In February 2011, Nokia made one of the most surprising and dramatic decisions of the smartphone era: They announced plans to move away from Symbian phone development and formed a partnership with Microsoft. The young Windows Phone 7 brand suddenly had a major hardware supporter in Nokia -- HTC, LG and Samsung dedicated most of their mobile development to Android phones -- and Nokia saw an influx in funding thanks to platform support payments from Microsoft. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Microsoft forked over $250 million for Nokia's support [source: SlashGear]. A year after the partnership began, Nokia had something to show Windows Phone fans: the Lumia 800, a sleek Windows Phone modeled after an existing Nokia phone called the N9.
The Lumia 800 was just a warm up for what followed in early 2012: the Lumia 900, Nokia's first flagship Windows Phone 7 smartphone. The Lumia 900 lives inside the same polycarbonate unibody as the N9 and 800, but Nokia stretched out the display from 3.7 inches (9.4 centimeters) to 4.3 inches (10.9 centimeters). Inside, it's running some of the best hardware any Windows Phone has seen.
Nokia's partnership with Microsoft ensures the phone retains Windows Phone 7's core features like Xbox Live integration, but it also brings some unique software of its own like Nokia Maps. With the backing of a solid operating system, the Lumia 900's guaranteed to perform better than some of Nokia's past flops like the N-Gage. But Microsoft and Nokia need a big hit to give Windows Phone 7 a boost in the battle against Android and iOS.
Here's what Nokia cooked up with the Lumia 900.
Nokia Lumia 900 Design
Nokia focused on design elegance with the Lumia 900 and the phones that share its body design. The phone is built with a polycarbonate unibody -- there's no removable back, and as a result, the Lumia 900 looks unusually smooth. Like other unibody devices, like Apple's laptops, that means there's no easily removable backplate to allow access to a swappable battery. Is it a worthy trade-off of form over function? Usually -- and in the Lumia 900's case, everything but the battery is accessible from the top of the device.
The Lumia 900 has no microSD port, but the device's SIM slot and a micro USB port for charging and transferring files are hidden behind panels on top of the phone. A headphone audio jack also sits on top of the device.
The face of the phone is dominated by its screen and a black plastic bezel surrounding it. Thanks to Nokia's "ClearBlack" technology, the black background of Windows Phone 7 blends into the plastic bezel surrounding the screen, making the phone body look like a natural extension of the display. From there, we have to turn to the Lumia 900's innards to find out what kind of hardware it's running on.
Lumia 900 Hardware and Specs
The Lumia 900 display is big -- much bigger than the screens on the Lumia 800 and Lumia 710. The 900 follows in the tracks of Android phone development, trending away from the 3.7-inch (9.4 centimeter) screen of the iPhone into 4.3-inch (10.9-centimeter) territory. The Lumia 900 displays Windows Phone 7 on an AMOLED touch screen at a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels. That's a standard resolution for Windows Phone 7 and common on the Android platform as well. In fact, a 4.3-inch (10.9-centimeter), 800 by 480 display is just one of many hardware guidelines Microsoft set out for Windows Phone 7 to ensure consistency across the brand.
The platform's initial requirements included a 1 GHz processor, touchscreen, specific buttons below the phone display, and sensors like an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer [source: CNET]. The Lumia 900 matches those requirements with a 1.4 GHz single-core processor, the expected array of sensors and 512MB of RAM.
Nokia is well-known for offering some of the best cameras in the phone space, and the Lumia 900 uses an eight megapixel sensor, dual-LED flash and Carl Zeiss lens to shoot photos or 720p video. A 1MP camera sits on the front of the phone for video calls. Nokia's affinity for cameras gels with the Windows Phone 7 because Microsoft prioritized speedy camera access in its operating system. All Windows Phone 7 devices include hardware shutter buttons for instantly launching the camera app and snapping pictures.
