Long Term Review: Nokia Lumia 710

About halfway through my long term evaluation of the Galaxy Nexus, my pals at Nokia hooked me up with one of their new Windows Phone Handsets. At first I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t the new (new at the time) hotness Lumia 800, but the little brother Lumia 710.

I’m used to reviewing premier handsets, and this was like 90 Lumia points less than one I wanted to get my hands on.

However, after using it for a couple of days, I asked Nokia if I could keep it longer term.

Let’s take a look at the new face of “entry level.”

So here’s what I’m NOT going to do: I’m not going to piggy back this review with another high-end phone like some OTHER reviewers have, directly comparing this phone to the Lumia 800/900, or other high end Android handsets. I’m tired of reading reviews where people pit a phone against the 710 which is twice the price (off contract).

I’ve actually been hesitant to finish this review, because once I was done with it, I’d have to send the phone back– but it’s about time I delivered on my experiences using it.

Comparing performance across Windows Phone 7 handsets is almost a useless endeavor. Microsoft keeps pretty tight reigns on the WP7 experience. I would recommend reading my editorial on Microsoft + Nokia to get a better sense of the WP7 ecosystem, but long story short, phones like the 710 change the entry level game.

Under the hood there aren’t any surprises. Like all WP7 handsets, the 710 features a single core Qualcomm Scorpion processor (here clocked at 1.4GHz) paired with 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage space. A 3.7” screen sports the WP7 standard res of 800×480, and is protected by Gorilla Glass. A 5MP shooter with a fast f2.2 lens and LED flash are on the rear.

The phone’s build is solid enough for being a plastic affair. Glossy plastic is used up front and on the dedicated hardware buttons (I know, actual buttons that like, click and stuff), and a matte soft-touch plastic is used on the rear.

The 710 has been criticized for feeling “cheap,” but honestly, in a blind hand holding, I doubt many would be able to tell the difference between it and just about any Samsung phone on the market. It feels a LOT like my Epic 4G. If lightweight plastics are good enough for premier Android handsets (Galaxy Nexus/Note I’m looking in your general direction), then how could we be upset with similar build quality at the low end of the phone spectrum.

Over the three months I’ve been using this phone, I’ve not put a screen protector on it, nor have I used a case. The pics for this review were taken days before I sent it back to Nokia. It made it through my daily use like a champ. The only scuff to the body was after hitting pavement from a 15 foot drop where it bounced off of a stucco wall. This thing is certainly not ruggedized or mil-spec, but should do you fine tossing it into a purse on a daily basis.

The backplate is removable (unlike Nokia’s high-end phones), and underneath you’ll find the 1300mAh battery. A little lean for a well connected smartphone these days, but I was consistently able to make it to dinner time with moderate use. It’s a positive “feature” for WinPhone only using single core processors. Paired with the diminutive screen, you really do see better battery life. As always, using wifi over “4G” will help a lot.

I spent a week on set, primarily using the Lumia as my daily driver, and connecting the 710 to my Mophie gave this baby DAYS of run time. It’s not quite as “power-sipping” as Nokias of days past, but after a string of Android phones which can die by mid-evening, it was a refreshing change of pace.

I don’t like going back to a “small” screen. Sure it’s almost exactly the same size as an iPhone, but after reviewing the Galaxy Nexus, and now using a Galaxy Note review unit, it feels a little claustrophobic. About the only thing the smaller screen is better for is one handed operation.

With that out of the way, the Clear Black LCD is genuinely one of the better non-AMOLED screens I’ve ever used. Colors are nicely saturated, and blacks don’t fall prey to that cheap LCD backlight washout. To my eye, contrast, brightness, and blacks look as good as the iPhone’s screen. It won’t best high-end 720p SAMOLED screens, but it gets surprisingly close–especially considering the price point.

Hardware is nicely laid out. Volume rocker and camera button on the right (and more phones should have dedicated camera buttons–Galaxy Nexus, I’m looking at you), power button, headphone jack, and USB port up top. The bottom right of the phone has a nifty little lanyard slot. It actually came in handy. Bottom face of the phone features the WP7 buttons “Back,” “Home” and “Search.”

The camera is decent. If you’re expecting the cutting edge experience of previous Nokia phones (like the gorgeous shooter on the N8) you’ll be disappointed; but put up against any 5MP Android shooter and it does the gig fine. Microsoft has made an obnoxious decision to default the camera app in Macro mode, so out of the box the camera’s autofocus is slow; but after switching modes, it performs much better at the kind of snapshotty pics we take with our phones these days.

While pics are kind of average, the video shot is kind of great. It shoots 720p, so it won’t win the marketing war of having 1080p on board–but it does store a fairly high quality 14 Mbps bitrate. I would gladly take the video from this camera over any phone shooting mediocre 1080p.

