AT&T's latest 4G/LTE smartphone, the Nokia Lumia 900, is the best Windows Phone on the market today, according to CIO.com's Al Sacco, and maybe even the best $100 smartphone, period. Here's why.
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
On Sunday, April 8, AT&T will release two brand new, 4G/LTE smartphones that run Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5 software: The Nokia Lumia 900; and HTC Titan II. Both devices are solid options for buyers seeking mid-to-high end, LTE Windows Phone handhelds. But I’d go with the Nokia Lumia 900 every time. (Read more details on Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”.)
I haven’t yet got my thumbs on an HTC Titan II, but I’ve spent a week with the Lumia 900. The comparisons and conclusions I make in the following paragraphs are based on my experience with the Lumia 900 and a variety of other mobile devices.
What follows is a list of reasons why I think the Nokia Lumia 900 is the best Windows Phone, and possibly the best smartphone you’ll find for under $100 today. To ensure a balanced evaluation of the Lumia 900, I also included a number of gripes I have with the new device. (Hit this link to jump directly to my complaints.)
Why the Nokia Lumia 900 is the Best Windows Phone
1) Nokia Lumia Price, Price, Price
The Nokia Lumia 900 costs just $99.99 along with a new, two-year AT&T service agreement. That is, quite frankly, a steal.
When you consider the Lumia 900’s hardware and technical specifications it’s clear that the device is a high-end handheld. And you’d be hard put to find a comparable smartphone for a better price. In fact, though both the Lumia 900 and HTC Titan II are launching on the same day, and despite the fact that the $200 Titan could have some perceived advantages over the Lumia 900, I think AT&T is going to see much stronger Lumia sales than Titan sales based solely on price.
It’s possible you might end up paying more per month for data on the Lumia if you’re upgrading from a HSPA+ or 3G device–I find that I use more of it with LTE phones than others–but if device price is a concern for you, you’ll find a friend in the Nokia Lumia 900.
2) Nokia Lumia 900 is Built Like a Tank
Nokia is known for above average mobile device build quality, and the Lumia 900 is no exception; the new AT&T Windows Phone’s build quality is superb. The Lumia 900 feels very solid in your hand; the entire device, except for the display-glass, side buttons and rear-camera panel, is crafted out of a single piece of material so there are very few “moving parts,” and, therefore, few components that can break or malfunction. The body material is also infused with color and not just painted, so scratches are less visible. And the display is made of Corning Gorilla Glass, which makes it stronger and less likely to break than some other mobile-device displays.
In other words, the Nokia Lumia 900 can take a beatin’ and keep on Tweetin’.
3) Nokia Lumia 900 is an LTE Smartphone with Internet Sharing
The Nokia Lumia 900 and HTC Titan II are AT&T’s first Windows Phone devices that run on the carrier’s 4G/LTE wireless network. The Lumia 900 supports data downloads at speeds up to 50Mbps and uploads up to 25Mbps, according to Nokia, though honestly, I didn’t see speeds on AT&T anywhere near these numbers in and around Boston. On average, I saw AT&T LTE download speeds between 10 and 20Mbps and uploads between 5 and 10Mbps, but that’s still much faster than my HSPA+ or “faux G” AT&T Motorola Atrix.
Internet sharing is also available on the Lumia 900, which means you can share your LTE Internet connection with as many as five devices at a time, but you do have to pay extra to enable this feature.
4) Top Notch Camera on the Nokia Lumia 900
The Lumia 900 packs a high-end, eight-megapixel digital camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, three-time zoom and a dual LED flash. It has a dedicated camera key on its side so you can quickly open up the digital shooter with the click of a button–unless your device is password locked. You can also focus on an object by pressing lightly on the camera key and then snap the picture by fully depressing the button.
The Lumia 900’s camera is without question one of the better mobile phone cameras I’ve ever used. And a number of advanced settings let you customize images, including options to modify white balance, exposure value, ISO, contrast, saturation and more.
The HTC Titan II has a 16 megapixel digital camera, so it may have a slight edge on the Lumia 900 there. But megapixels definitely don’t make or break a digital camera; the lens is equally important and the Carl Zeiss lens on the Lumia 900 is impressive.
The Lumia also has a one megapixel front-facing camera for video conferencing.
5) Solid Battery Life for 4G/LTE Nokia Lumia 900
Modern 4G /LTE smartphone aren’t exactly known for great battery life–except for Motorola’s DROID RAZR MAXX on Verizon. But thanks to the Nokia Lumia 900’s 1830mAh battery and some solid Windows Phone code, the device gets good battery life for an LTE device. I was easily able to make it through a full day of work, while constantly receiving e-mail, surfing the Web occasionally, checking social networking apps and even using the device’s hotspot to share my Internet connection for short periods of time.
I didn’t test talk time, but Nokia says the device should get seven hours of talk on 3G. And Nokia claims the Lumia 900 gets 60 hours of continuous music playback and about six and half hours of video, assuming that video is stored on your device and you’re not streaming it.
6) Nokia Lumia Packs Power with 1.4GHz Processor
The current version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5 code was architected for smartphones with single-core processors, so neither the Nokia Lumia 900 nor the HTC Titan II, pack dual-core processors. Both devices do, however, have relatively powerful, single-core chips, with the Lumia using a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor and the HTC Titan II powered by a 1.5GHz Snapdragon chip.
