This is the year millions of owners of so-called feature phones — devices which handle little beyond voice calls, texts, and photos — will finally upgrade to true smartphones.
At least, that’s the hope of Microsoft and Nokia. The two tech giants have been floundering to get a foothold in the U.S. smartphone market ever since the iPhone launched in 2007. The two companies have partnered up to make a more cohesive play in the realm of touchscreens, apps, and streaming media, and this is their most accessible U.S.-bound device so far.
The Nokia Lumia 710 runs the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system. It’s not the beefed-up, feature-filled flagship phone for Windows Phone 7 fans to rally around. We saw that device, the Lumia 800, last month. But in all honesty, the 710 is an absolutely terrific option for the entry-level consumer.
Aside from being 4G, most of its specs tends towards “good enough.” But with a $50 price point and the ability to pair it with a low-cost data plan from T-Mobile, it’s cheap enough that even those living paycheck-to-paycheck wouldn’t bat an eye.
Windows Phone Mango seems like a lightweight OS compared to something like an HTC Sense-skinned Android. Why do I say that? The 710 runs on merely a single-core 1400 MHz Qualcomm processor with 512 MB of SDRAM, and yet the experience is quite smooth — just as you’d expect it would run on stronger hardware.
The 710’s 3.7-inch, 800×480 resolution ClearBlack LCD display isn’t as bright as that of its big sister, the Lumia 800. But unless you held the two Nokias side by side, you wouldn’t really feel like you’re missing anything. Colors are rich and images are sharp. There just isn’t that Pow! you get from something like a Super AMOLED screen.
The Lumia 710 feels almost like a large pebble when you hold it in your hand. The backside is curved and rubberized, which makes for a firm, comfortable grip. Rather than rely on the capacitive touch buttons common to the faces of most Windows Phone and Android devices, the 710 has a (likely more cost-effective) raised gummy button across the bottom of the front of the handset. It acts as a home button among other things. A discrete shutter button and volume rocker grace one side of the device.
Pictures from the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera are about on-par with that of the iPhone 4 (not the 4S). If you prefer to use the hardware shutter button over the onscreen controls, your photos will turn out slightly blurry unless you have an extremely steady hand. The single LED flash is strong. All in all, the camera is good, but not graceful.
Battery life is excellent — under regular use, the phone lasted about two days between charges.
The only quibble I had with this handset as opposed to other Windows Phone devices I’ve encountered was that it often took a few tries to successfully click a link from a tweet or status update in People Hub, as if I needed to tap the link in a particular spot (rather than anywhere on the URL) for the gesture to register.
This phone is proof that you don’t need top-of-the-line tech specs for a great mobile experience. Like the other cheap Windows Phone for T-Mobile, the HTC Radar, it’s good at everything it does, but it’s not out there to wow you. Although it’s targeted at new smartphone converts, in reality, the Nokia 710 is a good option for anyone looking for a phone with a new flavor and a lot of bang for your buck.
WIRED Cheap. Comfortable size, shape and materials. Comes with enough built-in apps and services (ESPN, Netflix, The Weather Channel, My Account) to be convenient, but not overburdened. Comes in black or white.
TIRED Call quality sounds slightly muddy, even though you sound very clear to people on the other end. Can only record video by pressing the hardware button. 8GB of storage, but not expandable — there’s no SD card slot.
Photo by Jon Snyder/Wired