Nokia’s latest entry in the smart phone wars is the Lumia 900, first unveiled at the CES 2012 this past January. It was hailed as one of the most exciting products at the show and even won the award for Best Smartphone. The award was good news for Microsoft, given their push to gain ground on iOS and Android, but certainly news for the struggling Nokia. Unfortunate for both of them, the good news has not lasted.

As far as smartphones go the Lumia 900 seems to be stuck between a fully functioning device and reliable “call only” phone trying to grow up. In either case it doesn’t do well when compared to other smartphones from Samsung, HTC, and Apple. The best thing going for it is its relatively cheap price. The Lumia 900 can be had for as little as $99 in the US with monthly plans starting at about $39. The low price might be the one thing that attracts entry-level smartphone buyers to this model.

The Hardware

 

  • CPU – 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Scorpion
  • GPU – Adreno 205 GPU
  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8055
  • Memory – 512 MB RAM
  • Storage – 16 GB internal; no removable storage capacity
  • Battery – 1830mAh Li-ion
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 2.1; 802.11b/g/n WiFi

The combination of the low RAM and single core processor means the Lumia 900 isn’t going to win any speed and performance races with higher quality phones. And if Microsoft Phone 7.5 degrades the way Windows does, it’s conceivable this phone could get slower and slower as the months roll on.

In terms of networking the Lumia 900 will be compatible in the United States with GSM, HSDPA, and 4G LTE. The international version doesn’t support 4G LTE, substituting instead 3 GHSPA+. This may not be an issue when you read my comments about call quality and reception below.

OS and Software

 

That leads us to the Windows Phone 7.5 operating system. The first version of Microsoft’s mobile phone OS was rife with problems that lead one to question whether or not the Redmond-based company had any business dabbling in smartphones. This second incarnation is said to work much better after Microsoft fixed more than 500 issues from the previous version. I personally don’t think Microsoft Phone 7.5 is still up to par with iOS or Android, but it certainly is better in version 7.5.

One of the things people most love about the operating system is that it is identical to use no matter the phone it’s on. If you can use it on the Lumia 900 you’ll have an identical experience on any other Windows smartphone. For those who hate customization and OS tweaking, this is a good thing.

On the other hand, Windows continues its strict proprietary mindset when it comes to hardware and software requirements. Unlike Android and iOS, there aren’t legions of developers coming up with thousands of apps for windows smartphones. In the case of the Lumia 900, the only non-Microsoft software included are a small handful of apps that come directly from Nokia. If Microsoft truly expects to compete with the big boys they are going to have to put an end to their proprietary mindset. Developers simply cannot afford the licensing fees to develop for Microsoft, so they won’t even try.

Display

 

One of the bright spots of the Lumia 900 is its upgraded display. The 4.3-inch ClearBlack AMOLED panel is covered by a single pane of Corning Gorrilla Glass, and features a very sensitive touch capacitive screen. We can say with all honesty that it’s almost as smooth and frictionless as the iPhone 4S. It makes me wonder why Android phones are still having so much trouble coming up with a capacitive touchscreen of similar quality. Nonetheless, even with pinch-to-zoom you won’t lose a beat on this phone.

As for the ClearBlack display, it provides 16 million colors and a resolution of 480×800 pixels. The ClearBlack technology displays dark hues much better than its rivals and makes the screen much more readable even in bright light. On the downside it doesn’t display text all that well, though that might be more a matter of the Windows operating system then the display itself. Users will definitely see text issues the worst when browsing the Internet.

Overall Performance

 

It’s difficult to grade overall performance because there’s such a stark difference making calls and using the apps. In terms of the software itself the Lumia 900 is very responsive and easy to use. Applications open quickly, the layout makes a lot of sense, and individuals already used to Microsoft operating systems will find the environment very familiar. Unfortunately, the same good things can’t be said about actually making calls.

Within days of its U.S. release the Lumia 900 was experiencing problems with poor call quality and spotty reception. Nokia quickly acknowledged the problems and blamed it on a programming error that was ostensibly rectified with a firmware release in April. While that seemed to help somewhat, call quality and reception still dominate most of the complaints lodged against this phone. There’s no way of saying whether this is specifically a Nokia issue or something having to do with the OS.

Final Thoughts

 

The last three things I want to touch on are the cameras, battery, and the look and feel. As for the cameras, they are adequate for an entry-level phone. The front camera is the weaker of the two offering only 1MP resolution. The rear camera is an 8MP units with 720P video, dual LED flash, and auto focus. Overall picture quality is not bad considering the price and the class of this phone. You certainly could do worse.

In terms of battery life we were pleasantly surprised as to how well the 1830mAh unit held up under normal use. Much of that comes from a Nokia’s choice of the Scorpion processor and the rest can be attributed to Microsoft keeping the resource hungry apps at a minimum. Under normal usage you shouldn’t have any problem with this battery.

Lastly, though the Lumia 900 isn’t necessarily a bad entry-level smartphone it’s very banal look and design could be its one fatal flaw. Given the fact that consumers make impulse purchases based on visual appeal it seems as though Nokia completely missed the boat on this one. To be quite honest, the case makes it look like a child’s toy. If there’s one thing Nokia could do to immediately raise the appeal of the Lumia 900 it would be a complete redesign of the outer shell.