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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia's Lumia 800 smartphone is one of the most satisfying Microsoft Windows-based phones I've had my hands on and might possibly be the saviour Microsoft needs to boost its ailing market share.

The smartphone is physically almost identical to the MeeGo-powered N9 mobile that the Finnish mobile phone maker launched earlier this month but instead runs Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.5.

Nokia hopes that what will set its Windows-based smartphones apart from other Windows-based phones is the fact it has a number of applications that others do not. Such apps include Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, Nokia Music and the ESPN Sports Hub.

My favourite app in the 40-minute hands on time I had with the Lumia 800 was Nokia Music, which has a feature called "mix radio" that streams songs to the handset. Nokia has teamed up with record labels to have this feature and pays them licensing fees for it.

It's free, a big upside if you ask me. Another upside is the fact you can cache (download) music before you go somewhere that might not have mobile phone reception, such as on a plane or in a train tunnel. A major downside, however, is the fact you can't yet listen to individual songs from artists you want to listen to at a certain time. Instead you are given a number of playlists to choose from.

Mix radio can also present to you songs based on music that is already on the handset, personalising the types of music it selects for playing in a mix.

If you do want to listen to a particular song there is of course Microsoft's Zune marketplace app. Just this week Microsoft announced in Australia that from November 16 it would offer access starting from A$11.99 a month to more than 11 million tracks via its Zune Pass music streaming service. Songs can also be downloaded through if you don't like streaming. There is also Nokia's mp3 store within the Nokia Music app. It'll be interesting to see how Nokia deals with Microsoft having its competing Zune store on the phone. It wouldn't surprise me if there was consolidation of the two music apps not too far into the future.

I also liked the Nokia Drive app, which makes the 800 one of the first Windows-based phones to have free turn-by-turn navigation, but, as I don't have a car, I have no use for it. In my very brief testing of the app I found it worked better on the MeeGo-powered N9 because using your finger to navigate Drive maps is more rigid on the Windows Phone than on the N9.
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It's hard not to compare the N9 and 800 considering they have an almost identical form factor. Some of the main physical differences between the two include a camera button that has been added to the right-hand side of the 800 and three capacitive touch buttons that have been affixed to the bottom of the display for moving throughout the Windows platform. The dual-LED flash has been moved. The buttons are a requirement of all Windows phones and, as a result, the screen size is smaller than the N9, which has a (9.9-centimetre) display. The 800 has a 3.7-inch (9.39-centimetre) display.

The front-facing camera, which I couldn't find a use for when I reviewed the N9, is not in the 800 and it doesn't include an NFC chip either, which is also in Nokia's $799 N9. Speaking of price, the high-end Lumia 800 will sell for about €420 (NZ$728) excluding taxes and subsidies. The mid-range Lumia 710 will sell for about €270 (NZ465).

Although no local pricing has been announced and the Lumia 800 will miss launching here before Christmas, Nokia's Australian general manager has said it will "definitely" launch sometime next year. It launches in key European markets next month.

The 800 has 512MB of RAM, 16GB of storage, an 8 megapixel camera, a 1.4GHz processor and 25GB of "SkyDrive" storage on Microsoft's servers for content like photos. By comparison Nokia's N9 has 1GB of RAM, 16GB or 64GB of storage, 8 megapixel camera and 1GHz processor. Product marketing manager at Nokia UK, Paul Savage, who guided me through the Windows platform on the 800, said that less RAM was required on it because it didn't have to do the same sort of multitasking that was available on the N9.

Overall it's my opinion that Nokia have set themselves up with a phone that can compete with Google and Apple, amongst others. It is sad, however, that we won't see the company launch more MeeGo-powered phones, which, in a recent review, I said I really liked - especially the ability to swipe between apps and the lack of buttons.

Nokia has a brand which many are familiar with but whether it can get the point across to consumers that it has changed and is now ready to compete in the smartphone arena is another question. We'll just have to wait and find out.

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