Before you ask, yes, I can make a direct comparison with other Windows Phone units. Before BlogWorld LA this month, there was BlogWorld New York in May. Where I took a review HTC Trophy unit on the road to see how it coped. Now that was running Windows Phone NoDo, and not Mango (the Trophy has been updated now), but even with Mango, the HTC Trophy v Nokia Lumia 800 is not a fair fight.
Let's start with the positives, and to be honest if you've been paying attention online you know what these are (the weight, the styling of the body, the screen with the curved glass, etc.) so I'm not going to spend a huge amount of time repeating myself and the rest of the collective conscious of the web.
What makes it special for me comes down to a few things. For once, it's nice to have a smartphone that the rest of the world is coveting. It's a long time since I felt that, and while it's horribly superficial, Nokia has managed to catch lightning in a bottle - just imagine the reaction from the tech press if their view hadn't been tempered by the uber-geek object of lust that is the N9. To sell something, you need to make people want it. Not through specs, or function, but through emotion.
Windows Phone wasn't enough on its own. The polycarbonite on its own stirred a few dedicated tech-heads, but it wasn't enough for the mass market. Put the two together, and you have critical mass.
The colour contrast of the screen is another big factor as well. This phone works in sunlight, it looks gorgeous, and there is a tangible solidity to the icons, tiles and text as they move around the screen.
And for all that some people take a shotgun to the idea of a PC Desktop client, Zune PC is far better than the Nokia PC Suites, stomps all over Samsung's Kies for Android, and in terms of looks, puts Apple in the corner (although iTunes has a touch more flexibility and compatibility).
The Lumia is not without flaws - having seen the first reaction to it from people at Blogworld, the power button might be easy to use once you are familiar with the device, but it's not labelled as such. New users coming across it in a store (or handed to them on a conference floor) will tap the screen, look along the top edge, press the little dimple next to the headphone socket, and generally not find the "mode select standby" choice without a bit of help.
That's the only real flaw in Nokia's implementation on the Lumia 800, because once the screen is on, Windows Phone is pretty intuitive, and you can jump to wherever takes your fancy.
I'm not convinced by the argument that the capacitive buttons are too close to the bottom edge of the main screen. That's been reported by a number of other reviewers, and I'm not getting the same levels of frustration. I'm now not sure if I actually am hitting buttons by mistake, or doing it because I'm expecting things to go wrong. I wonder if reviewers needed to quickly find a negative before they could file "Nokia 800 - the first review!"?
What I do know is that there are moments when the buttons are in the wrong place - when the bottom menu strip in Windows Phone has three "charm" icons, they're not lined up with the three capacitive buttons, here's an example from Nokia's Music application. For some reason the aesthetics of this is upsets me, did nobody think this needed a tweak? (And now I catch myself, as I hit a collaboration of Nokia and Microsoft for being so stylish that a few pixels of alignment is upsetting me... how times have changed).
I raise this to make a point on this (and other) reviews of not just the Nokia Lumia 800, but any smartphone - always bear in mind that these are subjective views, and not gospel truth. Now that's said, let's hit what seems to be the biggest flashpoint online around the Nokia Lumia 800. The lack of a forward facing camera, and the cloning of the style from the Nokia N9.
None of these matter to less than a hundredth of one percent of the potential buyers.
As Rafe describes it, the Nokia Lumia 800 is not going to win in a 'Top Trumps' battle of statistics, and while a few people will choose another device simply because it has a 'dual core processor' with a few more cycles per second, that's not where the major battle will be fought.
Now it comes down to how it performs in the High Street, where the look of the device becomes more important than a few extra mAh in the battery. Yes there are compromises in the device, and we've gone over the reasons previously (check out part 1 of Rafe's comprehensive review of the Lumia 800). But the point of a compromise is to get to the best place possible. And Nokia has placed itself in the best place possible with the release of the Lumia 800. The time is right, the design is right, the message is right.
Is it the first "real Windows Phone", as Stephen Elop said in his Nokia World keynote? I think Samsung and HTC might have something to say about that - but if Nokia drives all the manufacturers onwards to bigger and better things in the Windows Phone world, then that can only be a good thing.
The question is when shall we see the first "real Nokia Windows Phone"? With an arguably short six to eight months of development time, the Lumia 800 is a fascinating and complete piece of engineering. There is clearly more to come from Nokia to bring it up to the hardware standard which other devices have, and on the software front Mango has had no real input from Nokia - expect the next version of Windows Phone to have some Finnish touches inside it.
I'd also expect the Lumia 800 to be upgraded in firmware to the next version of the OS. The first gen handsets from all the manufacturers received the Mango update, and over on the Symbian line the Nokia N8 continues to get updates. Right now the Lumia 800 has the poorest software set-up it will ever have. And this baseline is incredibly strong.
I've no doubt that Lumia 800 will be a strong seller (how strong remains to be seen, I would love to know the internal minimum target Nokia has in place). I'm also in no doubt that update support for the Lumia 800 will be ongoing well into 2013, and could argue that a final update in 2014 might happen as well. This is a cutting edge phone, and I see no reason why someone looking for a new phone would not stop and seriously consider this particular Windows Phone.
The Video Diary Reviews of the Nokia Lumia 800
As well as the traditional text reviews on All About Windows Phone, I've been recording and posting a series of video diaries over my first week with the Nokia Lumia 800, which was made all the more interesting as I was traveling to attend a conference in Los Angeles (BlogWord Expo). Here are direct links to the four diaries.
Part 3 - Reactions from the conference attendees.
Part 4 - Summary and final thoughts.