unrivaled. This feature alone puts the phone in a different league.

Picture, video and browsing quality
Located at the back of the phone is an 8MP Carls Zeiss camera with a dual-LED flash. The camera is able to capture stills at a maximum resolution of 3264X2448 pixels – exactly the same as the Nokia N9. However, the addition of a dedicated camera button really does enhance the picture experience, as taking quick snaps doesn't require taking the phone out of stand-by mode, locating the camera app and then activating it. Simply press the Camera button and snap away.

Camera features include geo-tagging, auto-focus and a range of other features that take normal happy snaps to a new level. Unfortunately, the lack of a pinch-zoom interface was a let-down; clicking on the zoom-in and zoom-out buttons took too much time.

The Lumia 800 lacks a front facing camera, so no video conferencing, unlike the N9.

Videos are displayed in vivid colour and have a great contrast ratio on the AMOLED screen. This, combined with the good battery life even when using video, are a big bonus. 

Quality of audio
At the bottom of the phone is a mono speaker, which is great for speaker calls or listening to the odd song, but there are numerous smartphones with better-made built-in speakers. The 3.5mm headphone jack will offer a far better sound experience, as this is where Dolby’s Mobile Sound Enhancement feature kicks in.

Overall, not the greatest combination of sound features on a phone, but enough to keep most users satisfied.

Range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions
With the Nokia Lumia 800 using Windows Phone 7.5, most applications are tightly integrated with a Microsoft Live account, much as all Android devices are linked to a Google account. This means, before you can properly start using the included messaging applications like Twitter or Facebook, you need to register or sign in to a Microsoft Live account. That said, the included Twitter and other social media accounts are less than ideal. They are all included in one option labelled “Me”. Clicking on it brings all the feeds together on one screen, but with little differentiation, making it confusing when trying to work out which feed supplied which message. This is especially problematic when replying, not knowing where the post will be shown.

On the other hand, the Microsoft Live account also gives you access to Xbox Live games, a market from where you can buy Xbox Live and other games. It also provides access to the Windows Phone Marketplace, from where you can download 3rd party social media apps and keep the feeds separate.

Speaking of the Windows Phone Marketplace, there is less of an app variety when compared with more mature online stores like the Android Marketplace or Apple App Store. Free versions of commercial apps are in short supply; for example, the full version of Angry Birds costs R24, although a free trial version is available from the Windows Phone Marketplace, whereas the equivalent is free for other platforms.

As the Windows Phone operating system becomes more popular, however, the number of apps available will increase quickly.

But that shouldn't have to be the workaround to make up for the confusing integration of social feeds. The N9 didn't score too favourably here either, but its improved use of the Ovi Store counted in its favor.

How effective are hardware and software controls?
In addition to the four hardware control buttons, the Lumia 800 uses three software buttons located below the screen. The Back button works like a Back button on an Internet browser and, when held down, shows all open applications. 

The Windows button allows for a quick return to the phone’s home screen, no matter what application is open.

The third button is a Search option, which can be accessed from any application. When tapped, it launches the phone’s Internet browser, with Bing as the default search engine.

The addition of the three software buttons makes navigating and operating the phone far easier and less time consuming.

Innovations, unique features
Windows Phone 7.5 offers a user interface that is quite different to anything on Android or iOS. It uses Live tiles, which can be thought of as square widgets (applications that automatically update themselves). The Live tiles are continually changing in accordance with what they represent. For instance, the Calendar Tile changes with the date – nothing new there, but it also displays upcoming appointments. The People Tile displays images of the people “active” in the contacts folder, either on a Gmail or Microsoft Live account. A click on the tile will launch that application and allow for a more in-depth view. 

Unfortunately, besides changing the location of the tile (you can move it up or down, or off the home screen), and changing colours or automatic updating, there is not much else Windows Phone offers in the way of customisation at this stage.

On the plus side – and this is a massive plus - the Lumia 800 includes Windows Office 365, which in turn gives direct access to a SkyDrive account, allowing for files to be saved in the cloud. 

Office 365 opens up an entirely new collaboration world. Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents can be created, viewed and edited directly on the Lumia 800, with the changes or additions being automatically updated and ready for any other colleagues to review from their Windows Office 365 account. This knocks flat any equivalent ion the iOS.

Although the new interface does seem a bit confusing at first, it won’t take long to figure out how to operate it properly. The settings, application management and phone customisation options are all easy to locate. 

The addition Windows Office 365, with its seamless integration and collaboration tools, are a huge bonus and will benefit any organization with more than one employee.

Lumia 800 works well, is superbly designed and offers a new, yet uncomplicated user interface. Nokia has come a long way from its archaic Symbian operating system, and the Windows Phone 7.5 is in some cases even easier to use than the Nokia N9 running MeeGo. 

In the end, the combination of battery life, Office 365 and competitive pricing makes this a killer phone.

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