There are two ways to take a picture: you can either press down halfway on the two-stage dedicated camera button to set exposure and focus and then press fully to snap, or you can simply tap the screen on whichever subject you like and it will make all the necessary adjustments and take the shot all in one go. We found ourselves using the latter method more often, simply because it's so blazingly fast.
A tap on the 'cog' button provides ready access to flash control and a dream-like array of manual options, including ISO, exposure compensation, metering mode, white balance, contrast, saturation, focus mode and resolution. What's more, you can save your settings so they don't get lost when you exit the camera or switch to another scene mode. The only thing missing is a setting for how much compression you want. However, the camera software generally preserves a good level of information, with file sizes mostly ranging from 1MB to 1.3MB, but occasionally reaching 2.2MB for a shot with lots of detail. The same goes for video: 720p files generally came in at around 80MB to 100MB per minute, which is far in excess of many rivals and also slightly better than the HTC Titan.
Of course, the Titan also has a f/2.2 lens, the same maximum resolution and the same underlying camera software, so we took the two phones out for a spin in the British Museum in order to get a more detailed comparison. Our verdict? It was a close contest, and ultimately we'd be content with either camera in our pocket -- but there are a few differences worth mentioning.
The Lumia 800's auto white balance often struggled with the varied lighting at the museum, which has artificially lit displays underneath big tinted windows in the ceiling. We had to manually set white balance on a couple of occasions, whereas our Titan generally seemed to pick the right compromise. Below is a highly zoomed-in section from the Lumia shot, which shows a pink cast. Below that is the equivalent from the Titan, which is more accurate. In a our sample video below, we moved the camera from very blue light to very warm light and it actually coped quite well. It's the more the subtle stuff it struggles with.
Our sample video also shows that the Lumia's autofocus was occasionally slow during recording. It wasn't always that bad, but it was certainly inconsistent. Exactly the same can be said of the Titan, though. Neither camera handles autofocus very well during video, unless your subject is inorganic with lots of straight edges. Any fast motion or panning also destroyed the quality of our 720p video, largely because the compression couldn't keep up -- VGA mode handled motion a lot better, but who wants to shoot in that? But again, the Titan also suffers from this, and in fact the Lumia's compression system copes marginally better. Overall, we need better bit-rates and better autofocus on smartphones before we stop carrying our little video camera around with us.
Returning to still images briefly, we also found that the Titan's were generally sharper and had slightly higher contrast by default. The antelope eye below is from the Lumia, whereas the sharper one below that is from the Titan. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the Titan's pics were better, and in any case the Lumia could easily be re-configured to deliver the same results. However, the Titan also has useful Panorama and Burst Shots modes, which are missing on the Lumia 800. Factoring in the white balance issue, we'd have to give the Titan's camera a slight edge in this contest -- but phones on other platforms, like the iPhone 4S
, Galaxy S II
and Galaxy Note
have all-round superior cameras.
There's a good chance that the Lumia 800 will be your first Windows Phone, so it's worth checking out the quick overview in the software video above. If you want the full low-down, then please peruse our in-depth Mango preview
, as well as our review
that was updated when the OS update was finalized.
If you'd prefer a very quick summary, then take it from us that this OS is fast, fluid and nice on the eyes. Its visual design is a boon not only for ease-of-use -- particularly for people with poor eyesight -- but also in terms of its sheer sassiness, which will be appreciated by anyone who wants to stand out from the iOS and Android crowds.
This OS is fast, fluid and nice on the eyes.
The navigation system rarely throws too many options at you, and often cuts out more advanced options altogether. In particular, we miss USB mass storage -- a feature we rely on with our Android phones. It's also a shame that you can can't display multiple Google calendars -- the OS will only display the primary calendar for any account, which is out of keeping with this otherwise very productivity-focused OS.
