Nokia’s Lumia 800: the new phone for hipsters?

It doesn’t include portable WiFi, but it sure has the root-for-the-underdog cool factor

Sang Tan/AP Photo

Everybody likes to root for the underdog, which is why Microsoft and Nokia are weirdly attracting a lot of positive vibes these days. As the New York Times pointed out just before the Consumer Electronics Show started in January, Microsoft in particular was getting rave reviews for its new Windows Phones, a trend not usually associated with the storied software maker.

It’s funny that both companies are now underdogs, given that only a few years ago they were the undisputed kings of their respective realms–Microsoft in software and Nokia in phones. But in the span of only a few short years, Google and Apple largely displaced both titans and relegated them to also-ran status in the mobile world, which prompted their team-up–in large part engineered by Nokia’s chief, Canadian Stephen Elop–last year.

The fruit of that tag team, the flagship Nokia Lumia 800 smartphone, has finally come to North America via Telus. I’ve been playing with it for the past week with an eye to answering one question: is it a big deal?

First, there are the positives. If you’ve seen the new-ish Windows Phone operating system in action, you know it’s dramatically different than just about everything else out there. Rather than having several screens with grids of apps, Windows Phones have a vertical stack of square tiles. Many of the tiles, such as the “pictures” one, are live so they’re constantly updating with new information.

It’s a very cool interface that makes the phone feel like it’s living and breathing, with new stuff always going on–just like its user’s life. And because it’s so different, it’s a near certainty that Microsoft will manage to avoid the ridiculous patent wars going on between Apple and Android manufacturers over who ripped who off.

Some of the key apps are also designed to resemble the operating system itself. Facebook and Twitter, for example, are organized into columns that are accessed by swiping horizontally. Checking out your Twitter mentions or Facebook friends’ photos is thus accomplished with smooth swipes, rather than pushing an icon and waiting for a new screen to load.

The Lumia 800 itself is slick and feels good in the hand. With the black model (it also comes in cyan and magenta), it’s hard to see where the screen ends and the phone’s edge begins, which gives it a nice, polished look.

The phone also has better integration with Microsoft’s Office than any other device I’ve seen, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. You can open Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, tweak and then save them to the phone or to Microsoft’s Skydrive cloud storage. It doesn’t work flawlessly, though, with the phone having some version problems. I wasn’t able to edit Word documents saved as .doc files, for instance, with the phone preferring the newer .docx format. On the plus side, the phone’s keyboard is fast, accurate and responsive, so it works well with all those documents.

Being primarily a Mac user, I was curious about how easy it would be to transfer photos, videos and music over to the phone. It turned out to be a snap–the downloadable connector software looks and works very much like iTunes, so there’s a sense of familiarity for people in that camp. The software on the PC is also similarly easy to use.

Nokia’s flagship device, though, is lacking in some regards, particularly in some of its specifications. Its processor isn’t as fast as some of the top-of-the-line Android phones out there and it doesn’t pack as much RAM either. Admittedly, neither really makes that much of a difference in everyday use, as everything on the phone moves around swimmingly. Still, it leaves you wondering whether it will still perform well two years from now after the hardware experiences wear and tear and app developers crank up their offerings? I’d wager it won’t, but then again, with today’s accelerating tech cycles, most people will be ready for a new phone by then so the point may be moot.

There are a few things about the Lumia 800 that do bug me. The first is the camera: it’s eight megapixels, which is about standard for high-end smartphones these days, and some reviewers–like the guys over on Mobile Syrup–have found it to be pretty good. I must be snobby when it comes to phone cameras, since I’ve yet to find one besides the iPhone 4S that has even come close to impressing me. Most smartphones, the Lumia 800 included, take decent photos in ample sunlight, but beyond that they’re nowhere close to real cameras. Nokia’s device also doesn’t have a front-facing camera, so there’s no video conferencing.

