Nokia Lumia 800 review: Nokia Lumia 800

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The Good The Nokia Lumia 800 has a singular design, a stunning display, and a nice driving console in Nokia Drive.

The Bad Camera and video quality on the Lumia 800 is poor, despite the fancy specs. A front-facing camera would make the phone more competitive. The Micro-SIM slot is hard to access.

The Bottom Line The unlocked Nokia Lumia 800 has an innovative design and gorgeous screen, but the poor camera quality and lack of a front-facing camera are major detractions.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Photo gallery:
Nokia Lumia 800

The importance of the high-end Nokia Lumia 800--the more elite of Nokia's first-ever two Windows phones--can't be overstated (the other is the Nokia Lumia 710). Less than a year ago, the cell phone maker all but chucked its homegrown Symbian OS to get onboard with Windows Phone, a chancy move considering phones running Microsoft's platform aren't exactly selling like hotcakes.

With Nokia's fate intertwined with Windows Phone, and consumers and operators still lukewarm on the OS, it's hardly a stretch to suggest that the weight of a company is riding on the Nokia Lumia 800's polycarbonate shoulders.

And what interesting shoulders they are. The Lumia runs Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, and has a 3.7-inch AMOLED screen, a 1.4GHz single-core processor, and 16GB internal memory. It also has an 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.2 Carl Zeiss Tessar lens and dual-LED flash, and support for 720p HD video capture. Nokia has also added some interesting apps inside. Yet the camera is disappointing, there's no front-facing camera, no tethering, and people will either love or hate the risky design.

Priced at $585 U.S. (420 euros), I don't expect this unlocked version for European markets to sell well in the U.S. However, with some software tweaks and a hardware update, the U.S. version that Nokia told CNET it's preparing to announce will look and act much like this flagship smartphone.

Just one more note: the unit I reviewed is a prototype device running near-final software.

The Lumia 800, like the Meego-based Nokia N9 it's modeled on, is one interesting-looking phone. Worked from a solid piece of colored polycarbonate (a specific type of plastic), the smooth magenta, cyan, or black Lumia 800 reminds me of a fat stick of chewing gum (I reviewed it in black). It has a tabletop head and tail and rounded sides. The material, whose properties include resisting heat damage and denting, feels solid and durable in the hand, if a little bit slippery. It measures 4.59 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.47 inch thick. Thanks, in part, to its uniform shape, the handset doesn't take up too much room in closer-fitting pockets.

The new Nokia Lumia 800 is anything but shy; it comes in cyan and magenta as well as black.

On the right spine you'll find the slim metal volume rocker, the power button, and the camera shutter button. A push-in door covers the Micro-USB charging port. Once you open that, you can slide out the Micro-SIM card holder, but this combo is an inelegant, unintuitive action that requires some patience until you get used to it. There's also a 3.5mm headset jack up top.

The back is home to the 8-megapixel camera lens with dual-LED flash. There's no battery cover on the back of this phone, so prepare to press and hold the power button to perform a hard reset should things go wrong (just like on iOS devices) instead of a battery pull, should things go wrong.

Let's move on to one of my favorite parts of this phone: the screen. For starters, it's fitted into the Lumia's body to form a pretty tight seal. The screen material itself is curved and slightly bubbles out (about 2.5mm), which gives you a smooth, almost spherical feel as you swipe left and right across the screen. (It actually feels pretty awesome.)

Also awesome is the look of the screen itself. Its WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels) on 3.7 inches of AMOLED material just pops. It doesn't hurt that Nokia has applied its ClearBlack display, a polarizing filter that helps improve visibility in direct sunlight, and indeed, it did as promised. Unfortunately, direct sunlight also makes finger smears stand out. With Gorilla Glass incorporated into the final product, you're looking at a smooth, vibrant, and touchable screen that shows off black blacks and saturated color. The screen size could be larger overall, but some people will prefer the more petite size. Navigation is just fine with Windows Phone's relatively larger live tiles, but composing e-mail messages and reading content online is easier with a 4-inch screen.

OS and extras
Windows Phone 7.5 is the OS that runs the show, and that means the Lumia 800's interface consists of the Start screen and the app screen. The Start screen is minimally customizable; you can change the background color to white or black, and choose from one of 11 colors for the tiles, app icons, and other visual accents systemwide, including a new one, Nokia Blue. You're able to rearrange live tiles, pin and unpin them to the screen, and also pin individual items, like a single contact or a contact group. Thanks to Mango, your personal profile tile is more dynamic, letting you check in to places and update social networks from the home screen.

As with all Windows Phones, swiping your finger down from the top of the screen shows your battery meter, signal strength, and data connection.

Nokia has a handful of proprietary apps debuting with the Lumia 800. The first is Nokia Drive, which competes a bit with Bing Maps for turn-by-turn driving directions. Navteq, a company Nokia conveniently owns, provides the maps. You'll be able to download female and male voices in one of 58 languages. Maps show up in your choice of 2D and 3D, and the app works in landscape and portrait modes. I was able to enter the name of a business rather than an address and got correct directions up and running very quickly. You can zoom in and out, but you won't be able to reorient your view; it's designed as a simple set-it-and-forget-it app that will also track the number of miles to your destination as well as your speed. Interestingly, you can download and store offline maps for other countries as well, a handy feature for jet-setters.

There's no back cover and no other exposed slots or jacks save this headset plug and these covered ports for the charger and Micro-SIM.

Nokia Music is a second music app that works with your Zune library to play music, but it also provides Mix Radio, a radio-streaming feature, and Gig, which finds live shows nearby. My prerelease phone came without Mix Radio on it, so I'll need to evaluate it later on. Mix Radio promises to be quite the feature, with access to 15 million tracks that you can listen to through preprogrammed streaming-radio stations or through automatic playlists created a la Pandora. Word is, you'll also be able to mark some songs for offline listening, for those moments you don't have access to Wi-Fi or data. (Mix Radio has not been announced for the U.S.)

As I mentioned, the app does have a player, but it's more basic than that in the Music+Videos hub, and without the latter's cover art, and options to share, save into a playlist, or create an algorithmically similar playlist with the SmartDJ feature. What's more, the app took a beat or two longer loading up than I'd like.

My prerelease model didn't come with the ESPN hub that's another exclusive on Nokia-made Windows phones. I'll revisit this area when Nokia updates the software. Nokia Maps is another preloaded app.

More features
As with all smartphones, the Lumia 800 has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS, and lets you send e-mail, and text and multimedia messages. A new "Mango" feature present in the latest Windows Phone OS lets you seamlessly switch between text and instant messaging, if the contact is signed on to Facebook or Windows Live Messenger.

The People hub holds contacts you can import from Facebook, Twitter, Google, and more, and it's virtually limitless as long as you've got the space. Mango lets you link together e-mail inboxes into a super inbox if that's your cup of tea.

In terms of apps, there are the Windows Phone basics like alarms, a calculator, a calendar, Internet Explorer 9 (which supports HTML5, but not Flash), and Bing Maps for turn-by-turn voice navigation in addition to walking directions (there are no directions for public transit). There's Marketplace for getting more apps, plus the Music & Video apps, which contains podcast subscriptions, a playlist generator called Smart DJ, and integration with Zune.

The Carl Zeiss Tessar 8-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash should give other phones a run for their money, but it falls short.