iPhone 4S vs. Lumia 900

Windows Phone 7 may be lagging behind both iOS and Android, but both Microsoft and Nokia have a lot riding on the Finnish company’s latest devices, especially their flagship Lumia 900. It’s big, imposing, and the two giant companies, along with US exclusive carrier AT&T, are going to do everything they can to sell them like hotcakes. Should you pick one up? Let’s take a quick comparison to the iPhone 4S, today’s most widely-sold and most well-known smartphone.

Size

These two devices are as stark a contrast against one another as you could expect. The iPhone, a 3.5″ screen and a tiny body, and the Lumia 900, a well-sized 4.3″ display on a massive body. Both are square shaped, but the Lumia 900 flaunts its lack of end curves with a completely flat top and bottom, and then flaunts its very curvaceous sides. In the hand the Lumia 900 feels a lot larger than the screen is; it’s actually closer to a phone with a 4.7″ display than a 4.3″ screen, but that’s only going vertically. Horizontally it’s the same as most other phones, so it isn’t uncomfortable to hold one-handed.

Is it better in terms of size than they iPhone? My personal opinion is no. In reality, I’d say it depends on the user, but I’m going to give this round to the iPhone for two reasons: first, because the larger size of the Lumia 900 doesn’t give any significant benefit, in terms of functionality, over the iPhone. The display is larger but less dense, and the overall size is good in the hand, but it’s tall and obstructive in the pocket.

Winner: iPhone, which is slimmer and easier to handle in both the hand and the pocket.

Appearance

As mentioned earlier, the two phones in question are big names in this field. Saying one looks better than the other, in this case, is going to be a matter of personal opinion, but the Lumia 900 does have some bonuses over the iPhone 4S. Firstly, it comes in four remarkably sharp colors, from blue to white to black, and now even magenta. iPhones stand out when viewed up close, but the Lumia 900 is visible from a distance, which may or may not be your taste. Then again, you can also give your daughter a pink one and she’ll love you for it.

Perhaps more importantly than just the physical appearance is the make of the phone. The Lumia 900 is sturdy as a rock, and it feels like it too. The iPhone? Drop it once and its done, broken, with cracked glass and a hefty bill to repair it. So while the iPhone may look sleeker, that’s only the outward appearance. Nokia’s larger phone, in my use, has been dropped (accidentally Nokia, I swear, and a few times it wasn’t even me!) and every time I saw not only no scratches or dents, but no physical damage whatsoever.

Still, it’s a matter of preference. I think that the Lumia 900 is a loud phone when compared to the iPhone 4S, but specifically the black model. The iPhone is more elegant, and has more finesse, compared to the almost brutish Lumia 900. Perhaps its more of a feminine vs. masculine view, but lets all be honest people, everyone would rather look at a pretty girl than a handsome boy.

Winner: iPhone, which has a nicer, calmer, feminine charm compared to the Lumia 900.

Display

Android phones today have reached the 720p, HD resolution most of us have on our TVs, but both of these phones are still behind that maximum display resolution. Instead, Windows Phone 7 is still stuck at 800×480, while the iPhone is significantly more dense at 960×640. This clearly gives the iPhone the upper hand, though not for video watching. The Lumia 900 is more comfortable, thanks to the larger screen size and the widescreen resolution, and doesn’t make a smaller picture because of it.

That said, the iPhone uses a very bright and comfortable to read TFT display, while the Lumia 900 has an AMOLED display. The two technologies are, again, good for very specific things; the former for reading, clarity, and color correctness, and the latter for color vibrancy and a more dramatic feel for video and pictures. Each has its uses and imperfections. Normally OLED displays oversaturate and produce incorrect color, and are very difficult to view in bright areas, like outside in direct sunlight. Not so for the Lumia 900. Partly thanks to Microsoft’s OS design, and mostly thanks to Nokia’s Clearview technology, the Lumia 900 is easy to read and view in bright conditions, though you won’t be able to see very dark blacks, as expected.

