Nokia's First Real Smartphone For The U.S. Is Proof That Windows Phone Has A Chance [REVIEW]

nokia lumia 710 main pic

Photo: Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider

On January 11th, Nokia released the Lumia 710 on T-Mobile’s 4G network for $49.99.I don’t typically review “entry level” smartphones, but the Lumia 710 is different. It’s proof that “the spec is dead,” and that you don’t need to pay big bucks for a phone that’s snappy and runs your favourite apps.

It’s Nokia’s first modern smartphone in the United States, and it’s aimed right at the 100 million Americans who don’t yet have smartphones. The Lumia 710 is not perfect, but it sure is better than competing Android phones for $49.99—and that’s why Windows Phone has a shot.

Here’s the full review.

Check out some huge pictures of the Lumia 710 >
The Phone
The Lumia 710 is an extremely comfortable device to hold. It reminds me of how much I used to like the rounded back of my iPhone 3GS. I find the iPhone 4/4S’s edges to be a bit too sharp.

The phone has a soft-touch rubber finish on its back which culminates in a plastic bezel that surrounds the 3.7-inch Gorilla Glass screen. The screen on the Lumia is vibrant, and Nokia has a new technology called “ClearBlack” that makes black look deep and rich. In some lighting conditions, it’s tough to tell where the screen ends and the phone’s black bezel begins.

There are a few things I don’t like about the Lumia 710 physically. First, it has a row of hard, press-in keys that feel antiquated now that we’re in an area where smooth touch-sensitive buttons are the new norm.

Also, the sleep button on the phone’s top is a bit too mushy for my taste. It doesn’t protrude enough from the device’s top and can be hard to find with your finger.

Lastly, the device’s accelerometer is a little bit overzealous. Turn the device onto its side just a little bit, and your page is flipping sideways. It feels out of control.

How It Works
The Lumia 710 is Nokia’s first Windows Phone to launch in the United States, and with it comes a flurry of advertisements and commercials you may’ve recently seen on TV.

Never before has a Windows Phone been promoted like this. If you’ve never used a Windows Phone before, I’ll sum it up in a few words: simple, social, and pretty.

Windows Phone is an operating system that is breathtakingly fresh looking, while offering almost all of the same capabilities as Android and iPhone competitors.

And while Windows Phone doesn’t have some of the top-shelf apps and games its competitors can brag about, it has by far the best Twitter and Facebook integration of any platform. It presents all this information in a clutter-free way. It also offers lightning fast web browsing inside Internet Explorer 9, Facebook chat built seamlessly into the texting app, Xbox Live compatibitliy, and the best contacts app (called People Hub) that you’ll find on any smartphone.

People Hub brings in your contacts automatically from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Outlook, and LinkedIn, and combines all these networks into one contact card for each person. It rarely makes mistakes.

And visually, Windows Phone might be the most striking and attractive mobile operating system. It has the look of a premium product to it—something you won’t find on many $50 phones.

As far as performance goes, the Windows Phone operating system is a joy to use on the Lumia 710. Rarely did I ever experience any performance hiccups. On the whole, the Lumia 710 performed as well as its older (and more expensive) brothers the Lumia 800 (available only in Europe and Canada) and 900 (coming to AT&T in March 2012) we’ve used.

And that’s what Windows Phone is all about: providing the same experience on every device. This is America’s introduction to Windows Phone.

Unlike other Windows Phones, the Lumia 710 includes Nokia Drive, an impressive GPS navigation app that’s as good as the turn by turn navigation app on Android. iPhones still don’t ship with a stock turn by turn navigation app.

Camera, Reception, And Battery Life
Every Windows Phone I’ve tested has had terrific battery life, and has reminded me of the old Blackberry days where you didn’t need to charge your phone every day.

The Lumia 710, unfortunately, lasts about as long as an iPhone—which is to say it lasts from 8 a.m. until about 10 p.m. through normal usage. It’s not nearly as excellent on standby as some of its Windows Phone compatriots, but it’s good enough.

The Lumia 710 relies on T-Mobile’s 4G network. I tested the phone around New York, and found T-Mobile’s 4G speeds to be pretty inconsistent. Sometimes it was no faster than your typical 3G connection, while other times it was fast as hell. Still, I was able to make clear calls and had no trouble sucking down YouTube videos, websites, and emails.

The 5 MP camera on the Lumia 710 is decent, but not great, and shoots 720p HD video. But the camera is slow if you’re using the flash (not sure why.) This is a $49.99 phone after all—its camera is good enough to get the job done.

One final detail about the phone is that it includes 8 GB of storage, but is not expandable like many Android phones. Fortunately, the phone’s 4G capabilities are quick enough that you can stream music from Spotify to your heart’s content. Plus, Microsoft gives SkyDrive users 25 GB of free storage space to fill with stuff.

Should You Buy It?
If you’re in the market for a sub $50 smartphone on T-Mobile, I would absolutely recommend the Lumia 710. This phone may be cheap (it’s free at Walmart), but you get a ton of bang for you buck.

It’s not as good as an iPhone, but it’s far more consistent and responsive than most Android devices in its price range. This thing just works. It never crashes. Plus, it comes with the most current version of the Windows Phone operating system. I can almost promise you that Android handset makers will not be updating their $50 smartphones in two years, but Microsoft will be.

If you’re looking for a more high-end Windows Phone, keep your eyes peeled for Nokia’s Lumia 900 launching within the next few months on AT&T’s 4G LTE network.

Here it is, the Lumia 710 from Nokia. It runs on T-Mobile's 4G network. It feels great to hold...

...because of its rounded back and rubber soft touch finish.

The 710 is Nokia's first Windows Phone in the United States.

There's a sleep button on top of the device, as well as a headphone jack and Micro-USB port for charging.

The 5 MP camera takes decent shots and shoots 720p HD video. The lens is not the fancy Carl Zeiss variety you'll find on the upcoming Lumia 900.

Here's the phone's speaker and lanyard clip.

The volume rocker is flush with the device but has neat little ridges so your fingers know where to go.

Here's the trademark camera shutter button you'll find on every Windows Phone. This button does not have a ridge, which can make it a little difficult to find.

The Lumia 710 is a tad bigger than an iPhone, and has a 3.7-inch screen versus the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen.

The Lumia 710 is thicker than an iPhone because it has to squeeze in a big 4G LTE radio.

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