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Nokia, AT&T, and Microsoft launched the Lumia 900, a 4G/LTE-based Windows Phone 7.5 handset yesterday, on Easter Sunday, a situation in which over half the country couldn’t see the device, let alone buy it, since many retail stores were closed for the holiday. It wasn’t an auspicious start for the new Windows Phone “hero” phone, but no matter. As it turns out, the Lumia 900 was worth waiting for. So instead of writing a standard review, I’ll be writing about this device for the next 8 days.

First up: A look at the buying experience.

After driving around Dedham and sullenly regarding the closed retail locations—AT&T Wireless, Best Buy, and so on—yesterday, I voiced my displeasure with Nokia’s inability to do anything right on Twitter. (“Classic FAIL: Nokia launches Lumia 900 today in US ... On a day when NO retail stores are open (Easter). I give up. You are ridiculous.”) Some have apologetically referred to yesterday’s fiasco as a “soft launch,” but making a product available on a nationwide holiday isn’t just soft, it’s clueless. And while I’m sure we can spread the blame around between Nokia, AT&T, and Microsoft, there’s no reason to sugarcoat it. This was silly and avoidable.

That said, I decided to simply try again this morning. And while I’ve certainly been of two minds about AT&T Wireless over the past several years—their support and availability of international data/voice/text plans is superb but, of course, they’ve also been pretty unfair to Windows Phone users too—I have to say, the in-store experience was great.

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The local AT&T store was done up in all kinds of Lumia marketing materials, including a huge, behind-the-counter ad and a nice in-store kiosk with two Lumia 900s, a single HTC Titan 2, and several accessories. There were other Lumias around the store as well. I had to put my name into a short waiting list so I had a few minutes to browse around and look at the phones.

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Lumia 900 (left) and Titan 2 (right): You can't tell from this, but the Lumia screen is vastly superior

Most intriguingly, and contrary to the many widespread stories about AT&T employees blowing off Windows Phone requests, a store employee who was restocking cases and other accessories approached me and asked me if I had any questions while I was waiting. So I inquired about the Lumia 900 and was almost dumbstruck by his knowledge of, and positive reaction to, the device.

“Everyone talks about apps, but I think the Windows Phone apps are prettier and more consistent than anything on the other platforms,” he said, unprompted. “Plus, the Lumia 900 is gorgeous. Did you see this screen?”

I did see this screen, and it is gorgeous. In fact, it makes the screen on the HTC Titan 2 look pale—literally—by comparison.

We talked about the UI, and what he called the “multi-screen, widescreen displays” in Windows Phone, i.e. the hubs, for a bit, and about the fate of older Windows Phone 7.5 devices like the Focus Flash and Focus S, which will be “held onto until sold or corporate asks for them back,” but not actively marketed anymore now that these new, LTE-based Windows Phone handsets were out.

And then my name was called.

I’m about halfway through my current two year wireless contract somehow, given that I just re-upped with the iPhone 4S in October, and my next upgrade time slot is in March 2013 for some reason. (Again, not sure why.) I knew, then, that I’d have to pay full price for the Lumia 900, and was curious about what that would amount to.

$450, as it turns out, vs. the $99 or $49 that the upgrade would cost, depending on where one makes the purchase.

A word about my approach to buying the products and services I use. Many of today’s tech blogs exist solely via free, sometimes temporary, loaner products from the companies they cover. And certainly, I get my fair share of loaners and even giveaways, though I try to be upfront about it when that occurs. I buy almost everything I use, however, and if I review a loaner product and decide to stick with it, I’ll typically go and buy the product normally. The PCs I use, and all of the software aside from Windows and Office, are all purchased using money I really make. It’s part of my budget. (Because of my testing regimen, the Windows and Office copies I use come courtesy of Microsoft’s TechNet service.)

I knew with the Lumia 900 that I’d want to keep using this phone going forward, so I had determined that I’d be purchasing this device regardless. Microsoft had promised me a review unit (as did Nokia, actually), but one never arrived in time for last week’s review window. (I found out before heading to the store this morning that it would arrive in the next few days. Hooray.) Given the retail availability of the phone, I decided to simply buy it. After all, I’d be doing so anyway.

(I did consider waiting for the white one, which will ship in about two weeks. But I really like the Cyan version. Only a red unit could have caused me to wait, I guess.)

I’d held off on getting a tethering plan with my current Windows Phone handset, the Samsung Focus S, but wanted to experience it and write about it, and asked about upgrading the service while I was there. The store rep explained that it would cost an extra $20 a month--$50 vs. the $30 I’m currently paying for data—and that it would spell the end of my grandfathered unlimited data plan, which I got with the original iPhone back in 2007. (AT&T has since discontinued unlimited data.) So I’d be moving to a 5 GB per month plan. Given my habits—I use well under 1 GB of data each month, and less than 2 GB for a pay-as-you-go tethering dongle for PCs—I figured that would be fine. I knew that the unlimited plan was on borrowed time anyway.

Give the rep credit, by the way, for repeating the information about the death of my unlimited data plan. She wanted to be sure that I was clear on that. Got it.

I was surprised to see that the phone was set up before any payment occurred—maybe I looked like I was good for it, I don’t know—but she put in a new micro-SIM, turned it on, stepped through the first few bits of Setup, and then handed it to me so I could sign-in with my Windows Live ID, which I did. After that was done, she did the financial bit, I paid, and I was done. The new phone was registered with my existing phone number, my primary Windows Live account was set up on the phone, and I was good to go.

Once home, I took a quick look at the Lumia packaging.  It’s the typical, low-quality and low-cost AT&T silliness, with a disposable box and not much to speak of inside. Nokia provides a nice-looking but unfortunately shaped power adapter, a white USB cord, and some flimsy documentation, including a Quick Start guide, safety information, and a card about the company’s Smart Start service.

packaging

I also had two emails waiting for me when I got home. One from AT&T, explaining my data plan changes. And one from Windows Phone, welcoming me into the fold.

emails

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the process I used to get my other accounts and data on the new phone, and explain the few things—like text messages and game/app data—that won’t be making the trip over, and why.