Nokia Lumia 900 for AT&T review: Going all in

GSMArena team, 17 April 2012.
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Full-res Picture tile is great

The Pictures hub has been polished up a bit in Windows Phone Mango. There's a new People tab, which lets you browse photo albums by individual contacts or groups.

You can set a single photo as a background for the hub (it used to be the last photo viewed) or you can set it to shuffle different photos.

And of course, the point of hubs is that they are the go-to place to do things, instead of apps. New functionality allows apps to integrate into the Pictures hub, so for example, a photo effects app can make its options available right in the hub. Devs need to enable that into apps however.

The main view of the Pictures hub offers four options - camera roll, albums, date and people. A swipe to the left reveals what's new, which displays your Facebook friends and liked pages' new picture galleries. Another swipe shows your favorites section, where the photos you've faved are displayed.

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Pictures hub

Albums feature the camera roll, the preloaded system pictures and all of your Facebook albums. A flick to the left shows all your pictures sorted by date. You can't assign individual camera roll photos into albums, though.

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Albums • Date • Favorites

The people section is where you can select your friends or closed ones so that their galleries on Facebook get displayed right there in your Pictures hub. It's a nice feature for social network users but will be only an empty section for those that aren't too fond of Facebook.

The camera roll unifies your entire collection of photos and videos, taken with the device, in a grid of 4x5. You cannot change the view of the camera roll. Viewing a photo can be done in either portrait or landscape mode. Zooming in on a photo is done by either double tap or pinch to zoom. We appreciate that the camera roll doesn't downsize pictures and you can enjoy them in full resolution.

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Camera roll • Zooming in on a picture

Windows Phone 7 used to be quite restricted when it came to sharing - it's still not perfect (it still downsizes photos before emailing them, for one) but you can now share videos too, either via email or on Facebook. Sharing options include messaging, email, Facebook or the cloud-based SkyDrive.

While uploading photos to Facebook or Windows Live, the OS will detect any untagged faces and allow you to tag them before proceeding with the upload.

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Internet sharing options

The camera roll has a dedicated auto-fix setting, which tries to improve your photo. It's a nice feature but one that produces unrealistic results at times.

The video player is integrated into the Pictures hub. It has a very simple interface - you have fast forward and rewind controls, a time scroll and a video size button that toggles full-screen viewing.

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Video player

The video player doesn't recognize .AVI files - in other words, don't expect DivX or XviD support. However, the Zune software on your computer will automatically convert such files to .MP4 - so, you can watch those formats on the Lumia 900, it's just that the transfer to the device can take quite a while (depending on your computer's capabilities).

It's interesting (and useful) that you can pin individual items to the homescreen - like a song or video, even an FM radio frequency.

Music + Videos and Nokia Music too

The media players reside together in the Music & Videos hub, which bears the Zune logo. When you start it, it shows the History, which gives you quick access to the last two things played, or you can go to the full menu and start the music or video player, listen/watch podcasts (both audio and video podcasts are supported), start the FM radio or go to the Marketplace.

The music section is made up of albums, songs, playlists, genres and artists. Videos features all, television, music videos, films and personal - think of them like more of categories you can assign your videos to when synching with Zune. The third section is podcasts where you can store all of your downloaded audio and video podcasts.

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Music + Videos hub

The music has a simple and straightforward interface. You won't have any difficulties using it. However there are some things missing, like an equalizer. Another missing feature is the ability to scrub through a song with your finger - you have to press and hold on the FF/rewind buttons to simply jump back and forth.

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Browsing the music library • Now playing screen • Music controls on the home screen

Mango brings along a slight change in design to the now playing screen. The favorite, repeat and shuffle buttons are now placed horizontally next to the album cover instead of hidden behind it.

You also get radio and marketplace links in the Music & Videos tile. It doesn't offer the option to listen to online radio stations so you would need to insert the headgear to get reception.

