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Nokia Lumia 900 vs. iPhone 4S: Which Smartphone is Best?

LumiaVSiphone4s_bl1

With the launch of the Lumia 900 for AT&T, Nokia is having some fun at Apple's expense with a site called Smartphonebetatest.com. The mock footage of three blurred-out executives ridicules the iPhone's "death grip" issue and goes on to insinuate that the device's screen can't be read outdoors and that it's too fragile. But is the $99 Lumia 900 really better than the best selling smartphone in the iPhone 4S? In some ways, yes. Here's where Nokia's flagship Windows Phone comes out on top--and where it falls behind.

How the Nokia Lumia 900 Beats the iPhone 4S

It's more personal. When you set up your Lumia 900 and start using it, you'll be delighted by the Live Tile interface, which adds a lot of personality to the phone. For instance, instead of a static icon for the Picture app, you'll see different photos you took cycle through that space. And you can pin app shortcuts to your screen that deliver info at a glance, such as the latest news headlines (CNN) or weather conditions (Weather Channel). It's like Android widgets without the work.

More: Top 25 Windows Phone Apps

4G LTE on board. Whether you're surfing the web, loading a map, or uploading photos to Facebook, having a 4G LTE connection really speeds up data on the Lumia 900. The iPhone 4S is still stuck on 3G. Sure enough, the Lumia was much faster loading popular websites in side-by-side tests. AT&T's network is in 31 markets now and 8 more are coming soon.

You can group your favorite contacts. No, it's not unique to the Lumia 900, but we love the Groups feature in Windows Phone. It saves time and lets you stay in touch with the people you care about most. For example, if you set up a group for your family, you can text everyone at the same time and swipe to the right to see only their latest social updates.

More: Windows Phone 7.5 Review

It's a better phone. While the iPhone 4S isn't a bad phone for voice calls, the Lumia 900 delivered better reception during our testing. Not only did we not experience a single dropped call, the Nokia was also much louder and its earpiece had a wider sweet spot.

Free GPS navigation. Nokia lets you download Nokia Drive on the Lumia 900 for free turn-by-turn GPS Navigation, a feature not available on other Windows Phones. The app is very basic--with the exception of 3D maps--but it gets the job done. You have to pay a premium to get this kind of functionality on the iPhone.

How the iPhone Beats the Lumia 900

It's more compact. We're not averse to big phones, but the Lumia 900 is significantly heftier than the iPhone 4S. The weight difference (5.6 ounces vs 4.9 ounces) is manageable, but the Lumia's larger 4.3-inch screen results in a taller and wider design that will be a tighter fit for your pocket and harder to use one-handed. The good news is that the Lumia 900 is solid and attractive, especially in cyan.

The app selection is much bigger. 70,000 apps for Windows Phone is nothing to sneeze at, but there are more than 500,000 for the iPhone. And for every popular app the Lumia 900 lets you download (Netflix, Slacker, Evernote, Fruit Ninja) there are just as many missing versus iOS (Draw Something, Pandora, Hulu, Angry Birds Space).

The iPhone's camera is better. When we tested the Lumia 900's and iPhone 4S' cameras side by side, Nokia's phone just couldn't keep up. The Carl Zeiss optics certainly produced some nice-looking shots outdoors, but shooting in low light resulted in grainy images. The Lumia 900's shutter speed is also lacking versus the iPhone.

It sports a faster processor. In everyday use the Lumia 900 is pretty swift, but having a single-core processor does have some drawbacks. For example, the iPhone 4S was much quicker to load websites over Wi-Fi and shoot photos (see above). And while having 4G LTE on board certainly helps, we noticed lag with apps that require processing info from the web, such as the People Hub.

Bottom LineThe Nokia Lumia 900 isn't an iPhone killer by any stretch, but it is better in some ways. The Lumia feels more personal, offers better call quality and downloads data faster than the iPhone 4S, thanks to 4G LTE. On the other hand, the iPhone 4S has a more compact design, vastly superior app selection, and a sharper and faster camera. Overall, the Lumia 900 is a very good value, especially for first-time smartphone owners, but the iPhone 4S is the better bet for those who crave the best selection of apps and games.

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