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Nokia Lumia 710 (T-Mobile) hands-on: Playful design, Mango for $49.99

CNET editor Brian Bennett spent a little quality time with the new Nokia Lumia 710 for T-Mobile. This affordable $49.99 smartphone runs fun Windows Phone Mango software, and features a 5-megapixel camera and a 4G data connection.

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Looking for a truly modern smartphone experience on T-Mobile but don't want to shell out too much cash? You're in luck since Nokia just announced that its new $49.99 Lumia 710 handset will hit the carrier soon.

I was able to spend a little hands-on time with this Windows Phone Mango device, which is expected to cost just $49.99 with a two-year contract. The Lumia 710 is the first Nokia phone on T-Mobile to run Windows Phone 7.5 Mango; it's compact if not exactly thin, at 4.7 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. The stylish Lumia 710 sports a playful plastic design typical of Nokia products. The phone will be available in two color schemes, either all black or two-tone white (front) and black (back). Hopefully T-Mobile will also sell the slick, colored battery covers that Nokia demoed for the unlocked model of the Lumia 710 (red, blue, yellow) at Nokia World in London. Check out Jessica Dolcourt's First Take for a closer look at the unlocked model.

As with other devices, I really liked the Lumia 710's LCD display, which uses what Nokia calls ClearBlack technology. Marketing terms aside, I find that AMOLED screens serve up more-pleasing image quality than traditional LCDs. Even so, blacks were deep, colors popped, and viewing angles very wide. I'm sure some users may find the Lumia 710's 3.7-inch (WVGA, 800x480 pixels) display a bit too small and not quite sharp enough compared with the HD displays on other, larger handsets. Still, I find the idea of a phone that can actually fit in my pocket refreshing.

Specced out with a 1.4GHz Snapdragon CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 8GB of internal memory, the Lumia 710 felt responsive as I flipped though its Windows Phone Mango menus and opened apps. Nokia says it envisions this device as an entry-level smartphone made for users stepping up from low-end feature phones. I do admit that Windows Phone has come a long way since it was first launched, and many of my staple apps can now be found in the Windows Marketplace. The Zune music subscription service, which provides unlimited downloads for $10 per month, is also very engaging and a great (if pricey) way to discover new music.

Honestly, though, I wish T-Mobile was also getting the Nokia Lumia 800, Nokia's flagship Windows Phone Mango handset. It boasts even more attractive styling, an AMOLED screen, and a sharper 8-megapixel camera. Also, in my opinion people used to effortless syncing of media files like podcasts, music, and video won't appreciate how Windows Phone devices handle transfers of their downloads. Though WP7 does support wireless sync, in my experience phones often need to be physically connected to sync at least once, especially DRM-protected content and purchased Zune video.

Besides snazzy designs, Nokia is also known for putting great cameras into its handsets. The Lumia 710's 5-megapixel sensor may not sound terribly hi-res since many competitors ship with 8-megapixel shooters. I'd bet money, though, that the Lumia 710's optics are first-rate, which should trump pixel count as a predictor of image quality. The phone's dedicated camera button does wake the phone up to launch the camera app even when the screen is locked, something not many devices can accomplish. The Lumia 710's camcorder can capture HD videos, too, in 720p resolution.

For data, the Lumia 710 is rated to pull down a theoretical top speed of 14.4Mbps on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network. But real-world performance most likely won't get anywhere near that fast. T-Mobile plans to stock store shelves with the Nokia Lumia 710 as early as January 11; check back soon for an in-depth review.