Nokia and T-Mobile have just introduced the Lumia 710 on the T-Mobile network. This is an important launch for Nokia because part of the company’s future depends on how it is able to “reset” its relationship with U.S carriers that are The key players in the world’s largest wireless market. The Lumia 710 has been designed from the ground up to appeal to “first-time smartphone users”, a segment of the population that Nokia intends to win over.

Overall, users will very much get the same user experience than they would on the high-end Nokia Lumia 800, but they won’t get the awesome Lumia 800 industrial design, the faster HSPA+ network, or the slightly larger battery capacity. Instead, T-Mobile users will get a noticeably lower price on the handset, which is always a classic trade-off. So, how does it feel to use the Nokia Lumia 710 on the T-Mobile network? Let’s take a look.

What’s in the box?

Technical highlights

3.7” display (800×480 pixels)
Single-Core, 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM8255, 512MB RAM
5 Megapixel camera
2.46×4.69×0.49”, 4.4oz
Bands: 850, 900, 1800, 1900
HSDPA 14.4Mbps
1300 mAh battery

Context

We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone: I typically check my email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and I reply moderately because the virtual keyboard is slow, even on large displays. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.

On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks, a receipts manager, but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful.

Industrial Design

nokia lumia 710 review 01The Nokia Lumia 710 is a smartphone that has a design that can be easily attributed to Nokia, at least, much more than the Lumia 800. The Lumia 710 design is plain and feels “uncomplicated”, which is a great thing given that Nokia wants to position this phone as a mid-range or entry-level smartphone for users who mainly care about fundamental (basic) smartphone functionality.

nokia lumia 710 review 05Yet, despite not being a high-end phone, the Lumia 710 has an edge-to-edge glass surface, which gives it that classy touch that high-end phones have. When you hold it in the hand, the glass is pretty much the only thing that is clearly visible.

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This is the right side of the phone

The phone is best held with the left hand, as it is the side where there are no buttons that can be pressed accidentally. On the right side, you will find the volume controls and the camera shutter button, which also serves as an optional the camera app launcher.

nokia lumia 710 review 09At the top, there is a discrete Power button, a micro-USB port and a 3.5mm audio connector. Finally, at the bottom, there are classic physical buttons for the Windows Phone “back”, “home” and “search” functions.

nokia lumia 710 review 11The plastic back cover is nicely painted with “soft touch” paint, which gives a leathery feel. It also reduces the odds of accidental slippage. It’s very easy to take the cover off and the battery out. I also really like how Nokia made it easy to push the micro-SIM card out of its slot. I regularly have to use tools for that with other handsets. No problem here.

nokia lumia 710 review 18Display: although relatively “low-resolution” by today’s standards, the 800×480 pixels display offers a very good image quality. There are no visible pixel patterns, and the colors are very well reproduced. The contrast is good too, which is a great surprise for a mainstream smartphone. Nokia’s procurement department has done a nice job on this one.

Overall, Nokia has done a good job with its design language. The phone is well designed to serve its intended market segment: it does not look technologically intimidating to the first-time smartphone users that Nokia is after.

Performance overview

The Lumia 710 is not a “raw performance” monster. It actually scores modestly in Javascripts benchmarks and on Microsoft’s own IE9 “Fish Tank” web graphics performance test. The numbers speak for themselves when you compare it to other phones that are known for their “muscles”.

However, the synthetic benchmarks don’t tell the whole story: the Lumia 710 and its Windows Phone 7.5 operating system bring one of the smoothest user experience available in handsets. The user interface scrolling is always impeccable, and background tasks are managed in a way that doesn’t slow things down with my particular usage pattern. For virtually every productivity tasks, the response-time is very good.

That said, it is clear that the raw processing power may become a limiting factor in power-hungry applications such as 3D games and photo processing. In the end, when you do that type of things, there are no real replacement for more cores and higher processor frequencies.

Imaging (very good, auto-focus needs work)

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Image shot with the Nokia Lumia 710

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A photo in difficult conditions. It's too bad that the focus didn't perform better: it could use some sharpness

In terms of photography, things are a bit mixed: on one hand, I found the Nokia Lumia 710 to have good colors and automatic settings, but getting the camera to focus properly is more work that it should be. It seems that the camera software does not seem to know where to focus, and I often have to tap on the screen to help it, even though I simply wanted it to focus on the subject in the middle of the screen. Once you’re ready to shoot, the Lumia 710 does it fast and the shutter speed lag is low.

Videos are better than photos, mainly because the auto-focus isn’t as capricious, even if it “jumps” here and there – things mostly work rather well. I would say the video quality is good, but it’s not as good as “excellent” imaging phones like the Galaxy S2, and the iPhone 4S -both of which are high-end phone. But for a mainstream camera, I feel like the photo/video quality ranks among the best in that particular segment of the market.

Windows Phone 7.5 highlights

Multitasking: Windows Phone 7.5 is multi-task capable. It is possible to switch from one app to the next. It is closer to iOS than it is to Android: purists will prefer Android’s multi-tasking, which is closer to what a PC would have, but while iOS and WP7 are a bit more limited, but they may also limit the power that background apps can consume.

Voice to text SMS: you can dictate SMS messages using your voice, and there’s also some level of voice commands. For instance, while you’re on a Bluetooth headset, you get notified of new messages by a synthesized voice, and can use your own voice to command the phone to read them for you, or to reply.

