Nokia’s first foray into the Windows Phone ecosystem began with the announcement of the Nokia Lumia series. The star attraction of the announcement was the Lumia 800, a device forged from durable polycarbonate into a unique unibody exterior. Lest we forget, the  Nokia N9 was the progenitor of the now celebrated unibody construct that now defines Nokia’s new design DNA.

Alongside the Lumia 800, another device with humbler exterior underpinnings was introduced : the Nokia Lumia 710. Clearly geared to the lower tier mobile devices market, this device was placed into a supporting role next to the bold Lumia 800. Is this device, thus ,unworthy of one’s attention or is there more than meets the eye? Read on.

 External hardware

The device measures 119mm x 62.4mmx12.5mm (Height x Width x Depth). It is no twiggy when it comes to thinness but thinness ain’t everything in life. It is a comfortable device to hold, thanks to the soft matte yet sturdy removable plastic back. I can confidently say that this was more comfortable in the hand than the Lumia 800. Being a Nokia N9 user, I can vouch for the latter observation.

The top portion of the phone comprises the micro USB slot ,a central 3.5mm headphone jack and a on/off/lock button. The right edge of the device sees placement of the volume rocker and a well placed camera shutter key.

The back portion of the device hold a 5MP autofocus camera at the upper central portion of the back and at the lower part, perforations for the speakers.

The screen is 3.7inch TFT GorillaGlass screen with Nokia’s Clear Black technology. Below the screen is single plastic rows of standard Windows Phone hardware keys.

Internal specs

The device has a  1.4 Mhz processor with 512 RAM and 8GB of memory. The device uses a microSIM which seems to be way many manufacturers are going these days. Memory expansion is not a feature that is supported by the current version of Windows Phone.

Windows Phone(WP)

This review will not be complete without a brief overview of Windows Phone(WP). A more detailed review of the software can be accessed via this link. I wish to mainly jot my general impressions of this mobile OS.

There is no other way to put this other than by stating that Windows Phone has the most unique user interface(UI) out there. Microsoft went back to drawing board and released something refreshingly new here. The Metro design language  has a clear goal- bold and clear notifications. Metro UI was inspired by the sign postings seen on the displays of train stations and airports. The other big theme across the OS is one of integration. Twitter, Facebook, recent messages, emails and phone calls are combined into a one-stop-info-shop when viewing a contact info. The latter attribute has been used in Android 4.0(Ice -Cream sandwich). Notifications appear at the top of the screen in an unobtrusive manner ( Microsoft refers to this as “toast”). Again, iOS has adapted this latter attribute.

Internet Explorer is a joy to use and feels on par with the latest mobile browsers out there. This statement is made purely from a user experience perspective and is not based on benchmarks. Native creation and editing facilities with the provision of Microsoft’s ubiquitous office suite is another feature worth shouting about.

Emailing is a joy on WP. The user interface is clean and the virtual keyboard is on par with iOS. The latter has set the benchmark for virtual keyboards and Windows Phone matches it.

Multitasking is handled differently on Windows Phone. The OS keeps the last five applications in suspended animation and drops the last one on the list as more applications are open. The philosophy here is that the user is given access to launch recently used apps and that the user shouldn’t worry about  launching or closing individual applications. It’s more like ,” leave it to Microsoft and they’ll sort it out” arrangement. It is perfectly fine to the casual mobile user but this is something that would easily infuriate the user with superior technical prowess ( geek alert!)

I showed off the OS to a few work colleagues and the reception was generally positive although one person pointed out that the screen was too busy when viewing the integrated contact details. This brings me to the point about screen size requirements for a WP device.I think the sweet spot for Windows Phone is a 4.3 inch screen. 3.7 inches is probably the decent minimum but anything smaller will probably kill the joy of using the Metro UI.

The other thing is that WPis a cloud biased OS. Updates, emails and online storage on SkyDrive requires an always on internet connection to harness the full potential of WP. This can be curse as it takes it toll on battery life and the OS could be potentially limited in areas of poor internet/cellular data connection.

