Nokia Lumia 810 review: A homely, but capable Windows phone

Camera and video
The Lumia 810 has an 8-megapixel camera with branded Carl Zeiss optics, but all you really need to know is that it takes some nice shots. This is a different camera module than the Lumia 920's, which takes 8.7-megapixel photos and boasts image-stabilizing springs. Nokia isn't advertising the PureView image-rendering software for this 810 either.

Nokia Lumia 810 camera
This photo of a cookbook was taken indoors, under artificial natural light. All photos have been resized and/or cropped, but are otherwise untouched. Click to enlarge. James Martin/CNET

On the whole, though, I was fairly satisfied with the shots. They aren't all perfect, but there was no big loser, either, and I was able to upload photos to social networks and share others via e-mail (you can also share through Tap + Send.) The 810 doesn't have my all-time favorite camera on the market, but the clear, sharp-edged photos I took outside tell me that this one's fairly high on the list.

Nokia Lumia 810 camera
I thought these flowers, taken outdoors in the shade, looked fine, though there's not as much detail as I'd expect. James Martin/CNET

My biggest complaint (which I also had with the 920) is that there are fewer camera options than on other smartphones. You can't change the resolution, sharpness, or saturation levels, but you can preset ISO and white balance. Nor are there extra effects. The lens feature definitely brings in more capabilities through external apps, but if there's no effects lens you want, you're stuck.

I liked everything about this photo: the colors, the edges, and especially the autumnal feel. James Martin/CNET

Panorama, Smart Shoot, and Cinemagraph are three camera apps that add more photo power from within the view finder. Panorama works fairly well, but is a little more regimented than I'm used to. You have to smoothly pan from left to right, which means calculating your shot in advance. Smart Shoot lets you save one of a handful of photos taken in a burst mode. It causes your friends to stay put longer, which could work out in your favor as you grab the best shot -- or, it could give way to even more unnatural expressions as your friend tires of posing. For its part, Cinemagraph lets you animate selections of an otherwise still photo.

Nokia Lumia 810 camera
I knowingly took this backlit photo in CNET's San Francisco cafe to see what the camera would do. Thankfully, faces are visible, not blown out. James Martin/CNET

The 810 takes some nice HD video, but colors outdoors will look more natural and better adjusted than indoor scenes. Keep in mind that the phone is capable of taking 1080p HD video, but defaults to 720p HD instead. You'll have to change the quality in the settings.

The Lumia 810 did a good job with this studio photo. The background is a little brown, but there's no glare from the flash. James Martin/CNET

You can flip the viewfinder around to take photos with the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. Photos are fine, but understandably less clear and sharp. You'll mostly use it for video chats if you're anything like me. You can also record yourself in 720p HD.

Panorama, Smart Shoot, and Cinemagraph are three extra photo apps. James Martin/CNET

When it comes to storage, you'll find 8GB onboard, plus 7GB free online space with Microsoft Skydrive. That microSD expansion slot will keep you in movies, music, and photos for a long time -- it holds up to 64GB. The phone also has 1GB RAM.

Call quality
I tested the Lumia 810's call quality in San Francisco using T-Mobile's network (GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz.) The overall experience was definitely above average. Volume was sufficient at a middle setting (6/10) and the call was pretty clear. When I closed my eyes and listened hard, I heard a very faint persistent white noise in the background -- certainly not enough to detract from a call. Voices also sounded natural, and I only heard two minor blips of distortion that I really only noticed because I was listening for them.

On his end, my test call partner (who chatted from a landline) mostly agreed with my take, but noticed more distortion. He also said that I sounded a little scratchy, but thought the call was overall very good.

Nokia Lumia 810 call quality sample Listen now:

Holding the phone at waist level, it was immediately clear that speakerphone was more distant and less clear than speaking regularly. There thankfully wasn't any of the buzzing that I sometimes feel in my hand while holding a phone. While voice quality was definitely tinnier and more hollow, Nokia managed to keep the amplification under control.

On his end, my testing partner said the Lumia 810 offered up an above-average listening experience that didn't magnify the normal amounts of echo that come hand-in-hand with the feature.

Performance
The Lumia 810 revs as its engine the 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, the same chipset that's also found in such phones as the Lumia 920 and the Samsung Galaxy S3. Navigation was smooth and fast, though the phone does take a little time to boot up. T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 speeds were also acceptable.

So far, HSPA+ speeds were dramatically lower in this diagnostic app than a lot of other T-Mobile phones I've tested. Testing continues. James Martin/CNET

Nokia Lumia 810: Performance testing
Download Endomondo app (3MB) 34 seconds
CNET mobile site load 6.5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 17.5 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 38 seconds
Camera boot time 2.5 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 4 seconds with flash; 3 seconds no flash; 1.5 seconds no flash, no focus
Load up app (mySpeedTest) 3.2 seconds

Windows Phone OS doesn't lend itself to a superfast bootup time, and the camera takes its time focusing before taking a shot.

A 1,800mAh battery powers a rated battery life of 10.2 hours of talk time over 3G, 15 days of standby time, and 54 hours of music playback. We'll continue to test battery life in our CNET labs and will update with more details. The Lumia 810 has a digital SAR of 0.83 watt per kilogram.

Final thoughts
If you're deciding between the Nokia Lumia 810 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X for T-Mobile, the Lumia 810 is both less expensive and also has a few more software enhancements such as Nokia Music and Nokia Drive. However, if those whistles and bells don't stir your imagination and looks could tip the balance, choose the HTC Windows Phone 8X. I prefer using the latter on a day-to-day basis, though I would miss some of the Lumia's extra features.

If you're interested in Windows Phone and the carrier is unimportant, the Nokia Lumia 920 is the most advanced you can get, though it also suffers from a thick build.

A lot of you may wonder if it's worth switching from an Android phone or an iPhone to Windows Phone 8. It boils down to personal preference and to what you look for in a phone and in an operating system. Each OS comes with its own strengths and weaknesses; you'll have to consider the trade-offs with each. In general, though, this might help you decide.

Consider buying the Lumia 810 if you:
- Like Windows Phone 8's big, bold interface
- Enjoy a large, clear screen
- Rely on turn-by-turn voice navigation
- Want additional microSD storage
- Want to seamlessly sync with Windows 8 and with Office 2013
- Own an Xbox

Skip the Lumia 810 if you:
- Prefer a light, slim phone
- Want a mountain of apps and games at the ready
- Seek granular photo control
- Rely on voice dictation for composing e-mail and notes
- Live in Google's or Apple's app ecosystem

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Nokia Lumia 810 (T-Mobile)

Part Number: 810BLKTMB Released: Nov 14, 2012

MSRP: $549.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov 14, 2012
  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider T-Mobile
  • Weight 5.11 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
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