We at Bright Side of News* have been some of Windows Phone?s most outspoken critics. Many of us used Windows Mobile back in the Windows Mobile 5 and 6 days and once word about Windows Phone?s lack of freedom became public we were less than thrilled. Since then, we tended to have a poor opinion of Windows Phone given that our early experiences were not great. The OS was still buggy and had some significant limitations which made the phone practically unusable in our opinion. Not to mention the fact that the OS was much more closed than its previous iterations which were a custom firmware writer?s dream. As a result of the closing of the Windows Mobile?s open ecosystem, many of the custom ROM writers switched over to Android and gave that community the boost it needed.

Now, we enter the latest phase of Windows Phone: Nokia has become Microsoft?s premier partner for Windows Phone. In addition, Nokia has put out some very solid and sleek devices, possibly the nicest that Windows Phone has seen to date. Most of Nokia?s recovery strategy in the global market is primarily based upon their Windows Phone smartphone strategy. Right now, Nokia has three Lumia devices available, the 800, 710 and 610 with the 900 coming very soon.

The reason why the Nokia Lumia 710 is so interesting to us is not only because it sits somewhat in the middle of the range of Nokia?s Windows Phone devices, but rather because of its price relative to performance. Right now, on T-Mobile, the Lumia 710 is selling for $0.00 with a contract. What this means to Nokia is that they have more smartphones being subsidized by the carriers, which in turn generally means that they will be capable of achieving better sales in the US market where they have generally floundered. In the US market, devices that sell for a certain price and then end up going to free on contract generally see a spike in sales. This is because most people really have no desire to actually pay for their phones, and ?free? is always the most attractive price. As such, the Lumia 710 delivers a full-fledged Windows Phone smartphone experience for the awesome price of $0.00.

In this review we will be evaluating the Nokia Lumia 710 and taking a brief look at the Windows Phone operating system, as this is our first formal review of the mobile OS.

Nokia Lumia 710 Specifications

ClearBlack display, 3.7" touchscreen, 480×800 Gorilla Glass
Swappable covers, changeable home screen colours
5 MP Auto Focus, LED Flash and HD Video
Qualcomm MSM8255 1.4GHz Single Core
HSDPA Cat10 14.4 Mbps
1300mAh battery Micro SIM
Dual Microphones
8 GB mass memory (no slot for micro-SD cards) plus 25GB SkyDrive cloud storage 
Micro-USB 

Bands Supported:
GSM 850
GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 1900
WCDMA Band V 850
WCDMA Band IV 1700
WCDMA Band II 1900
WCDMA Band I 2100

Items included:
Nokia Lumia 710 handset
Nokia AC-10UC MicroUSB Charger
Nokia Charging and Data Cable (CA-190CD)
Quick Guide and Product Information Bulletin
Nokia Battery BP-3L

Also, as a bonus for users that do not like the plain black back of the Lumia 710, Nokia will also send you any color backing that you like free of charge. You can choose from four different colors and get to keep your original black one as well. But you must have bought it before March 31st, hopefully they extend this offer.

Design and Build Quality

When it comes to the Lumia 710, Nokia has stayed true to their design principles and build quality. Nothing about the Lumia 710 feels cheap nor does the phone look ugly. Nokia has done a good job making the phone somewhat unique in terms of design while not making the phone ugly or radically different. Although the phone is entirely made of plastic and has a plastic removable battery door it does not make the phone feel cheap.

The phone has a relatively slim profile and a nicely curved back. This curved shape at the back allows for the phone to sit nicely in the palm of one?s hand and the coated plastic cover allows for a slightly better grip than most other plastic phones. They have also added a lanyard attachment to the phone to allow for you to easily grab the lanyard in order to get your phone out of a bag or deep pocket more easily.

Unlike the N8 we reviewed, the 710 is mostly plastic. While this may be a problem for some users who absolutely cannot live without aluminum, Nokia has done a good job of maintaining the solid feel of the 710 without sacrificing looks.

Nokia has also made the front face of the device very flat and simple only having the Nokia logo, the screen, and the three required Windows Phone buttons. The simplicity of the front of the phone lends to the user paying more attention to the screen, which is ideal for smartphones. When it comes to the screen itself, Nokia has done a good job making sure that it is just the right size and brightness and has decent overall sharpness and quality. Considering that this phone is free on contract, we would be hard pressed to find a phone with a better more solid design or build quality at that price point.