WP relies on Zune desktop software to sync with desktop computers. A backward step for a cloud biased OS. I believe, WP will evolve to become PC free at some point in time. Strong software iteration by Microsoft is required here. If Apple can break the shackles of desktop syncing, I am sure Microsoft will do it at some point.

Microsoft intends to drive the evolution of the mobile OS with Windows Phone and they have the cash to promote it. Long term adoption of WP is something of a “wait and watch” policy.

WP is a clear UI departure from the Application tray model as seen on the Nokia N9(left) and iPod touch (right)

The device

In this section, I wish to cover my general impressions of the Lumia 710 based on my regular use patterns on a mobile phone.

Setting up

Setting up the device was pretty swift. The battery was charged and my contacts were instantly transferred from my Nokia N9 via the Nokia Transfer software on the Lumia 710. MicroSIM in place, basic set up done and voila! Ready to go.

Day to day usage – positives

The Lumia 710 is picks up WiFi networks with aplomb. I needed to give this first mention as the 710 could detect open wifi networks in the radius of approximately 800meters. Impressive, most impressive!

Looking up contacts, making phone calls, sending SMSs , emails and basic internet surfing was a doddle with the device. My wife loved the phone and the unique Windows Phone UI when she spent sometime with the 710. She is not a power user and seeing her reaction to Windows Phone is a sign of how right Microsoft has been with their UI and OS philosophy.

The screen is very visible in sunlight and this is a boon, especially in sunny Malaysia.

Call quality and reception were good. I found the Nokia N9 to be OK in terms of call quality and wifi reception. This could be the downsides of the unibody construct as opposed to the OS. I can’t be certain about this as I have not used the Lumia 800.

Day to day usage -negatives

The camera is very average. Yes, it can capture images but it is not as good as the Nokia N9 or the Lumia 800, both of which share a similar Carl Zeiss sensor. Needless to say that the camera is barely passable when compared to the Nokia N8, Samsung Galaxy S2 or the iPhone 4s.

The speakers are tinny and if you are going to use this device to listen to podcasts and music, you should invest in a modest portable desktop speaker.

Battery life is poor based on my time with the device. Nokia installed a removable battery with a capacity of 1300 mAh. Not a good idea as WP constantly uses cellular data to grab Twitter updates, emails, notifications etc etc. These are the perils of a modern, always connected OS. At least the battery is easily changable.

The lack of folder management and the ability to use the 710 as a mass storage device is somewhat limiting. Again, it is not an issue for a casual user but can be a major sore point to those who love to tinker with their devices.

 Conclusion

The Lumia 710 is no headliner. It does not share the unibody construct of the more aethestically conscious Lumia 800. It will neither win awards nor be remembered as a pinnacle of modern mobile technology.

HOWEVER, CONSIDER THIS: The Lumia 710 shares almost similar internal hardware specifications as the Lumia 800,feels good in the hand , performs most day-to-day mobile device tasks and has a fully fledged modern OS. Nokia will support this phone via software updates courtesy of Microsoft and the final point for one’s consideration: THE PRICE.

The Lumia 710 can be bought, SIM-free from as low as RM850 ( that’s about 210 euros)! Now, that’s value.

Yes, one can perhaps find a cheaper Android handset. But, taking into account the promise of software support by Nokia and Microsoft, the argument for the cheaper Android handset ( DIY software updates, if you care/dare) quickly wanes.

And perhaps the above point sums up the argument in favour of the Lumia 710: VALUE.

And which is why, I think, the Lumia 710 is a more than decent device worthy of your attention.

Credit: Thanks a million to Asri al Baker for providing the review unit.Asri is a long time Symbian user and an ardent  tech enthusiast with great insights on mobile technology.

Follow Asri on Twitter @asrialbaker  and  do visit his blog http://asrialbaker.com/.