Nokia has long been one of my favorite hardware manufacturers because they consistently have devices with a better than usual build quality, their phones typically have strong radios, and they usually throw in a few excellent features not easily found elsewhere — like the built-in FM radio transmitters and Zeiss optics cameras many of their media phones sport. Like everyone else, I watched with interest when Nokia and Microsoft partnered up in February 2011; I wanted to see what types of designs these two titans would create, and I hoped that this would mean a bigger (and better) selection of Windows Phones from which consumers could choose.
Fast forward to October 2011, when the Lumia 800 and the Lumia 710 were announced; the Lumia 800 was set up as the flagship model and the 710 the budget-conscious model. Dan and I both wanted to buy an 800, but we decided to wait for an official US version. Which brings us to today; the Lumia 710 is the first officially available Nokia Windows Phone in the United States, and T-Mobile has it.
Bear in mind that when I was considering which Lumia I might be tempted to purchase, it was never the 710; the 800 looked more luxe, and that made it hard for a gadget magpie like me to resist. Unfortunately the Lumia 800 hasn’t yet made it to any US carriers, so when I was offered the chance to review the Lumia 710, I was happy to … but I was also a little bit pensive. Would I like it at all? The original pictures I had seen made it look kind of cheap, flimsy and a bit plasticky – almost like a bright and colorful toy.
See what I mean?
Rather than appeal to all sexes and ages by carrying the cyan, fuchsia or yellow models, T-Mobile US will only offer black and white; I got the black … and I quickly decided that my initial assessment (albeit based on that lone photo of the Lumia colors) was a bit hasty and too critical; the Lumia 710 is not a cheap and flimsy phone at all — although it is a bit plasticky.
Measuring 4.7″ tall x 2.5″ wide x 0.5″ thick, the Lumia 710 weighs 4.4 ounces and it is a solidly built device; it does not creak when squeezed and its tapered sides make it a joy to handle. I should have known, after all — it is a Nokia. The Lumia 710 has 8GB internal memory (there is no option to upgrade as there is no memory card slot) and 512MB SDRAM, it runs Windows Phone Mango (the latest version), it is “America’s first 4G Nokia Windows Phone” (which although fast does not mean it is the same as 4G LTE, ahem), and it will set you back only $50 on contract… seriously.
But, as usual, I am getting ahead of myself.
The Lumia 710 provides a bit of a bento box experience when opening — similar to the experience of opening an iPhone, actually. The packaging is compact and colorful. Once you remove the tray which holds the phone you reveal an AC wall charger, the 1300 mAh battery, and a microUSB cable.
The Lumia is supposed to have a talk time of 7 hours and 16.5 days standby time; that’s pretty impressive considering the size of the battery. I would later learn that the battery life of the Lumia 710 is very good; I got through an entire day with heavy usage (which includes extensive doses of email, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter and all the other networking apps) with a little bit of juice left, but if I wasn’t quite as hardcore about “checking in”, I could go nearly two full days. Those of you who play games heavily or stream a lot of music will likely find that their battery life is greatly reduced; but that is expected, right?
There are an assortment of paper goods tucked under the tray holding the phone, including a Start Guide, warranty info, product and safety info, and a T-Mobile handset recycling program flyer with prepaid label. Oh, you hadn’t heard about this program? Allow me to digress for a moment … So the deal is that a lot of times we might have older phones lying around that aren’t being used — you know, the ones that wouldn’t even be worth trying to sell on eBay. They aren’t necessarily worth anything because they no longer work, and they are totally outdated, but they have Li-Ion batteries inside them which means they can’t just be tossed in the trash, and proper disposal is a bit of a pain. Where do you even properly dispose of batteries, Lithium Ion or otherwise? With this program you don’t have to sweat it: box it up, send your old phone in, and let T-Mobile take care of it.
The Lumia 710’s face is entirely composed of shiny black polycarbonate, behind which lurks a 3.7″ 800 x 480 WVGA TFT with ClearBlack™ technology capacitive touchscreen. This screen is bright, beautiful … and it’s just as big of a fingerprint magnet as you might be thinking, looking at this picture; consider yourself warned. At the top of the phone’s face, near the upper left edge there is a microphone and then a light sensor; for just a moment (and even though I know better!) I thought that one of the two might be a forward facing camera, but alas.
In the center top, there is an ear speaker. I haven’t observed any LEDs flashing when the phone was ringing, charging, or text messages were rolling in …. not a single one. I am not sure what is going on, but I suspect that there aren’t any LEDs … and that is fine with me. I like not having an annoying light blinking away when the phone is charging at night, and I don’t need an LED blinking an alert when my phone is also vibrating or ringing.
At the bottom of the screen there is a slightly raised plastic bar which stiffly presses (without much toggle or give) to operate as three buttons — Back, Home and Search. Pressing the Back button takes you to the point you were previously, Home takes you to the screen showing all of your active tiles, and Search opens up a colorful Bing search page.
On the top of the Lumia there are ports for the MicroUSB charger and the 3.5mm headphone jack followed by the power button, which is just a bit too evenly flush with the top of the phone to be easily pressed — you have to think about it.
On the right side there is a thin volume rocker and toward the bottom a dedicated camera button; the volume rocker does not control the camera zoom when you are trying to take a picture.