I wish that the voice-to-text dictation was pervasive and always available whenever the keyboard is up, like it is on Android, and with Apple’s Siri. However, that’s not the case yet.

Twitter and LinkedIn: those two social networks are now integrated into the OS itself, and it’s great because you can share updates across several networks at the same, without having to download yet another app for that purpose. It also makes it possible to follow your friends’ updates (on those networks) in the People HUB.

Live tiles: the application tiles on the home page are now animated and can display information without requiring you to launch the app – think of those as widgets, although of very small size. That’s a few more drops of productivity right there.

Multiple Calendars: you can display calendars from Outlook, Facebook and other locations at once. Usually, this is really useful for people who have a personal+work calendar, and on top of that you can add the Facebook calendar as well.

These are some of the most important new Windows Phone 7.5 features, but if you want more details, hop to the official “what’s new” web page on the Windows Phone site.

Software

On the software side, the Nokia Lumia 710 is very close – if not similar – to the Nokia Lumia 800, and I have yet to bump into any significant difference between the two. In many ways, the association of Windows Phone 7.5 (aka Mango) and some Nokia-specific touches make this phone one of the best Windows Phone in terms of functionality, even if the hardware itself isn’t as attractive as the beautiful Lumia 800.

Email (excellent): the email support is top notch in my opinion. It’s true that you don’t have things like the Blackberry shortcuts, but the Exchange Server support is great, the setup is extremely easy: I basically just had to enter my email and password. On Android and iOS I have to enter 5 or 6 long strings of information with the server URL, etc…

The font used in Windows Phone and the ultra-clean design makes emails very readable. Overall, I love the WP7 email experience. I’ll take the WP7 email experience over iOS or Android any day. Only Blackberry remains the king of the hill on that one.

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Navigation (very good): Fortunately, for driving around, there is Nokia Drive a true personal navigation application that is great for many reasons: For one, the maps are stored locally on the phone itself, so the phone does not need to download the maps in real-time, which is great for speed and battery life. The map is also a bit better in terms of street names readability. The best part is that it’s free — and you can download maps for almost every countries in the world.

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Web Browsing (good): The new Windows Phone browser is now using the Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) rendering engine, which is much better than the IE7 engine used previously, but still attempts to modify web pages to “make them better” (sometime). This time, I have not seen any site compatibility issues, and overall, things work fairly well, but this phone won’t break any performance record in terms of JavaScript performance.

No Flash support: Going forward, Flash will not be supported on any smartphone or tablet, but if that matters to you today, you must know that this phone does not run Flash in a browser.
Basics

Dialing and contacts: Dialing with the virtual keypad is very simple, and finding contacts is too. There are two ways of doing it: 1/ go in the People HUB and search for a specific person. 2/ add a contact directly on the start page as a Tile. With this second option, a call/SMS to a contact is only 2 taps away.

Voice commands: Windows Phone supports a small number of voice commands like “call”, “text”, “Redial”, etc… if it doesn’t understands a comment, it will default to a search. Obviously, this seems a bit archaic when compared to Apple’s Siri, but it can be handy when driving etc. Android also has this kind of capability. To activate it, press and hold the “Windows” button.

HSDPA 14.4Mbps: Interestingly, the T-Mobile Lumia 710 is going to be a 3G phone (or 3.5G, depending on T-Mobile’s definition) while the leading “4G” can use the faster HSPA+ protocol, which has a theoretical speed of 42Mbps.

Battery Life

The battery is relatively small, so this is something that I wanted to look into. I’ve been running all kinds of tests, and have not used the phone in a normal way (at all!) at the moment. Right now, I don’t see an alarming battery depletion rate, which is a good sign, but I will need to stop all these apps, or capturing HD movies, before I can truly see what the battery life looks like for my particular usage pattern.

Conclusion

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Given that you can get the Lumia 710 for free (at select retailers like Wirefly, for example) with a new contract, this phone does what exactly what Nokia designed it for: deliver a great basic smartphone user experience, in an affordable package. And don’t forget that T-Mobile is usually very competitive on the data plan pricing, including their contract-free plans.

But choosing a Lumia 710 is first and foremost choosing between Windows Phone and Android. The experience is different, and in my opinion, Windows Phone offers a great, and often superior user experience for the basics (interface, email, facebook, virtual keyboard, contacts, calendar). However, Android has more apps, and tends to evolve faster (not that it matters if your Android phone does not get the OS upgrade…)

With that in mind, it is only fair that I mention the Lumia 710’s greatest competitor: the HTC Radar 4G which runs Windows Phone 7.5 as well, is priced similarly and features a front-camera – but it has a slower processor and a lower-quality display. The experience is very similar on both phones, so it will come down to personal preferences – even if I give the Lumia 710 an edge for Nokia Drive, the better display and the faster processor. Keep in mind that for $99 more, you could get a dual-core Android phone which uses the faster HSPA+ network, but again we’re back to Windows vs. Android territory.

If you have more questions, please drop a comment and I will try to answer them while I still have the phone. Note that we are going to CES next week, so I may reply when I get back from Las Vegas.

Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews . Tags: lumia 710, Nokia, T-Mobile and Windows Phone.
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