Nokia Lumia 900 AT&T review: Nokia Lumia 900 AT&T

I compared about 15 photos I took on the Lumia 900 with identical pictures I snapped on the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Focus S, and the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, which all have 8-megapixel cameras. No one camera came in best for every shot, but the Lumia 900 and iPhone 4S were my favorites every time (and the Droid Razr Maxx came in a disappointing fourth almost totally across the board.)

When you check out my photo comparison gallery between the Lumia 900 and iPhone, you'll see that the iPhone 4S photos are generally sharper and slightly more vibrant, with greater contrast and a cooler color temperature. The Lumia 900 photos, on the other hand, have a yellow cast, but keep more of the background image in focus.

The Lumia 900 did a great job taking shots of close-range subjects, so long as the subject stood still long enough to take the shot.

Shutter lag is another area that smartphone-makers set out to dominate. The Lumia takes some time to focus on a scene before rendering the shot. I wouldn't call its shutter delay much slower than average, except when I repeatedly missed shots of a fat, buzzing bee; adorable but squirmy dogs; and perfect beach waves. When that happened, I found myself yearning for the HTC One X's ludicrously fast shutter speed, reportedly 0.7 second.

Photos with the Lumia 900's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera were fine: sharp enough to define features without scaring the neighborhood kids with up-close detail best saved for vanity mirrors. After all, it's mostly meant for video chats, or for the occasional self-portrait.

Video playback was pretty good. Streaming-video quality partially depends on your data network connection.

I was generally happy with video, which shoots at a rate of 30 frames per second, though I wish it shot in 1080p HD resolution rather than in 720p. The picture was clear, audio was strong, and playback was smooth. There were some weird moments when the camcorder darkened a scene, but if I shot with the right lighting, my home videos were pretty good.

Call quality
I tested the quad-band (GSM 8500/900/1800/1900) Nokia Lumia 900 in San Francisco on AT&T's network, and Brian Bennett tested it in New York.

Call quality sounded muted and muffled on my end, but was otherwise loud. Thankfully, I didn't hear any beeps or blips marring the call's clarity. Brian heard clear and crisp audio when he dialed out. He also experienced one dropped call in Manhattan, but that's not a usual number for any carrier. When I called Brian from the Lumia to his landline phone, he said the quality was clear and crisp on his end, without any static unless he listened very closely. In that case, he said my voice did sound a little scratchy, with a slight metallic tinge, but nothing distracting.

I called another tester twice. He described one call as loud and clear, and one as just loud. He said there was a hint of distortion, which made me sound flat, but again, didn't distract from the conversation.

Nokia Lumia 900 call quality sample: San Francisco Listen now:

Nokia Lumia 900 call quality sample: New York Listen now:

Hold onto your seats, because speakerphone is actually pretty good. It was very loud, with some pronounced echo, but I found conversation very successful. Thanks to the warm voice tones and stronger bass in the speaker than in the earpiece, I found speakerphone more comfortable.

One caller found speakerphone extra echo-y, which made the distortion he heard in my voice more noticeable. I also sounded muted and flat, according to my caller, and he had to ask me to repeat myself. Brian noted that I sounded distant and a bit muffled.

Dual-core phones may be all the rage (with many thirsting for quad-core), but Microsoft claims that its single-core processors are just as efficient for performing top tasks (Windows Phone OS isn't yet compatible with multicore processors). Combine AT&T's 4G LTE data speeds with a 1.4GHz processor for overall performance that seemed zippy enough. I can't say that the internals blew me away, but I didn't have too many complaints, either.

To test LTE speeds, Brian Bennett and I both used the BandWidth app in our respective cities. AT&T performed great for Brian, averaging 19.5Mbps down and about 6.13Kbps up. My speeds in San Francisco were much slower, and averaged closer to 6Mbps down and 2.5Mbps up. Read the full rundown here.

Admittedly, the diagnostic LTE speeds I saw on the Lumia were much slower than those I've seen on other LTE phones. However, it's also possible that with more LTE customers, there's also more congestion now. Both San Francisco and New York are notorious markets for slower speeds on more than one network.

In real life, I was able to download and upload images and Web pages quickly and without issue. CNET's graphically rich desktop site, for instance, finished loading in about 15 seconds.

Battery life
The Lumia 900 has a rated talk time of 7 hours over 3G, with 12.5 days of 3G standby time on its 1,830mAh battery. In our in-house battery drain tests, talk time on the Lumia 900 lasted 6.86 hours. Nokia also calculated 60 hours of music playback time and 6.5 hours of video playback time.

Anecdotally, the phone lasted a full day without charging under moderate-to-heavy use. Expect to plug in your phone more often if you stream audio and video over LTE.

Every cell phone emits radio frequency. The FCC measured a digital SAR of 1.49 watts per kilogram for the Lumia 900.

Who should buy it?
The LTE speeds, high-end features, and crazy-reasonable $99 price tag make the Lumia 900 a sure choice for Windows Phone fans looking for a statement piece to help them stand out. It's also great for people on the fence with Android or iOS who are interested in trying a new operating system, and for people transitioning to their very first smartphone. There's definitely a youthful vibe to the phone, but I don't think it would alienate people looking for a less in-your-face handset, especially if they chose the black version with a darker color theme.

Compared with the plentitude of black phones out there, the blue version of the Lumia 900 stands out.

Those who value highly customizing the OS experience should stick with Android. I think most people will be happy with the camera in a wide variety of scenarios, but if you care about shutter speed most, then you may want to wait for the HTC One X to arrive before making your final decision. If you plan to use photos in the highest resolution, you might also likewise check out the HTC Titan II Windows Phone, which promises double the megapixel count.

Final thoughts
It won't outsell the Samsung Galaxy S II or iPhone 4S (which together gobble up 95 percent of all smartphone profits), and the design isn't strictly new, but the Lumia 900 is nevertheless a successful handset for the Microsoft-Nokia partnership.

Of course, not everyone likes Windows Phone and not everyone will like the design, but in my view, Nokia has provided a great handset on a platform that's frankly still immature, but with the camera and call quality, it has left room for the upcoming Titan II and its jaw-dropping camera to do a better job. We'll have to wait until we review that phone to compare.

In the meantime, it's Microsoft's turn to help out Nokia by issuing software features that will make Windows Phone a smoother, smarter, and stronger OS that can compete more completely against the much more mature Android and iOS.

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