The Lumia 900 and Windows Phone 7.5
Windows Phone 7's graphical user interface is based on the "Metro" style Microsoft originally designed for the Zune MP3 player. The OS eschews the app icons familiar to iOS and Android users for brightly colored square and rectangular tiles, some of which receive live updates to display new information like recent text messages or the current weather forecast. The colored tiles and strict hardware requirements promote the same goal: a consistent style across devices.
Since Windows Phone 7's launch in late 2010, Microsoft has updated the operating system to include a variety of features, including copy and paste, multitasking, more live tiles, threaded messaging, and custom ringtones. This is the version of Windows Phone 7 that ships on the Lumia 900 -- Microsoft calls it Windows Phone 7.5. Windows Phone 7 will become Windows Phone 8 when Microsoft releases the next major update for the platform; it's expected to happen around the launch of the Windows 8 desktop operating system at the end of 2012 [source: WinSupersite].
The Windows Phone platform lags behind iOS and Android in available apps on its marketplace, but it's younger than both of those competitors and passed the 50,000 app mark in late 2011 [source: PCMag]. Windows Phone 7's app market includes official apps for popular services like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix and Kindle. Microsoft also offers apps for its services like SkyDrive, Office and Skype, which the company purchased in 2011.
Those apps are productive staples of any mobile ecosystem, but Microsoft pushed a very different focus when it launched Windows Phone 7: fun. Thanks to the Xbox Live brand, Windows Phone is brimming with games -- some of which were originally published on the Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade. While Apple's iOS still has the strongest library of games, some of its most popular titles like "Angry Birds" and "Fruit Ninja" are available on Windows Phone, and Microsoft offers a number of exclusives through Xbox Live.
Nokia's Lumia 900 will run those games and apps like any other Windows Phone, but Nokia includes a little of its own software on the side. The phone's predecessor, the Lumia 800, shipped with Nokia Maps and Nokia Music pre-installed. The former provides offline turn-by-turn navigation based on map data, while the latter includes a free music streaming service called Mix Radio [source: TheVerge]. While the included apps could vary by region, Nokia will also offer Nokia Reading on the Lumia 900, an app that promises to bring all your digital written media together for easy access both on- and offline.
3G, 4G and the Lumia 900's Carriers
Apple and Samsung sell millions of phones in the United States, but Nokia is an international titan. However, the company's main business is in lower-end phones; as smartphones take over more of the mobile market, Nokia struggles to retain its juggernaut position. Enter the deal with Microsoft, the jump to Windows Phone 7 and a trio of international smartphones: the budget Lumia 710, the mid-level Lumia 800 and the big shot Lumia 900. Because Nokia designs phones for the international market, the Lumia 900 will be available on several different carriers. And it won't quite be the same phone on all of them.
In the United States, the Lumia 900 will be available exclusively on AT&T's cellular network. The phone will support AT&T's 3G data network and will also feature a 4G LTE modem to tap into the high speed network. AT&T continues to expand its LTE coverage to more markets in the United States, but the Lumia 900 is one of the first phones on the carrier to support the LTE network. LTE can provide faster data, but often at a price of battery life. Smartphones released in late 2012 and beyond will be able to take advantage of integrated LTE radios in chipsets from mobile hardware makers like Qualcomm [source: Anandtech].
The Canadian version of the Lumia 900, offered on carrier Rogers, will also support LTE. European countries will see a 3G-only variant that supports HSPA+ data. Nokia is expected to launch the Lumia 900 in April 2012 on AT&T's network in the United States [source: TheVerge]. And it could be as cheap as $99 with a two-year contract, which would be an incredible price -- smartphones typically launch at a $200 price-point on-contract [source: BGR].
The Lumia 900 is the most exciting phone Nokia's made in years, and easily the best-looking Windows Phone 7 device in existence. The unibody design diverges from just about everything on the market, and Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful operating system. Even so, it's going to be tough for Nokia to compete with Android and iOS. Windows Phone 7 has a small install base, and the Lumia 900's hardware doesn't push the envelope like the newest Android phones. Still, I love the style so much I might make it my next smartphone. Not even the iPhone can compete with that perfect design.
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