The Nokia Lumia 900: Pros and cons compared to the iPhone 4s

The Lumia 900 is earning raves, but I don't go with the pack.

So we all know by now that Microsoft and Nokia chose Easter Sunday as the launch day for their most important smartphone. Microsoft tells me it's not about the one-day pop of launch day but sales over time. Ok, fair enough, even if the AT&T store reps were seemed to be in a bad mood when I picked up my phone.

The Nokia Lumia 900 has been earning almost uncontrollable raves since its coming out party at the January CES 2012 show. The talk of the event, the phone earned “Best in Show” accolades from a number of publications.

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That happened to the Palm Pre in 2009, too. But Palm was in bad shape and really had very little chance. Nokia and Microsoft are not Palm.

Nokia is now running ads with its Smartphone Beta Test campaign that ridicules other phones as being unfinished before hitting the market

This all blew up in their faces when word hit the Web that the Lumia 900 was losing data connectivity. To its credit, Nokia responded quickly, offering a $100 rebate, essentially making the phone free. Still, watch out when throwing those stones.

So, what has been my experience after five day of ownership? Mostly positive with some complaints. As a piece of hardware, Nokia has crafted a work of art that might even win grudging approval from Mr. Jobs himself. It's elegant, sharp and stylish, with no visible seams.

In that regard, Nokia got the Lumia 900 right. It's a thing of beauty, just like the iPhone 4. The edges are smoothly rounded and it looks sealed. There are no visible screws or notches to open the device. The headphone jack is at the top, but no wired headphones are provided, unlike the iPhone.

The one design complaint I have is the power jack being at the top of the phone instead of the bottom like most phones. More annoying is that you can't turn off the phone and leave it plugged in. I tried turning off the phone while it was plugged into the electrical outlet, and the phone promptly came right back on. The only way to power off the phone is to unplug it.

The 4.3-inch AMOLED screen is bright and beautiful with sharp resolution and good response times. I am a bit annoyed at the inability to change the font size, because some of the fonts are enormous. Mail, for instance, is so large you can only see a few emails on the screen.

Nokia only offers a 16GB version, which I think is a mistake. My iPhone 4S is also 16GB and I'm regretting it. But at least there are 32GB and 64GB options. Lumia 900 users can use SkyDrive to store 25 more GB but that's a hassle. We should have a 32GB and 64GB option.

LTE: a Pro and a Con

By far the biggest advantage for the Lumia over the iPhone is the LTE offering. Again, we have a minor but irritating design flaw that just leaves me scratching my head: they don't show the signal strength or whether you have an LTE connection.

It's there at the welcome screen, when you press the power button, but once you swipe the screen to open the main tile window, it disappears. The signal bars don't show up until you select the Phone tile to make a call. Sorry, but your network and signal bars should always be visible.

Also, you will either see "4G" or "LTE" at the top, which may confuse people because LTE is sometimes mistakenly considered the same thing as 4G. Because the ITU has not clearly defined what 4G is, AT&T and T-Mobile are claiming to have 4G networks even though what they have is an HSPA+ network, a significantly amped up version of the old 3G technology. Because HSPA+ can approach speeds of 4G networks like LTE, carriers can claim a 4G network even though they don't have one LTE antenna.

So when you see "4G" on your Lumia, that means you are on AT&T's HSPA+ network. When you are within range of an LTE network, then "LTE" will appear at the top.

To test the LTE, I turned off Wi-Fi and downloaded YouTube videos. The LTE network loaded much faster and never once had to pause while more video downloaded. On the iPhone 4S with HSPA+, the load time was longer and I saw some hesitation.

Also notable was playback quality. Neither phone uses Flash. They both use HTML5, but the video quality on the Lumia 900 was fantastic. It was sharp and clear, like you would see on a computer monitor. On the iPhone 4S it was blocky and lacking in detail.

I wish I could show you, but the Lumia 900 won't let me take screen shots. The iPhone makes that simple, which is one leg up it has over the Lumia.

The Software

The lack of apps is no secret, I've discussed this before. Windows Phone is gaining new apps at an impressive rate, but it still has just 80,000 apps vs. 400,000 on Android and 725,000 on iOS.

On the plus side, the apps that the Lumia does have are pretty good. For starters, I get a batch of AT&T-branded apps, including support for U-Verse. It's nice to check your DVR and program it to record while out of the house.

On the business side, you get (almost) full versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as integration with SharePoint and SkyDrive. Windows Phone 7 also supports Dynamics CRM, making it a far more viable business phone than the iPhone or anything running Android.

Unfortunately, the browser is a bit lacking. I tested the Lumia 900 vs. my iPhone 4S on the SunSpider 0.9.1, BrowserMark and PeaceKeeper benchmarks, and the WebKit-based iPhone trounced IE9 on the Lumia every time. None of the comparisons were even close. The SunSpider Java benchmark was three times faster on iPhone than on the Lumia 900.

There is no such thing as the perfect phone. That said, this is a great contender to take on the iPhone and provide an alternative to people who don't like Android. Nokia and Microsoft will iron out the bugs quick enough, and hopefully we'll start to see some apps showing up.

Microsoft has the product to win. Now they have to sell it.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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