The Lumia 800 was one of the most beautiful phones ever built in the long history of phone-building. It is widely acknowledged as the best Windows phone around. The next version, the Lumia 900, is bigger, faster, and—maybe most surprisingly—cheaper.
The Lumia 900 is a phone that every single person should consider owning.
Update: AT&T has told us the free Lumia 900 promotion was "temporary" and no longer offered. Still, our score remains, and a hundred dollars is a damn good price.
Why It Matters
The Lumia line is—let's face it—maybe the last chance Nokia has to make anyone care about its brand again. Nokia, as a manufacturer, has a legacy of excellent hardware. The company used to make some truly terrific phones—ones lots of us grew up with. Simple and nearly indestructible, these cellular candy bars set lasting standards. They were lovely, square, and ubiquitous. Today, they are endangered.
Nokia and Windows Phone are star-crossed lovers, pulled together by gadget fate. They both have a mutual respect for artfulness, geometry, and clever design. They're also both screwed if people don't start caring about each of them very, very soon. Each company knows this, and the price plan for the 900 shows it: The device is being sold for a liquidation-level $100
(or even $0!), despite its LTE alacrity and a design reminiscent of an alien treasure chest.
If the 900 bombs, it might not be a blunder Nokia or Microsoft can just brush off. This phone needs many, many people to notice it, adopt it, and truly love having it in their lives.
The 900 uses the juicy latest version of Windows Phone's OS—7.5 Mango. The phone itself has pretty much the exact same button layout as previous Lumia versions. On the right side you've got your volume rocker, power/sleep button, and hardware camera shutter. Each is sturdy, and comfortable without being plump. It's a cinch to trigger each with one hand, and the rounded polycarbonate body is as grippable as any fine metal block—and amazingly skinny to the point of perfect pocketability. Like, surprisingly skinny. It's a treat.
The rest is what you would expect from a Windows Phone in April 2012—in terms of software and specs, there are no surprises here. And that's fine.
The Lumia 900 is a beautiful object. Even in garish cyan—or "blue," as it's known to us plebes—the combination of Nokia's spaceship hardware and Microsoft's super-futuristic Metro vibe make the phone a handset of the future. The specs are nothing singular, but this is one phone that will keep you from thinking about its specs.
And why bother? You'll be too busy enjoying the thing to sweat its guts. Like its similarly colossal cousin, the HTC Titan, the Lumia 900 is able to do what its Android peers can never quite pull off: Remain stunning as its size expands. The 3.7-inch 800 is a prettier gadget for sure—probably one of the most gorgeously designed of all time—and Nokia just puffed it up to 4.3 inches. We would've liked an un-raised bezel as graceful as the 800's—but that's a quibble—the screen doesn't exactly melt into the body, but it's still nice and flat.
Windows Phone, as an OS, is fundamentally rectangular and minimal. That's its best aesthetic virtue. So inflating the ol' rectangle a little bit just gives the beauty more room to swim. It's like pouring gravy into a larger bowl. Or fancy wine. Whatever. That's not to say a 6-inch Windows Phone would make sense (it wouldn't!), but the augmented Lumia doesn't feel fattened, it feels broadened. It's an exquisite slab of super-responsive, clear glass and a bright, tough-as-a-brick body. Trust me! I tossed the 900 high into the air. It landed in a muddy field. It was fine.
But back to bright. The whole phone is bright. The display absolutely sings. Colors are, for the most part, terrific and vivid, and blacks are blacker than I've seen on any handset. Text pops with legibility and photos are sharp and vivid. It's a pleasure to swipe across—you just want to keep touching that wide pixel plane—and LTE only makes the phone feel more likely to make you smile.
In both New York and Washington, DC, AT&T's LTE connection was swift, delivering around 10 megabits of download and 4 megabits of upload speed on average. That's not as fast as advertised, but it's about as quick as many residential broadband hookups. Web pages, email attachments, and photo uploads all fly by. It's absolutely a huge data jump from the AT&T experience on, say, an iPhone 4S, and packs enough battery life to carry you over a day.
Oh, and hey, this thing costs $100 at most. One hundred dollars for a fast phone that's a pleasure to use.
Windows Phone is a pure, graphically preeminent operating system, but it's still a lonely one. The app store is a claustrophobic back alley. Internet Explorer is damn good, but it's on the slow side. In SunSpider, IE scores 7,000, roughly on par with molasses—double its competitors.
Of the paltry top-tier apps available, many need polish—Spotify wouldn't work on my Lumia at all, an issue AT&T is aware of. These are charges you can level at all Windows Phones, but in the case of the Lumia's gemlike form, it's a particularly sore spot. When you snap the 900 awake, you feel like you're holding the state of the art. And you sort of are. But then you realize how quickly you run into the software dead ends, and you cringe. The software needs updating. The Lumia 900 is hobbled mostly by factors out of its control.
Except for the couple in its control, like the over-saturated AMOLED screens (occasionally muddled whites, brights are sometimes too bright), okay-I-guess camera (photos are often over-saturated, washed out, or underexposed). These are a bummer, but not damning.
Should I Buy It?
Probably—it's only $100,
or zero dollars if you're a new AT&T subscriber, which you might be. Either way, it's paltry cover fee to enter the Nokia LTE Windows Phone beauty pageant. It's so quick and elegant. Sure, the apps could be better, and there are occasional imaging inaccuracies and overblown colors. Let them overblow. You're holding a pixel feat.
Free for new AT&T customers
Processor: 1.4 GHz
Display: 4.3-inch 800 x 480 AMOLED
RAM: 512 MB
Storage: 16 GB, non-expandable
Camera: 8 MP rear, 1 MP front, 720p video capture
Weight: 0.35 pounds
Dimensions: 2.7 x 0.45 x 0.35 inches
Colors: Cyan, Matte Black, Glossy White