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Rogers Nokia Lumia 710 Review (Video)


Standing upon a small metal platform in the heart of the ExCeL convention centre in London in October 2011, I first glimpsed the heroic Nokia Lumia 800 and its comely stewart, the Lumia 710. Casting my mind back to that day it never occurred to me that I would have it in my hand, launched by a Canadian carrier for less than $300 outright.

The Lumia 710 may not have the panache, nor the aesthetic fluidity, of its polycarbonate sibling, but I can safely say that if you are in the market for an inexpensive smartphone on Rogers, this is the one to get. Forget Android, don’t even look at the iPhone 3GS: the Lumia 710 is a full-featured, capable and, above all, speedy piece of tech that, when judged at this price point, has few real competitors.

Specs:
– Windows Phone 7.5 Mango
– 3.7″ 800 x 480 ClearBlack TFT display with Gorilla Glass
– 1.4Ghz MSM8255 Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
– 512MB RAM / 8GB internal storage
– 5MP camera with flash
– WiFi (b/g/n) / Bluetooth / GPS (GLONASS)
– Accelerometer, Compass
– HSDPA 14.4Mbps / HSUPA 5.76Mbps
– GSM 850/900/1800/1900, UMTS 850/1700/1900/2100 Mhz
– 1300mAh battery (replaceable), microSIM slot
– 119 x 62.4 x 12.5 mm
– 125g


The Phone

Like the porridge from the fairy tale, the Lumia 710 is not too hot and not too cold: it’s just right. While certainly thicker at 12.5mm than your average disappearing high-end Android phone, the phone is curved around the back in such a way that any excess girth seems to fall away. The edges taper enough to be geometric, but the appearance is more positive in person; I’ve come to enjoy its odd design. Made entirely of a sturdy, fingerprint-happy matte plastic, the back of the device takes with it the camera and volume buttons when removed. These back covers are interchangeable, though none are included in the sparse box.

Around the front, the 3.7-inch ClearBlack TFT display is crisp and colourful, with superlative contrast for a non-AMOLED screen. When turned off, you can barely tell where the screen ends and the bezel begins; when turned on, this is similarly true, though a seasoned veteran will not mistake the rather listless reds and sedate blues for a the crisp and beautiful AMOLED of the Lumia 800. Whites, too, are hued with a touch of grey.

This is not to say that the colours are inaccurate, nor the whites drab. Rather, the lack of vibrancy owes its debt more to the colour accuracy of the TFT technology, as we’ve been spoiled and rather brainwashed to believe that such overextended AMOLED hues are natural. Still, blacks are the displays true strong suit, and for a device priced well below those with screens half the resolution and a quarter the effervescence, it’s hard to fault the Lumia 710.


Below the screen is a single piece of translucent plastic, home to three hardware buttons: back, home and search. The protrusion is slight, making it frequently difficult to engage; one hopes it loosens over time. There is also an aesthetic incongruity to the hardware buttons: they are unsightly. While it certainly would have been more expensive to include capacitive buttons, the single row primps like a diva sprawled on a settee, distracting from the unbroken nature of the front.

The Gorilla Glass-festooned face also covets fingerprints and oil, so be prepared to be constantly wiping off the screen. On a positive note, though, the glass itself has an almost matte-like finish, lending itself to superior typing on the fantastic Windows Phone keyboard.

The phone’s size is just right. Adjusting from the gargantuan workspace of the Galaxy Nexus was easy, and I’ll reiterate my previous invocation: displays between 3.7- and 4.3-inches are the sweet spot. However, like the Nexus One before it, the Lumia 710’s screen size is perfectly suited to its WVGA resolution.


Performance

With a Windows Phone, you’re lucky enough to know what you’re going to get. This is true of the Lumia 710: with a 1.4Ghz single-core processor and 512MB RAM, its internals are equal to every other second-generation WP7 device on the market. Where it takes liberties is with internal storage: there are 8GB of non-expandable memory here, so beware you music hoarders and movie watchers. Though Microsoft is claiming that each device is augmented with 25GB of free Skydrive storage, nothing replaces cold hard NAND.

Like the Lumia 800, the 710 is spritely, smooth and charming in its performance. Here we come to the section of the review where I should “defend” the 710’s single-core processor against Android’s onslaught of dual- and quad-core behemoths. But they’re two different beasts entirely. Visually, Windows Phone is simpler; fundamentally, it is smoother. Like iOS, Windows Phone was developed to commit what is on the screen to highest-priority, relegating background tasks to predefined APIs in a highly-controlled environment. This is both a blessing and a curse, since apps cannot run in the background; once the home button is pressed, the apps’s state is saved and, holding the back button to engage the multitasking menu, can be resumed in half a second or less.

But this does translate to poorer performance where it counts, and it is not to be overlooked. While overall UI smoothness is one thing, taxing web pages take noticeably longer to load, while games available in the Marketplace, though pretty, cannot push the number of pixels, nor offer the same 3D experience, as you’d find in many of the high-end iOS or Android games. Microsoft’s Xbox Live products are robust, and there are plenty of great games to choose from, but we’re unlikely to see an Infinity Blade 2 or Grand Theft Auto 3 ported to Windows Phone until at least the next generation of devices.