While the HTC Titan appears to have a slight edge in processing power, I didn’t have any issues with performance on the Lumia 900, and I tried to push it to its limits, running as many apps as possible at the same time, streaming media and performing other intensive tasks. So I’m not sure that extra tenth of a GHz is worth getting worked up over.
7) Beautiful AMOLED Display on the Nokia Lumia 900
The Nokia Lumia 900’s display may not pack as many pixels as some comparable high-end smartphones, but its 4.3-inch AMOLED screen (800×480) looks great all the same. A Nokia technology called “ClearBlack” helps make up for the fact that the display isn’t as high resolution as it could be, by reducing glare in bright environments, offering rich whites and lighter colors and consuming less power in the process.
The Lumia 900’s display is one of my favorite things about the device, since it makes watching video, viewing images and surfing the Web a pleasure. The HTC Titan II’s display is larger at 4.7 inches, and it’s a different type of screen, SuperLCD. But that device’s pixel count is the same as the Lumia 900, so it’s difficult to say which screen is “better;” that could be a matter of the environment it’s used in and user preference. (I also actually prefer the smaller, 4.3-inch display on the Lumia to the HTC Titan’s 4.7 inch screen.)
Overall, that’s a lot to like. But because no device is perfect, here are some of the things I don’t like.
Where the Nokia Lumia 900 is Lacking
1) I Don’t Love the Lumia 900’s Windows Phone Software
I’ve written a lot about Microsoft’s Windows Phone software, and I’ve had a Windows Phone device for quite some time now. But I rarely use it, because I’m just not a big fan of the software.
I also haven’t been able to use a Windows Phone device for work, since the software doesn’t support on-device encryption, and my IT department requires this security safeguard, so that has been a major impediment to my using a Windows Phone frequently. (It seems very odd Microsoft, a company that largely caters to businesses, wouldn’t have added this security features at this point, but that’s another story altogether.)
I’ve been using the Nokia Lumia every day for a week now, and it Though the Nokia Lumia is without a doubt the best Windows Phone that I’ve used. I still can’t make myself love the software. It just feels too “simple” to me, with its one single home screen made of customizable “panels” and its secondary applications screen. The home screen looks nice, and I appreciate how many of the panels are dynamic, so it always appears to be changing. But both Android and iOS let you move things around a lot more to make them your own. And I find Android and iOS to be more intuitive than Windows Phone 7.5 in general.
App selection on Windows Phone is also lacking when compared to iOS and Android, though it’s better than on BlackBerry.
Bottom line: I’m just not a true fan of the Windows Phone 7.5 software, though I haven’t given up on it completely.
2) Nokia Lumia 900 is Built Like a Tank–and It Almost Weighs as Much
I really appreciate how well the Nokia Lumia 900 is built, but that durability doesn’t come lightly. The Lumia 900 is quite heavy at 5.6 ounces, and almost feels too heavy to me. For comparison’s sake, the HTC Titan II weighs 5.2 ounces; the iPhone 4S weighs 4.9 ounces; the BlackBerry Bold 990 weighs 4.59 ounces; and the DROID RAZR MAXX weighs 5.1 ounces. The DROID 4 is the only device I’ve used in recent days that weighs more than the Lumia: about 6.3 ounces.
In other words, the Nokia Lumia 900 is one of the heaviest smartphones on the market today, and that could be a turnoff for some users.
3) Nokia Lumia 900 Hotspot is Spotty
My experience with hotspot features on the Lumia 900 wasn’t great; I frequently had trouble connecting to the hotspot, and even when I could connect, I had issues staying connected. The device is programmed to disable Internet sharing after a certain period of inactivity, but I just kept getting bumped from the network. I’m not sure if all Lumia 900 users will experience these issues, but I didn’t have good luck with the hotspot features.
4) A Few Minor Complaints about Nokia Lumia 900 Design
I’m a big fan of the Nokia Lumia’s design and build quality in general, but I do have a few gripes.
The only buttons are on the device’s right side: volume up and down keys; a power/wake/sleep key; and a dedicated camera key. I appreciate the minimal number of buttons on the Lumia, which adds to its sleek, simple design, but the buttons all feel a bit loose to me. In fact, if you shake the device, you can hear a low rattle as they shift back and forth. The camera key needs to be looser than the other because it’s used to focus the camera before taking an image. But all the keys shift frequently, and they feel as though they could become even looser over time, which could become a real issue.
As mentioned above, the Lumia 900 has a fixed battery that cannot be swapped out when it’s dead. I’m a big fan of user-swappable batteries because I travel fairly often, and there’s no better way to ensure always having battery life when you need it than to carry a few fresh batteries. I wish the Lumia had a removable battery, like the HTC Titan II, which has a slightly smaller, 1730mAh battery, but with its solid battery life, the fixed battery isn’t too much of an issue.
On a similar note, having a memory card slot on the Nokia Lumia 900 could be very beneficial, as it would allow users could expand its memory as they see fit. The device has 16GB of built-in storage, of which only 14.5GB is available to users, and that’s really not enough, especially if you want to store lots of video, images and other large files on your smartphone.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.