The back cover of the phone, also known as the battery door with the grate for the speaker.

We were a little disappointed that this phone was not made in Finland like all of our other Nokia devices. This left us a little disappointed considering our positive past experiences with Nokia?s Finnish quality and attention to detail. We hope this does not affect the longevity or long term durability of the devices like other Nokia phones we have had in the past.

The volume rocker to the (left) and (right) the hardware camera button (a Nokia staple).



The curvature of the phone as well as the lanyard hook



The Power Button (left), headphone Jack (center), and USB Charging/Data Port (right)



Back of phone without cover, Carl Zeiss lens and LED flash



The 1300 mAh 3.7v 4.7 Wh battery

Reviewer Experience -First Use and Calling/Reception

Upon turning on the Lumia 710 for the first time, the account setup process requires almost nothing beyond setting up the phone with a Microsoft Live account and setting up the user?s preferred social networks. Our biggest complaint, though, is that Nokia requires you to sign into their network in addition to signing into Microsoft?s. Since Nokia?s service does not actually serve as a social network or something similar, it is somewhat annoying to have to sign up/sign in to two different services when setting up your device. We believe Nokia should consider this and allow users to sign up for Nokia?s services using their Microsoft Live account.

Other than that, our first impressions of the device were very positive with the phone performing beyond our expectations of the latest iteration of Windows Phone. Considering our past experiences with Windows Phone were very negative, and the fact that it was incredibly buggy, our first impressions of the Nokia Lumia 710 were actually very good. We also liked the fact that Nokia added in their own applications like Drive Navigation and Maps which work really well in metropolitan areas and places where internet service is spotty. We do, though, not like the fact that it is a huge download which does take up quite a bit of time and perhaps should already be pre-loaded on the device for unpacking/installation. The Operating System – A Brief History of Windows Mobile OSes

Windows Phone has very little in common with its predecessor, Windows Mobile, which existed in the days when people like myself were heavily involved in the Microsoft Mobile Ecosystem. Since then, Microsoft has made many changes to their mobile operating system and has effectively closed their mobile ecosystem, in direct contrast with very open ecosystem of Windows Mobile.

Most of the current Android hackers and crackers were part of the Windows Mobile crowd. This was because Windows Mobile offered users easy root access to the device and allowed for custom user interfaces to be installed and run as an overlay to Microsoft?s admittedly boring and sluggish OS. Microsoft had a lot of issues with Windows Mobile and struggled to fix them, as it was essentially a version of Windows XP on a mobile device. This made it extremely useful for productivity, but absolutely useless as a touch device. In addition, Windows Mobile had a lot of performance issues, many of which required 3rd party developers to fix with custom ROMs. The idea of ?cooking? roms really began with Windows Mobile and really exploded once the people involved moved over to Android.

Those days are gone as many of the open attributes of Windows Mobile are history and the operating system and accompanying ecosystem for Windows Phone are much more locked down. This results in a much more tuned operating system with much more control over how users interact with it. This takes a page out of Apple?s book and drove many custom ROM makers to Android. We believe that Microsoft could have easily made their operating system more open than it is in its current state and still have had the majority of their users experience the OS how Microsoft would like them to. Our belief is that Microsoft lost a golden opportunity to compete with Android in terms of customization, which would have had Windows Phone retain many more developers when it was first introduced, and it would have prevented the mass exodus of custom ROM makers to Android.

Nevertheless, Windows Phone is by no means a poor operating system for mobile devices, and there is no doubt that this operating system is a fantastic one for people who like simplicity. Windows Phone is what we consider a happy medium between the widget crazy world of Android and the boring app button world of iOS. It enables users to effectively access pertinent information without having to open applications, but also maintain a very rigid and smooth interface experience. The live tiles are an absolutely brilliant idea and we only wish that a similar application of these tiles existed beyond the main OS screen.

Microsoft?s social integration is also extremely effective with their ?Me? tile which enables you to combine Facebook and Twitter into one feed as well as manage multiple networks from one spot. Being able to post to Live, Facebook and Twitter at the same time is extremely convenient, but we would like to see more depth in terms of interaction with the social networks beyond simply being able to post and comment on photos and statuses.

Below, we have a video to give you quick little tour of the Windows Phone UI and see the operating system in action.


