News, — November 7, 2011 10:16 — 3 Comments
The Carl Zeiss lens means that the new Nokia Lumia 800, its first running Windows Phone, is a fantastic camera. But is the software good enough to compete with smartphone rivals?
The eagerly awaited Nokia Lumia 800 is the result of a shotgun marriage between Nokia’s N9 (which was already being developed) and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5 Mango software.
We all know why. Microsoft was desperate to expand its near-monopoly of desktops into mobile, while Nokia was watching the bottom fall out of its dominance of the smartphone market thanks to competition from iPhone and Android.
But one shouldn’t judge an offspring by the circumstances of its parentage. This is a sleekly good-looking phone with a beautifully engineered curved glass, 3.7in touchscreen in a body extruded out of a single piece of plastic.
It is the best looking phone either company has produced, and when it works properly it has the best user interface (with easy-to-read blue tiles) either has produced – though not yet in the iPhone class.
There’s the rub. To get the most out of this phone – especially the way it integrates social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter on your home screen (with email, text and diary alerts) – you not only have to have your sim card snipped so it fits into the micro-sim slot, but you also have to sign up to the whole Microsoft “eco-system”. The what? It’s a walled garden, but rebranded.
This will be no problem at all – indeed, a big advantage – to the many millions who are already on Hotmail or Windows Live and who will probably get a seamless transition to a fully integrated experience. That is a huge potential market.
But to those, like me, who believe in plurality, it is a bit of a problem. I was able to upload Gmail to the home screen (though curiously not Twitter or Facebook yet, despite help from Nokia’s technicians, which isn’t an option for a typical buyer). It must be something simple, as others have succeeded and both are supported by the phone.
Instead, I downloaded apps from the market, which worked very well from a secondary screen. There is a choice of Microsoft’s Bing maps or Nokia Maps (which are great because the data is embedded on the phone, so you don’t need a data connection). But when I tried to download Google Maps I got “wrong file type”. Funny that. If you want to get the most out of this phone you will have to use it as your calendar and for other basics.
Curiously, the photo hosting site Flickr, which I use daily, is not supported – presumably because they think everyone uploads to Facebook these days.
Doubtless there will be an app later on. Even more curious, there is Bluetooth (for the carphone) but it won’t transmit photos to your computer. Maybe the world is moving ahead too fast for me. At first I couldn’t get any connectivity at all but that turned out to be because the settings for Pay-as-you-go sim cards hadn’t been installed.
A big selling point for this phone is Nokia’s 8-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens. Nokia has been slow to market one of the big selling points – which is that if you have a cameraphone like this, you don’t need a digital camera at all for nearly all purposes.
People generally still don’t realise this (digital cameras had record sales last year) but they soon will. You can see a photo taken by the Lumia here compared with over 40 others taken with rival cameras from the same spot.
If Nokia is written on the outside of the phone, the inside is dominated by Microsoft, whose embryonic app store has ousted that of Nokia – which pioneered apps and once had well over a million developers on its books.
It has some useful familiar apps – Shazam. Kindle, Last.fm etc on board – but is still well behind the iPhone and Android alternatives. The search engine is Microsoft’s image-led Bing, with a voice command which works well for simple requests such as “Restaurants in Westminster”.
There are lots of other standard features such as radio and music, not to mention Microsoft’s enterprise software – but the thing that gives it a comparative advantage over other models is its Xbox Live feature. Otherwise, this is a beautifully designed catch-up phone.
A feature that could have given it an advantage over the iPhone was NFC (near field communication), which will be great for paying bills by waving your phone in front of the till. The Nokia N9 – which is being sold in some markets but not the UK – has NFC built in, and a slightly bigger screen. Why did the leave it out of the Lumia? Maybe they thought it might give a free pass to Google’s upcoming “wallet” mobile payment system.
Meanwhile, the Lumia (around £399 Sim-free or on contract) will be liked by lots of people, particularly in the Microsoft community – but it is not yet a match for the iPhone.
And I’d still love to get my hands on an N9.
• Victor Keegan’s City Poems app for iPhone/Pad links poems to London streets that inspired them, using using satellite navigation. Geo Poems geo-tags all his poetry books. Shakespeare’s London does the same for all the buried memories of Shakespeare’s life in London.
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