Perhaps the biggest issue I had with Nokia’s device is that its WiFi sharing feature–which turns the phone into a portable hotspot–has either been disabled or is entirely missing in action. Whether Nokia, Microsoft or Telus is behind this is unknown, but for me it’s a deal breaker. I connect my laptop to my phone all the time, so if doesn’t have portable WiFi, there’s no way I’d buy it.

The Windows Marketplace app store is also behind the times. While the offerings are growing–the current number of apps is north of 40,000, according to Microsoft–navigating through the store is a bit like sorting through a dog’s breakfast. The app listings don’t include pictures, so you can’t get a sense of what they might look like before downloading them.

And needless to say, some key apps–such as Skype–are still missing. Microsoft recently made the app available as a beta version, although it needs to be installed from a computer. The fact that there still isn’t a full version even though the Windows Phone operating system is more than a year old–and that Microsoft bought Skype nearly a year ago–is a little perplexing.

So, to get back to the question at hand: is the Lumia 800 a big deal? Well, it’s clearly a step in the right direction for both Nokia and Microsoft. It shows both companies are capable of designing a sleek, handsome phone that can at least hang with the other guys. There’s still a lot of catch-up to be done, particularly in the specifications department, but Windows Phones are ironically starting to become counter-culture. Whipping one out in public might elicit derisive snorts from techno-enthusiasts, but the average Joe is more inclined to say, “Ooh, can I see?”

In other words, the Lumia 800 and other Windows Phones are so different, they could easily become the official devices of hipsters everywhere. How ironic is that?




Browse

Nokia’s Lumia 800: the new phone for hipsters?

  1. I’ve had a Windows Phone for about a year now, and I really like it. The hardware (Samsung Focus) is holding up well, without slowing down at all.

    I experience some app envy with my cowokers’ Androids, but the available apps seem to be very high quality and not prone to crashing.

    Couple points: 1) the WiFi sharing feature is a carrier-enabled option, so that’s Telus’ decision. 2) The Marketplace does include app screenshots, just swipe right once for reviews and again for screenshots.

    If you’ll excuse me, I’m going shopping for skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts :)

  2. Didn’t the windows phone marketplace recently surpass 70,000 apps & games in February?

    http://allaboutwindowsphone.com/news/item/14316_Windows_Marketplace_passes_700.php 

    Also, while the iPhone 4S has a legitimately great camera (unlike its predecessor), it’s still no match for Nokia’s N8, which was released 1.5 years ago (12 MP, Carl Zeiss lens), nor does it come close to Nokia’s new 808, which uses a 41 MP sensor to deliver oversampled photos at 5 MP that have virtually no noise.

    From what I understand about hipsters, though, it’s that they like lining up for stuff. There’s no one lining up for Windows Phones, that’s for sure. Better check in front of the Apple store, I hear there’s a new iPad coming out.

  3. If you think your iphone 4s camera is good, then you have yet to use the Nokia N8. It has been and still is the finest camera phone available anywhere, the only smart phone with a better camera (then the N8) is the new Nokia 808 Pureview, which will not be released in North America. By all means, check it out.

  4. Give Windows/Nokia another year to improve the specs, and it’ll be a much more serious contender against Apple/Android. I’m personally waiting until near the end of this year (late fall/early winter) to upgrade my iPhone 4. I expect Nokia (as well as Apple) to release their latest and greatest phones then, and I’ll very likely switch to Windows.

  5. Haha, surely the Iphone is the hipster phone?
    I left Android due to wanting a fresh new interface. After the N9 software went dead I went for the Lumia 800
    Very happy with it upgrading from an HTC Desire. The build is great quality, feels like an actual phone and not a piece of paper – i.e. thin

    Also, am I the only one thinking the camera is one of the less important functions on a mobile phone? My HTC Desire was only 5mp and that was fine for everyday shooting.

    Even less important (imo) is the front facing camera most phones tend to don these days.
    really, the Skype feature is just a fad, there had been very little buzz over the idea of face-to-face until the Iphone 4 brought it out.
    Let’s all follow Apple!

