Big phones; big deals
Nokia Lumia 800 review
What is it? Nokia's latest and greatest smartphone handset, which features the Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" operating system.
What's great: The minimal yet attractive design, gorgeous curved screen and fantastic new version of the Windows Phone 7 operating system.
What's not: The camera isn't quite as impressive as we'd hoped, the lack of apps and slightly underwhelming in-built speaker.
The bottom line: Nokia and Microsoft have put themselves squarely back in the smartphone game with the Lumia 800, a lovely handset that's as much a joy to use as it is to look at.
Nokia used to rule the mobile phone market. In fact, the company is still the biggest seller of budget mobiles worldwide. But as far as high-end smartphones are concerned Nokia had run out of puff, dropping behind other big players such as Apple, Samsung, RIM and Google. Their latest effort is the Lumia 800, which marries Nokia's hardware expertise with the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango operating system. Will this much-hyped handset be enough to propel both companies back to the front of the smartphone pack?
In terms of design the Lumia 800 is right up there with other eye-catching handsets like the iPhone 4S and Xperia Arc S, and available in black, pink or blue. It looks very similar to the Nokia N9, the matte-finish polycarbonate shell merging seamlessly into a gorgeous curved glass screen. Interestingly, Nokia has designed to buck the trend for bigger screens, opting for 3.7 inches of visual real estate. The ClearBlack AMOLED display has superb depth and vividness though - the blacks are so deep that Windows Phone's colourful Live Tiles almost seem to float in the middle of an all-screen device.
Buttons and ports are kept to a minimum. A chrome volume rocker and standby button are located on the right edge of the phone, with - we were pleased to find - a dedicated camera button further down; press it at any time and you'll be whisked straight into the camera app. Three Windows Phone touch buttons are lined up at the bottom of the screen: home in the centre, a search button on the right, and back on the left (holding the later down allows you to swap between apps). The phone also feels perfectly weighted at 142g. If you worry about dropping the light-as-feather Samsung Galaxy SII, you'll appreciate the extra heft in the hand that the Lumia 800 offers.
Nokia have plumped for a MicroSIM for the Lumia 800, which is housed under a flip-up strip on the top left of the phone; the MicroUSB port is right next door under another sliver of plastic. There's no MicroSD slot on the phone for expanding the memory though - both the battery and the 16GB of internal memory are inaccessible.
The hardware gets the thumbs up then, but what about Microsoft's fruity new operating system, Windows Phone 7.5 - previously known as Mango? Let's just put this out there now - it's brilliant. If you're an Android or Apple aficionado who's yet to try out a Windows Phone handset, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise.
The Live Tiles system has several virtues - namely the ease with which you can find and switch between apps, and its elegant presentation features. Live Tiles are dynamic - for example, a collage of your friends profile pictures appear on the People tile, your calendar events on another. You can also pin any picture, place or app to the home screen, making for a highly customisable and futuristic-feeling interface.
Many of the bundled apps are as minimal as they come, made up of sharp, lower-case sans-serif fonts, useful options and expanding menus. They're a pleasure to use, and make the screen seem larger than it is by keeping it uncluttered. Cross-platform social networking is simplicity itself via the People hub tile, which pulls together all your friends' status updates, tweets, SMS messages and more into one stream.
It's also a breeze to flick through photos (which look great on the contrast heavy screen), and clicking on a link instantly fires up Internet Explorer 9. In fact, the Lumia 800 is one nippy little handset all round, with apps and webpages loading impressively quickly and pinch zooming smooth and fast too.
Music fans will find there's a lot to love about the Lumia 800, not least the Nokia Mix Radio function, which streams tracks from a variety of categories to your phone, rather like services such as Pandora Radio or Spotify - albeit free. Hitting the volume rocker at any time also brings up a floating pause, skip and volume menu - another nice touch. However, despite the slick interface the Lumia 800's internal speaker is a bit disappointing - even with headphones plugged in the bass is rather weedy.
Gamers are well catered for too by Windows Phone 7.5, as it features seamless integration with Xbox Live. Add your Windows Live account to the phone, fire up the Xbox Live tile, and your avatar will soon be darting about the phone's screen - we even caught our own mini-me tossing a Lumia-like smartphone from hand-to-hand at one point.
If you want to spend less time tweeting, gaming and listening to music, and more time getting things done, the mobile version of Microsoft Office can always be pinned to your homepage as a Live Tile. In no time at all we managed to open a new Word document, write something, and in one-touch bring up a new email with the document attached, ready to send. Documents can also be shared or stored via a Windows SkyDrive account (25GB of free cloud storage) in a single touch.
The 8MP Carl Zeiss camera, although impressive on paper, was a bit hit and miss. In well-lit environments the shots it produced were excellent; but in low-light or cloudy conditions our pictures washed out. And although there are numerous options for tinkering with your shots - from changing the ISO to adding one of a number of filters - the digital zoom was underwhelming; even nudging the slider up halfway resulted in blurry snaps.
Other issues? Well, although call connections weren't dropped at all during our hands-on time with the phone, the speaker did make voices on the other end seem slightly tinny and muffled. Video recording is only pushed as far as 720p, which is a sham considering 1080p is becoming the norm in high-end smartphones, while the battery is average for a phone of this type.
The Marketplace is really the Achilles heal of this superb handset, however - compared to the Android Market or Apple App Store, it seems sparsely populated (there's no BBC iPlayer app for example). Hopefully this will improve if the handset takes off, encouraging more developers to support the Windows Phone 7.5 operating system. We sincerely hope that's the case, as the phone and its OS deliver a slick, stylish and highly useable package that deserves to find success. Nokia may be down at the moment, but the Lumia 800 proves it's still able to come out fighting.