"Nokia still makes phones?" a friend of mine asked the other day. While I laughed, I couldn't blame her for asking — ten years ago, almost everyone I knew had a Nokia phone, ones with monochrome displays and differently colored faces.
Today, as you might have guessed, not one person I know owns a Nokia phone.
The Lumia 900, which hits AT&T stores this week, is Nokia's comeback kid, or at least that's what the company is betting on. It is one of the first phones to hit the market since the company announced its partnership with Microsoft and its plans to use Windows Phone, rather than the Symbian operating systems it had used in the past.
But it's more than just another Windows Phone. It costs $99.99 (with a two-year contract) and is packed to the brim with top-of-the-line components, including an AMOLED ClearBlack display, 8-megapixel camera, and AT&T's 4G LTE network for fast browsing speeds. But is a great value enough to catapult Nokia ahead of the competition?
Eye-Catching Design and Display
It's pretty hard to make a smartphone stand out these days -- considering they're mostly screen with cases as flat as possible -- but the Lumia 900 doesn't look like any other phone on the market. The back cover and the rounded edges are made out of polycarbonate, a very durable scratch-free plastic, but feels a lot like metal. It gives the .45-inch-thick phone a thicker base, but it also makes it very comfortable to hold.
It's available in black, white, and blue, and while I was disappointed that Nokia didn't have a white unit to lend me, I ended up loving the blue -- it is easy to find in a bag.
My one complaint about the hardware lies in the placement of the buttons. All of the physical buttons -- the volume rocker, power button, and the camera -- live on the right edge of the phone, which makes it confusing to figure out by feel which is which. A number of times I mistakenly tried to turn on the phone by pressing one of the volume buttons.
But that isn't enough to discount all the other great design choices: Flat out, the Lumia is one of the most attractive smartphones I've ever laid eyes on.
And that beauty continues on to its 4.3-inch AMOLED screen. The 800 x 480 display doesn't have as high as a resolution as the iPhone 4S, so images and text don't appear as crisp, but colors look extremely bright and the ClearBlack display makes it easier to read in sunlight than a phone like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. And sticking with Nokia's theme of durability, the screen is covered in Gorilla Glass, which should protect it against scratches.
A Good, Though Not Great Camera
The Lumia 900's 8-megapixel camera and its Carl Zeiss lens take clear and crisp shots. And thanks to its dual-LED flash, it even takes nice photos in low-light situations. Overall, pictures shot with the Lumia weren't as crisp or detailed as ones taken with the iPhone 4S, but they were noticeably better than shots from other smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
The phone also has a front-facing 1-megapixel camera for video calling or for what I call the tooth-check. (Secret: I tend to use the camera to check if I have anything in my teeth.) The camera performed well for both of those tasks.