Starting over: Nokia’s Lumia 900 handset is the company’s attempt to regain its position as a leader in mobile computing, and also carries the hopes of Microsoft, which designed the phone’s operating system.
When the Lumia 900 smart phone made its first public appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show this January, we asked “Can one phone save Nokia and Microsoft?” It’s still too early to say, but after testing the phone, which goes on sale April 8, I can answer a different one: “Is it any good?” The answer is yes, with some caveats.
The Lumia 900 is proof that although Nokia and Microsoft teamed up under duress, as their competitors forged ahead to redefine mobile computing, the partnership makes sense. Nokia has built a high-quality and striking handset, and Microsoft has made a refreshing and likable operating system to run it. Unfortunately, the apps to run on that OS are in short supply.
The handset feels reassuringly robust, underlining Nokia’s reputation as the Volvo of phone manufacturers. All of its components cling to a single piece of a dense, tough plastic known as polycarbonate, with a tactile matte finish. It feels more solid than many Android phones, which are generally made of lighter plastic; compared to the metal and glass iPhone, it feels warmer and less delicate.
The Lumia’s 8 megapixel camera performs well, and a one-megapixel camera on the front gives a good image for video calling.
With a 4.3-inch display, the phone is large, as has become common for the latest Android phones, and as is rumored to be the case for the next iPhone. The Lumia’s display doesn’t have a pixel density to match the latest iPhone–what Apple calls a “retina display”—or recent Android handsets that also boast high pixel counts. Yet Nokia’s phone is powered by an operating system that seems to be better suited to an era of large displays with very densely packed pixels.
Windows Phone does away with the trompe l’oeil buttons, shadows, leather, and canvas that Android and iOS are visually stitched together from. Instead, the Windows Phone interface appears uniformly flat, with typography—in daringly large sizes—to give users the cues they need to easily absorb information from the screen, and understand how they can interact with it.
My experience with the Lumia was that Windows Phone uses text in a way that looks refreshingly different while still being easy to use. The swoops and curves of letters looks great on large, retina-style displays because they have enough pixels to hide the fact that dots on a strict grid are being used to make up those wavy lines.