So while I’m disappointed by the low resolution display the Lumia 900 offers, both compared to the iPhone 4S and in general, the screen technology employed is extremely well made. It’s good for reading, for outdoors use, and for watching video, so that beats the iPhone in at least one area. That’s enough.

Winner: Lumia 900, thanks to the AMOLED with Clearview, and the widescreen display for watching video.

Operating System

This one should be a tough decision, but for one reason, and one reason alone, it isn’t. Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is a great OS, one that really stands up to both Android 4.0 and iOS 5, but it fails in one critical aspect: available apps. The WP7 app store is growing at a good rate, and Xbox Live integration is great, but unfortunately the selection of apps is pitiful compared to the behemoths that are the App Store and Android Marketplace.

Furthermore, because of the very low marketshare of WP7 phones, there are a lot of companies that are completely forgoing making apps for Microsoft’s OS. That will hopefully change with Windows 8, which will share applications across all platforms, but for now WP7 falls behind the competition.

Winner: iPhone, because WP7 just doesn’t have the apps to back up the OS.

Processor

Generally speaking, the processor head-to-head makes a difference specifically for Android devices. The iPhone has iOS, which is very conservative of how the processor is used, and so is WP7.

The Lumia 900 has a 1.4GHz single-core processor. Nowadays that seems laughable, and in many respects it is. With just one core multitasking is almost out of the question (clearly it isn’t, but most of today’s smartphones rely on multiple cores for multitasking; just ask anyone who remembers Pentium 4 CPUs, or older), and it simultaneously puts a serious strain on the potential upgradeability of the phone and apps for it.

I think it’s a huge problem, but then again I don’t have the expertise in both WP7 development or hardware manufacturing as Microsoft and Nokia do. However, in pure specs alone, an 800MHz dual-core CPU, properly used, is more powerful than a 1.4GHz CPU. There are more things to consider, like bus speed and cache density, but for day-to-day use its more about ease of use and how well they work in the real world. Both are fluid and smooth, and have few, if any, stutters. I just worry that while the iPhone can receive a firmware update to make the CPU clock at 1GHz, the Lumia 900 is stuck as a single core CPU.

Winner: iPhone, which has a slower CPU but two cores instead of one, and the potential to be clocked faster.

Storage

Like many upcoming and recent Android phones, the Lumia 900 is completely sealed in a unibody shell and has no expandable memory. Just like the iPhone. However, the iPhone comes in three models: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. The Lumia 900, however, comes in only one, 16GB. It does offer the cloud storage service SkyDrive, which is similar to iCloud for instantly storing photos in the cloud, but even then the iPhone is the clear winner.

Winner: iPhone, which offers more memory options.

Wireless Connectivity

Today, the iPhone is available in both GSM and CDMA models. None support LTE, nor does the Sprint iPhone support 4G, though on AT&T it does support HSPA+. Interestingly, the Lumia 900 is an even better world phone, working on both networks in a single device (the iPhone only has separate models for GSM and CDMA, and the Verizon/Sprint models aren’t interchangeable). So theoretically the Lumia 900 will work over any network, with the proper SIM card. It’s unclear, thanks to AT&T’s heavy hand with US distribution, if the phone is carrier locked.

However, the Lumia 900 also supports LTE over AT&T’s network, so users will have access to the fastest wireless data network in the US. So while this means the Lumia 900 loses in carriers (below), it wins by far in connectivity.

Winner: Lumia 900, which has LTE and works on both GSM and CDMA on a single device (but remember the carrier lock).

Camera

We all know the iPhone has a great camera. It’s also common knowledge that Nokia’s phones are known for having some of the best cameras ever. There’s even the 41-megapixel camera expected from the company later this year…the 41MP cameraphone. With the Lumia 900, you get the same 8MP rear facing camera, and a 720p front-facing camera, both with f/2.2 lenses.

Usually we don’t have both devices on-hand to test side by side, but this time I did. I took a handful of identical pictures with both the iPhone 4S and Lumia 900, and for the most part the iPhone takes better shots. Both have identical tendencies to oversaturate or provide incorrect colors, though interestingly never at the same time. The Lumia 900 is guilty of this more often than the iPhone. The iPhone also takes sharper images, and has some post-processing that adds contrast and makes the images slightly more dramatic. The Lumia 900 tends to be more accurate, generally speaking, but also slower to take shots and its easier to get blurry images. The good shots are also a bit fuzzy.