You have the current frequency in very large digits - swiping left and right changes the frequency and a swipe and release automatically searches for the next available station in that direction. You can mark some stations as favorites, which will allow you to pin them to the homescreen. RDS is on board and you can switch between headphones and loudspeaker.

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FM radio

Nokia Music works as a general music player but with a location-aware twist. You also get access to the Nokia Music store, which is an alternative to the Zune Marketplace.

As a music player, it's pretty standard - your tracks are sorted by artist, album, playlists or you can view all songs. The interface is very similar to that of the stock music player, but under the album art it lists the next three songs to be played - really helpful if you're using shuffle. There's no way to manually reorder the upcoming songs, but you can reshuffle them if there's one you don't like.

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Nokia Music app

The location-aware feature is called Gigs - as the name suggests, it finds concerts near your location.

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Gigs looks for concerts nearby

8MP Carl Zeiss camera

The Nokia Lumia 900 has an 8MP camera with a lot to brag about - it has a 28mm wide-angle F2.2 lens by Carl Zeiss and as we already mentioned in the hardware section of this review the sensor behind the lens is quite clever too. It produces 8MP photos with 4:3 aspect ratio, or 7.1MP photos if you want 16:9 aspect ratio.

The camera UI is pretty simple - you have your viewfinder and some controls on the right. From top to bottom they are the still/video camera toggle, virtual zoom buttons and an extended settings menu. On the left you have an arrow that takes you to the images taken with the camera, alternatively you can do a swipe gesture too.

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Camera app

The camera app on Windows Phone offers extensive settings, ranging from scenes and effects to white balance, contrast, saturation, sharpness, ISO and more. You have a dedicated Macro focus mode but no face detection. The flash can be set to auto, forced or off.

The camera key will wake the phone with a single press - that is unlocking it, and start taking shots. Unfortunately it doesn't utilize the proximity sensor as before for pocket/purse detection and now the camera app can be accidentally started in your pocket.

The Lumia 900 captures decent photos with accurate colors and good contrast. The amount of resolved fine detail is not among the best we've seen and there's also lots of noise when viewing the photos at 100% zoom. Still, the Lumia 900 has accurate white balance and the dynamic range is as impressive as it was on the N9 and the Lumia 800. As a result, images from the camera look pretty well when not zoomed at 100% so if you are not pixel peeping as we are, you will be perfectly alright with what comes out of the camera.

Here go some Nokia Lumia 900 full-res camera samples:

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Nokia Lumia 900 camera samples

We also snapped a macro shot, here it is.

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Nokia Lumia 900 macro shot

HD video recording can be great, but needs more work

The video camera interface is identical to the still camera one and has plenty of features too. You can use scenes, calibrate contrast, saturation and sharpness, change the white balance or exposure compensation and also add image effects. You can use the LED as a video light too.

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Camcorder interface

Windows Phone has yet to break the 1080p barrier and the Lumia 900 isn't the phone to do it. It's limited to 720p, which is now within the reach of cheaper smartphones. Still, it's quality, not quantity that we're looking for.

The video quality is really good like it was on the Lumia 800 - there's a lot of resolved detail for a 720p shooter, the image looks crisp and free of noise and artifacts. Videos are shot with 14Mbps bitrate, which is more than some 1080p shooters and double of what the N9 does. Videos have stereo sound but at a low bitrate (it hovers around 80Kbps).

Continuous autofocus is available while recording. The Lumia 900 was way too eager to hunt for focus - if there's constant action in the scene, the Lumia 900 would refocus every several seconds, which gets really annoying. There's no way to lock the focus and the camera would always focus at the beginning of the video (even if you make it focus before you start recording).

If Nokia would fix the autofocus issue and bump up the audio bitrate (the N9 does 132Kbps), we'd be very happy with the video recording. In all honesty, the Lumia 800 recorded audio with an even lower bitrate so it's an improvement.

Here's an example of what the Nokia Lumia 900 is capable of.

We've prepared an untouched 720p@30fps video sample from the Lumia 900's camera for direct download.

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