(Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC)
Smartphone is marred by a few weaknesses/bugs, but overall offers more intuitive interface than competitors

So I've now had a week with my new Lumia 900 LTE from Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) and impressions have started to form.  Let me first give my disclaimer in that phone reviewers' commentary is colored by their own experiences and thus one man's (or woman's) impressions are not necessarily the same as another’s.

With that said, I think the Lumia 900 is quite possibly the best smartphone I've encountered in terms of the average user experience.  That's not to say there aren't some glaring annoyances here or weaknesses -- because there are.  But simply looking at the overall experience, I would say this Windows Phone is simpler to use, more fluid, and more fun than the iPhone 4S or front of the pack Androids like the Galaxy Nexus LTE.

AT&T Inc. (T) has priced this device aggressively.  I received mine for free as a new subscriber.  While this promotion has since lapsed, you can still get the device for $99 USD -- not bad.  In fact, I may have not only scored a free phone, but I may also actually receive a $100 credit from Nokia for the Lumia 900's connectivity issues.

I recall putting down $200 for my new EVO 4G by HTC Corp. (TPE:2498).  Now I was happy with that device, but my Windows Phone has thus farm been a far more exciting experience -- and it was free.  Let's just say even if you don't like the Lumia 900 quite as much as me, it should come out very well in the cost v. value equation.

External Looks/Form Factor:
The Lumia 900 LTE looks fantastic.  I never really had any complaints about my HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) EVO 4G in the looks department, but I never really felt it looked super good either.  I think the Lumia certainly one ups the old EVO in the looks department and rivals the much-lauded iPhone by Apple, Inc. (AAPL) in aesthetics.  The phone is 4.3-inches, but feels light in my hand.

Lumia 900 LTE
(Click image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

I purchased the cyan model (see above).  It's a bit deeper blue than some of the shots you'll see (which are likely over-exposed and/or a bit shifted towards the green side of things).  I like this color and think it goes well with the Windows Phone vibe and Nokia's Windows Phone blue color scheme.  However, black is also available -- and white will be available shortly, as well, if you want something a little less colorful.

Lumia 900 in Hand (1/6) Lumia 900 in Hand (2/6)
Lumia 900 in Hand (3/6) Lumia 900 in Hand (4/6)
Lumia 900 in hand (5/6) Lumia 900 in Hand (6/6)
(Click any image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

Stacked next to an iPhone 4S, the Lumia appears a bit thinner.  Surprisingly, the face is not as much bigger as you would expect, considering that the iPhone only has a 3.5-inch screen, while the Lumia has a massive 4.3-inch touch screen.

iPhone 4S v. Lumia 900 iPhon 4S v. Lumia 900 (2)
iPhone 4S v. Lumia 900 (3) iPhone 4S v. Lumia 900 (4)(Click any image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

In hand, the phone feels as light as an iPhone 4S.  For a large phone it has a very nice hand-feel and grips well.  I have yet to drop it, something that happened regularly with my EVO thanks to its curved back, which made it a bit awkward to grip.  

The Lumia 900 LTE has a great speaker and a slightly better microphone than my old EVO.  The speaker is not noticeably louder, but has a significant improvement in quality.  In a quiet room, you can easily jam out to music on it, though headphones are obviously a better solution.  The biggest difference sound-wise is that the Lumia's output feels rich -- versus the EVO where music through the speaker sounded somewhat sounds slightly distorted.  

Output on speakerphone sees a similar improvement, albeit to a lesser extent.  Conversations didn't sound bad on the EVO, but they sound much more natural (for people whose voices you know) on the Lumia 900

As for sound input, microphone appears to have no real difference when making calls with the phone held up to my face, but two people have said that it sounds much better on speaker-phone than the EVO did.  Noticeably they said the voice quality was crisper and there was less background noise.  That leads me to believe that Nokia's microphone has a better range and/or noise isolation.

Of course the network could have something to do with the sound performance as well, but based on the general experience thus far, I would expect it to be working against sound quality, if anything.

One small gripe -- voice search is non-functional in my experience, continuously failing with error messages.  The problem appears to be that the phone continually fails to communicate with Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) servers.  I have not been able to get it to succeed even one time.  The problem occurs under both Wi-Fi and 3G/HSPA+ and made the feature essentially unusable and untestable.  I am unsure how ubiquitous this bug is, but it certainly makes voice search completely unusable on my device.

Well, that's the problem of reviewing a device on the first week it comes out.  It appears that Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) servers are now communicating properly with my device.  Text message dictation appeared quite good -- about as good as the dictation features in Android.  And the search has some very neat options -- like the music search, which essentially makes Shazam obsolete.

This feature -- initially non-working for me, is fast becoming one of my favorite features.  I wish I had another week to grab more impressions, but let's just say voice appears to be a strong point for the phone after all, now that it works.

The device's screen is beautiful, much brighter and crisper colors than my EVO 4G.  Honestly, it's one of the best screens I've seen -- on par with the iPhone and Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930) Galaxy S II/Galaxy Nexus in terms of crispness, and perhaps a bit better than either in brightness/colors.

Screen Quality (bright shot) Screen Quality (dark shot)
The screen in bright and dim light (Click any image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

The screen is very easy to use outdoors, even on a bright day -- something my EVO always struggled with.  And yet, it doesn't seem to be sucking down that much more power (more on power consumption to come).

Literally the screen quality was one of the first things that took me aback about the phone.  I was hoping for decent quality, but I didn't expect it to be this good.  Pictures don't really fully do it justice, check it out for yourself in a store.

The touch screen is very responsive.  My only real complaint is that sometimes a touch button is situated next to the back button, leading to the occasional unpredictable touch.  

Once your finger learns where to go, this happens much less, but I still find myself poking around a bit, on occasion in order to hit the back button.  The back button -- in my experience -- seems a bit under-responsive.  Granted, I'd rather to have it this way than have it be over-responsive and freaking out.  Just be aware you have to be pretty specific in hitting it cleanly.

Lumia 900
(Click image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

Overall the touch buttons are less than stellar.  I always thought this was a strong point of the EVO -- rivaling the iPhone.  The face buttons on the Lumia 900 are just a slight step back, but be aware, they'll feel more natural with time.

The touch keyboard is superb.  I always felt this was an area where Android lagged behind iOS.  Windows Phone shows no such performance gap.  The keyboard is very easy to type -- even in portrait mode -- and is noticeably better than Gingerbread on a 4.3-inch Android.  I rarely have to correct myself on Windows Phone 7.  On Gingerbread backspacing was a fact of life.

OS Speed:
I never really thought of Gingerbread as "laggy" until I started my stint here with Windows Phone 7.  Granted I have a hazy recollection of feeling similarly when spending a week with a friend's iPhone.  Expect iPhone-like speed and smoothness out of the Lumia.  Any time there is a delay of any sort, the blow is softened by a nice animation.

Of course Ice Cream Sandwich narrows the gap, but in my experience even with Deck's Ice Cream Sandwich mod (which was somewhat buggy in my experience, encouraging me to go back to the stable Cyanogen mod -- Gingerbread-based) the EVO still feels slower.  Even dual-core Androids like the Galaxy Nexus felt a bit slower when I played with them in recent store/trade-show visits.

It's hard to explain, but Windows Phone just feels fast.  My EVO didn't feel slow by any means, but it didn't feel quite this smooth.  IOS traditionally felt a bit faster than Android, in my experience -- a similar phenomena is observed with Windows phone, despite it running on a single very fast core.

Front Page:
Windows Phone's front page puts all but the most widgeted-out Android phones to shame.  From the animated front tiles to the brilliant Metro text styles, to the smaller but crisp app listing on the second page, everything feels perfect.  Honestly Windows Phone is way ahead of Android and iOS in terms of home-screen looks, and it's not all visual fluff -- there's much usability in the chic design.

Again, the front page layout is essentially a stylishly themed version of what you would get out of Android with some heavy widget insertion.  But the nice part is that most of that pizzazz comes pre-configured. And the tiled approach is more consistent that some of Android's widgets, which visually clash.

As someone who was too busy/lazy to ever heavily pimp out my Gingerbread EVO widgets-wise, this was a welcome addition.  And of course such perks aren't allowed at all, if you're trapped on a non-jailbroken iPhone.

The overall look also feels much more stylish and modern than the plain Chiclet-style grid of icons that's been regurgitated up by Apple and Google Inc. (GOOG) in recent releases.  I love the overall Zune style of text, where you have multiple pages of graphics with one common wide banner header.

Lumia 900
(Click image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

The animated picture roll is beautiful -- one of my favorite features.

Android Gingerbread/ICS and iOS do a fair job notifications, but the bigger fonts used for notifications on the Live tiles make it much easier to quickly read assess.  Windows Phone definitely gives you the most information in the quickest time on its front page, a big win.

If you make a living off of playing apps all day, perhaps someday you will bemoan Windows Phone's slightly smaller app selection, versus the iPhone or Android.

That said, this is no Palm TouchPad (sorry, Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ)).  I have found a wealth of free -- and entertaining apps thus far.  Two of my favorites are "Mixtapes" (free music of all genres, think Pandora with more of a personal touch) and "Call of Carlos" a quirky little platformer about a jewel-hunting miner.  

That said, I think selection is still a bit of a work in progress.  Some top apps -- like Plants v. Zombies, Doodle Jump, and Angry Birds are here.  But others like Cut the Rope and Temple Run are egregiously absent.

While selection may be a bit hit or miss, at present, Microsoft at least has the best user interface for getting to apps.  Apps are automatically added to an appropriate hub, making them much easier to access unpinned apps from the frontpage, versus in iOS or Android.  While you can technically arrow over to get a full list of apps from the homepage, I find myself simply going into the appropriate Live Tile.  For example if it's a game simply go to the Xbox Live tile.  Or for Mixtapes, simply go to the Music+Videos.  

Pictures hub
(Click image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

I didn't have that many apps in Gingerbread, but even that started to feel cluttered after a while.  Now I could have arranged them on the customizable front pages in Android, but that all feels like a big headache -- I'd be competing for space with whatever widgets I customized, and be having to reinvent the obvious.

Microsoft has simply come up with an easier interface when it comes to getting to apps.  This format also makes it simpler to share info between apps -- say leaderboards, images, music, etc.

Now if Microsoft can just patch up the holes in its app selection, it could put this front-runner UI to optimal use.

The camera is about on par with my EVO in my experience thus far.  I haven't exactly been wowed by its autofocus, though the inclusion of a hardware button shoot is nice, as that pesky software button always proved an annoyance.  Auto focus still takes a bit longer than I would like -- the iPhone does certainly differentiate itself from Android and WP7 here.

Email was a breeze to set up.  And the email inbox is (to me) more visually appealing in terms of fonts and UI layout than Gingerbread and iOS.  Sending and receiving email pretty simple.

(Click image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

I have to gripe about the lack of a solid multi-standard IM client.  I use IM+, but it has been slow and takes a long time to load messages, in my experience.  I chalk this up to poor implementation, as most Windows Phone apps don't have these issues.

IM wasn't great in Android, but I felt that AOL's first-party AIM client was slightly better than IM+ is on Windows Phone.  IM is definitely a spot Microsoft can improve upon, and possibly even pass Android if it does the job well.

I definitely think Android and iOS are a bit ahead in the browser department.  

Microsoft has always been a bit behind in terms of supporting newer standards.  The browser also seems incapable of remember logins in many textboxes.  I guess this is a (likely unintentional) security perk of sorts, but at the expense of convenience.

For those reasons, while the browser isn't really bad from a speed or basic features standpoint, it brings down the overall experience quality, versus enhancing it.  I broke my gripes about the browser into a separate blog.

Text rendering bug Text rendering bug
(Highlights added for emphasis. [Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC])

Some of the feedback that I got complained that I was off base and that the browser was really good.  If that's your experience, great, but my experience was that several sites I commonly use (including one of my most used email clients, which is made by a firm that services millions of users) and a couple of my most-viewed news sites rendered more poorly in mobile IE than mobile Chrome.

So take that with a grain of salt, but in my opinion/experience the browser just isn't quite as good, a problem that is exacerbated/furthered by the fact that most of the third party browsers reuse Microsoft's rendering engine, given its speed.

Lock Screen:
Like Ice Cream Sandwich, Windows Phone supports notifications on the lock screen. I'm not sure if ICS supports controls on the lock screen, but WP7 allows this.  For example, Mixtapes places basic playback controls on the lock screen, much appreciated.

Lock screen
(Click image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

As great as the lock screen is in this regard, it's still limited to two options, much like iOS -- slide unlock or password unlock.  I would love a grid-based unlock like in Android, but alas that is not here -- and may never be, as Google is patenting it.

Battery life is quite good.  Perhaps not as good as the iPhone, but within striking distance.  I find that on average the battery lasts comfortably about a day.  One day I used the phone intensively for several hours and found the battery life dipped to about a day.  

But in most cases if you forget to charge it one day, it won't be dead the next.  The same cannot be said for my poor EVO 4G, whose horrible battery life necessitated me to buy a larger replacement battery (granted it improved dramatically when I rooted it and ditched the HTC bloat).

Anyhow, battery life doesn't amaze on the Lumia 900, but it also doesn't disappoint.  Whatever battery issues Nokia had with its early WP7 handsets, I have not encountered them yet myself on the Lumia 900 LTE.

Networking & Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is relatively easy to use and setup -- no real surprises here.  The only annoyance is that locking the phone pauses downloads, unless you're using a Wi-Fi only app (such as Mixtapes), in which case the Wi-Fi somehow determines to stay live.

AT&T is one of the phone's biggest issues.  Now, at last I know how iPhone users feel.  While data speeds are terrific, I find many more dead-spots where voice coverage and calls drop out than I did with Sprint.  The problem is especially bad indoors and has me contemplating buying a femtocell.

