Nokia Lumia 810

4th Jan 2013 | 23:40

Nokia Lumia 810

We get hold of T-Mobile's exclusive Windows Phone 8 handset

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Windows Phone 8 OS; Snappy performance; Great camera; Stellar display; Expandable storage;

Dislike:

Poor app selection; No 4G LTE; Bland build/design; Occasional call static;

Introduction and design

Nokia's Lumia line has been put into overdrive for the early days of the Windows Phone 8 lifecycle, with no fewer than four separate handsets available in North America across a trio of carriers.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

The Lumia 920 on AT&T is the Finnish company's standout handset in the bunch, while the Lumia 820 – also on AT&T – offers a step down in features with a similar downgrade in price. Meanwhile, the less flamboyant Lumia 822 is available solely on Verizon's stellar 4G LTE network.

So where does that leave T-Mobile's exclusive Lumia 810? While featuring many of the same hallmarks as the other Windows Phone 8 devices, including a speedy dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor and an 8MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics, the Lumia 810 features a much different design, and one that's notably less sleek and vibrant than its siblings.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

And though perhaps most similar to the 820 in specs, it's oddly more expensive on contract than the more robust 920, plus T-Mobile lacks LTE coverage, meaning you're stuck with the provider's lower-grade 4G offering.

It's fair to say that the showpiece of Windows Phone 8 devices is the OS itself, with the stunning and customizable Live Tiles, but with so many handset options and notable differences between them, what makes the Lumia 810 warrant serious consideration besides its network of choice?

Design

Prior to the release of Windows Phone 8, recent Lumia models had recast the line as the smartphone with pizazz, thanks to vibrant coloring and dramatic styling. Both the Lumia 920 and 820 continue that trend, while the rounded edges of the Lumia 822 at least give it a somewhat unique feel, even if it pales in comparison.

Comparatively, though, the Lumia 810 disappoints with bland, utilitarian design, with the end result a chunky black slab that lacks distinctive styling. Measuring 5.03 inches tall, 2.69 inches across, and 0.42 inches deep with a weight of 5.11 ounces, it's a fairly large and hefty phone, as well. Solid as it may feel in use, the Lumia 810 is not going to turn any heads with its plain build.

On the front, you'll find Nokia's 4.3-inch ClearBlack capacitive touch screen nestled behind Gorilla Glass, and at a resolution of 480x800 (217 ppi), it's at the middle of the road for such displays.

However, the clarity of the display overcomes the average specs, and both the WP8 interface and many apps look fantastic, with excellent contrast throughout. It won't fool many folks into thinking it's a Retina-quality display, but it looks a lot closer than the specs imply on paper.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Above the screen are small T-Mobile and Nokia logos that hew closely to opposite sides, with a small speaker grate and a 1.2MP camera for video chats and self-shot photos in the center. Below the screen are the standard Windows Phone touch buttons: Back, Start, and Search. There's slight visual gradation on the little icons when they light up, which is a nitpick, but it's something we kept noticing in use.

Both the back and sides of the phone comprise a single, lightly rubberized plastic shell that is incredibly difficult to remove. It took us several minutes to remove it the first time around, as it felt like we were either going to break the handset or a fingernail in the process.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

On the rounded back side is the 8 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, which is next to the small Dual LED flash. Inside the shell, you'll find the 1800 mAh removable battery, along with a SIM card and slot for a microSD card. The Lumia's 8GB of internal storage can be supported with up to 64GB of additional external storage via microSD.

The top side of the phone houses a lone microphone jack, while the bottom features speaker grates and a USB input for charging and connectivity. Meanwhile, the right side of the Lumia 810 includes all of its physical buttons: a volume rocker up top, followed by a power button and a dedicated camera button near the bottom.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

All told, the Lumia 810 doesn't stand out in terms of physical design, and it's a little chunky in the hand. However, the vibrant display is a definite highlight, even if the specs aren't remarkable, and the interface moves at a steady clip. If you find the other Lumia designs a bit fussy, perhaps this simpler build will suffice.

Interface

While there are notable differences between Windows Phone 8 handsets, chances are most prospective buyers are interested in the OS because of its head-turning design, which chucks the small icons and grid-based layouts of iOS and Android in favor of large, animated squares and rectangles.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Windows Phone 8 isn't dramatically different in practice from the previous version, but the myriad changes are meaningful, whether it's the informative new Live Tiles or the fact that the Start screen contents are now centered and larger overall, rather than being pushed to the left side of the screen.

Clicking the power button on the right side of the phone, you'll pull up the lock screen, which can be cleared by tapping anywhere and sliding upwards. The lock screen prominently features the date, time, and day of the week in large lettering atop the image of your choice, plus will show notifications of emails, messages, missed calls, and more, along with battery, Wi-Fi, and reception indicators.

