- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nine years ago, on a trip to Tampere, Finland, I rode past the nearby city of Nokia, my host telling me that the then- and still-famous maker of cellphones started life there as several companies, one of which made products out of rubber, including fishing boots.

Perhaps Nokia, like L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine, should have stuck to their original knitting. The Bean company observes its centennial this year, and its products are about as reliable as they come. Nokia, started in 1865, should be so lucky, particularly when it comes to the Lumia 900, a recently released “smartphone” using the Windows Mobile platform.

A big draw of the Lumia 900 - available for $99.99 at AT&T Wireless with the proper cell-service contract - is supposed to be its 8 Megapixel camera, complete with Carl Zeiss lens, the same lens system found in ultrachic and ultrapricey Leica cameras. If you want to get Leica-quality photos, save your money and buy a Leica (or Panasonic digital) camera. The Lumia 900 doesn’t deliver images so stunning that I’d want to ditch my Apple iPhone 4S.

Another plus is its ability, via Windows Mobile, to bring all sorts of data to the handset, organizing your life in a more “flip-friendly,” way, paging through this or that application. Sigh. It works, except when it doesn’t. As many users, including C-Net reporter Dara Kerr, found out, there’s a bug in the Lumia 900 that intermittently disconnects some users from the Internet. It’s a little difficult to stay connected if you’re not, well, connected.

In response, Nokia said it is offering affected users a $100 credit, which essentially makes the phone a “freebie.” That may be smart public relations, but it can’t be good for Nokia’s bottom line. On April 11, Nokia said it would have a disappointing first and second quarter of earnings in the face of heavy smartphone competition; share prices dropped 14 percent on the news.

Then there’s the question of applications. There are lots, but Windows Phone doesn’t have nearly as many available as competitive platforms such as Android and iPhone do. There’s no Instagram for Windows Phone yet, for example. Because Android and iPhone users have exponentially more applications (and accessories) from which to choose, those platforms are, well, exponentially outselling the Windows Phone and, specifically, the Lumia devices from Nokia. You can get lots of other apps, of course, including the Kindle book reading app from Amazon.com.

As a phone - which, after all, is one of the key reasons for having a smartphone - the Lumia 900 performs quite nicely. It also is very good as an email client, and when connected the Internet is just fine. But “almost as good” isn’t quite good enough, not when a prepaid smartphone from your local Wal-Mart can outgun something you’ve committed to for two years of cellular service. There’s a serious disconnect here.

Perhaps the two greatest deficiencies are in areas I’ve noted in reviewing other smartphones.

First, the music features rely on Microsoft’s Zune service. Yes, the iPhone is tied to iTunes, but Zune is about as current, in my opinion, as an 8-track tape player. It’s proprietary in the extreme, and the hassle isn’t worth the effort, in my opinion. With iTunes, you can more easily import items from your own CD collection, or from MP3 files downloaded from, say, Amazon.com or other compliant services.

Second, there is the lack of any connectivity with the Apple Macintosh platform. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: iTunes runs on Microsoft Windows; you can buy an iPhone and synchronize it with your PC’s data. You can’t do the reverse with Windows Phone. It’s just short of criminal, in my view, and it’s certainly short-sighted. If Microsoft opened up the Windows Phone, it would be a smart move.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, my verdict on the Lumia 900 is a “no.” Don’t buy it. Get some boots from L.L. Bean instead.

Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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