We also really enjoyed Microsoft?s voice recognition search and would?ve preferred that they include it in more parts of the operating system beyond just search and a very select few applications. If Microsoft wants to be ahead of the curve, they must integrate their voice commands anywhere that text input is available, which is currently not the case. Using voice during text messaging was absolutely fantastic and we would?ve liked to have it when browsing the web and using other applications as well. This should be part of the default keyboard, which we?ll talk about in the next section.

We also, as a broad usage test, gave the Lumia 710 to about a dozen people and the general consensus was that they were actually surprised by the clean and snappy speed of Windows Phone. Many agreed that if they didn?t already have their current phone that they?d actually consider Windows Phone purely based on the operating system?s sheer clean design and snappy responsiveness.

The problem with Windows Phone 7 (7.5/Mango if you want to be specific) is not the operating system, or the apps. Most of the applications that exist for Windows Phone are already relatively good (especially the weather app among others). The problem is the public perception of the operating system and Microsoft?s inability to properly market it to the right crowd. Microsoft needs to change their image with mobile and allow users to understand that Windows Phone is the happy medium between Android and iOS and really, in our opinion, should be the smartphone OS of the masses.

Because of the way that Microsoft has approached and executed on Windows Phone, we believe those to be the reasons why Windows Phone is believed to have a ?weak? application selection. If Microsoft continues to pour money into app development, like their $20M fund with Nokia, there is a good chance that they will be able to make up for their past mistakes. But it?ll cost them, a lot, probably in the ballpark of $100-$200M if they really want to be successful with apps. What we propose is a $1M app development prize. Microsoft needs to create an incentive for developers to build apps for their marketplace and quality ones. If people download them, then both the developers and Microsoft win.

The truth is that Microsoft has a lot of money to burn and they need to be investing heavily in Windows Phone and Windows on ARM. We believe that Microsoft has a fighting chance with this operating system, and they?ve significantly improved it in the past year, but they need to be even more aggressive and they must acknowledge that they have to pay for their past mistakes or else they will fail. Web Browsing and Text Input

Web browsing on the Nokia Lumia 710 is admittedly very awkward. As someone who primarily uses Chrome and Firefox on their desktop and smartphones, having to switch back to IE isn?t necessarily a welcome transition. We are fully aware that Android offers their own proprietary browser, as does iOS, but the Android browser doesn?t have a proprietary feel to it. You don?t have to modify your browsing habits to accommodate it. In addition to that, the scrolling in the browser feels pretty smooth for the most part, but admittedly isn?t as smooth as on iOS, yet. This may be a strength for Windows Phone, though, when you considering that many users switching to Windows Phone may already be IE users on desktops.

In addition to using IE, Microsoft and Nokia also force you to use Bing as the default search engine much like Google does with Android. Normally, we would consider this to be a fair trade, except that we still have reservations about Bing?s effectiveness as a search engine. In some cases, we found that Bing did not give us accurate results for local searches and found ourselves having to navigate to Google.com in order to obtain the correct information. We are admittedly much more akin to using Google, but in more than one instance we found ourselves frustrated with Bing and having to make the switch. If Microsoft gave Windows Phone users the option to choose between search engines (Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) that would be the best option.

One of our major gripes about Windows Phone Mango (7.5) is that the operating system?s keyboard is absolutely horrendous and we?re not entirely sure if its the keyboard or the touchscreen, but it needs work. The layout of the keyboard is simply too cramped and results in a lot of repeated mistypes. The auto correct itself is very good and makes up for this for the most part, but a more accurate keyboard would be more than welcome, and perhaps even an opportunity to use Swype would be nice as well. After all, most Nokia Symbian and Android devices in the world can run it. Video and Video Chat

When it comes to Video, the Lumia 710 is pretty straight forward. The interface and video quality are relatively good and the camera is capable of capturing video at a reasonable frame rate, although, not at 1080P. Since the Lumia 710 is somewhat of a mid-to-low range smartphone, we don?t necessarily consider 720P to be a bad resolution.

Also, the Lumia 710 does not have a front facing camera, so videochat cannot be accomplished on it unlike its Lumia 800 and 900 bigger brothers.


Above is a sample of our video footage we?ve taken with the Nokia Lumia 710 to illustrate the video quality and performance.