    • Nokia brought first phone with great camera intergrated gps (offline ) and front facing camera n95. the only reason why apple and android seem to be doing well is because nokia took a year off (2011) to move on the windows platform and hardware had to be compatible with windows no sd card support ect. which was a downgrade for nokia

      now if windows gets accepted by the public they will bring great products after and both android and apple will fall behind in a few years they are just boring systems.
      tethering update for lumia 800 and 710 wil be avaliable next week as is full offline navigation
      with lane assist.

  6. “the downloadable connector software looks and works very much like iTunes”
    ….are you kidding here?  Zune is a much different, yet superior and fun to use software than iTunes (which even most Mac users can’t stand).   It’s one of the many aspects that sets it apart from Apple (thank goodness).

    • He said he’s using it on a Mac which means he’s not using Zune. Probably the Windows Phone Connector application.

  7. Good article except for a few misunderstandings. First of all, the Lumia 800 has been out in Europe for a bit and it wasn’t meant to be a flagship for North America. Like Americans, we Canadians seem to crave higher specs and performance numbers (which are kinda pointless, but I digress). As you said, the 800 lacks in this department. But you failed to mention the Lumia 900, which is without a doubt the North American flagship device with more respectable specifications. 
    Second of all, it is expected that the marketplace is approaching on 80 000 apps, with Microsoft saying it will pass 100 000 by the time the next big upgrade comes out this year. 

  8. Interesting article, but a couple points are flat-out untrue: First, selecting an app in the marketplace opens the app preview, which gives you access to a brief description, version history, download size, user reviews, (if available) and other info, including SCREENSHOTS. (you have to scroll horizontally to access them. Second, I have the Skype beta, which I downloaded and installed on my phone OTA through the marketplace. Apart from those errors, well done! Also, as a note, WiFi tethering is on it’s way for the device, and may actually already be available via a firmware update from Nokia.

  9. “Still, it leaves you wondering whether it will still perform well two years from now after the hardware experiences wear and tear ”
    Um, I don’t think hardware works like this ;-)

    I think phones (and other computers) slow down mainly from application hogginess and various memory resources filling up.

    One of the points you make that I think is a good one is that Microsoft should be available to avoid all the “You ripped-off our UI!” arguments. Metro is truly unique and fresh.
    I’m already running the Windows 8 preview at home and can’t wait to turn in my old droid for a spanking new Lumia 900 and Nokia Tablet running W8!

  10. Man how many people are actually video chatting

  11. Come on Peter, make sure you do all your homework before postings articles.  There are currently 70,000 apps in the marketplace and more importantly, it is growing at a much higher rate than Android and Apple.  I am also not sure what you are looking at when you say there are no pictures for apps.  Every app I have ever looked at comes with a picture, full description and mandatory free trial.  Skype is also available – it is considered beta but it has worked great for me so far.  I suspect it will be fully intergratged into the operating system with the next major update.

    Also, instead of questioning why the specs are low, how about writing why it can run circles around other higher spec’d phones.  Search “Smoked by Windows Phone” campaign and see the look on Android and Apple users when they think they can pick up an easy $100.00 and instead have to wear a “Smoked by Windows Phone” T shirt and be photographed.  I have had a Samsung Focus since Nov 2010 and it has only been restarted twice (for updates) otherwise it runs as fast and fluid as day 1.

    Finally, the Lumia 900 is the Nokia’s current flagship phone not the Lumia 800.  It is a Rogers exclusive and will be out in the next couple of weeks and has the front facing camera etc.  We will cut you some slack if you review that one and update your research on the subject.

  12. Thanks for the article. I do say that I had an Iphone 4. coming from nokia n95. I actually did was give up my Iphone and went back to the n95. Way better camera then iphone and very durable lots of dropping of the phone. Had the phone for 4 years now and just starting to have some challenges. My challenge with my nokia is that it would not sync with my Imac. But I think window application should be better.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *