The Lumia 900 hit US stores in January, preceded by accolades and fanfare. It would take the top spot as the 4G flagship for telco Sprint and it seemed to have a bright future. As it strolls into Optus stores in Australia, sans 4G and with the knowledge that it won't be upgraded to Windows Phone 8, the story is quite different.
From a distance, you might feel as though you've seen the 900 before. It shares the same unibody design as the Lumia 800 and Nokia N9 before it, with the same flats and curves, ports on the top and speaker across the base. In the hand, the 900 feels quite different. Our review unit is a glossy white, not unlike the Galaxy S3 (GS3) we reviewed a few weeks back, and it has the same smooth, porcelain-like feel that the GS3 has too, not the grippier soft-touch plastic feel of the Lumia 800.
It's screen is bigger than the 800, up to a generous 4.3-inches diagonally, and with the same excellent AMOLED panel below the glass. Colours are rich, if a tad oversaturated, and the blacks are excellent. The touchscreen is also worthy of praise; matched with the slick Microsoft OS, the input is flawlessly reactive.
The Lumia 900 is sealed, so you won't be able to access the battery to replace it and Windows Phone 7.5 doesn't allow for expandable memory via a micro-SD card, so the SIM card slot and headphone socket are the only external breaks in the heandset's smooth, seamless exterior.
Features and performance
Releasing the Lumia 900 now will likely go down as one of the most baffling smartphone releases in Australia this year. In America, the Lumia 900 wasn't just a bigger Lumia 800, it was a Sprint exclusive model and one of the first Windows Phone products to come with 4G network speeds. It had a significant point of difference.
Locally, the Lumia 900 is just a bigger and, currently, more expensive version of the Lumia 800. Optus will range both models simultaneously, with the 800 available for AU$5 less each month, at the time of writing this review (though this is likely to change). Without 4G speeds, the screen is one of a few differences between these two phones, and we think this leaves the 900 at a disadvantage. Both phones have the same processor and GPU, the same 512MB RAM and the same 16GB storage. Both have an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash, the same networking features and run on the same version of Windows Phone 7.5.
Nokia does give the 900 a larger 1850mAh battery though, and it's one of this phone's stronger suits. In a continuous video playback test, the Lumia 900 managed to play the same 720p video file for just over six hours and fifteen minutes. Given that the best result we've seen in this test, so far this year, is seven hours (for the GS3), the Lumia sits at the better end of power efficiency. This translated well in everyday use, with the 900 nearing two business days between charges.
If you'd like to read more about the features in Nokia's Lumia range, our review of the Lumia 800 is here.
Uh oh, Windows
In our review of the Lumia 800, we split our views of the Windows Phone platform, at that time, into two sections: what we love and what we'd love to change. Luckily for us, this needs no amendment at this time, as the software on the 900 is so similar to the 800, as to be practically indistinguishable. The same Nokia apps are installed here, including Nokia Maps and Navigation, and the excellent Nokia Music with free streaming radio stations.
There is a bigger issue looming now on the Windows Phone horizon, something that we weren't completely aware of when we reviewed the earlier model. Recently, Microsoft revealed the next iteration in its mobile OS, Windows Phone 8, but it also announced that the current Windows Phone handsets will not be eligible for an update. This includes the brand new Lumia 900. Microsoft intends to release Windows Phone 7.8 at the same time as 8, which will bring some of the aesthetic changes of the new platform to older phones, but, ultimately, this means that, if you buy the Lumia 900, you will be buying a smartphone that will be left behind by its creators in a matter of months — and you'll pay full-price for the privilege.
The question is: do you care? If you buy a Lumia 900 today, you still get a solid phone. All of the Windows Phone experience that we've praised previously is in play here with the 900. It's still one of the fastest, most responsive and intuitive systems available. It handles email well, it has a great contacts andmessaging system and it's bolstered by an app store that now houses over 100,000 applications.
But there are plenty of features we're looking forward to that Microsoft is changing or adding to the platform, and those who buy a Lumia 900 will never benefit from those upgrades. The browser is a great example. We've moaned about the quality of the Internet Explorer browsing since day-one of Windows Phone 7, and one of the top-line updates coming in Windows Phone 8 is a better browsing experience. Microsoft is also building in support for higher-resolution displays, faster, multi-core processors and expandable memory. If you don't want these things, then the Lumia 900 could be for you. Otherwise, you might want to hold off buying your new phone for a few more months.
Though it's a good phone on its own merits, the Lumia 900 doesn't have a great place in the current smartphone landscape. It's like a phone that missed the boat last year and arrived too late this year to be really relevant. If you'd love a Nokia branded Windows Phone today, the Lumia 800 is cheaper and, in many respects, nearly exactly the same. Some may prefer the larger screen on the Lumia 900, but you won't lose any features or performance if you choose the 800 instead.
For everyone else, we'd suggest you wait a couple of months. Windows Phone 8 is due out at about the same time as Windows 8 for PCs, and with it we'll see a range of new, faster phones that have sharper screens and new features like NFC and expandable memory. A few of them are bound to be 4G, too.