The WP keyboard, as always, gets a special mention for being extremely easy to use. It works great on the Lumia 800's screen, but we found ourselves making slightly more mistakes compared to the Titan, whose keys are easier to hit simply because they're bigger.
Although Windows Phone is still lacking many of the apps that have become popular on other platforms, including Spotify, Dropbox and countless others, it handles core functions rather well, such that you don't necessarily need extra apps in order to handle basic social networking, photography, maps, search, music recognition and purchasing, cloud storage, folder syncing, and other daily tasks. These functions aren't perfect -- advanced Tweeters may struggle with the limitations of the integrated software, for example, which requires you to use SkyDrive for hosting your pictures. However, the Marketplace is growing daily and will offer more dedicated apps over time -- after all, it has the full weight of Microsoft behind it.
Nokia is going way beyond the call of duty in providing its own apps, which already help to distinguish the Lumia 800 from the competition and will certainly become more of a selling point over time -- particularly when Nokia's Pulse social networking platform emerges from beta testing. In the meantime, Nokia's proprietary offering amounts to three key apps.
First and foremost, Nokia Drive turns your handset into a fully featured sat nav, based on the Navteq platform that covers 90 countries and also works with offline maps. Need to get from A to B in Mozambique? Then download the 15MB file and off you go. The coverage puts Google Maps and TomTom to shame. You get full voice instructions too.
Nokia Music adds to the stock player by giving you access to Mix Radio. This is a neat little radio player with eclectically titled categories (e.g., "Golden Era Hip-hop"), which let you narrow down your genre while still leaving it open enough for some unexpected tunes -- so long as you have WiFi access or a cheap cell data plan. The audio quality is on a par with the free version of Spotify, for example, so it won't satisfy audiophiles, but it's fine for listening on the go or plugging into a small dock.
Finally, Nokia also supplies an app discovery tool called App Highlights, which suggests essential apps like Kindle, eBay and AccuWeather as well as promoting others you might not be aware of. It also has a little gimmick where you shake your phone to be shown a surprise app -- completely pointless, but it emphasizes the underlying purpose, which is simply to encourage to savor the generally high-quality offerings cherry-picked from the Windows Phone Marketplace.
Nokia's Lumia 800 is a sophisticated and capable smartphone that melds its hardware beautifully with the Windows Phone OS. Whether it's the best phone for you right now depends on certain factors.
First, you need to establish whether you're a Windows Phone type of person. If you're thrilled by dual-core processors, extremely high-res screens, large camera sensors, customizable widgets, expandable storage, USB mass storage and other such features, then you'll be better off with Android or -- to a slightly lesser extent -- iOS, because that cutting-edge stuff is currently absent on Redmond's OS. On the other other hand, if you want to be part of a carefully crafted, simple and generally happy emerging ecosystem, then look no further.
The next question is whether you'd choose the Lumia 800 over another Windows Phone, such as the Titan. The Titan's camera is slightly better, but not enough to be a deciding factor. Conversely, the Lumia 800's design is arguably superior, but not massively so. Instead, it's the display that's the more important issue. If you want a bright and colorful screen for media and general use, and you're not too fussed about the PenTile pixel issue (which you ought to see for yourself before buying), then the Lumia 800's AMOLED display wins hands-down. However, if you prefer a bigger screen that does a better job of displaying text, then go with the Titan.
Some people will notice that Nokia is building a special relationship with Microsoft, to the point where the manufacturer is able to deliver more exclusive features in its phones and push for things to be added in later revisions. If you're a WP fan, then there might be an argument for committing to Nokia in order to benefit from all those good things to come. However, we think that's premature. Drive is a nice exclusive feature, but there's not much else yet. If anything, the Lumia 800's hardware risks being left behind as Nokia develops apps and platforms based on NFC, front-facing cameras and other (unknown) features that are likely being prepared for Windows 8 Apollo. The Nokia-Microsoft relationship will certainly become more important, but that's not enough to sway a purchasing decision today.