Two weeks ago at the Crunchies, Dan’l Lewin, Microsoft’s top executive in Silicon Valley, came up to me and handed me a Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone. It was out of the box, fully charged, and ready to go—alive in my hand. It’s a beautiful phone. Thin, solid, bevelled, and bright. Later that evening, I pulled it from my pocket and I’ve been playing with it ever since. This is not the first Windows phone I’ve seen, but it is the first one that’s made a lasting impression.
The Lumia 800 is the flagship Windows phone. It’s not available yet in the U.S., although an unlocked version is rumored to be coming on Valentine’s Day (for the absurd sum of $899, which includes a bundle of other gear). This is a standalone $500 phone unlocked, which means it could go for $200 or less with a contract. Its cousins the Lumia 710 and 900 are priced at $50 and $99, respectively, in the U.S. John Biggs and I talked about the 710 last month on Fly or Die, and that one is okay too. But the 800 is potentially an iconic phone.
When you hold one in your hand, it’s clear that the smartphone wars are far from over. It is too easy to dismiss Windows Phone 7 as being too little, too late. (That was our first reaction too). No, it’s clear that Windows Phone has more than a fighting chance. Microsoft will make sure that the economics are much more attractive to the carriers than the iPhone’s so that they push Windows Phone. If consumers bite, Windows Phone could emerge as a very strong smartphone platform.
The biggest drawback right now is the apps. There are 50,000 of them, but they are mostly hit or miss. They will get better over time. It’s still early. The few games I’ve played are solid enough, but the social apps need some work. They are too bare bones and stripped down, but I’ll give them this: they don’t look or act like iPhone apps. Windows Phone apps have their own look and feel, with a common theme being swiping sideways to get to a different tab or screen.
I am not quite ready to give up my iPhone 4S, but, as I argue in this episode of Fly or Die, if I had to choose between a top of the line Android and the Lumia 800, it would be a toss up. The 800 does not feel cheap. It is a sleek device that shows off Windows Phone 7 in the best light possible. A lot of care was put into getting many of the details right in Windows Phone 7—little things like the animated transitions when you launch an app or open up a new window. It’s a device that makes you want to swipe just because it is a pleasurable experience. (Be sure to read Robin’s and MG’s takes on Windows Phone also).