Windows Phone: Good, But Not Good Enough

Reviewers are impressed by Microsoft's latest phone, the Nokia Lumia 900, but many still doubt that what some have called "a gorgeous device" and "a phone that every single person should consider owning" can overtake the iPhone or Android.

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Reviewers are impressed by Microsoft's latest phone, the Nokia Lumia 900, but many still doubt that what some have called "a gorgeous device" and "a phone that every single person should consider owning" can overtake the iPhone or Android. As of late, Microsoft has made a slow attempt at a comeback, and it's working, at least on a PR level. But, as one commenter noted, "Ad campaigns are well and good but the proof is in the product," wrote Matt Herron in response to our suggestion that the stodgy Windows maker looks good these days. Well, here's the product. It looks good and runs fast, but it's still no iPhone:

The Look: Great

A "beautiful object," says Gizmodo's Sam Biddle:

The Lumia 900 is a beautiful object. Even in garish cyan—or "blue," as it's known to us plebes—the combination of Nokia's spaceship hardware and Microsoft's super-futuristic Metro vibe make the phone a handset of the future. The specs are nothing singular, but this is one phone that will keep you from thinking about its specs. 

TechCrunch's Jordan Crook agrees, particularly loving the matte finish:

The Lumia 900 has a fresh look that we’re really not seeing anywhere else, with a matte finish and rounded edges. I found the hardware to be bulkier than usual, but it’s also really comfortable and feels solid and sturdy in the hand. I also can’t get enough of this matte finish.

The Verge's Joshua Topolsky ventures it is the best looking smartphone on the market:

The Lumia 900 is a gorgeous device. It's beautiful. It may be the best looking phone on the market right now ... In all, it's a fantastic piece of technology. It just looks and feels like nothing else on the market. It hits all the right notes for me. A little bit retro, a little bit futuristic, with just a touch of quirky humanity in its otherwise very machined design. This is the Nokia I grew up with, and it's clear the company hasn't lost its ability to enchant through hardware.

Apple-phile David Pogue from The New York Times even thinks she's pretty:

Its design is striking and unusual. The back and sides are molded from a single piece of hard, grippable plastic, in your choice of black, white or blue. (Nokia hopes that when you read “plastic,” you won’t think “cheap and crude”— you’ll think “tough” and “terrific antenna signal.”) The edges are comfortably rounded and entirely uninterrupted by seams, flaps or screws.

The Price: Nice and Cheap

It doesn't make sense how cheap it is, given look and feel, continues Biddle:

The device being sold for a liquidation-level $100 (or even $0!), despite its LTE alacrity and a design reminiscent of an alien treasure chest. 

Crook again agrees, calling it "ridiculously" cheap for what you get:

All in all, I think this phone has great potential. It’s quick, elegant, brings something fresh to the table by way of Windows Phone, and is going for a ridiculously cheap price point.  

The value makes the phone worth it, adds Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslovsky:

It’s a very good phone and an even better value, delivering advanced features for $100 on a two-year contract, much less than competitive offerings.

GigaOm's Kevin Tofel would pay about 5 times as much for this phone:

I’m so impressed with what Nokia has put together that I’m considering adding a Lumia 900 to my own collection at the full $449.99 price.

The Feel: Good Enough and Fast Enough

Even with not so great insides, confirmed by a teardown last night, the phone feels great, says Topolsky:

The specs are unremarkable, but performance on the phone was not. Just as with other Windows Phones I've tested, the Lumia was snappy and responsive, with few (if any) hiccups or pauses — but more on that later. 

Tofel doesn't mind that the insides aren't dream specs, either:

Overall, the phone is snappy in apps and navigation, making it feel like there’s a turbocharger under the hood. 

Biddle found that famed hated browser a bit sluggish:

Internet Explorer is damn good, but it's on the slow side. 

Plus that 4G LTE connection makes it faster than the iPhone, notes Pogue:

But the iPhone doesn’t yet use 4G LTE — and the Lumia 900 does. That means brisk Internet connections in 4G cities (of which AT&T has many), and incredibly fast speeds in LTE cities (of which AT&T has only 31 so far). Apps download fast, Web sites load fast, videos don’t pause to load.

The App Store: Lacking

It just doesn't have the apps that the iOS or Android stores offer, continues Biddle:

The app store is a claustrophobic back alley. 

AllThingsD's Walt Mossberg notes just how lacking the store is:

Plus, the Windows Phone platform has only a fraction of the third-party apps available for its rivals—about 70,000, versus nearly 600,000 for the iPhone and more than 450,000 for Android

Overall Impressions: Love! But It's Not an iPhone

Biddle thinks it's worth a consideration:

The Lumia 900 is a phone that every single person should consider owning.

Crook gives it a positive, but not glowing, review:

To put it plainly, I think this is a swell phone.

It's not an iPhone, so it's not even worth Giga Om's Om Malik's time:

The non iOS devices for me are purely for academic purposes and to keep up with the devices, trends and apps. Sure, there are some great things about all these non iOS platforms. However, since I end up spending bulk of my day on my iPhone, I find it hard to switch switch gestures and learn new interaction behaviors with the new platforms. 

Even with his drooling over the design, Topolsky does not see it as a real competitor:

Let me just put this bluntly: I think it’s time to stop giving Windows Phone a pass. I think it’s time to stop talking about how beautifully designed it is, and what a departure it’s been for Microsoft, and how hard the company is working to add features. I am very aware of the hard work and dedication Microsoft has put into this platform, but at the end of the day, Windows Phone is just not as competitive with iOS and Android as it should be right now. 

Jaroslovsky finds it enjoyable, but not great:

The Lumia 900, which runs Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system, doesn’t match the iPhone’s ease of use or the vast ecosystems of apps and services that have grown up around both it and phones running Google (GOOG)’s Android operating system. But I found it more pleasurable than any of a half-dozen largely indistinguishable Android phones I’ve recently checked out.

The Nokia Lumia 900 did not impress Mossberg at all:

I’ve been testing the Lumia 900 and found that it provides the best home yet for the attractive Windows Phone software, but still doesn’t measure up to rival smartphones ... Bottom line: If you’re looking for a $100, high-end smartphone, or are a Windows Phone fan who has been waiting for better hardware, the Lumia 900 is worth considering. But the phone had just too many drawbacks in my tests to best its chief competitors.

Even Pogue, who loved the phone, has reservations about the possibility for its success:

So there you go: the Lumia 900 is fast, beautiful and powerful, inside and out.

Unfortunately, a happy ending to this underdog story still isn’t guaranteed. Windows Phone 7 faces the mother of all chicken-and-egg problems: nobody’s going to write apps until WP7 becomes popular — but WP7 won’t become popular until there are apps.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.