In general I really didn’t run into any issues with camera performance. The camera app has improved a lot since the first WP7 handsets I’ve used. We now have a lot more control over output, like exposure and ISO settings.

If there is anything to gripe about the camera experience, it’s the rubbery camera button. It took me a long time to get a feel for it. The button is so soft, there’s no clear distinction between focusing and taking a shot. You eventually just memorize the muscle strength it takes to engage focusing. I used it more to activate the camera, then would touch the screen to focus. Using a screen touch to focus automatically takes a shot, and is more reliable than the camera button. I’ll still take a rubbery button over no button at all however. Getting to the camera on Android is a pain. If I’m in an app or on a homescreen page, it always requires multiple steps to get to the camera. A dedicated camera button would solve this nicely…

Call quality is pretty great. The earpiece is decent enough, but the speakerphone is ridiculous. This is the loudest speakerphone I think I’ve ever used. Running call tests between the Galaxy S II, then Droid 3, and the pitiful speaker on the Galaxy Nexus, the 710 had no problems overpowering all three of them.

Also exciting, this entry level phone includes noise reduction for outgoing calls, and I received no complaints from people on the receiving end of my phone calls.

If there’s a bummer to be found, it’s in the storage. 8GB is lean these days, especially when you can’t add more with a memory card (a feature no WP7 handset supports). It’s really the only element of this phone which is “entry level.” Skydrive integration helps, as pics and vids can be sent to the cloud; but you will have to manage the storage on this phone. If you store a lot of music on your phone for offline listening, the 710 will feel cramped.

That management can be a little tricky too. The phone requires Zune software to be loaded on a computer to access the on-board storage. It’s my least favorite aspect of WP7–you can’t just plug your phone into any computer and transfer files. You have to use Zune. Power users like me will probably be bummed by that…

There’s nothing flashy or attention grabby about this handset, but WP7 is still enough of a novelty that people often stopped me to ask me questions about it–even a pair of T-Mobile employees at a local store. That was fun, showing them their own phone.

People tend to balk at “new.” Once they’ve learned how to speak “android” or “iphone” they’re hesitant to learn a new language. Microsoft’s MetroUI aesthetic genuinely seems to draw people in. It’s familiar enough that it wont scare away iPhone users, but has just enough customization options with tiles that Android users at least appreciate it.

The speed of the device helps a lot. Windows Phone feels fast…like iOS fast. Even though the hardware is last year’s cutting edge, the Lumia 710 was able to hang with just about every mid-range Android I put it up against. Surprisingly enough, it even holds its own against the Galaxy Nexus in a variety of tasks.

I really thought I wasn’t going to use this phone much, but it’s been an almost even split among the 710, the Nexus, and the Note. Not because I felt like I had to give it equal time, but because it was actually the right tool to use. I was pleasantly surprised.

Situations like boot up time are just no contest. Say I was leaving a movie theater, and had both the Nokia and the Nexus, I’d go for the Nokia every time. It booted in about a third the amount of time. It’ll even beat an iPhone 4S by a good 5 seconds or so. No small feat indeed.

Actual app performance certainly can’t compete with dual core handsets, but the feel of the UI humbles many smartphone users I hand it to. Telling them it’s a “low end” phone, and watching them navigate a UI competitive with the best that Apple has to offer is sobering.

Nokia’s additions to the WP7 ecosystem genuinely benefit the consumer as well. Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive alone are both fantastic additions. Here’s a free phone, with a free mapping suite, and free turn by turn navigation, and it’s NOT an Android handset powered by Google Maps. Apple really needs to get their act in gear…

The entire “Nokia Collection” is a pretty decent value add, featuring exclusive content from Univision, CNN, ESPN, and includes apps like Creative Studio, which is a solid photo editor.

There’s absolutely no reason to buy a low end Android handset anymore. None.

The Lumia 710 is simply a better phone than any of T-Mobile’s mid-range Android offerings. Between using Windows Phone and Ice Cream Sandwich, going back to Gingerbread on new review phones has been painful. Performance doesn’t begin to favor Android until you’re looking at spending about $100 with a contract.

I’m usually hesitant to recommend people marry low end phones for a two year contract, and the Lumia 710 gets that one mark against it as well. Currently free on contract, I can say that it makes for a phenomenal first smartphone for both the XBox and the Office crowd. You’ll just want to be honest with yourself, if you’re the kind of person who will want new shiny toys every year.

If you decide against buying the phone on a contract though, the fact that you can buy a 710 OFF contract for $350 makes this an even easier “investment” to stomach.

And now… To get my hands on a Lumia 900

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