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

The brick-like Nokia Lumia 810 isn't the best-looking smartphone around, but it performs its functions well for its carrier.

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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.


Nokia Lumia 810

The Good

<b>Nokia's Lumia 810</b> 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.

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.

Nokia Lumia 810 is blocky, but nice (pictures)

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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.

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.

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


Nokia Lumia 810

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 8