AT&T has been "going hard" at improving voice coverage, but clearly the situation is far from great.

On the plus side, my data speeds over HSPA+ have been much more acceptable.  While I was unable to test in an LTE region yet (my region is getting LTE from AT&T later this year), the speeds I got over the "4G" HSPA+ were decent.

Speed test (1/6) Speed test (2/6) Speed Test (3/6)
Speed test (4/6) Speed Test (5/6) Speed Test (6/6)(Click any image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

My average upload speed was 634.4 +/- 207.8 Mbps, while my average download speed was 207.8 +/- 178.8 Mbps.

I found the font selection and layout in the calendar much friendlier than in Gingerbread.  Not quite sure how well it stacks up to ICS, but it stacks up favorably to iOS in everything except the ability to add an appointment via voice assistant.

The responsive touch screen makes basic touch-driven games a blast, in my experience thus far.

And promisingly, basic 3D games (Fruit Ninja) offer no noticeable slowdown.  I'm definitely looking forward to the upcoming addition of Electronics Arts, Inc. (EA) survival horror space thriller Dead Space as a test of a higher poly title.  

For now, suffice it to say that PC-game-like titles such as "Infinity Blade" are mainly the realm of iOS, although Microsoft does have a decent selection of 3D titles like Splinter Cell Conviction or Sid Meier's Pirates!.  These 3D games tend to skimp a bit on environmental detail versus versions on more power Android smartphones/tablets or the iPhone/iPad.

The graphical limitation won't be a big deal for 90-95 percent of smartphone gamers, though a small contingent of enthusiasts will bemoan not having the iPhone's graphical prowess on tap.  That said, the bigger issue is the lack of certain popular titles -- e.g. Cut the Rope.  No Cut the Rope?  Really, Microsoft?  

But to be fair Microsoft has to attract customers before it can completely sway all developers to consider its platform.  It took Android a while to win over developers.  Likewise, Microsoft has a battle ahead, but I'm hopeful these missing hits will eventually come to the platform.

At the very least, indie developers should have a field day filling in the gaps.

I think in many ways Windows Phone and the Lumia 900 LTE take the strengths of iOS and Android and then extend that "best of the best" list.

In looks some may not like the Windows Phone user interface in the looks department, but I feel that this logic is largely backward-ism.  As in, I really loved the interface in Windows 3.1 and at one point considered that my gold standard for operating system UIs.  If you hanker for old fashioned, you could whip out the old Palm Pilot or reach for the iPhone or Android.

Windows Phone Box (1/2) Windows Phone Box (2/2)
(Click any image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

To be fair, Ice Cream Sandwich improves Android a bit in looks.  And jailbreaking does wonders for the iPhone in looks, with proper customization.

But these are all halfway efforts.  Windows Phone is a full, cohesive solution and it looks beautiful if you approach it with an open mind.

Overall nearly every aspect of the core experience is solid.

The iPhone has a handful advantages:
+Better camera quality/response time
+The bleeding edge of 3D mobile smartphone gaming.
+Better browser
+More apps

Likewise Android ICS/Gingerbread have a couple legs up:
+Better browser
+More apps
+Open source
+Slightly cleaner integration with core Google apps (I'm not a heavy user, but I suppose for heavy users this would be an attraction).

But overall, I feel thus far that Windows Phone is likely to give the average user the most bang for their buck.  I've never felt quite this excited about a phone.  I would almost say I love the Windows Phone experience, versus my EVO first impression, which I merely “liked”.

If Microsoft and/or Nokia can improve a handful of items (in order of importance) ---

1. Better browser
2. WORKING voice control, and more of it
2. Built in IM (AIM, please!).
3. More apps
4. More 3D graphics-heavy titles

...then it could have a much better footing against Android and iOS in terms of experience for users whose minds are not blindly devoted towards a particular platform (which is perhaps a fair chunk of users, at this point).

One final wild card is the AT&T network, which is in my recent experience, relatively bad in some areas (such as mine).  Again, this likely varies and in some regions AT&T is probably the best network.  That said, the badness of the network is more of an occasional annoyance than a crippling issue, and wasn't enough to ruin the great Windows Phone experience for me, thus far.

Lumia 900 in Hand (3/6)
(Click image to enlarge) [©: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]

For now the handful of disadvantages leave the new Windows Phone experience a work in progress, but still arguably an industry leader, when paired with a premium handset like the Lumia 900 LTE.

That may sound like an ad, but I have to live my device every day, just like you have to live with yours.  Having just spent a week with Windows Phone 7 on a proper piece of hardware, I find it hard to imagine going back to Gingerbread, or even Ice Cream Sandwich.

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