LumiaBetatest: How a promising phone remains in beta

Nokia and Microsoft have created the snarky SmartphoneBetatest website and ads. It offers a cogent thesis: Many smartphones on the market, most notably some Android-based crapphones, are a litany of non-upgradable, buggy, stuttery POSs, and Nokia is here to change that. But if they're targeting iPhones, they don't have much of a point, AntennaGate notwithstanding.

I've owned a Nokia Lumia 900 for over two weeks. I'm going to return it. But I've decided to explain why the Nokia Lumia 900 is in beta test, despite Nokia's visible claims to the contrary. If you're a Lumia 900 owner, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this.

Here's how Nokia, Microsoft and AT&T worked undertime to ensure a Lumia Beta test:

Data stopped working shortly after launch for most users
This is the epitome of a smartphone beta test. What other proof is there that a device is a smartphone? That it can retrieve and send rich data while outside of your home.

My data worked for 24 hours, then it stopped. I waited 4 days for a fix, chasing wifi while outside the house. I was pissed. What if you're the average consumer who's not technically savvy? Then you still don't have data.

Schedule a betatest launch on Easter Sunday
Many AT&T stores were closed on Easter. Duh.

Don't include an earphone/microphone combo
Nokia decided not to include earphones. So now I listen to my Zune Pass music while reinforcing the iPhone brand by using my white Apple earphones that came with my old iPhone to listen to Zune and to make phone calls.

Ringtones & Sounds are tuned for the hearing impaired
The lowest ringtone sound level, 01/30, is laughably loud. (try "Silk" at level 01). I compared this to the HTC Titan II in a store, and the Lumia's 01/30 is equivalent to the Titan II's 09/30 and my iPhone 3GS's 5/10.

Screen/firmware issues
When I move my Lumia 900 away from my ear while on a call (e.g. to activate speakerphone, or to press #), the screen will briefly flash brighter than God. It nearly gives me a seizure. Lumia means light, but come on, this is ridiculous.

== Screen Variability: My Lumia 900's screen is about 20% brighter on the right vertical edge. This is clearly a defect. But I went to the Microsoft Store yesterday to check out the Lumia display models and none of them had this issue; but I did notice that each of the four phones on display had a slightly different color/white balance and brightness level. Then I walked over to the four HTC Titan IIs on display: each of them were identical in brightness and color. (I meticulously made sure all eight phones had the same "high" brightness level set in the OS, with Automatic turned off.)

== Screen Brightness: My eyes aren't all that great, so I appreciate a screen I can tune. My Lumia's brightness is tuned thoughtlessly. Its "low" brightness level will make your eyes pop if you're in the dark, while its "high" brightness level isn't bright enough, making it very difficult to read outdoors on a cloudy day. This for a phone that Nokia brags can be read especially well outdoors. Again, I walked over to the HTC Titan II and its brightness is tuned very well with a wide dynamic range. Its "low" setting is about half that of the Lumia's "low," while its "high" was easily twice as bright as the Lumia's "high" which rendered it easily read outdoors. How do I know? At the Microsoft Store the Lumias and the Titan IIs were 10 feet from high wall that is made entirely of windows.

Now if you think I'm bashing Nokia to pump up HTC, think again. My previous Windows Phone was the original HTC Titan. It was horrible. Outgoing call quality was the worst ever recorded in the history of time. Outgoing calls sounded severely muffled and often unintelligible. Check out the most popular Titan support thread on the HTC forums. What's worse is that HTC, while acknowledging the issue, has yet to offer a fix or replacement units for affected customers. FIVE MONTHS LATER. Talk about a beta test. HTC's poor customer service in the face of a clear defect is what keeps me from exchanging my Nokia for a Titan II.

OS/Firmware hiccups
Try out different ring tones under Settings> Ringtones & Sounds. Tap multiple ringtones after another. For me many refuse to play. It kind of sticks and hiccups here, and in a couple other places in the OS.

The Lumia series are not "real" Windows Phones
A "real" Windows Phone, as Nokia's Stephen Elop has said, is finally here with the Lumia series. Except that the Lumias do not take full advantage of some of WP7's most competitive features, whereas HTC and Samsung do. For example, the Lumia 800 doesn't have a front camera. Neither the 800 nor the 900 has a feature called Attentive Phone which allows you to silence your ring by simply turning your phone face down; activate the speakerphone by setting the phone on a table face up; mute the speakerphone by turning the phone face down; if the phone detects that it's in your pocket or your purse, it will increase the ringtone sound level so you can hear it.

Maybe I'm spoiled by my nearly 3 year old iPhone 3GS. But that phone is an example of meticulous engineering and real-world testing. Its screen's light range is extremely wide and nuanced (not just low/ medium/ high), its sound level latitude is extremely wide, its data worked when it launched, and they gave me earphones. Call me crazy but these details are important when you deal with these issues every single day.

Maybe Nokia will enable these features in a future update. But for now, my Lumia 900 remains in betatest.