Camera and Photography

The Nokia Lumia 710 is pretty straightforward with photography, as are most Nokia phones. Nokia is generally very good when it comes to their cameras, as we illustrated in our Nokia N8 review as well as their announcement of the 38 Megapixel Nokia 808 Pureview. The 710 features a 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics and is a considerably large lens for such a small 3.7? phone. The camera size on the 710 is more like something we?d expect to see on a 4.3? or 4.5? phone.

We have attached (below) some photos of the Lumia 710 so you can see the image quality. The camera is surprisingly good when you once again consider the price of the device, as in free with contract. We unfortunately don?t have any other current phones that are free on contract to test against, but this is certainly a pretty decent camera for someone just starting to use smartphones. We did notice that this camera suffered quite a bit from grain in low light situations, which isn’t surprising considering the price of the phone and all. None of these images have been modified in any way other than to shrink them down to the size to fit in this review.

Performance

In terms of performance, we were unable to find any of the applications that we?ve used in the past on Android devices to measure upload/download speeds across the network, nor testing some other aspects of the device. There are some benchmarks out there, but the Windows Phone operating system doesn?t support screenshots and you must crack the device in order to do so. We believe that this is a fundamental flaw of the operating system.

The Windows Phone Mango operating system in itself is actually a very interesting one. During our use of the device, never did it actually feel sluggish nor bogged down by multi-tasking. Windows Phone doesn?t really allow for fully fledged multi-tasking, but it does accomplish it in a manner that enables the user to maximize battery life, which we?ll be addressing in the next section.

Many reviewers have also commented on the Lumia line?s ?poor hardware specs? which we would have to somewhat agree with, except for the fact that this 1.4 GHz single core Snapdragon processor is more than ample performance for this device and there is absolutely no need for a dual core processor in this or any Windows Phone device at the given moment.

Battery Life

The battery life of the Lumia 710 is really what amazed us the most. We were able to get 16-17 hours on average using only 3G under normal to heavy usage. With lighter usage we were able to squeeze out between 19 and 20 hours on average. When connected to WiFi, we were able to increase that battery life to 23 to 24 hours under normal usage and under lighter usage we were able to extend that battery life to 27 hours. Over a full day.

This astonishing battery life absolutely had us sold, and should be a gigantic selling point for this smartphone and OS as it only features a 1300mAh battery which is considered relatively small for a smartphone nowadays with most smartphones coming in between 1500mAh and 1800mAh. The problem with other Nokia Lumia devices is that they feature LTE baseband chips and those baseband chips are not currently shipping in devices with 28nm (unless you go with an MSM8960 with integrated LTE baseband), which results in significantly decreased battery life. 40nm baseband chips are the reason why devices like the Lumia 900 have mediocre battery life even though the processor is essentially the same as the 710 and the only difference are the AMOLED Display and LTE capability. This shorter battery life on the Lumia 900 also is with an 1800mAh battery, which is almost 30% bigger. Value

The Nokia Lumia 710, in our eyes, is a fantastic value. Off contract, the phone generally retails for under $299 and on contract sells for the affordable price of free 99 or $0.00. This is a very important price point and Nokia and Microsoft know it. Because of the free price, they know that some of the lacking features of the phone compared to other more expensive smartphones. In the end, people are still pretty cheap and if they can get the features they want in a free phone, they?ll happily go for that.

We were a little disappointed to see that the Lumia 710 didn?t come with all of the accessories that we had seen from previous Nokia phones we had reviewed, but then again this phone is significantly less expensive than those phones were at their launch prices.

Conclusion

Taking all of our observations and assessments into account, we can without a doubt say that the Nokia Lumia 710 is the best mainstream phone on the market today. In conjunction with T-Mobile?s affordable data plans and plan pricing, the Lumia 710 is a great way for someone to switch from a feature phone to a smartphone without having to pay an arm and a leg for internet access and a quick and functional phone.

We?ve definitely had our opinions of Windows Phone changed by the Nokia Lumia 710, but we weren?t necessarily left entirely wowed as there were some caveats that left us wanting more from the operating system. We really hope that Microsoft listens to the criticisms of their operating system and addresses them in Apollo (Windows Phone 8). Hopefully there will be more interconnectivity between Apollo and Windows 8 (for desktops and tablets), and more quality applications with a possible golden egg type contest for app developers.

Because of our experiences with the Lumia 710 and its value/price we are happy to award the Lumia 710 with our Mainstream Value Award.