• 01.27.12

No Joke: With Lumia, Nokia Crushes The iPhone

In both physical and UI design, the struggling Finnish manufacturer delivers a solid rival to the reigning smartphone.

No Joke: With Lumia, Nokia Crushes The iPhone

After attending CES earlier in the month, I felt something major had happened: The iPhone had finally met its rivals in the form of Nokia’s Lumia 800 and 900, equipped with Windows 7’s Metro UI.


Let me be clear, Nokia’s phones are better than Apple’s, both in terms of physical and digital design. Supple, amiable, vibrant, and durable, the Lumia 800 and the slightly larger 900 are the new kings of smartphone design. The body has an original signature corner that combines two forms: the vertical tubular main form meets a rounded window for the screen. It’s a fresh look at a detail many mobile phone designers tackled before. The Apple halo effect forced many design teams toward the familiar solution: a two-dimensional rounded form surrounding a screen. Nokia was brave enough to forge its own path to arriving at highly effective way of differentiating the Lumia from the rest of the pack.

The mono-block plastic body is light yet solid as a rock, and the satin finish feels great in the hand. It isn’t trying to be a jewel; it is a tool for modern, mobile living. It even has a normal USB port concealed under a color-matched door! Speaking of colors, by using vibrant cyan, light magenta, and lime, Nokia has created a youthful, Millennial-type feel–positive, dynamic, and cool without being pretentious. The phone also includes an amazingly cute earpiece that pops put of its pebble-shaped charging base and a wireless speaker made from solid aluminum with a fabric top.

The Microsoft Metro user-interface is a perfect complement to Nokia’s design philosophy. Unlike Android, it doesn’t kowtow to Apple’s styling paradigm. It isn’t trying to create a faux reality with drop-shadows, ugly wooden bookshelves, or even uglier leather-bound calendars. The UI is anchored in modern graphics and simple, legible, iconic icons. It is fast, easy to browse and navigate, without coming across as sterile, utilitarian, or cold. In short, it’s a triumph of class modern design from the European school, using Sanserif type, strong color logic, a well-executed grid, and elegant proportions.

[This video about the UI is insanely long, but well worth watching.]

It is impossible to know how the market will react to this bold and great design work. The mobile landscape is driven by many factors (the App store is a major one), and conflicting business interests could derail this effort and minimize its effect on our lives. But hopefully, the outstanding work evident in these products will catapult Nokia and Microsoft back into the forefront of mobile technology. Chapeau to both companies’ design leadership!

About the author

Gadi Amit is the president of NewDealDesign LLC, a strategic design studio in San Francisco. Founded in 2000, NDD has worked with such clients as Better Place, Sling Media, Palm, Dell, Microsoft, and Fujitsu, among others, and has won more than 70 design awards.