Powered by Windows Phone 7, Nokia's slick Lumia 800 marks a return to form for the struggling handset giant. With iOS and Android putting Symbian to shame, Nokia took a leap of faith last year and abandoned the Symbian smartphone operating system in favour of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. The resulting long transition period gave the competition an even bigger head start, but now Nokia is back in the game with the slick Lumia 800.
The $699 Lumia 800 has curves in all the right places, replicating the look and feel of the N9's smooth polycarbonate unibody design. Tipping the scales at 142 grams, the Lumia 800 is a delight to hold with curved edges and gently tapered ends. Even the screen has a slight curve and feels remarkably smooth to the touch. Fashionistas will be pleased to discover the handset comes in a choice of cyan, magenta, black and white -- looking stylish but not garish.
Fire up the Lumia 800 and you're presented with a vivid 3.7-inch “Clear Black” AMOLED display. It's a capacitive touchscreen display protected by tough Gorilla Glass. The 800x480 resolution is nothing to get excited about, but it still looks crisp and the black levels are very deep. As you would expect from AMOLED, the colours are vivid but the trade-off is a slight blue tinge in the whites. It's still a welcome change from the mediocre TFT displays found on the first generation Windows Phone 7 handsets.
Turn the phone over in your hands and you'll find volume and power buttons along the right edge. Below is a dedicated camera button, positioned to be under your right pointer finger when holding the phone sideways.
Across the top of the phone you'll find a headphone jack along with slide-away covers revealing a micro-USB port and micro-SIM slot. As with the iPhone 4 and 4S, you can't drop in a standard-sized SIM card but your telco should happily transfer your number to a micro-SIM. It still could be a deal-breaker for those who like to hotswap SIM cards when they travel.
The non-removable battery will also frustrate some people but that’s the price you pay for the elegant unibody design. Also missing is a micro-SD slot (one of Microsoft's many strict hardware requirements), leaving you with only 16 GB of onboard storage to play with.
In terms of connectivity the Lumia 800 offers a 14.4 Mbps HSDPA, so it's no slouch but you're denied the speed boost of LTE, DC-HSDPA or HSPA . It's worth noting that it's not a quad-band 3G device, so you’ll get either an 850 MHz or 900 MHz-compatible handset depending on which telco you buy it from.
The Lumia 800 looks the part, but it also delivers the goods thanks to a slick Windows Phone 7.5 implementation. Under the bonnet you'll find a single-core 1.4 GHz processor with 512 MB of RAM. This doesn't sound impressive compared to the Android superphones but seems more than enough to keep the phone purring happily (once again thanks to Microsoft's strict hardware requirements).
The WP7 home screen is built around "tiles" -- blue squares which are actually live widgets. Moving away from the idea of standalone apps, it merges various features and data sources into six "hubs" -- people, pictures, music media, games, office and market. It sounds complicated but it's actually elegant, responsive and mostly intuitive once you learn the basics. Thankfully you can also call up a full list of apps. Across the bottom of the screen you'll find dedicated Back, Home and Search buttons to assist with navigating the menus.
One of WP7's selling points is tight integration with Microsoft services such as Office, SharePoint, SkyDrive, ZunePass and the Xbox 360 ecosystem. On top of this, Nokia offers a few extra features such as Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive satellite navigation and the Nokia Music store. Considering it's the flagship WP7 device, it's a shame this is one of the few WP7 handsets still waiting for an update to enable Wi-Fi Hotspot features.
So what's the verdict? Nokia's Lumia 800 is certainly a thing of beauty that will turn heads. Yet for serious smartphone users it's what's on the inside that counts. The question is whether or not you're ready to make the leap to Windows Phone 7.
Microsoft has developed a solid foundation and you could be happy with the Lumia 800 if you live a Microsoft-centric lifestyle and the WP7 fledgling app store currently meets your needs. But it will take time before WP7 commands the same respect from developers as iOS and Android.
Meanwhile Lumia 800 users will often be forced to wait for new apps and services to trickle down to WP7. It's the price you'll pay for backing the dark horse in the smartphone race.