Impressions of a Lumia 900

Perhaps I should endeavor to get these devices earlier. But, the truth is that I can’t. So my impressions come when they do. Since leaving Brighthand as a regular reviewer, I get most of my mobile impressions like others do, visiting stores, reading opinions, and occasionally making it to some event where some device shows up unannounced. It can make things hard at times.

But, then there are moments like earlier this week. Moments where acquiring a device just about falls into your lap. And so being unprepared and a good bit pulling at the purse strings, I am now the owner of a cyan Nokia Lumia 900. And here are some initial impressions as (mostly) composed on my also new Kindle Fire HD and by using Evernote across a few other devices.

Hardware Impressions
Probably the first thing that gets most people interested in the Nokia Lumia-series is the design of the handset itself. That’s not to say that it isn’t a slab like all others, but at least there’s some meaningful effort on Nokia’s part to tweak the design so that it doesn’t look like everything else out there. It doesn’t and that catches the eye in a good way. Catching the hand is different though.

Months ago, when I got some extended hands-on time with the 900, I considered it good but too flat on the top, sharp on the edges, and too wide overall. I don’t really feel that this aspect of things has changed for me despite it spending some time in my hands and pocket over the past days. The screen is excellent, but it would have benefited from being rounded off like the N9/Lumia 800, rather than being flattened like my N8. It is one pretty screen though – and because of the Windows Phone UI (previously called Metro), it stands out.

The side buttons are side buttons. Nothing much here. On the top, I had the hardest of times getting that micro-SIM slot open (there’s a key needed for it, duh). All in all though, it feel nice, and looks nice – even when it sits next to the iPhone 5.

Battery life has been decent, given that I’ve pretty much kept in in a WiFi-only mode so far. I’m getting a few days of use when using it lightly, about 8hrs between charges when being fun and streaming/playing/browsing/talking.

Software Impressions
There’s been a ton that’s been written about Windows Phone 7, and so I don’t really need to go into too much. I’ll just relate some impressions since I’m technically *new* to this experience.

Getting around the device is about as simple as one ever needs to be. The back button is consistent, and the long press commands from the Back, Start/MS icon, and Search are easy to find and understand. What I don’t understand is why there isn’t more play with the extended background images. Sometimes, you get an image that stretches nicely and melds into itself, other times, there’s just a visual break that kind of jars you back to knowing that you are at the starting pane of an app.

I don’t like that everything is synced to Windows Live. To this point, the only pieces of information on my 900 are a few of the social networks that I use. Phone numbers that I need to know I can remember and dial them directly. A bit of a cludge, but that’s one of those effects of (a) not getting a mini-SIM and (b) not wanting MS to upload all my contacts to their servers w/o a way to say to not do that. Skype doesn’t integrate with the People tab! Its an MS product now, who messed up with that decision?

Speaking of social networks, that’s pretty much what WinPhone seems to be built around. I’d go so far to say that if you aren’t using a few social networks (conversational, music, gaming, and any others), then you won’t find much value in this approach. Yes, its neat how things link up in the People, Photos, etc. sections, but if you aren’t that interested in that aspect of being mobile, then here’s where you pass on WinPhone.

Of the applications that I’ve loaded and play with, Evernote, YouVersion,, Skype, and Weather are pretty much all I’m limiting myself to. I did break my “no games on a mobile” rule and have loaded Angry Birds to see what its like getting achievements, but its seems that you can only get those achievements (and therefore upgrade your xBox Live avatar’s appearance) when you use paid games (when I step up, I’ll publish my gamer tag). We’ll see how I proceed in that wise – there’s a friend that I need to get back to playing xBox games with.

This next section is out of order a bit, but happens because there was an update that I’d gotten and those impressions to my use are just as… interesting.

Updates and Further Impressions
One of the things about Windows Phone that I really don’t understand, is how it could have shipped without the ability to do software (firmware) updates over-the-air (OTA). Besides being one of those features that’s just nice – and speedy in respect to being able to address security concerns; its one of those features that respects the fact that a mobile phone – a smartphone – is capable of being enough of a computer for most tasks that a consumer would use it for. After getting a notification that there were some updates for the Lumia 900 available, I was quite peeved to see that I could only download them if I connected to a Windows PC (and its not like I could just pull up to a Microsoft shop and they would do it, those stores aren’t everywhere you know).

I ended up doing the update on my lady’s Windows 7 laptop, and again ran into one of those situations where it was just a “who the heck thought of this mess” kind of thing. First off, I had to download the Zune media software. I wouldn’t have expected this given that I was on a Windows computer. I’d expected that the Mobile Device Center would have been dashboard-enough for this kind of updating to happen. Heck, it would have been really savvy if Microsoft, Nokia, and carriers would have played a card like Samsung and just had an updater/dashboard panel that auto-ran when the device was connected into any PC (something that ran an HTML front-end, that pointed to the software update via an API call from said front-end and authenticated by the mobile device). Its not hard to think about these things, but apparently, folks live too close to their PCs in MS world to think of 3 screens and a cloud working differently.

