Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nokia Lumia 900 phone review

Summary: Impressions from the first few days with Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone.
I have been using my new Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone for a few days, so want to share my first impressions.
First, some background.

Nokia Lumia 900 is my first smart phone. I spent a few weeks (okay, a couple of months) researching phones and this is what I figured out (I hope this info helps those looking for the first smart phone).

iPhone 4s offers the best overall quality (and camera in particular). Unfortunately, it is expensive (even with a 2-year plan): it would cost me close to $500 for two phones (for me and my wife, including the CA tax on the full price), and I'm not the kind of guy, who shells $500 on cell phones.

Samsung Galaxy S II seems to be the best overall Android phone (again, among other things, I am particularly interested in camera performance), but it also is not cheap. Besides, among the three platforms (iOS, Android and Windows Phone), I like Android the least.

I like the Windows Phone Metro interface, so when Amazon Wireless offered a $19.99 promotion on Nokia Lumia 900 (for AT&T plan upgrades), I took it. With Nokia's $100 credit, I will make about $160 on two phones, so for a cheapskate like me, this was a no-brainer.

My phone came with a free Micro USB Universal Car Charger (thanks, Amazon):
I also ordered Skinomi TechSkin Screen Protector:
The screen protector was easy to install. I noticed several small bubbles, but they disappeared after a couple of days. In addition to protecting the screen, the screen protector makes fingerprints less visible.

And I got a skin case (available in multiple colors):
The case is easy to put on and take off. It makes the phone slightly bulkier, but I hope it will be useful if the phone gets dropped.

Now, back to the phone. Here are my first impressions (before I forget).

Nokia Lumia 900 is a bit bigger than I expected (size-wise, my ideal phone is Samsung Focus Flash 4G), but the size is not overwhelming. It's a pleasure to hold the device in the hand.

I was not sure which phone color to pick. Read a few praises for the cyan version, but decided to stay with the classic black. I'm glad I did. When I saw the cyan at an AT&T store, I was not impressed (it's not bad, mind you, but not my kind of cyan). Now, if a white version were available (it is not, yet, but should be soon), I would get one of the two phones in white.

Despite lower screen resolution (800x480 vs. 960x640 in iPhone 4s), the display looks awesome, even when zoomed. Excellent colors.

The device is quite fast. I have read a few posts lamenting lack of support for dual-core processors in Windows Phone-based devices, but so far, single-core processor performance have been just fine. In fact, it seems to me that Lumia 900 is more responsive (when loading Web pages and using apps) than my top-of-the-line desktop. I'm using the phone over 4G and WiFi (there is no LTE coverage in my area, yet).

I LOVE WINDOWS PHONE OS!!! It took me a couple of hours and a few introductory articles to figure out the basics, but since I have no experience with smart phones, I suspect it would take a similar effort to switch to iOS or Android. The Metro interface looks clean and modern. Very user friendly. I'm not convinced that tiles are appropriate for a desktop OS, but they work great on a mobile phone. Home screen with customized tiles looks very pleasing.

I linked the phone with my Google and Microsoft Live accounts. There was a glitch with Google, so I had to use a workaround to get to my Gmail inbox (the problem went away in a day or so). Email and calendar interfaces are very nice. I use Google Calendar Sync to push updates between my Google account and Outlook, and it works very well.

I took the phone to the AT&T store to complete activation and got the contacts moved from my old phone. Lumia merged my contacts with contacts at Google and Facebook. Finding contacts now is very easy. I really like the feature that allows me to link multiple contacts.

Support for international keyboards came as a pleasant surprise. It took a couple of clicks taps to enable the Russian keyboard. Much easier than I had expected. Great job, Microsoft!

The free Nokia Drive (GPS navigation) app that comes with the phone is quite good, as long as you do not need lane assistance or text to speech. It does not spell out names of the streets, but it gives accurate and timely instructions. I did not have any problem using turn by turn navigation.

I had a bit of a trouble trying to find some apps when using Marketplace on the phone. In particular, I could not find Skype via the phone, even though it was available on the Marketplace website (could be because it was still in beta). Being able to push and install apps from Marketplace on the web (as opposed to the phone) helped.

I have been looking for the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard (so that I could move the cursor in the text fields), until I found an article explaining how to move the cursor. If you need to know: tap on the text field approximately where you want the cursor to move, and if you miss the exact spot (since fingers on small screens are not precise), hold it until you see a cursor marker above the finger, then just drag it to the left or right until it moves to the desired position. Smart, but not very intuitive.

I wish that the Back, Home, and Search buttons were illuminated in sync with the screen. Now, if you use the phone in the dark, you do not see them unless you press one of the buttons. They are not that difficult to find, but it may take a few attempts in the dark, so making the buttons visible would be helpful.

I installed a few apps (Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Flickr, and more), but several apps were not available for Windows Phone. In particular, my credit union only offers apps for iPhone and Android. So does Mint. I will cover apps and shortcuts in a separate post.

As a long-term Zune user (and heavy podcast listener), I wondered how Windows Phone would deal with my existing music collection and podcast subscriptions. After initial hiccup, it seemed to have worked fine. Nokia synced my collections and subscriptions with my computer. I have not tried to use it concurrently with my classic Zune, yet.

I wish there were an option to select all email messages in the inbox via one tap (instead of manually checking each group).

I also wish I did not have to go through the hoops to view battery indicator.

Call quality is decent. Signal strength is similar to what I had before Lumia. Battery life is as expected. Upon initial and (probably incomplete) charge, it lasted all day of heavy use (I was configuring the phone, installing apps, learning features, etc).

Now, the bad part: despite very promising specs, Lumia 900's camera is disappointing (to put it nicely): lots of noise, bad colors in low light, white balance is off, etc. It may be a software issue, but since Nokia keeps quiet on this topic, it's not clear whether this problem is acknowledged and/or will be addressed. This issue deserves special attention -- at least for those of us who care about camera performance -- so I'll cover it in a separate post.

See also:
Windows Phone site at Microsoft
Get Started with Windows Phone
Microsoft Answers for Windows Phone
Windows Phone: Feature Suggestions
Nokia Lumia 900: your questions answered
Nokia Lumia 900 Facebook page
"I can't even think about switching phones without these apps." Windows Phone 7, a Nokia Lumia 800 and the Essential Apps
72 Windows Phone 7 tips and tricks

UPDATE (Apr 22, 2012): I was using Nokia Drive as a primary GPS navigation system on a recent trip to Bay Area, and about a mile before I needed to make a turn on a freeway, my phone froze: the GPS screen got locked in the same position, the phone did not respond to any actions, I had to press and hold the power button for about 10 seconds to perform hard reboot. Once I realized that my position on the GPS display was not moving, I have passed my exit, and it took me about 20 minutes to return to the route. Can't say if this was an issue with the phone (hardware), Nokia Drive app, Windows Phone OS, or any combination of the three.

A few other observations. Accidentally dropped the phone from about 3 feet on a concrete floor; it's good that it was in a case; no damage detected. It's easy to accidentally tap the Search button when using the camera. Calendar reminder does not have an option to snooze to be reminded again in whatever minutes before start (as Outlook does). Still no option to change the playback speed when listening to podcasts. Answering a call is a two-step process; I wish it required one tap. I had to look for and watch a short video to learn that to close an app, you need to tap the Back key. There is no increasing ring volume option (i.e. when the ringer starts at low volume and gradually increases to the specified level); seriously? I have been using this feature in every cheap non-smart phone I ever had; come on Nokia/Microsoft. I cannot find a way to switch into a meeting mode (i.e. change ring to vibration) in a single step (a shortcut would be nice).

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