There’s a lot riding on the Nokia Lumia 900. While Windows Phones until now have generally been capable if not outstanding devices, the Lumia 900 brings Microsoft‘s mobile platform to a new level. Not only does it add a super-fast LTE connection from AT&T, but it’ll also serve as a flagship device for Nokia and Microsoft, at least until Windows Phone 8 devices come later in the year.
I’ve been using the Lumia 900 for the past week, and it’s a great smartphone. It’s also an excellent example of just how far the Windows Phone platform has come since its debut a year and a half ago.
Good Windows Phone apps used to be in extremely short supply, but I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the same apps that I use regularly on iOS in the Windows Phone Marketplace.
Foursquare? Check. eBay? Check. Spotify? It’s there. Readability? Yep. Kindle? Got it. Pulse? Totally. There’s even Foodspotting, yo.
Still, there’s no Instagram, Pinterest, Flipboard or Hulu Plus. So the Marketplace — recently clocked at 65,000 apps to the iPhone’s 600,000 — certainly has some catching up to do.
But if you’re not already locked into another platform, it’s reassuring to know Windows Phone has the essentials covered.
Metro Stretches Out
Most of those apps look gorgeous on the Lumia 900′s 4.3-inch OLED screen. Indeed, the increasing sizes on today’s smartphones are perfect for Windows Phone’s Metro interface. Its design favors big fonts and splash layouts that stretch to the screen’s edges and beyond.
Windows Phone works best when it’s got lots of real estate to work with.
For example, Foursquare makes the multiple menus in the app feel like one giant poster. My friends, activity and checkins are all partitioned into pretty columns. The iOS and Android versions look claustrophobic by comparison (see below).
The seamless Metro-inspired design isn’t automatic, however, and your mileage will vary from app to app. Most apps from indie developers are pretty blah.
The design occasionally trips itself up. Metro presents its iconography as if it were as familiar as street signs, showing symbols with no labels. It’s pretty easy to pick the wrong function, especially if it’s your first time launching the app.
When navigating, you should proceed with caution, especially in social apps. Shares and check-ins can happen before you know what you’re doing.
Begging to Be Touched
Pretty design is one thing, but usability is another. Windows Phone begs to be touched, swiped and pinched, even more than iOS or Android. The big layouts practically beg you to see what’s on the next screen.
Here’s where the Lumia 900′s 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor shines. It’s only a single-core design (Microsoft doesn’t yet allow multi-core chips on Windows Phones), but it was more than enough to keep up as I pushed and pulled menus with my fingers. The whole interface feels alive as you touch it.
Besides the great UI, Nokia offers up some special apps to Lumia owners. Probably most useful is Nokia Drive, a free turn-by-turn navigation service that works with Nokia Maps (not Bing Maps, which are also pretty).
Nuts and Bolts
Back to the hardware. This is a really well-made phone; even though the screen is 0.8 inches larger than an iPhone’s, it doesn’t feel large in your hand.
That’s partly thanks to the polycarbonate casing, which is smooth but provides an excellent grip. Nokia offers bumpers that can better protect it, but it’s pretty durable. I don’t know why you’d want to cover it up. The camera is 8 megapixels, and to my eye the quality is on par with the iPhone 4S, though it records at “only” 720p resolution.
The Lumia 900′s screen shows off AMOLED’s strengths — bright colors and true blacks that make icons and artwork pop. The screen also uses anti-reflection optics to reduce its reflectance.
The upshot: a screen that’s much easier to see in bright sunlight. You can see just how much in the gallery below.
The Nokia Lumia 900, which will be in stores April 8 for the tidy sum of $99.99 (with contract), is by far the best Windows Phone ever made. Not only does it have a great screen for Metro apps, it has the hardware to really deliver on the experience they promise.
This is the device that Microsoft needs to show off how good Windows Phone can be. Sure, you don’t get Instagram (yet), but the world of possibility it opens is unlike anything else out there.