Secondly, the first attempt at downloading the update failed. I’m not sure if it was because of the connection, or just a failure in the install procedure, but it just stalled for a few hours and I got nothing to indicate that there was an issue.

I tried the software update again later and it seemed to go without a hitch. It was a long update though. I’d not been around such a long time in front of a PC for an update unless I was helping close friends or family out with their PCs. I don’t miss these moments at all. Apparently, the previous owner didn’t do any of these updates (she didn’t have a laptop, and didn’t care to own one either). There were a lot of updates being done to the 900 too – I’d forgotten that so many fixes and tweaks had happened.

Well, the Zune software did let me load some music saved on her PC to the 900… and then I could enjoy that speaker a bit more.

Comparing to my N8
Its kind of funny, there’s a part of me that now understands why some people have gone the route of leaving Symbian for Windows Phone. There’s definitely a familiarity and a freshness to the platform that’s just needed. Familiar in the respect that with the Lumia 900 that you are getting a piece of Nokia kit that speaks not much different from the feel of Nokia’s from the recent past. Even as far as the Windows Phone Live Tiles UI being simiilar enough to the widget homescreens that Symbian had used in a similar fashion until the Belle update. Its familiar, and refreshing… and not complete.

When I move to a new device, for whatever reason, the goal is to always make sure that I’m not make a backward or lateral move. If I were coming from a slower performing Android device, or were getting tired of the iPhone, the Windows Phone offerings from Nokia or others would easily feel like an upgrade. The higher you move up the scale as a “power user” (or at least very seasoned with mobile platforms), the less Windows Phone feels like a complete update. There are indications that it does well, but then I get that list of things simply missing that I’ve grown used to on my N8 and that’s where the argument for Windows Phone falls flat:

– while both have impressive screens, the N8 has a clock that shows up on the standby screen; I literally live by this feature, and its not on the Lumia at all
– the camera on the 900 is horrible – by Nokia’s standards. Yes, Camera Extras helps to improve things, but you use Instagram-like effects when you know the camera can’t do well by itself, not because the camera is good enough
– being nickle and dimed to a mobile death; monetizing the transactions sure, but sheesh MS, pull back a bit (the app trials piece is a great thing however)
– no volume control when screen is off, but I can launch a camera – totally opposite of the N8 (though I addressed this with QuickCam)
– no FM receiver/transmitter, TV-Out/HDMI-out, or my Zeemote Bluetooth controller therefore no using this as a presentation-running device
– no memory card slot (despite my recent issues with that)
– Live Tiles make sense, but where are the automated/learned profiles
– while playing Angry Birds, I jump out of the game to peek into a social network, only to come back to Angry Birds and find that the game isn’t where i left it, but literally reloads the game and restarts the board I was playing (even the iPad is better about multi-tasking than that!)

Sounds like a bit of nit-picking, but its not. I use my mobile. It has to step up when needed, and fall back when it doesn’t. I have found it kind of interesting that I have been defaulting to pick up the Lumia 900 for the most part when all I want to do is take a peak into my social networks. Unlike the setup on my iPad and the KF-HD, I only have one social media presence there. And so, I’m just getting one piece of things, and Windows Phone is showing me just enough to keep my memory about those connections appeased. But, that’s not a primary need for me with a mobile. I’ve got to feel like it can step in for all computing needs as I need them, and I’m not so sure that the software available for Windows Phone 7 can do that… which is a shame, because it is pretty to the point of feeling a lot less mentally taxing than others.

Concluding Thoughts…
I could go on for a bit more. But, I’ve been enjoying this time with the Lumia 900. I wish that I’d gotten one sooner to do this kind of measured look at how it could potentially fit into my life, but life has its own tiles to display these devices to me. I’ll probably hold onto the 900 until I’m able to do the Windows Phone 7.8 update* to it. I hope that its more than Live Tiles that gets addressed (have heard otherwise). This platform could really be a contender – but would have been much better for Nokia if their devices started from where Symbian finished. The Nokia N8 is one of those finishing points, and its a good one despite being 2 years old. Shame that its a hard device to knock off the pedestal – but that’s what happens when Nokia totally invests themselves into a product worth owning. Its yet to be seen (in my hands) that Windows Phone is getting the same kind of care, direction, and refining.

*Windows Phone 7.8 is apparently coming. I’ve gotten to 7.5, which isn’t a bad thing at this point.

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