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Need a modern smartphone choice on T-Mobile but aren't willing to spend the hundreds of dollars usually required? Perhaps you should take a gander at Nokia's new $49.99 Lumia 710. With strong features for work and play, plus a 4G connection, it could become your new mobile best friend.
Sure, it lacks the playful colors and personalized back plates of its European cousin, but the U.S. version of the Nokia Lumia 710 shows some flair of its own. It comes in two main colors, all-black like my review sample, and a model that sports a frosty white front.
Crafted from unassuming plastic, the Lumia 710 looks pretty mundane aesthetically at first glance. Once you pick up the 4.4-ounce handset, however, it's clear that it's solidly made if not luxurious. Measuring 4.69 inches tall by 2.46 inches wide by 0.49 inch thick, the compact device sports attractively rounded edges and fits into tight pockets without too much trouble. The phone's back cover has a rubbery, soft-touch coating, too, which provides a sure grip.
On the front is the 3.7-inch (WVGA, 800x480-pixel resolution) LCD screen, which is smaller and not as sharp as the full-HD or even qHD displays boasted by higher-end Android devices. Also, though it lacks the fantastically deep blacks and eye-popping colors of other devices with AMOLED displays, namely the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S II, and Samsung Focus S, or even the original Focus, it does serve up pleasing-enough image quality.
That said, Nokia adds its special ClearBlack technology to boost screen contrast. For instance, I had a great time watching the YouTube HD trailer for "The Avengers," which boasted plenty of rich eye candy like bright fiery explosions, energy blasts, flowing capes, and Scarlett Johansson's artfully arranged red hair. Also, the Lumia 710's screen had noticeably darker blacks than the display on the HTC Radar 4G, which tended to leak some light around the edges.
Handling typing duties is the standard Windows Phone virtual keyboard with square, blocklike keys pressed closely together. Most buttons don't double as punctuation marks, though long-pressing the period key pulls up a selection of often-entered symbols. Additionally, like all WP7 phones, the Lumia 710 doesn't have the option of haptic feedback. Despite this, my typing experience was comfortable and I easily and quickly banged out messages and e-mails.
Above the display is a nondescript earpiece and below it sits a thin, flexible bar that serves as three buttons for Back, Windows Home, and Search. While I usually like physical keys, I found these buttons stiff and often hard to press. The same goes for the tiny volume rocker and dedicated camera button on the phone's right side and the recessed power key located on the Lumia's top edge. Also on top are a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and Micro-USB port.
Placed on back are the 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and a large speaker. Ripping off the handset's battery cover reveals its 1,300mAh battery, which you need to remove to access the phone's SIM card slot. At least the battery is removable, unlike the HTC Radar 4G's, which is locked in by that phone's fancy unibody metal chassis.
The Nokia Lumia 710's Windows Phone 7.5 Mango interface is virtually identical to that of other WP7 devices I've used. That's to be expected, since Microsoft lays down strict rules for how Windows Phone runs on mobile handsets. I'm not complaining, though, since my familiarity with Mango had me up and running in a matter of minutes. For those who don't use the Windows Phone operating system often, the home screen, called the Start Menu, consists of Live Tiles arranged vertically. Functioning the same way app shortcut icons do in Android and iOS, Tiles also behave a bit like widgets, pulling in data and displaying information in real time.
For instance, Messaging, Email, and Gmail Tiles showcase the number of new messages, while Pictures will flip through your gallery highlighting snapshots. Swiping left opens the main menu with a full list of installed apps. You can also pin apps and other things like picture albums and videos to the home screen for fast access. A People Tile taps into social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Gmail accounts to populate your contact list and provide live updates. Overall, it's a very slick and engaging UI rendered in a clean, modern font.
Here too is access to the Microsoft Marketplace app store, which has a much smaller selection than the iOS and Android storefronts but does feature many of the software basics, such as Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and Tripit, just to name a few. Nokia and T-Mobile pre-install some useful titles too, specifically Netflix so you can stream movies on the go, the Weather Channel app, and Nokia Drive for free turn-by-turn GPS navigation. Of course, if you'd rather pay for directions, the TeleNav GPS Nav app costs $9.99 per month.
Equipped with solid multimedia features as well, the Lumia 710 connects to Microsoft's Zune music and video stores. An all-you-can-eat subscription plan for $10 per month lets listeners download unlimited tracks and save them locally. Music can also be purchased directly from from the phone. Video, though, must annoyingly be downloaded to a PC first, then transferred to the handset. The Lumia 710 also features strong Xbox Live integration, supporting profiles and personal avatars ported from the popular console gaming service plus a selection of special mobile games.
Nokia has built a reputation for engineering quality cameras into its handsets, and the Lumia 710 is no exception. Frankly, I wasn't expecting much from the phone's 5-megapixel camera, but was pleasantly surprised by the shots I snapped. Even in weak early morning light, colors were rich, warm, and lifelike. That said, details in images were soft, with artifacts visible in my still-life test image.
The built-in camcorder can also capture movies in 720p HD, and the videos I filmed had the same enjoyable attributes, with an almost glossy quality, though the auto white balance failed to compensate for fluorescent lighting indoors. If you like to video chat, however, you're out of luck, since the Lumia 710 has no front-facing camera.
I tested the Nokia Lumia 710 on T-Mobile's GSM network (HSPA+) in New York. Callers' voices through the phone's headset were clearly audible but didn't get extremely loud. People on the other end reported that my voice was clear but definitely had a digitized quality to it. Audio piped through the Lumia's speakerphone was louder than in the earpiece and easily heard in a medium-size conference room. Callers also said the speakerphone picked up my voice with greater volume.
Powered by a single-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 8GB of internal memory, the Nokia Lumia 710 won't break any speed records. Of course it's enough to handle Windows Phone 7.5 Mango with authority and on par with other WP7 devices such as the HTC Radar 4G and Samsung Focus Flash. I experienced no delays or lag of any kind flipping through the handset's various menus and launching applications.
Technically a 4G device, the Lumia 710 has a theoretical maximum data throughput of 14.4Mbps. In my tests using the free BandWidth app, though, I clocked an average download speed of 4Mbps. Upload results came back on average at 720Kbps. That's a far cry from Verizon's LTE 4G network or even AT&T's new LTE service, both of which typically measure in the middle teens for downloads and high single digits during uploads.
Nokia claims the Lumia 710 will offer up to 16 days of standby time and 7 hours of talk time. During anecdotal use, I managed to get over 26 hours of light use (testing, Web surfing, short calls, and messaging) before seeking an AC outlet. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.15 watts per kilogram at the ear and 1.18 watts per kilogram when worn on the body.
Nokia certainly has created a compelling Windows device in the $49.99 Lumia 710. Sure, friends and family with expensive Android hardware likely won't be impressed by the Lumia's small LCD screen and plastic design. That said, its low price, solid build quality, and Windows Phone 7.5 Mango capabilities just may wipe a few smug grins from their faces.