Nokia Lumia 900 Delivers Solid Performance, Despite Glitches

 
 
By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-04-10
 
 
 

Nokia Lumia 900 Delivers Solid Performance, Despite Glitches


The strong early sales performance of Nokia's Lumia 900 smartphone shouldn't be surprising despite gloomy initial forecasts by industry analysts. This is a very nice phone as the Windows Phone 7.5 operating system works even better in the larger size and with a faster processor than it did in the Lumia 710.  

It€™s even clearer with this phone that Microsoft paid a great deal of attention to the interface design, which is extremely intuitive. As a longtime iOS user on an iPad, I found the Windows interface to be easier and faster. Oh, and you can make phone calls on this device as well, although the phone appears as an app rather than having a button you can press for instant access to the phone function. 

The Lumia 900 has a 4.3 inch active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) display with a 1.4GHz processor. It€™s equipped with 802.11n WiFi (2.4GHz only) and supports a mobile hotspot. The phone is slightly larger than an iPhone at 2.7 inches wide, 0.45 inches thick and 5 inches tall. It weighs more as well at 5.6 ounces. This phone supports GSM networks, including EDGE, GPRS, Evolved High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) and Long-Term Evolution (LTE).  

Tests of the LTE performance were hampered by two things. First, AT&T€™s LTE service is still being built out, and finding an area with LTE service isn€™t as easy as you might think since the coverage maps online and in AT&T stores are inaccurate.  

In addition, there are reports of a software glitch that keeps the phone from using its data connection. You can fix this by taking the device to an area with LTE, removing the micro-SIM, restarting the phone without a SIM, then shutting the phone off, inserting the SIM and turning it on again. I went through three days of this before the phone€™s data service started working. AT&T is aware of this problem and apparently is fixing it.

Nokia has acknowledged the problem we found in connecting to data services and is issuing an update. In a note to the Wall Street Journal€™s technology website AllThingsD, Nokia€™s U.S. Chief Chris Weber said that the problem is a memory management issue with the phone€™s software.

Nokia is offering customers who bought one the opportunity to swap it for a new one that has the problem fixed or to wait for a software update that should arrive around April 16. In addition, Nokia will offer a $100.00 credit to anyone who has bought an AT&T Nokia Lumia 900 or who buys one before April 21. This would effectively make the device free.

Once I got the data service running, I tested the speeds of both the LTE and the HSPA+ networks using a variety of online testing services such as http://mobilespeedtest.com, which has the advantage of working with pretty much any device. This service and several others that I tried reported very similar download speeds for the Nokia Lumia 900. The LTE speeds that I had reported were in the neighborhood of 40M bps. It should be noted that the tests were run in an area near Washington's Dulles airport where I was probably the only person using LTE at the time. 

Compare this with Verizon Wireless LTE that showed speeds of about 6M bps, and both AT&T and T-Mobile€™s HSPA+, which turned in nearly identical download speeds of 7M bps. Note that these wireless speed tests are probably useful for comparison, but will vary significantly with conditions and usage. Upload speeds were lower in all cases, and varied significantly with each test. 

The physical design on the phone is well-done, but probably not quite as well-done as the interface design. The phone€™s controls are all on the right side of the phone, and they are unlabeled. Fortunately, AT&T delivers the phone with a sticker on the back with arrows pointing to each feature.  

Photo Quality Was Poor Despite Big-Name Optics


 

You€™ll find the headphone jack, the charging port and the micro-SIM tray on the top of the phone. The phone includes a tool for opening the SIM tray, but a paper clip will also work. There€™s a speaker grill on the bottom of the phone, and nothing on the left.  

For a complete look at the features, see the related eWEEK Nokia Lumia 900 slide show. Along the bottom of the front of the phone are three hard-to-see buttons. One is a Windows symbol that brings up the opening screen. One is a back button, and the other one is a magnifying glass that invokes the Bing search engine.  

On the back of the phone is the much-hyped Carl Zeiss optical system with its 8-megapixel camera. Do not buy this phone just for the camera, which is far from its strongest feature. The first test photos with this camera did not appear unusually sharp, and a comparison test showed that this camera, despite the hype, is a poor performer.  

Because Nokia has made such a big deal of the camera, I compared the photos it takes against an undistinguished 5-megapixel camera on a BlackBerry Bold 9900, and a 6-megapixel Nikon D70 DSLR. It was not really a contest. In every case, the Lumia€™s camera was inferior to either of the others. 

The Lumia suffers from problems handling bright colors, such as a dandelion flower, which caused so much bloom in the image that it became difficult to distinguish the flower. A photo of a wooded area with the sun off to one side had enough flare to obscure the image in places. The BlackBerry had neither of those problems, although it did have some color shift. The lesson here is that if you want to take quality photos, use a camera. 

One criticism of the Windows Phone 7 OS is the relatively small number of apps available in the Marketplace. However, this number is growing as Microsoft is aggressively encouraging developers. It€™s worth noting that the Windows Phone is not restricted to the Marketplace for its apps. They can be downloaded from anywhere. For example, the Skype app for this device is in beta and is available only on Skype€™s Website. The beta version works fine.  "Unlike Android, which allows restrictions on downloading apps from outside the Google Play Marketplace, this does not appear to be the case with WP7. As a result, this is a potential security hole."

As phones go, I liked the Nokia Lumia 900 quite a bit. There are a few rough edges, such as the problem connecting with the data network, that need to be solved. However, for the things that you€™re likely to use a smartphone for the most, it excels in most areas. Unfortunately, there€™s still no way to sync with Outlook directly unless you€™re running an Exchange server and for some reason the screen doesn€™t always rotate with the phone.

One can only hope that Microsoft will provide a way for direct sync with Outlook, since many small businesses use that software but can€™t afford Exchange. The data connection problem is being fixed, apparently and one hopes that Carl Zeiss will try again with their smartphone camera. But as a smartphone for handling mail, messaging, Web access and app support, it's very encouraging. I liked this phone a lot. I just wish Nokia would clear up those details.

Editor's Note: This story was updated with information on Nokia's efforts to fix the data service connection problems.

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