Clearing the lock screen gives way to the dazzling Start menu, with its tweakable and attractive tiles. Most tiles can be kept in the standard square shape, expanded out into a larger rectangle, or contracted to be one-fourth the normal size, and while the decision is yours, know that the size often dictates the usefulness of each tile.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

For example, a larger rectangle tile for email or messages will show a preview of unread content inside, while a rectangle for Facebook uses your cover photo as the backdrop and also shows recent notifications. Normal squares include the name of the app and may show a condensed preview of recent notifications or messages, while the smallest tiles will show only the icon and a number, if needed.

Flexible sizing allows you to create your own unique Start screen layout, whether you prefer an iOS-like bundle of tiny icons, a standard array of squares, or some combination of all three sizes. As usual, the screen scrolls upwards and can be extended out with tiles as far as desired.

Beyond the single, scrolling Start screen, all additional apps that you don't want large icons for are found in a text listing accessed by swiping left. Holding down on any app name brings up options to pin to Start, rate and review, share, or uninstall in the case of third-party apps.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Tapping the magnifying glass button below the display pulls up Microsoft's own Bing interface, which lets you search for a term (by typing or speaking) and have it pull up the results on the web, within your own apps, and on the app store; the last option is helpful when a site might have a native app that you weren't aware of.

Windows Phone 8 also adds voice recognition, which isn't quite as robust a function as Siri or Google Now but does appear throughout, whether you're looking to pull up an app ("open Angry Birds Star Wars"), search Bing, or dictate messages or emails. Our attempts to speak out emails yielded unintentionally hilarious results, though, so it may not be quite polished enough for extensive use.

The Lumia 810 only offers a dual-core processor, but clocked at 1.5Ghz with 1GB of RAM in support, the OS sings throughout. It's speedy in regular use, flips to apps without noticeable delay, and looks great the entire time. If iOS and Android are looking a little too stock after a few years, perhaps the breezy and beautiful Windows Phone 8 interface is right up your alley.

Contacts and calling

As in previous versions of the Windows Phone OS, WP8 houses all of its contact info within the People app, which appears on the Start screen in an attractive animated tile that randomly shows photos that flip and fill the frame.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

People is more than just a contacts app, though, as you'll find your latest social networking update, a "What's New" feed that includes recent tweets and Facebook updates from pals, and a list of profiles you're recently accessed, plus customizable rooms that let you share private content with selected contacts.

On the contacts end, though, Windows Phone 8 does a great job of pulling together and automatically merging info from the likes of Google, Facebook, and Outlook so that you're not typically staring at lists of duplicate profiles for various friends. And, of course, you can add your own contacts from the handset.

Calling

Windows Phone 8 keeps things very simple with the calling app, delivering a stark white or black (depending on theme) backdrop with a large keypad that takes up more than half of the screen. Aside from the "T-Mobile" floating near the upper left, it looks much the same as the calling app on other carriers' WP8 handsets.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Call quality was curiously inconsistent on T-Mobile's network in Chicago. Many calls sounded quite clear, yet we'd encounter random bursts of static during some conversations that would briefly drown out the incoming sound. It happened on multiple occasions, both indoors and outdoors, so it's difficult to pin down the cause.

We suspect that it's more likely a network problem than a specific issue with the handset, and your results may vary based on location, but it was an unpleasant and recurring issue during our testing.

Messaging and email

The Messaging app on the Lumia 810 is stock Windows Phone 8, which allows both local handset-to-handset exchanges under the Threads banner, while the Online header allows you to connect to Facebook chat and carry on conversations.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Having everything in one spot makes for a comfortable messaging experience on Windows Phone 8, and as with email, the largest-sized Live Tile will display a preview of unread messages from the Start screen. It's worth the real estate if you plan to swap a lot of messages, otherwise a smaller tile should suffice.

When you receive a message, meanwhile, you'll see a small banner appear atop the screen (much like in iOS 6), which can be quickly tapped to access the conversation whether the phone is locked or in use. Unread messages appear via a small icon on the lock screen if left alone, however, as noted before.

Meanwhile, the stock email app supports numerous services, whether you're a Gmail fan, still rocking a Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail address, or need to pull in an Outlook, POP, or IMAP account. We like the threaded conversation view from the main inbox, and the way it the emails swoosh into view with a tap, though reading mail can be a bit more grating depending on the contents of your inbox.

Windows Phone 8's email app doesn't automatically load images in messages, which may be a considerate nod towards cellular data plans, but tapping the screen with each consecutive email (with no option to whitelist certain addresses) gets old quick.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Moreover, the way WP8 renders image-heavy emails can require a fair bit of manual adjustment, as it likes to zoom out significantly to put the full frame in view. While helpful for a quick at-a-glance shot of what's in the email, you'll have to zoom in to actually read the text on this screen.

On the 4.3-inch display of the Lumia 810, we found the virtual keyboard to be just slightly cramped, but overall solidly effective in use. Windows Phone 8 does a great job of suggesting replacement words when typos rear their head into your emails and messages, and you can always turn the phone sideways and use the larger landscape keyboard, though it doesn't fill the frame.

