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Review: Lumia 900 a bargain at $99 [Video]

May 19, 2012|By Michelle Maltais

The Nokia Lumia 900 clearly looks like no other smartphone of note on the market right now -- and that's a good thing.

Everything from the phone's looks to its brains has a style and quality that sets it apart from the iCrowd. And the price -- $99 -- is a decent distinguisher as well. But a pretty phone and a low price do not necessarily a good deal make.

The Lumia 900 has a one-piece polycarbonate body running on a 1.4-GHz processor. It has a 4.3-inch AMOLED touch screen, weighs about 5.6 ounces, and runs on 4G LTE where available. The back camera offers an 8-megapixel sensor with Carl Zeiss lens. On the front, there's a 1-megapixel camera good for personal glam shots and video calling. And it comes in black and cyan (an electric light blue).

Let's start with feel. The phone fits fairly well in the palm -- though its predecessor, the 800, felt a little better to hold. There are definite design notes remaining in this iteration. The screen, however, stands slightly more apart from the bevel. 

While the cyan makes for a signature color that also signals a playful distinctiveness now absent from much of the smartphone market, blues like that are really better left to covers, in my view. That said, when you see it, you immediately know either what it is or what it's not. 

Among the first things you encounter with the phone are the buttons. Let's just say from the start they weren't my favorite. The power button in the middle of the phone's side was baffling initially. After a little bit of use, you get used to it being below the volume control and above the camera shutter button.

The camera button seems oddly placed until you hold the phone horizontally as you would a standard camera. Then, it's perfectly positioned.

Speaking of the camera, I really expected a bit more from the Carl Zeiss lens. That's not to suggest the camera doesn't perform. It took some fine images once I figured out how to shoot stills instead of video. Some shots were just a hair grainier than expected under the conditions, but they were still decent. 

The tile for photos that appears on the home screen scrolls through the photos in your album as well as those populating your Facebook world. It makes for a home screen you really do want to glance at.

One thing that's very clear, as a user, you can't really separate the device from the operating system. They work hand in hand to create a specific experience. 

As a longtime iPhone user, I found Windows Phone on the Lumia 900 a refreshing escape into an unfamiliar but intuitive experience. Unlike my wrestlings with Android phones, the first few minutes with Windows Phone came easily.

The AMOLED display with ClearBlack really makes the Windows Phone home screen pop, and the Live Tiles that refresh and update give an engaging sense of immediacy and vibrancy missing from many other popular phones.

In many ways, it was reminiscent of elements I really like about Palm's WebOS. To that end, the contacts tile, called People integrates contact information from multiple sources including Facebook as well as traditional contacts. Multiple entries are combined seamlessly. The tile on the home screen is a composite populated with the pictures of people in your world, rotating through them.

If you choose to, you can pull out specific contacts and create a tile just for them. It updates whenever they do in the various online social settings.

When you talk about smartphones, you've got to talk about apps. It's no secret that Microsoft is playing catch up from a very distant position behind Apple's iOS andGoogle's Android.

There are 80,000 apps and counting. Some standards, like Pandora, are missing, and a number of developers are waiting for a critical mass to create a demand for the platform.

That said, they've built the infrastructure, and the ecosystem is continuing to fill in. Frankly, I've been skeptical about Windows Phone and its possibilities. But having spent some time with apps in the operating system, I'm really pulling for it.

App developers have an opportunity to include some interesting features that aren't yet available -- or don't come off with the same vibrancy -- in the other popular operating systems. Facebook, for instance, looks completely different from iOS, Android and Blackberry versions. It features your photos splashed across the top, and its navigation is so engaging that it makes other versions seem flat.

The operating system delivers much of what a user wants. It has a great deal of promise as it matures. It remains to be seen how much fruit it bears.

Back to the phone. The literature promises a full day of battery life. The test device I had didn't come close to that. But since most of the other reviews around town talk about much better experiences with the battery life, I'm willing to chalk it up to an isolated case. Still, it's worth keeping an eye on.

So, ultimately, while there are a number of cheap smartphones on the market, Lumia 900 isn't one of them. Sure, it's inexpensive, but at $99 it's a bargain. 

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