In many respects its similar to the difference between Canon and Nikon, where Canon provides more accurate stills while Nikon provides more dramatic ones. However, in the case of the iPhone vs Lumia 900, the iPhone comes out ahead because it is more often than not more accurate than the Lumia 900, and provides better images overall.

Winner: iPhone, which has a better camera that provides better contrast and more accurate shots in general.

Battery Life

The Lumia 900 has a denser battery, and the AMOLED display is less power intensive than the iPhone’s, though WP7 phones have been notorious for having only average battery life. That said, my time with the Lumia 900 provided some very decent battery life, though nothing particularly impressive. The iPhone 4S likewise doesn’t compare to devices like the Droid Razr Maxx.

However, due to time constraints, I haven’t been able to fully test the Lumia 900’s battery. Thankfully, Brian Klug over at AnandTech did, and his results are that the Lumia 900 is very close to the iPhone in terms of battery life and power consumption in most areas, but still slightly worse. I trust Brian’s judgment, as it has never steered me wrong before, though I’m inclined to make the score a tie. The only reason I don’t is because of the iPhone’s extreme battery life for web browsing, which I myself can agree with based on personal use. The Lumia 900 doesn’t even compare on that front.

Winner: iPhone 4S, which has almost equal battery life to the Lumia 900, but is far better for web browsing.

Carriers

The iPhone is available for all major carriers except for T-Mobile. The Lumia 900, however, can work on all networks, but is only available in the US exclusively through AT&T.

Winner: iPhone, which are available on more carriers.

Price

While the iPhone hasn’t changed prices since it first launched, the Lumia 900 is an amazing deal right now, just $100 with a 2-year service contract. That’s $100 less than the cheapest iPhone model, so it’s a pretty hefty saving. AT&T also has the best priced service contracts of the four carriers not named T-Mobile, though Sprint does offer unlimited everything. In either case, the Lumia 900 is the clear winner on price.

Winner: Lumia 900, which is $100 cheaper.

Overall Winner

Some readers may say “well no duh”, but the battle between the Lumia 900 isn’t a massacre, though the score may say otherwise. In nearly every point it was neck and neck. Camera quality, appearance, size, price…of the 11 categories that are discussed above, only a few are black and white. The biggest consideration for buyers, however, is one such black and white victory for the iPhone: Operating System.

The OS itself doesn’t make that big a difference, but the apps available to each OS does. And right now WP7 lags behind, and I think it may never catch up. There are a few more troublesome thoughts regarding the Lumia 900, like its single core processor, which may make the device not upgradeable to Windows 8, and the lack of expandable memory. It is, so far, an excellent phone, but it doesn’t quite match the iPhone, the current top phone on the market. But it certainly beats out plenty of Android smartphones, so don’t discount it immediately. The Lumia 900 is a promising device, so stay tuned for our full review.

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James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.

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32 Comments

  1. Though, it’s now late to comment on this article 3 months later, but I had some deep, “inner” conscience
    ‘passing-by’
    questions while reading this article. Ones that you are ready to compromise on, but when someone more advanced is able to point HIS ones out and speaks them, your realize you had the same concerns. One Mr. Mason was able to point out the right things. The good things the reviewer says about Nokia were the ones that even he wasn’t able to ignore. But he was hell bent to make the iPhone winner.

    I understand that the companies pay review websites to backdoor-market their products. The name “Gadget Review” is a HUGE name in itself, so one who registers this name, is likely to get great hits and top space in search results. And Apple must have a list of such companies, especially since the advent of Lumia series… So may be… rest you understand.

    I’ll never be on this site again.

