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With webOS down for the count and BlackBerry on life support, Microsoft is now the sole challenger to the smartphone domination of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Just in the nick of time, Windows Phone is finally receiving much-needed attention thanks to the Nokia Lumia 900, a handset as seductive as anything Cupertino has produced to date.
The Lumia 900 features a roomy 4.3-inch AMOLED display in a unibody polycarbonate frame; it feels so good in the hand you won’t want to put it down. Like the iPhone, the battery is sealed, but unfortunately, internal storage is limited to only 16GB. The screen is 800x480 pixels or 216ppi, far less than the Retina display (which packs 960x640 pixels in 3.5 inches, or 326 ppi), but it’s plenty bright and pixel dense for us. The handset also takes advantage of AT&T’s super-fast 4G LTE, with download speeds topping 15Mb/s in our tests.
Microsoft’s fledgling Windows Phone platform is the first truly unique mobile OS since the original iPhone, with colorful tiles taking the place of icons in a refreshing “Metro” user interface; many tiles even update with live information. After a day or two to adjust it all felt quite natural, even to a longtime iPhone user.
Windows Phone isn’t just for Windows users--Microsoft offers free Windows Phone 7 Connector software in the Mac App Store for syncing music, videos, and podcasts stored in iTunes, as well as photos from iPhoto or Aperture. It’s a bit slower than syncing an iPhone with iTunes, and all your content has to be DRM-free, but the Lumia 900’s camera roll also gets synced back to your Mac at the same time.
The camera is the only real hardware shortcoming--despite an 8MP sensor with dual LED flash, images were a noticeable step down from the iPhone 4S. Outdoor photos proved acceptable, but shooting indoors was a mixed bag. On the plus side, the Lumia 900 can automatically upload photos to Microsoft SkyDrive, with a generous 25GB of free cloud storage. It’s not quite Photo Stream, but images there can be accessed with a free iOS app or any web browser.
iCloud email is easily added via IMAP. Unfortunately, push email is only available for Windows Live, Hotmail, and Gmail accounts. We used Google to sync contacts and calendars from our iMac, which cloud-synced over to the Lumia 900. Windows Phone also includes Microsoft Tellme--you hold down the Start button and use your voice to call contacts or do a search. It’s more like “Siri lite,” but still better than competing technology on Android.
Much has been written about the relative lack of apps in Windows Phone Marketplace, currently at 70,000 and counting. In reality, plenty of iOS favorites are already on hand like Netflix, Plex, 1Password, and Evernote. Popular services such as Instapaper, Read It Later, Google Voice, and Reeder all have third-party equivalents that work well. Microsoft’s native Facebook app actually tops the iOS version, and the company is working quickly to fill additional Marketplace gaps.
The bottom line. Nokia’s slick hardware lifts Windows Phone to the level of worthy opponent to iOS and Android, even though we’re not ready to abandon our iPhone 4S and its superior camera. Microsoft still has some catching up to do, and we’re hoping a future software update might improve the camera quality, but the Lumia 900 makes for an attractive, Mac-friendly alternative we’d easily recommend over any Android handset.
Free Windows Live or Hotmail account, Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac for iTunes sync (requires Mac OS 10.6 or later)
Free Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac app syncs iTunes music, video, photos and podcasts. Fantastic industrial design that rivals Apple’s own. Lightning fast 4G LTE from AT&T, where available.
Camera is a letdown considering specs are similar to iPhone 4S. No syncing of iTunes DRM content, or push email for iCloud and other IMAP accounts. Free Windows Live or Hotmail account required for Windows Phone. Limited to 16GB onboard storage.