All that’s on the left side of the phone is a slot to fit your nail into when you want to remove the battery cover.
On the bottom of the lower back there is a speaker grille for the incredibly loud and clear built-in speaker; this allows the Lumia 710 to serve as a better-than-average speakerphone. On the very bottom corner there are holes for looping a lanyard through.
Here is the one place that the Nokia reminds me of an HTC: See the back? It’s a rubbery matte black battery door that snaps off and then presses back on … and it is very similar to so many of the HTC models since the Snap. This is also a place where it becomes evident that the Lumia 710 is not the top of the line Nokia model; the camera is 5 megapixels instead of 8, and it does not have the Carl Zeiss optics their better models usually rock. There is an LED flash, but that is hardly a fair trade. =P
My experience with the camera was okay, but not great. I liked the camera’s autofocus, but it seemed like the photos would snap a beat too long after I pressed the dedicated button or tapped the screen; as long as the subject was completely still, this wasn’t an issue. If the subject was all wiggly, like my Corgi puppy Otis usually is, it meant retakes and lost photo ops. The other issue I experienced was a terrible graininess when taking photos indoors, especially if any level of zoom was used. The camera is not bad, but it is definitely not good enough that I would be comfortable leaving my point & shoot at home. This was a bit disappointing for me, because I have grown spoiled by Nokia’s generally superior cameras.
One other thing worth mentioning is that the 710 uses a microSIM, which will be familiar to anyone with an iPhone. And as those of us with iPhones have learned, a microSIM makes things a bit more complicated when you need to swap phones, but this shouldn’t be an issue for most users.
My experience using the Lumia 710 has been better than expected; its 3.7″ screen is brilliant and sharp, and I’ve found the 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU to be extremely snappy and responsive whether I was using the GPS, playing a game or simply updating Facebook. The Lumia 710 comes with WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, and GPS … but most importantly, it has Mango, Windows Phone’s latest OS. The recent update to Mango has made the Windows Phone experience much more enjoyable for me, in way that is best compared to the experience I have when using the iPhone: things work the way I expect them to, and even if it’s a different process than what I am used to, it is easy to learn and adjust to the new method.
Windows Phone has a voice feature that is reminiscent of Siri; it is invoked by pressing the center Windows Home button, but it’s (she’s?) just not quite as advanced.
For instance, there is no name or personality for this female voice, so you don’t speak “to” her, rather you just speak “at” her — using basic commands such as “Call Dan” or “Text Kev”. Don’t expect Windows Phone to ask you who you mean when you say “Call my daughter”, much less learn; it’s just not there yet.
Along with the apps that are part of the Windows Phone operating system (e. g., Calendar, Alarms, Calculator, Camera, Internet Explorer, Music+Videos and Messaging, PeopleHub, XBox Live Games, etc), the Lumia 710 comes with Nokia Drive — which is Nokia’s map and voice navigation app. T-Mobile has also included a sampling of apps that you might actually enjoy — Netflix, ESPN, Slacker Radio, the Weather Channel’s Weather and the TeleNav GPS Nav — which gives you the first 60 days for free, but costs $9.99/month if you decide to keep it. There is also a Nokia Collection addition inside the Windows Phone Marketplace, which includes Nokia Maps, Contacts TransferWRC Live (the official FIA World Rally Championship app), TuneIn Radio (over 50,000 channels of music, sports, news, podcasts and national networks like BBC, NPR and SWR), and App Highlights (which helps you discover and browse through the latest apps). Many of my original reservations regarding Windows Phone are now gone because so many more of the apps that I enjoy using on my iPhone are now available in the Windows Phone Marketplace.
Although there are certain things that if given a choice I would prefer to have in my daily driver, things like more memory, a better camera, a bigger battery, a front facing camera, maybe some metal to give the phone a bit of extra weight (because I like that!), maybe even a slightly larger screen … When I start thinking of what I feel is “missing”, I keep coming back to the fact that after rebate and with a 2-year contract, the Lumia 710 is just a $50 smartphone! It blows my mind that it’s so inexpensive, and yet it is has so many great features.
If I was in the market for an inexpensive smartphone, would I buy a Lumia 710?
That’s a tough call. CES starts next week, and right after that comes Mobile World Congress. I fully expect there to be announcements for other Windows Phones with more impressive designs or features, but they will likely come with price tags that reflect those upgrades. If I was a T-Mobile customer who wanted a Windows Phone that was running Mango, but I didn’t want to spend hardly anything after the rebate and 2-year contract discounts, I’d be sorely tempted by the Lumia 710 … But I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from wishing that it was the Lumia 800, and therein lies the rub.
The Nokia Lumia 710 is available from T-Mobile and other authorized T-Mobile Vendors after January 11.
MSRP: $49.99 after $50 rebate and with a two-year contract
What I Like: <$50 gets you a Windows Phone with tons of cool features; Battery life is very good; No obnoxious LED notification lights; Excellent screen; User replaceable battery; Solid design with comfortable to hold rounded corners
What Needs Improvement: Camera is 5 megapixel instead of 8, and it does not have the Carl Zeiss optics; 8GB non-expandable memory; No front-facing camera …but it is only $50!
Review Unit Source: PR contact supplied loaner unit