  2. Clown making a clownish comparison without much inputs.
    Apps- who cares about unknown hundreds of thousands apps?
    appearance- iphone wins lumia 900? lol
    size- lumia 900 is bigger. enough said.
    display- iphone has nicer resolution
    camera- both at par

  3. Regarding the camera.. even Galaxy Note beats Iphone 4s on very low light situation.. I have an Iphone 4s and it sucks in low bar lights. My friends galaxy note snapping away, because it have night mode. someone might argue about noise, but I dont care much for noise since I just want to capture the moment and think about it later.

  4. …hate to say it, but judging from other comments below you’d be better off sticking to your your core expertise, such as door bells, alarm clocks, elevators, you know ;)
    The only buttons you’ve successfully pushed here are those of peeps looking for quality info and reviews and yours is anything but !

  5. Dear James,
    you got a few things completely wrong and/or backwards when it comes to networks supported by these phones.
    Firstly, Lumia 900, to the best of my knowledge, has NO CDMA support whatsoever- it’s strictly a GSM phone (and if you bother to check the specs you’ll see the same).
    Secondly, iPhone actually has GSM support in CDMA (i.e. Verizon) model though I’m not sure that their GSM model (i.e. ATT) has CDMA support. Perhaps it’s exact same hardware across all providers- just activated differently.
    So please try to keep your facts verified and straight or perhaps just stick to reviewing elevators, door bells and Halloween lights instead of misleading everyone ;)
    Best regards !

  6. Seems to me that the reviewer skewed this review on purpose…

    Even after saying in the middle camera paragraph that the Lumia tended to be more accurate, he decides by the category’s end that the iPhone is actually more accurate.  Please make up your mind and stick to your story.

    Apparently he hasn’t had the opportunity yet to fully test the Lumia’s battery (which sounds to me like “I’ve had it for maybe 5 hours”), but he’s already prepared to swear that the iPhone has way better battery life when browsing the web.  Maybe that’s true.  I just can’t trust his opinion when it’s clear he’s had it for maybe a day.

    The iPhone won the appearance section ’cause it’s more feminine?  And the Lumia is more brutish? Really?  I understand it was his opinion, in the end, but the first two paragraphs praise the Lumia’s design and then the iPhone is declared the winner due to its svelter, girly design.  It’s a good thing Apple didn’t advertise on that premise.  And maybe there should have been a sturdiness category in there too.

    I quote: “…because the larger size of the Lumia 900 doesn’t give any significant benefit, in terms of functionality, over the iPhone…”  How ’bout a much larger screen?  Tons more space to view webpages?  Larger movies and photos?  A larger screen necessitates a larger body.  If the iPhone had a larger screen space, consider how much bigger it would be.  Still gotta have body space for the girly home button below the screen.  All I’m sayin’ is that there’s a tradeoff, and a larger screen is definitely worth the extra size.  For a lot of people, I’m sure…

    As others have pointed out, you didn’t actually compare the OSs other than to say that WP stands up to the competition…maybe an in-depth comparison would have taken you more than a day to look over.  Size of marketplace has much less link to the OSs ease of operation than you make it seem.

    Rating the phones on processors?  Normally that’s something I’d expect from Android lovers.  You can’t pretend that WP isn’t fast.  If both OSs are fluid and smooth, why do the specs matter?  There was no substantive review of how well each segment of the OS operates, no speed test, no nothing.  You looked at the sides of the boxes and decided iPhone was better ’cause its processor is dual-core.

    Shame on you, sir.  Did you write this after 20 minutes with the phone?

  7. Really man?  Come on.  Is this the first time you have written anything?  You’re comparisons are flawed and your lack of knowledge about the subject matter is evident. 

    Processor – WP7 phones don’t need a dual core processor to beat iOS.  My Lumia is noticeably fastser than my iPhone in about everything. Get the facts straight.

    Battery – Lumia battery lasts longer period. Significantly longer based on what I have seen.

    Appearance – Seriously?  This is obviously a matter of opinion, but every person I show the Lumia to who has an iPhone always loves the Lumia.  It just plain looks better.  Maybe its a little bit of the newness factor…

    Operating System – Although this has nothing to do with the OS, there are less apps for WP7 phones than the iPhone, this is obvious.  Everything I use I can usually find for WP7, although there are some I can’t, I can find alternatives. Plus, honestly, I use about 30-40 apps, and of those maybe a dozen regularly…who the hell needs 500,000 apps anyway?

