PREVIEW: It's been a long road for Nokia. The Finnish telecommunications giant has gone from being an iconic "gold standard" brand for mobile handsets back in the 1990s to an also-ran in the post-millennium smartphone market, which has undergone massive changes thanks to likes of the iPhone and Android.
Nokia may be down, but it's definitely not out. It's fight to get back into the smartphone market will be kicking off in earnest in March as both Telecom and Vodafone launch the Lumia 800 Windows Phone 7.5 smartphone ($899) into the New Zealand market. Having spent a brief amount of hands-on time with the Lumia 800, here are my first impressions:
1. Design: The Lumia 800 is different from other smartphones, albeit in an extremely good way. It has a curvaceous polycarbonate unibody that feels incredibly comfy in the hand, and sports a 3.7-inch curved and vivid AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) touchscreen. Available in matte black, cyan (blue), magenta (pink) and glossy white, the Lumia 800 ticks a lot of the right boxes by not being an iPhone impersonator, but also managing to be extremely attractive at the same time.
2. Operating System: Whilst Nokia's earlier N9 phone is almost identical in design to the Lumia 800, it ran Meego, which as an operating system was pretty much a dead-duck before it ever got off the ground. Windows Phone 7.5 (also known as Mango) may still be an unknown quantity and you'd be right for questioning its ability to survive against the sheer might of IOS and Android, but Windows Phone 7.5 is well-placed to leverage its Microsoft connection (and include features such as Xbox 360 and Microsoft Office integration).
Where Windows Phone 7 had copped flack for its inability to multi-task, Windows Phone 7.5 brings some welcome functionality improvements to the table. Not only will Mango will play nice with multiple apps at a time, it also has an integrated inbox that allows you to hold seamless conversations with contacts over multiple messaging platforms be it SMS, Linkedin or even Facebook. Last (but by no means least) Mango also sports Internet explorer 9, an HTML 5 compatible browser which also has the Bing search engine baked into it.
3. Usability: While my initial impression of Microsoft's Windows phone 7 interface was that it had a look only its mum could love, I've since revised that opinion after using Windows Phone hardware. From its at-a-glance tiled interface - which lets you see updates from applications such as Facebook or email through live "tiles", through to its touch-centric and hugely intuitive navigation, I've become a big fan of its near instant out of the box usability.
4. Apps: The Lumia has a bunch of great apps already integrated. These include Nokia Drive which is essentially a version of Nokia Maps designed from the ground up to provide turn-by-turn satellite navigation complete with voice commands for hands-free driving. Drive is a free app and even better still, the maps are free to download. You will pay for the data to use it though.
Based on the Microsoft Zune digital media player software, the Windows Phone 7.5 Music app provides an immediately intuitive user interface for navigating music, video and Podcasts that also makes great use of album art and music metadata.
With near seamless MS Exchange integration, the Lumia is also well-positioned for use within New Zealand businesses. But for me, the real standout feature however was the integration with Microsoft's SkyDrive online storage service, which effectively gives Lumia owners a whopping 25 gigabytes of online storage to drop photos, videos, music and any other digital odds and sods you might want to store or share at a later date.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. No SD memory card support: Even though the Lumia sports a pot load of inbuilt storage (16GB) and access to a whopping amount of online storage, the lack of memory expandability may be a deal-breaker for those with large music collections or a predilection for snapping lots of pics/shooting videos.
2. Bing: Don't get me wrong, Bing is a perfectly capable search engine and I don't have a huge number of issues with it, but I would have however have liked to have been able to have the option of choosing another search provider.
3. Apps: Having come from Android, where there are tonnes of apps, many of which are free, the Windows Phone equivalent of the marketplace (which currently has about 60,000 apps, compared to upwards of 500,000 for Apple and Android devices) felt somewhat sparse and what apps I could find seemed pricey (Having to pay for Angry Birds, which on Android is a freebie, grated somewhat)
At an initial glance, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and there's a whole lot that I liked about the Lumia in the amount of brief time I got to spend with it. Not only is it a refreshingly different and attractive direction for Nokia, but it also ticks a lot of the right boxes when it comes to usability. Delivering a final verdict however will most likely require some more serious hands-on time so factors such as battery life, call quality, signal strength and the richness (or lack thereof) of the Windows Phone application ecosystem, can be properly assessed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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