Nokia Lumia 800 Lightning Review: A Wolf In the N9's Clothing

By Sam Gibbs on at

It's finally here -- the Lumia 800, Nokia's first step into the world of Windows Phone 7. Is it the phone we've all been waiting for? Will it pull the company out of its perceived downward spiral? It might just.



Nokia's pretty legendary for their hardware. From the almost indestructible 3310 to the slick sliding mechanism of the E7, Nokia knows how to make great-looking, great-feeling and well-worked hardware. Thankfully the Lumia 800 is cut from the same cloth.

The device will come in three colours: black, cyan and magenta. The black model is the first out the door, and the colour we tested, if you can test a colour. It's made from one piece of polycarbonate with rounded sides that feel really solid and tactile in the hand -- this thing is just nice to hold. The back also has a slight convex curve to it, which aids in the ergonomics.

The 800 packs a pretty decent 8-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics. While it's no match for the N8's camera prowess, for its diminutive size it produces pretty good photos that are on par, or better than most other smartphones, barring the incredible iPhone 4S' pics. It'll also do Flip-quality 720p video, and packs a dual LED flash with a fairly short throw. Sticking with the multimedia aspects, I like that the headphones port is positioned at the very top left; it provides a better in-pocket fit for the headphones cable than a central top port placement does. Media playback is pretty solid thanks to an FM radio; the Zune software and Nokia Music, although you're limited to 16GB of on-board storage, with the lack of a microSD slot not impressing us much.

To stand out in the smartphone space these days, you need a decent display. The Lumia 800 packs a 3.7-inch AMOLED screen at 480x800. It looks pretty good, it has to be said, largely thanks to the bright tones of the WP7 platform. It's not as crisp and clear as the likes of the iPhone's Retina display (a necessary comparison, we're sorry), but it's colourful and vibrant, bringing out the best in Windows Phone 7.5.

The rest of the hardware specifications aren't amazing, but they do the job. The phone feels fast, with little in the way of noticeable lag thanks to a Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255 1.4GHz single-core chip, which forms the beating heart of the Lumia.  On the connectivity front you've got Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and microUSB for syncing and charging.

The battery life is OK, too. It's not quite iPhone 4 level, but it'll get you through a working day -- just don't expect much more than that. While it's a damn-sight better than some other Windows Phone 7 handsets I've tested, there's certainly room for improvement. After running it flat during testing I found it hard to get it to accept a charge again, with three different USB chargers failing to rouse it. It's likely that, like the old iPod and even the iPhone now, when totally out of battery it takes a while for the phone to trickle charge and get enough juice into the battery to fire up the OS-controlled charging system. In the end, I resorted to a Duracell portable charger to bring it back to life.

Then, we have the Nokia-bespoke apps. Nokia hasn't been able to do a lot in terms of Windows Phone 7 customisation -- about the only thing is a Nokia-blue colour scheme and some tones (no bundled Nokia Tube dubstep edition on my review unit unfortunately) -- but they've bundled in some Nokia apps instead. You've got Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps and Nokia Music.

Nokia Drive is, as you might expect, a turn-by-turn navigation app. It uses the Nokia-owned NAVTEQ's road data and presents you with a pretty simple and large interface, which is easy enough to stab your fingers at when driving. It's not going to replace a TomTom, but if you're not already PND-equipped it'll get the job done for the bargain price of free. Maps are stored on the device and downloaded over Wi-Fi on initial setup, which saves on the OTA data charges. Infuriatingly, Nokia Drive on the Lumia 800 is missing several key features, which Nokia has already confirmed will come "at a later date," including live traffic and the ability to store favourite locations. Unfortunately Nokia's lips remain sealed as to when we can expect those, but if they fall into your "must-have" column, it may be worth waiting a while before buying.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that Nokia Maps on Windows Phone 7 will be a copy of what's currently available on other Nokia smartphones. Thankfully you can use the built-in Bing Maps without issue if you take particular offence to Nokia Maps. The app itself wasn't loaded on the review units at the time of writing, but having played with demo units I can tell you it works, somewhat unsurprisingly, in a similar manner to most other mapping apps like Google Maps. If you've used it on one of Nokia's other smartphones, right back to the good ol'N95, then you'll be right at home.

Finally we have Nokia Music, which again is in addition to Microsoft's built-in Zune software. Nokia Music basically adds a gig-finder to your music experience -- just let it find your location and it'll pull up all the available gigs near you including location, phone number and timings. Nokia's also integrated their MP3 store into the app, allowing you to buy songs right on the device from their library of 14 million tracks, each costing 99p. If you prefer the freer things in life, Mix radio streams a playlist of tracks selected by Nokia to your phone, with the current selection including 'urban', 'pop in the last year', '90s pop', and 'driving anthems'. The idea is that Nokia will expand the Mix selection to cover more and more genres from the MP3 store, with buy-it-now type links back to the store. It's a decent idea for music discovery, even if you might not appreciate what Nokia's picked right now.


No Like

Despite the initial disappointment that Nokia didn't pull something more awe inspiring out of the bag at Nokia World, there's not actually a whole lot to dislike about the Nokia Lumia 800. Considering it's priced at around the £450 mark and can be had for free on a mid-level contract, comparing it to the premium market leader, the iPhone 4 (and 4S) is rather unfair -- though it's a necessary evil, because ultimately you need to know your choices.

However, if I'm being niggly, the screen could be slightly crisper. I found that some text, although perfectly legible, did look fuzzy. The battery life could also be better, as you heard above. I want a device that I don't have to charge during the day to see me through till my bedtime. If I'm up and operating, then so should it be -- though ideally I'd get a full day's battery life when I'm out-for-the-count, too.

The Lumia is also comparatively chunky compared to some high-end smartphones available today. It's basically the same as an N9, and while it feels nice in the hand and isn't too heavy, I'd always want it a bit thinner. I'm being picky here, I know.

Finally, the fancy port-hiding mechanism at the top, where a flip-up cover shields the microUSB port, feels like it's not going to stand the test of time. Sure it looks sleek, and yes it does work as it's meant to, but I wouldn't want the thing to snap off or not stay closed anymore. Considering the battery isn't all that stellar, you're going to be accessing that microUSB port quite frequently and intricate things like that often break. The same could be said for the fancy pop-out microSIM tray, but then you're not likely to be pulling it in and out a lot in real-world use.


Should I Buy It?

Even though Nokia hardly pulled its finger out for the first of the company's revival models -- after all, they basically took the N9 and slapped Windows Phone 7 on it -- the Lumia 800 is still a great phone. Specs-wise it doesn't match up to a lot of other flagship smartphones out there (read this post over here for an explanation of why that doesn't matter), but when using the zippy interface and quality-feeling hardware, it's a thought far from your mind.

It's a great start for Nokia, but it'd be crazy to not have a few more WP7 models up its sleeve. With MWC just around the corner, we're expecting to see a lot more from the Finns, and hopefully a true flagship. We know it's going to be taking the Android route, with rapid iteration and device refreshes, so you might be well advised to sit back and wait to see whether Nokia pulls out something a little more powerful.

That said, right now, Nokia's made one of the best Windows Phones available today. It looks and feels different to not just other Windows Phones, but every other phone on the market. Except the N9, obviously.