We recommend it especially to first-time smartphone owners and Facebook addicts, although the lack of some key apps, including a few popular casual games, still keep Android and iOS phones in the lead for most buyers.
Design, Call Quality and Internet
The Lumia 900 (Best Deal: $39.99 at Amazon) comes in black, white, or cyan. Don't get black. The other two colors highlight the phone's elegant Northern European design, while the black one just looks like another black slab. The rolled edges, flat bottom, and matte back really help the Lumia 900 stand apart from similar smartphones, and you see these features much more with the white or blue models.
At 5.0 by 2.7 by .45 inches (HWD) and 5.6 ounces, this is a big phone, on par with other large phones like the Editor's Choice Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket for AT&T ($199, 4.5 stars). I found it usable single-handed, though. The 4.3-inch screen offers a 800-by-480 resolution, and Nokia's ClearBlack Display technology has very deep blacks and saturated colors. There's just one occasional odd note: Skin oils on the front glass can give some white areas a rainbow effect.
With excellent reception on AT&T's network, I was able to connect calls with the Lumia 900 in places the Skyrocket couldn't. Voice quality wasn't quite as good as with the Skyrocket, though. The Lumia's speaker is tuned louder, which makes it easier to understand quiet talkers, but introduces distortion with loud inputs. Sound through the microphone was generally clear on the other end of calls, with a little bit of background noise coming through. The speakerphone is loud enough for outdoor use.
Windows Phone 7's voice command system is excellent. You can trigger it from a Bluetooth headset—our Jawbone Icon ($99, 4 stars) worked perfectly—and use it not only to dial the phone, but to do Web or local area searches.
The phone connects via HSPA+ 21 and LTE networks and it has the right bands for AT&T's and foreign systems, but not T-Mobile's HSPA. Data speeds were spectacular on AT&T's LTE network in New York City, with downloads ranging from 13-20Mbps and uploads in the 5-7Mbps range. I got consistently faster speed test speeds on the Lumia 900 than on the Skyrocket. Also, you can use the phone as a wireless hotspot with the appropriate plan.
The Lumia 900 also connects via Wi-Fi 802.11n, and had no problem connecting to WPA2-protected networks during testing. Talk time was very good at 7 hours, 17 minutes, and my Lumia lasted more than a day on standby.
OS and Apps
The Lumia 900 runs on a 1.4GHz Qualcomm APQ8055 (single-core, not dual-core) processor. The OS is well-tuned for the CPU, though: I didn't find any problems with responsiveness, and the Lumia 900 split our browser benchmarks with faster Android phones.
Windows Phone is bold, easy to use, well-executed, fun, and social. It doesn't look like the competition, and it puts Facebook and Twitter at its core. As I say in our full Windows Phone 7.5 Mango review, "It's full of people-centric features that make it easier to stay in touch with friends and family, to communicate, and to share ideas. It's easier to use than Android, and in many ways slicker than Apple's iOS."
Windows Phone owners tend to love the platform. The OS won our Reader's Choice award, and readers rated it as better for texting, email, Web browsing, and gaming than Android. In our experience, it's smoother and more stable than many Android devices.
The platform now has 65,000 apps, including a great collection of exclusive games. But if you're specifically looking for key social games that new smartphone owners may want to play with their friends, you'll run into trouble. Windows Phone lacks all the Zynga "With Friends" games, as well as Draw Something, Pandora, Angry Birds Rio, Temple Run, and Cut the Rope.
You won't be bored. You can play Doodle Jump, Super Monkey Ball, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and thousands of other games. High-end titles include Assassin's Creed and Sims 3. But if your friends are all playing Draw Something, well, you're out. The problem isn't that there aren't aren't great apps. It's that there aren't the specific apps your non-Windows-Phone-owning friends are using.
In terms of productivity, Windows Phone shines, with full versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote loaded, along with the ability to sync files with the SkyDrive cloud service. The phone also comes with Nokia Maps, an excellent mapping program which is superior to the Bing Maps on most other Windows Phones; Nokia Drive and Transit, which provides clear driving and transit directions; ESPN, and a photo-editing app. Netflix and Slacker are available for entertainment, and Tango for video calling.
As for Web browsing, the Internet Explorer 9 browser is solid and on par with Apple's mobile Safari, but there are faster browsers available for Android such as Dolphin HD and Chrome Beta. Windows Phone also doesn't support Flash.
Multimedia and Conclusions
You get 14.5GB of available memory with the Lumia 900; there's no memory card slot for expansion. You sync music and videos from a PC or Mac using Microsoft's Zune and Windows Phone Connector apps, both free. The apps reformat your unprotected music and video for the phone, with one exception; we couldn't get Xvid videos to convert on our Windows 7 PC. There's a standard 3.5-mm headset jack on top, and the Lumia worked fine with our Altec Lansing Backbeat Bluetooth stereo headphones ($129, 3.5 stars), including playing audio from Netflix and games.
The 8-megapixel camera is fast, but it's too easy to take photos before the autofocus locks in. Indoors, still photos look washed-out and rather noisy. Outdoors in good light, things get much sharper. but there was some dynamic range trouble in my tests. A bright background tended to blow out the rest of an image. The 1-megapixel front camera is very noisy in low light, but you'll get your party shots. The video camera is restricted to 720p rather than full 1080p HD. Indoors, it takes 24 frame-per-second videos, but they're smooth and clear. Outdoors, videos ramp up to 30 frames per second.
The Nokia Lumia 900 is an excellent smartphone, a four-star product to be sure. At $99 with contract (and even less if you nab a sale on Amazon or elsewhere), it's also a tremendous deal. If you want to Facebook without fear, and text without tech support, this easy-to-use smartphone will satisfy. But Windows Phones lack of certain popular apps will prevent Lumia owners from being truly social with their iPhone- and Android-using friends.
We're going to be conservative here and leave our AT&T Editors' Choice crown with the world's most popular smartphone platform, the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket running Android. The Apple iPhone 4S ($199, 4 stars), another popular choice, also has a superior app library, though it lacks 4G Internet speeds and has a much smaller (although higher-resolution) screen.
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