The Good: Outstanding value for money • Zippy performance • Good camera • Great included software
The Bad: Camera takes patience • Screen looks a little washed out • Not the best mobile web browser
Though most of the focus of Nokia's comeback plan has centred on its top-tier releases, the Lumia 800 and 900, the recently deposed king of mobile phones has other irons in the fire. The Lumia 710 is a cheaper model in the Lumia line, hoping to find customers in the crowd who refuse to pay top dollar for an iPhone.
What's most impressive about the Lumia 710 is how well put together it is. Side by side with the Lumia 800, the differences are obvious. Nokia chooses a collection of sturdy plastic components for the 710 over the more expensive polycarbonate unibody of the 800, but you'd be hard pressed to accuse the cheaper model of looking or feeling cheap. Our review unit is black, but the handset is available in a range of colours, including white and fluoro yellow.
The chassis of our 710 review unit is one-part glossy piano-black plastic, and one-part soft-touch plastic across the battery cover. These two pieces fit firmly together, so there is no obvious seam felt when you run your fingers across the edge. The back of the phone houses a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash, and a large external speaker grille.
Though it's not smaller than the display on the 800, the display here is made from a different screen technology. While Nokia saves its superb AMOLED screens for the top-tier models, the 710 sports a 3.7-inch LCD TFT panel with a WVGA resolution. This may sound like a step backwards, and it is, but the screen in the 710 is much better than we tend to see in phones at the lower end of the market. Colours aren't as warm as they could be, and the blacks could be blacker, but the viewing angles on this screen are excellent, and the touchscreen is flawlessly responsive.
Our only minor criticism of this design is that the external buttons — the power and camera keys — don't have a lot of give in them, and can feel a little sticky when pressed. This is more a concern with the camera key than any other, as you use a half-press command to focus before taking a photo, and this is hard to do as a result.
What is most remarkable about the Lumia 710 is that it has identical hardware to the Lumia 800 under the hood. This means that unlike some budget Android phones, you don't feel restricted at all when using the 710, even though it costs half as much. Basic home-screen navigation is just as buttery smooth, multitasking works as quickly and the 710 is capable of playing even the most intensive 3D games on the Windows Phone Marketplace.
Call quality during our tests was excellent, with the earpiece speaker sounding loud enough, even on a busy street. Battery life lasts a solid day to a day and a half, even after playing several hours of our favourite Xbox Live games and with emails being pushed to the phone in the background. Data speeds have been good, too, with apps and web pages downloading within an acceptable time frame. We're not sure whether we saw it reach the 14.4Mbps data-speed limit possible with the hardware in the 710, but it certainly didn't feel too sluggish.
The performance of the web browser is pretty much on par with all other Windows Phone devices that we've seen to date, which is to say it's OK, but far from outstanding. The Internet Explorer browser on the phone diverts all traffic through mobile sites by default, which helps to speed up the browsing experience somewhat, but without Flash this can sometimes feel like a static experience. Also, Microsoft, like Google, takes the opportunity to promote its search engine as often as it can throughout the system, which is frustrating if you'd prefer to use an alternative. We also found that the browser struggled with a number of shortened URLs found in Twitter.
As with the other physical components of the 710, the camera isn't of the same quality as the 8-megapixel camera in the Lumia 800, but it is well above average for its price range. With a 5-megapixel sensor, auto-focus and an LED flash, the 710 manages what most cameras in low-price smartphones fail to do: take more good photos than bad. We found that the photos we took were often in focus, and with decent colour, although we would have liked them to have been a little warmer.
The only caveat to this is that you have to let the camera focus before taking each photos. Shots we took quickly never turned out well, but those that we took after a moment of preparation were almost all in focus and showing a good level of detail. This returns us to the problem of the handset's sticky buttons, which we mentioned above. Focusing before a photo is essential with the 710, but it can be difficult to achieve.
Lumia 710 customers don't lose out in the software stakes, either, with the full suite of Windows Phone- and Nokia-developed apps at their disposal. Importantly, this includes Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive, two outstanding navigation tools that are both completely free to use. There's also Nokia Music, which, aside from giving access to the Nokia Music Store, also includes a free music-streaming service called Mix Radio, where users can choose radio station-like streams based on genre, era and region.
Microsoft's Windows Phone apps are also included, with full access to Office documents, SkyDrive cloud storage, Xbox Live games and achievements and the Zune media player. If you're looking for even more to do with your phone, you can jump on the Marketplace and browse its 60,000-plus app catalogue, including the new Skype app for Windows Phone.
One small feature that really stands out is the Facebook Chat integration in Windows Phone. While other mobile platforms offer similar services in apps, Microsoft builds it right in to the standard phone-messaging service, so that when you send a message to someone, you have the choice to send it via SMS, Windows Live or Facebook. Often, this means free messages to friends, especially those who live their lives plugged in to Facebook.
Any way you slice it, the Lumia 710 is a good smartphone, and is excellent value for money. Nokia hasn't cut too many corners in delivering a feature-rich Windows Phone on a budget with performance to rival even the Apple iPhone. Its screen could display richer, deeper colours, and the camera could be easier to use, but these seem like minor quibbles next to everything that is right in this package. In terms of value for money, very few phones come close.