Keep in mind that the 1.4Ghz Snapdragon processor inside here is the same one that’s in the Sony Xperia Play, so don’t count out the Lumia 710 as a gaming machine just yet. Rather, embrace the platform’s bias towards 2D platformers and puzzle games. As for the browser, though theoretical speeds are slower than the equivalent Chrome for Android or Mobile Safari for iOS, in practice pages render very quickly over Rogers’ network. Since the introduction of Mango, Windows Phone uses a branched version of IE9 with extensive support for HTML5. While most desktop pages look great, and text realigns to the screen well, there were a few times I noticed peculiar rendering tendencies, such as Twitter loading the basic mobile page (and not its new HTML5-laden version).

The Lumia 710 recorded 6853.6ms on the Sunspider 0.91 Javascript benchmark, a fair amount slower than the equivalent Android device at that speed. IE9 is to blame more so than the single-core CPU, but you’re looking at a score nearly three poorer than the Galaxy Nexus or iPhone 4S.

Camera

The Lumia 710 has a 5MP camera that is about as good as the Galaxy Nexus. That is, it takes fairly accurate shots with decent speed, but blown up the results are awash with compression artifacts and grain. From my hands-on with the Lumia 800, whose 8MP camera has a wider aperture, bigger lens and improved sensor, the Lumia 710 is a distant second.

Though its flash is ineffectual (see the left Optimus Prime photo), giving indoor shots a fishbowl-like gloom, the 710 takes nice outdoor photos with sufficient light. The dedicated camera button can be activated even when the screen is off, and the two-step function allows you to set focus and white balance before taking the photo. The shutter button curves slightly with the battery cover, so like the ones on the front it can be a pain to activate. I often ended up taking an unfocused shot when my intention was to press the shutter half-way down.

There is no front-facing camera on the Lumia 710 which is disappointing but not overly surprising. Video, which is 720p-capable, is nice and smooth, but suffers from a softness similar to the phone’s stills. Nevertheless, Windows Phone provides one of the best camera experiences on the market — the UI is effortless, minimal and capable, with easy sharing options to Facebook, Twitter and any number of connected apps — and for this price the Lumia 710 bests most other smartphones for its ease of use. A nice bonus is that you can easily set all your photos to auto-upload to Skydrive, eliminating the worry of manual syncing to a PC, or remembering to email yourself that one coveted shot. By default, all photos are private unless otherwise specified.

Software Experience

Windows Phone Mango 7.5 is a huge upgrade over the original Windows Phone 7 release, though to the naked eye its Metro stylings are unchanged. Big-deal features such as multitasking, threaded emails, an improved browser and tight integration with Twitter are the headlines here, but there are a number of other improvements and tweaks that improve the experience.

Let’s start with what Mango is still missing, though. At the moment it is impossible to share multiple photos in a single email; you must click on, and share, each one manually. Windows Phone’s notification system, too, needs work: once a “toast” message appears and quickly disappears from the top of the screen (which is admittedly quite attractive) there is no way to get it back. You must rely on either having a Live Tile on your main screen to indicate you have an email or SMS, or hope you see it in time. Multitasking could use some improvements, too, since unless you return to a “saved-state” app via holding the back button it will restart. This means if you open Facebook,leave it to check Twitter and return to the homescreen to open it again it will purge the Facebook app from memory and start again; you must hold down the back button to return to it from its previous state.

But what Windows Phone does well is a much longer list than what it doesn’t. Live Tiles are a brilliant, quick-glance way to see weather updates, missed calls and unread email counts. The People Hub consolidates updates from Twitter, Facebook and Windows Live not only with your public timeline, but for individual contacts. You don’t need a third-party Twitter or Facebook application to update your status, or upload a photo: these are all done swiftly with built-in controls.

If music is your thing, the $9.99 Zune Pass is a great choice as long as you’re fine being confined to the Windows Phone ecosystem. It integrates beautifully with the rest of the operating system, with lock-screen controls and background listening support.

The email experience is one of the best in the game: it can sync contacts, calendars and tasks with Gmail through Activesync (though it doesn’t do Gmail labels well), and of course its Hotmail integration is perfect. The email UI is austere but very usable, from its conversations layout to the fantastic keyboard. Windows Phone has the best keyboard behind iOS, period. Even though I’m a big fan of the Galaxy Nexus’ Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard, it too can sometimes slow down with longer emails; the Lumia 710 not only keeps up with my frantic fingers, but WP7’s autocorrect is usually more accurate than any other OS.

Office for Windows Phone is also comes standard, providing Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote functionality out of the box. Though the feature set is not as comprehensive as on the desktop version, all files are automatically saved and uploaded to Skydrive, and since the software is free, for those already entwined in the Microsoft Office ecosystem the solution can’t be beat.