    You are obviously a Apple fan boy, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But be honest in your reviews or maybe actually have your facts straight.  I love my Apple products, and use my iPad everyday, still have an iPhone but this Nokia Phone is good, very good.

  8. Don’t really agree with your conclusions. But we all are entitled to our opinion. I wonder how this fight is going to turn out in 2013 when WP8 gets involved and gives Nokia unlimited possibilities for hardware. I’m sure Apple will put out a solid phone with the new iPhone. Should be interesting.

  9. This guy is DEFINATELY an Apple’s fan. I’ve reviewed only 2 of his reviews (Sony’Z series and this one, both to ipod touch and iphone 4s), and all this guy said is Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple, Pineapple, Apple,… And all the viewers ALL said the opposite! And i have Lumina! That thing is freaking sweet and stylish. Fucking iphone doesn’t have anything new both its appearance and interface! And the Lumina’s camera is fucking good, the processor is definately than my dad’s iphone 4s! So i definately reccomend Lumina. 

  10. The photo demonstrating display is counterfeit. Or it’s not actually demonstrating the two devices mentioned. The image on the right is almost twice the density of the one on the left, which is not the actual difference between the two phones. Also, the image on the left properly displays how graphics are anti-aliased, where the one on the right is clearly just the letter “a” pasted on top of a grid in an image editor.

    1. The photo of the 2 “a”s may be misleading but I dont think it was meant as the actual display of the iphone and the lumia.  Just a graphic to go along with the topic.

  11. Do you have all 100k+ of those apps on your iPhone? Will you ever?

    This is why the app store argument is of little importance.

  12. Appearance:
    this is just your opinion
    there a two vision in two items
    a old style design iphone vs contemporary design nokia
    nokia is fresh design, iphone is “eavy” design
    iphone is fragile, nokia is “solid” design

    OS:
    ios5 is like macintosh in your phone, windowsphone is something fresher
    wp is dynamic and cool, ios is icons old style of ever 

  13. Having both phones… Im not to sure I would compare it the same way.  

    Carriers…. is not really a way to compare phones.  Iphone also started on ATT only.   Doesnt say anything about the phone.

    Camera… Pictures come out different, but both are good.  Lumia has more settings to mess with though… and a macro which gets the pictures up close better than my iphone does.  Plus… theres a button outside which lets you access the camera quicker than the Iphone.

    Appearance… My Lumia is much better looking than my Iphone.  the sleek stlye edges look more modern and new. 

    CPU…  My Lumia is faster than my Iphone in everything..

    Battery life i havent seen a difference between the two.  I do use the Lumia more but still use the Iphone for games that havent arrived to WP yet.  

    O/S…  the Windows Phone O/S is solid and refreshing.  Apps look more modern in WP7 and navigation in WP7 is better.    You have different apps working at the same time and can easily switch from one to the other… not to mention the nifty back button and the live tiles update information to you real time without you having to enter the app…  for example my weather channel app gives me the info right there in the tile.   Definetly advantage Lumia.  Apps will get there.  All major apps are already there.

  14. Appearance goes for iPhone 4S? The designer’s polycarbonate unibody of the Lumia-900 is worse than the iPhone?
    Screen size goes for iPhone? Is 3.7 inches better than 4.3 ?

    I am thinking of buying a Lumia, then maybe my own comment is also biased (cant avoid it. I just dont see how the iPhone 4S is better than the Lumia 900).
    My score is Lumia:8 – iPhone 4S:3

    1. From a looks standpoint the Lumia 900 definitely scores big points, but based on my hands own, which mind you was for a few minutes only, it’s not as compelling as the iPhone’s glass body.  That said, the lack of apps is definitely a deal killer.

      1. Lack of apps being a deal killer really depends on the individual. No way can that argument apply across the board for everyone.

        Assuming you are switching from iPhone to WP7, the simple solution is to check on the Windows Phone marketplace and see if the apps you need are there. If they ARE there, then it’s NOT a deal killer. Period. Simple!

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