For the last few weeks I've been using a Lumia 900 on AT&T's LTE network as we've travelled between conferences and press events. Thanks to the fast connection and built-in Internet sharing (coming to Lumia 710 and 800 owners any day now as an update), I've been able to stay online and file copy from Orlando hotels where the Wi-Fi was shockingly expensive, from crowded press events where the Wi-Fi was too crowded to be usable and as we drove up the freeway from the Microsoft Surface launch in Los Angeles to the Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco (I wasn't driving, I should add).
Although I've been sceptical about LTE in the past - I've been known to dismiss it as Faux G because it doesn't reach the original 100Mbps of 4G - I'm a convert. AT&T has sorted its network out everywhere we've been (I hear it's still poor in Seattle, causing some heartfelt complaints from Microsoft employees) and upload speeds have been impressive (often faster than hotel Wi-Fi connections). Three 30Mb files I was uploading to the YouSendIt service were uploaded in less than a minute each, for example. I used the Windows 8 option to mark the Lumia as a metred service so Windows Update and other lower priority background connections didn't use up the bandwidth or the data plan and I could be online anywhere and everywhere. I want LTE at home and I want an LTE phone when I'm travelling.
Like any other Lumia (my phone of choice has been a Lumia 800 since they came out last year), it's kept me connected, informed and amused (Wordament is addictive). The autocorrection is possibly slightly better than on UK Windows Phone models (it makes sense of the most mangled typing). Bing definitely does better with local searches in the US, retrieving local coffee shops and restaurants from just the name and offering me a map with directions. Searching for the rules to Stone Paper Scissors Lizard Spock I was amused to be offered both a game app and a T shirt to buy above the search results; in general the search autocompletion is spookily relevant (that's the good side of search tracking). Bing Maps and Local Scout usually find what I need but Nokia Drive has been useful as well and it's a good enough reason to pick a Lumia over other Windows Phone brands on its own.
Of course there's also the screen and the case to make the Lumia stand out. In bright California sunshine and brighter Florida sunshine I could read the AMOLED screen outdoors with ease while Simon's HTC screen literally paled in comparison.
When I first picked up the Lumia 900 I was disappointed at the way it felt in my hands; the polycarbonate felt rough with an obvious seam. I tucked it in my pocket next to my Lumia 800 thinking I'd save it for when I needed a fast connection and stick to my Lumia for most things. I also expected the screen to feel too big (it's the same resolution, just stretched further out) and the case to feel bulky in my hand.
After a couple of days, my hand and my pocket had done a perfect job polishing the surface of the case to a finger-pleasing smoothness with just the right amount of texture for grip. I quickly found I couldn't tell the two phones apart in my pocket; the 900 doesn't feel any bigger than the 800 in its form-fitting case. And gradually I found I wasn’t bothering to carry the 800 any more and I was only charging it up to check the text messages from my bank once a week - and the screen on the 800 looks tiny and cramped when I do. The camera on the 900 might not be quite as good as on the 800; here's a few travel snaps for comparison…
Taken with the Lumia 900
Taken with the Lumia 800But given that Windows Phone 8 is coming out and you can't upgrade the Lumia, why would anyone buy one? Well, because it's a lovely phone (even without LTE). It's got great features now and it's getting more apps, more features and the new Start screen layout. (No, it's not getting all of Windows Phone 8. No, we don't know what it might get beyond the Start screen layout - but we also know we don't yet know all the Windows Phone 8 features.) Even if Nokia sells a million Windows Phone 8 devices in the first month, there will still be far more Windows Phone 7 devices out there for developers to make money writing apps for, so they'll keep writing 7-compatible apps for a while. (Yes, that will change; not necessarily in the length of a phone contract.)
The truth is that geeks as we are never satisfied with the great phone we can buy now if there's even a sniff of something new on the horizon. Having chatted with a few not-geeky friends since the Windows Phone 8 announcement who are thoroughly fed up with Apple for a variety of reasons and who don't want to go near Android (citing reasons like 'it's too open - anyone can break it' and 'all the phones are too different'), I asked what they thought of Windows Phone. 'The Microsoft phone? That looks like it's worth a look' they replied. I cautioned them that there would be an upgrade in the autumn and they said that either they'd wait, or they'd get a phone now and pass it on to their significant other when the new handsets came out (I see this handmedown approach with iPhones a lot, where some but not all of the new features are available as upgrades). Go beyond that to the developing world or the featurephone market where whatever is cheaper than the Lumia 620 is going to sell with Tango and the phone that's great today is even more appealing.
Yes, there's going to be something better than the Lumia 900 later in the year, but if you're the kind of person who has to have the latest and greatest straight away you bought your 900 a couple of months ago and you'll be able to enjoy it for the rest of the year - and if you're not, you could buy a Lumia now and still have a great phone in a year's time. Mary