If you’re a gamer, the platform’s Xbox Live integration will sync your gaming achievements, badges and avatar with the console, and maintains each game’s state in its portal. Your multiplayer matches are consolidated in the Requests tab, too, so you’ll have an easy time remembering to complete that game of Word Feud.

Rogers and Nokia have both included a few of their own apps, some better than others. Nokia’s Contacts Transfer and App Highlights are superfluous unless you’re new to the platform or coming from a previous Nokia device, but its Drive and Map apps are of huge import.

Nokia Drive is exclusive to the Lumia line of phones and brings free turn-by-turn navigation with free worldwide maps in perpetuity. These maps can be downloaded for offline use so even if you’re roaming you won’t need to rely on cell phone data. The Maps app improves upon Microsoft’s own Bing Maps in many ways, with a clean and simple interface.

Rogers bundles UrMusic, its music streaming and purchasing app, as well as My Account. Both are functionally identical to their iOS and Android counterparts, though they’ve taken on the Metro stylings of the operating system. Because Microsoft mandates it, you can delete any app you don’t want (unlike on Android), though they can be downloaded again from the Windows Phone Marketplace.

The third-party app story is a bit more complicated: as you can see from the home screen photos, there are plenty to choose from, but quality is inconsistent across developers. While Evernote makes a great Windows Phone app that is competitive with its iOS and Android counterparts, the official Twitter and Foursquare apps are sorely lacking in both features and performance. There are plenty of indie alternatives, such as Rowi for Twitter and 4th and Mayor for Foursquare respectively, but it’s hard to know without trying them first. To that end, the Marketplace supports either time- or feature-limited trials before purchasing, which provides indie developers a chance to show off their wares.

But as Nokia attempts to break into the crowded market, it will be this lack of marquee apps that is brought up again and again as a mark against the ecosystem. Why choose a Windows Phone if the other two platforms offer more, and better, choice? What use is having a smartphone with thousands of apps if none of them are any good? There are exceptions to the rule, but at this point even the well-known branded apps are of lower quality, and it appears the platform is of lower priority to developers. Until then, anyone migrating from Android or iOS may be disappointed at the app selection, even though there are plenty of good ones if you look hard enough.

Battery Life

The Lumia 710 has a 1300mAh battery that had no problem lasting me the entire day when used with my main line. Windows Phone is currently a market leader in smartphone battery by limiting the way that apps can operate in the background; with some exceptions, when an app is not in the foreground it is not using any resources. This allows things to stay smooth, and also prevents unwanted battery use.

I was able to get between 10-12 hours of moderate to heavy use in a single day. When leaving the phone idle overnight, it depleted less than 10%, so standby time is also very good.

In our video tests, in which we loop a single clip until the battery dies, the Lumia 710 lasted 5 hrs 24 minutes. Note that the Lumia is only connected to WiFi for these days as to not bias the 3G signal.

Call Quality and Network Speed

Rated at 14.4Mbps, the Lumia 710 is not the fastest HSPA+ device offered on Rogers’ network, but it falls under the 4G nomenclature, one of the only ones in the carrier’s Smartphone Lite category. Indeed, network performance is on par with the more expensive iPhone 4S, with average download speeds of 3-5Mbps and upload speeds of 1-2Mbps.

Call quality, as befitting a Nokia device, is excellent, with a powerful headpiece and sensitive microphone. Recipients’ voices were clear to my ear, and mine to theirs. At maximum volume, the headpiece is loud enough to hear on a crowded street, and there is a second microphone on the back for active noise cancellation. Headphone and Bluetooth quality were equally clear, with no clarity or distortion problems. The Lumia paired instantly with my Bluetooth headset, and had no problem interpreting my contacts’ names when voice dialling was engaged (hold down the home button to activate).

The back speaker, like most mid-range smartphones, is merely adequate with tinny highs and no lows to speak of. Though it looks as if there is the entire bottom half of the battery cover is a speaker grate, there is but one small mono speaker underneath it all; I’d imagine the design is more for sound diffusion than anything else.

Conclusion

Priced at $49.99 on a 3-year term, and $254.99 on a month-to-month plan, the Lumia 710 is a bargain, especially for those unwilling to re-sign a contract. Though its screen and camera are no match for the more-expensive (and coming soon) Lumia 800, this is a fantastic entry-level smartphone and one of the best examples of “the whole package” over individual components. Only when taking photos did I feel like I was missing out on the full smartphone experience, and even then the 5MP camera will suffice for most casual users.

What Nokia has been able to offer is Windows Phone for the masses, and as such a powerful and capable smartphone for less than half the outright price of most equivalent Androids or iPhones. And, like all Windows Phones, it will more than likely receive major updates at the same time as its more expensive peers, something that, again, cannot be claimed by even the top-range Android smartphones.

The Nokia Lumia 710 is available from Rogers for $49.99 on a 3-year term and $254.99 on a month-to-month plan.

 

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