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

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MSRP: $549.99

The Good Nokia's Lumia 810 has decent call quality and a nice helping of extra software that differentiates it from other Windows phones. It's also one of the first Windows phones with external storage.

The Bad This bulky smartphone has an uninspiring build and is more expensive than AT&T's higher-end Lumia 920.

The Bottom Line The Nokia Lumia 810 makes for a practical smartphone choice, but if you're looking for something thin and light, the HTC Windows Phone 8X is one better option.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

T-Mobile's Nokia Lumia 810, isn't an immediate knockout. Its thick, heavy, slablike form is hard to love. But since beauty is only skin-deep, T-Mobile customers will find hearty hardware and software features within.

All things being equal, I prefer AT&T's Nokia Lumia 920, which is both more powerful and also easier on the eye (although it's a full ounce heavier). That said, the Lumia 810 does have a very nice screen, an 8-megapixel camera, a zippy dual-core processor that's identical to the Lumia 920's, and a host of extra apps.

The Lumia 810 is also pricier than the heavily subsidized $99 Lumia 920. However, it's still less expensive than the much more attractive-looking HTC Windows Phone 8X, which is also available on T-Mobile for $199.

Pricing gets a little funny for the Lumia 810. On the Classic plan, the 810 will cost $149.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate on a two-year agreement. T-Mobile's Value plan is the better deal, $99 up-front after a $50 mail-in rebate, and 20 equal payments of $20 per month, but with lower monthly payments over the course of two years. You'll save about $100. Check out my pricing breakdown for more details.

Design and build
Nokia's spec sheet calls the Lumia 810 a "monoblock" rather than a "candy bar" shape, and it's right. The Lumia 810 is an out-and-out brick. With the exception of the slightly curved back, the 810 has a uniform thickness and depth that only emphasizes how unsexy the plain black phone is. Its backing is comfortable in the palm, thanks to its subtle concavity and soft touch finish. But I felt sharp edges around the display when I held it, and that's not a feeling I particularly like.

Standing 5 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, the Lumia 810 is shorter than handsets such as Samsung's Galaxy S3, but also much thicker. It weighs a chunky 5.1 ounces. For some, this will feel far too heavy. For me, it feels overly weighted in my hand, but I'm used to carrying a lot of phones in my purse, so the few extra ounces are hardly going to rip off my shoulder.

Nokia Lumia 810
The Nokia Lumia 810 isn't a sexy device, but it's practical. James Martin/CNET

A bright, colorful 4.3-inch AMOLED screen comes with a WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels.) This isn't as sharp as high-definition screens, but it still looked bright and crisp to my eyes. The ClearBlack display filter first seen in the Nokia Lumia 900 makes its way onto the 810 as well, which helps cut down on outdoor glare. Gorilla Glass helps ward off scratches and breaks.

Above the screen you'll find the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, and just below it, touch sensitive navigation buttons sit on an overly tall bezel. The left spine is bare, but the right holds the volume rocker, the power button, and the physical camera shutter button. Up top sits the 3.5-millimeter headset jack.

Flip the phone over and you'll see the camera lens and dual-LED flash. The back panel is difficult to pry off, since you remove such a large portion. Slip your fingernails into the small seam you see down by the charger port and pull back. Beneath the panel is the micro-SIM card slot and -- a first for Windows Phone -- a microSD card slot. Nokia says it'll take up to 64GB in external storage.

OS and apps
Windows Phone 8 comes with NFC features like Tap + Send and a wallet, a Kid's Corner, resizeable live tiles and new colors, camera "lenses," Office 2013, and cloud content-syncing to another Windows 8 device. The OS update brings so many new features, we had to give it its own Windows Phone 8 review.

In addition to NFC support, the Lumia 810 has Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth 3.0. Between them, T-Mobile and Nokia have added a fair amount of apps. On T-Mobile's side, you'll see T-Mobile TV and caller tunes, plus a showcase for more handpicked apps.

Nokia Lumia 810
Nokia's Lumia 810 has a 4.3-inch WVGA screen that cuts back on glare. James Martin/CNET

Nokia adds Nokia Drive with voice navigation, Nokia Maps, and Nokia Music. This last app has a nice feature for downloading up to 250 songs for offline listening. I'm far less enamored of the CityLens augmented reality app. It's got a cool concept, but wasn't up-to-date in my tests, offering me establishments that have long since closed.

However, other apps, such as Nokia Transit, and Zynga games Draw Something and Words With Friends, help make up for the bloopers. Nokia's Transfer My Data app connects with other Bluetooth phones to copy contacts from your old handset to the new.

Although the review unit I have doesn't come with a wireless charging back, you'll be able to swap it out for a cover that is equipped. Ready my review of the Lumia 920 for my assessment of wireless charging.

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.