After delaying for what seemed like forever to enter the smartphone market, Nokia is hitting it hard now with a slew of Lumia mobiles. The Lumia 800 was a fantastic premium phone that really showed off Windows Phone 7, and it was quickly followed by a budget model, the Lumia 710, which brought Microsoft’s highly sociable OS to gadget lovers with shallow pockets. No wonder Nokia sells 13 phones a second. Now we have the Lumia 610, another cut-price smartphone running Windows Phone, and the improved design over the Lumia 710 gives it instant appeal – but is it as good in all other areas?
We weren’t huge fans of the Lumia 710’s plasticky design, especially the sticky-out face buttons. Thankfully the Lumia 610 is a massive step up, boasting a solid blend of glossy plastic and a faux metallic rim that beats rivals such as the ZTE Tania. A removable bright white backing can be replaced with covers of different colours
The Lumia 710 is quite compact despite its chunky build, and slips into a pocket or bag with ease. It’s also pleasingly weighty, giving it a more premium feel than its price tag suggests. Even better, the physical face buttons are gone, replaced by touch-sensitive hotspots for Back, Home and Search. We still miss the curved glass of the Lumia 800, but this is a phone you’d be proud to whip out in public.
The 3.7-inch screen is a good size for navigating through the basic Windows interface, which presents your most-used apps as a series of live tiles. These tiles update in real-time with new info, streaming photos and more. It’s a friendly presentation that both smartphone virgins and long-time users love, giving you enough freedom to customise the look while keeping things as simple as possible. The only real problem is the number of apps, which we’ll touch on in a moment.
Sign in with your Windows Live ID and the Lumia 610 automatically picks up any social networks you have tied into your account, including the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Alternatively, you can sign in via the Settings > Accounts menu. Windows Phone does a great job of bringing all of your social updates together in one handy place, known as the ‘People’ app. Here you’ll see the latest tweets, Facebook updates etc. from your pals, and have the chance to respond.
If you’d rather keep your social accounts separate, you can always download apps for each one from the Windows Marketplace. This operates just like Google’s Play collection and Apple's App Store, although it's still lagging massively behind them when it comes to quantity. Thankfully the Windows Marketplace is rapidly growing – you can browse over 80,000 apps compared to just 10,000 last year, and the likes of Skype have finally made an appearance. In a year or so we reckon it’ll be a much more even playing field, but for now you’ll have to make do with less first-party apps and games than Android and iOS.
Web and movies
The screen packs a sharp 480x800 pixel resolution, which is immediately apparent when browsing the web. Owners of massive phones like the HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III might scoff at the 3.7-inch size, but we could clearly read text when zoomed out of webpages, while images appeared crisp. The touch-screen display was perfectly responsive to our flicks and jabs, making navigation through even complex websites a joy.
Unfortunately there’s no support for BBC iPlayer and other online video streamers, with the exception of YouTube. Still, you can always fill the 8GB of built-in storage (non-expandable as there’s no memory card slot, and only 6GB is actually usable for media) with plenty of music and movies to enjoy on the go. We tested some HD video and it looked good, as sharp and as vibrant as the likes of the LG Optimus L7, which costs £100 more. Viewing angles are rather narrow, but it’s a minor complaint as we can’t imagine you’d use the Lumia 610 to watch films with a friend.
We got stuck into some serious gaming too, despite the limited number of titles currently available for Windows Phone. The basic 800MHz single-core processor runs most apps just fine, and also copes with bog-standard 2D platformers and other processor-light titles. However, a meagre 256MB of RAM means the Lumia 610 struggles when it comes to more intensive 3D games. We noticed a bit of stuttering and lag when playing the likes of Shuffle Party (a 3D bowling game), and although it was still playable, we’re certain that most future titles will really struggle or be completely unplayable. Basically, if you want a gaming machine in your pocket, you should opt for something more high-powered like the Lumia 800.
We hoped that the reduced power would help battery life, but the Lumia 610 just scrapes by with average life. The phone lasted a little over 24 hours with typical use – Wi-Fi on, occasional texts and emails and a bit of app use, but not much media streaming or other battery-sucking tasks. If your phone is constantly glued to your hand, you will definitely have to charge it at least once a day.
A five-megapixel camera with LED flash takes decent spontaneous snaps for a budget phone. There’s a physical shutter button on the right edge of the phone for opening the camera app and taking a shot, although it’s a little stiff and exceedingly narrow, so not the most comfortable we’ve used. Pushing the button down takes a photo almost immediately, or you can half push it down to auto-focus first, which takes around a second. Features are limited but you can mess around with ISO and other settings, to get your photos looking just how you want them. We’d recommend playing with the light settings, as our interior shots looked rather dark at first.
Lumia 610 v Lumia 710
Nokia now has two budget Lumia smartphones, so you may be wondering which one to go for. Well, if price is a serious issue, the Lumias are tied – having been around for a little while, you can now grab the 710 for around £170 online. You’ll also find the occasional great deal – for instance, Carphone Warehouse are offering the phone for just £99 on pay-as-you-go until 7 June. The Lumia 610 is just out, and we haven’t seen any great offers just yet, but it costs roughly the same as the 710 on pay-as-you-go or SIM-free.
The Lumia 610 and 710 are also tied when it comes to camera (five-megapixel with 2.4f aperture and LED flash) and display (3.7 inches, 480x800 resolution). However, the Lumia 710 is clearly the strongest when it comes to performance. It has a 1.4GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, which by no means makes it a powerhouse, but gives it a bit more oomph when it comes to apps and games. In comparison, the Lumia 610’s 800MHz CPU and 256MB of RAM has it struggling with more complex titles, and gives it almost no future-proofing.
We prefer the design of the Lumia 610 however, with its curved glossy build and touch-sensitive face buttons – looks obviously aren’t everything, but it’s very smartly put-together. Unfortunately we’re not entirely sure how we can recommend the 610 over the 710, due to the drop in performance and similar pricing. If only the 610 had come out a few months ago, like the 710, there would be a distinct gap in the costs. Now this is no longer the case.
If you’re after a fully-featured smartphone that doesn’t cost the world and can keep you in touch with friends and family via social networks, the Lumia 610 is a well-built and fun little phone that you’re bound to love. The sharp screen makes it great for browsing the web and watching video, but the boundary is drawn when it comes to apps and games, thanks to a limited online store and basic performance. We’d struggle to recommend this over the Lumia 710, despite preferring the 610’s design.