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With all of the praise I've been heaping on the Nokia Lumia 900 thus far, you might be wondering if it has any faults at all. Well, if there are faults, they are in the camera. On paper, the eight megapixel camera with wide-angle 28mm, f/2.2 Carl Zeiss lens looks fantastic, but in practice it doesn't live up to the hype.
The camera app can be launched by long-pressing the camera shutter key and the interface is the same as on other Windows Phones. You can half-press the shutter key to focus before taking the picture, but it is difficult to feel the difference between a half and full press, which makes it more cumbersome to use than anything else. Alternatively, you can tap the screen anywhere to focus and shoot an image immediately. Windows Phone's camera app makes it easy to instantly share your photo with others or to Facebook.
Unfortunately, images captured by the camera aren't that impressive, especially in artificial light. White balance is frequently inaccurate to the point of being downright awful (e.g. photos appear too blueish), and the Lumia 900's low light performance can't touch that of competitors like the iPhone 4S or HTC's new One Series smartphones. The dual-LED flash tends to produce lousy results, with especially dark backgrounds and blown out subjects. Outdoor images with a lot of light are good, but that's not something any smartphone should have trouble with these days.
The 720p video captured by the Lumia 900 fares better though, and it features continuous autofocus while filming. While other phones on the market are shooting 1080p clips, at least the Lumia 900's 720p video is sharp and offers a good framerate.
As unimpressive as the Lumia 900's main camera is, the front-facing camera is a gem. It captures 1 megapixel images that are bright and sharp, and the VGA-quality video is smooth and stutter free. The wide-angle of the lens makes it easy to hold the phone comfortably when on video calls, and its fast f/2.4 aperture lets in gobs of light. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of apps that currently take advantage of it just yet, and the included Tango app and downloadable Skype client leave a bit left to be desired.
Given Nokia's impressive imaging pedigree and prior success with older cameraphones, the Lumia 900's poor camera performance is just all that much more disappointing.
The Nokia Lumia 900 features the slick and attractive Zune music player. It uses the Zune Desktop syncing software to manage music, which works well and doesn't feel nearly as bloated as iTunes. The music player supports album art, playlists, and Smart DJ mixes, which automatically create playlists of similar music based on the artist selected. The music player can be controlled from the notification bar or the lockscreen, and the Music + Video Hub smartly aggregates all of the apps on the phone that can play music or video content.
Sound quality through the external speaker is clear and free of distortion, but the volume doesn't get nearly as loud as other smartphones. Nokia does not include any headphones with the Lumia 900. Those that like to store a lot of music or video content on their device will want to take note of the Lumia 900's non-expandable 16GB of internal storage (14.5GB is available to the user out of the box). The Lumia supports Microsoft's Zune streaming music service, so you can listen to tunes on the go without having to bring them with you - for a fee.
Like the iPhone 4S, the Motorola Droid Razr and Razr Maxx, the HTC One series, and an increasingly growing list of other smartphones, the Nokia Lumia 900's battery is internal and not user replaceable. I don't think that will present much of an issue for most users, however, as the 1830mAh unit easily cruised through a full day (12 to 14 hours) of hard usage during my tests - even when on AT&T's 4G LTE network. Those that aren't as demanding on their smartphones will likely be able to stretch that number even further. Nokia says the Lumia 900 is rated for 7 hours of talk time, but is really an "all-day" battery, and I think it lives up to that claim.
It's hard to overstate how impressed I am with the Nokia Lumia 900. The phone's industrial design is impeccable, and it's really the only phone on the same level of the iPhone 4S in this regard. Performance is great, and the Windows Phone Metro interface is a joy to use, though I do wish that third-party apps opened and refreshed their data faster than they currently do.
The Lumia 900's support for AT&T's 4G LTE network is greatly appreciated, but even if you don't live in one of the few markets currently covered by it, you can get great performance with the Lumia 900 on the carrier's HSPA+ network.
The only real complaint is with the camera, as it just doesn't live up to the rest of the phone's greatness. The poor image quality indoors might be deal breaker for some users. It should be noted that the poor white balance performance is something that Nokia could potentially address with a software update.
AT&T is offering the Lumia 900 in cyan and black on April 8. Patient buyers can opt for a glossy white version on April 22. All colors will be available for $99.99 with a new two-year contract (Amazon is cutting down that price to $20 or $50 depending on where you are with AT&T). That low price combined with a great user experience and the top-notch hardware of the Lumia 900 makes it a tremendous value.
Microsoft's Windows Phone platform has struggled so far to gain traction in a market dominated by the iPhones and Androids of the world, despite offering a smart and intuitive experience. One thing it was lacking in the U.S. was a true hero device (other world regions received the equally impressive Lumia 800 late last year), and it really feels like the Nokia Lumia 900 is Windows Phone's knight in polycarbonate armor. You can sign me up for one.
Pros: Fantastic design, gorgeous display, fast performance.
Cons: Downright lousy camera, non-expandable storage, small app ecosystem.
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