Sadly, Windows Phone 8 doesn't allow third-party keyboard apps, so you can forget about using a swipe-based option or some other variant.

Internet

Much as T-Mobile likes to boast about its 4G network, it's actually HSPA+ service rather than 4G LTE. That means that browsing speeds are just OK, and that it'll often take several seconds or more to load even a mobile version of most sites, let alone the full-fledged page.

Using Wi-Fi, though, you can get a better sense of the browsing capabilities of the Lumia 810, which comes equipped with Microsoft's own stock Internet Explorer. The simplified browser is built for speed, and on a solid Wi-Fi connection, we found it easy to zip around from page to page with little loading delay.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

One odd quirk we noticed was IE's tendency to zoom in very close on non-mobile pages upon first loading, rather than serving up the full view to start. But text can be very difficult to read on a screen of this resolution without getting up close, so expect to zoom in and out regularly while browsing.

For those who despise mobile versions of sites, Internet Explorer luckily allows the option of defaulting to full sites instead, which is a helpful perk.

Additionally, you can choose whether the lone on-screen button (next to the lower URL/search bar) is used for stop/reload, tabs, or favorites. Further options are found by tapping the ellipsis to the right of the bar.

Overall, though, it's a very simple offering, and lacks the kind of power features we've come to expect from using Chrome and other third-party options on Android and iOS, such as synced history and options between devices. And since Google and Microsoft can't play nice, there's little chance of Chrome showing up anytime soon.

Camera

As is common for Nokia handsets, the back camera of the Lumia 810 produces great images, and paired with the dedicated camera access and shutter button found on all Windows Phone devices, it's a very good substitute for a point-and-shoot.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Holding down the camera button for a second pulls up the app, and a slightly longer press will even trigger the app when the phone is locked, which is very handy. Lightly holding down the button within the app focuses the shot, with a harder press taking the image. Alternately, you can tap the screen once to both focus and shoot.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Nokia doesn't shy away from promoting its camera offerings, even putting the name of optics company Carl Zeiss alongside its own logo near the lens, but the results bear out such lavish attention.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

We pulled clear shots with stellar contrast and color reproduction in good lighting, as expected, but even low-light scenarios produced better-than-expected photos. The short-pulse dual LED flash can help in these scenarios, though we nabbed solid images without in low light. Up-close shots likewise turned out well, even using the auto scene setting.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

The app includes numerous options, including scene selection (Auto is default, but others include Night, Sports, and Close-up), manual or auto ISO choice, Exposure Value, and White Balance, plus you can swap between the default 16:9 aspect ratio or more traditional 4:3 photos.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Video shooting is accessed via the same app, with a quick tap of a virtual button, and the large overlay of the amassed length is a nice aesthetic touch. Continuous focus for videos is a helpful feature, while 720p and 1080p quality options are available, with both producing clear and smooth results in our testing.

One of the unique features of the Windows Phone 8 camera experience is that of so-called lenses, which allow you to trigger certain types of shots or access additional photo-related features from within the standard shooting app.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

The Lumia 910 ships with a few of them onboard, such as Panorama, which includes guide markers to help you create wide panoramic shots with ease. Cinemagraph, on the other hand, lets you shoot partially animated photos to share, much like in Cinemagram for iOS.

Another is Bing Vision, which lets you scan barcodes, QR codes, and more to discover information about the item in view. Additional lenses can be downloaded from the app storefront, and while these apps can be accessed outside of the main Camera app, it's handy to have them all listed in one spot.

Maps and apps

Google Maps has become the go-to maps option for most modern users, so it's natural to fire up a Windows Phone 8 handset and expect it to be present. No dice. Google's service isn't available as either a native or web app, forcing you to rely on alternate options for directions and the like.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

While Bing has some mapping functionality, the Lumia 810 actually defaults to the manufacturer's own Nokia Maps, which thankfully includes public transportation information and can kick you to the Nokia Drive+ app for turn-by-turn driving directions, including voice instruction.

Nokia's own offerings don't stop there, though, as it pre-loads the Lumia 810 with its Nokia City Lens, which lets you hold the phone in landscape view and see waypoints for nearby restaurants, stores, and more displayed atop the image from the back camera. Nokia Transit offers more detailed public transportation schedules, on the other hand, supplementing the Maps offering.

The Nokia Music app offers free streaming radio and access to a digital storefront to purchase music, and T-Mobile even has a few apps of its own to supplement the media offerings, such as T-Mobile TV and Slacker Radio.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Microsoft's stock Windows Phone 8 apps are built into the Lumia 810, as well, such as Office and OneNote, though if you're looking to dig into third-party offerings, good luck.

Calling the store's app offerings "weak" seems especially generous. Anyone already deeply familiar with the iOS or Android app selections will no doubt be startled by the serious lack of headline apps and games and the difficulty in finding quality options, not to mention the fact that Facebook and Twitter and sluggish and feture-lacking compared to counterparts on other mobile handsets.

Major creators just aren't flocking to WP8 development in droves, and it really shows in the selection. Google's apps are entirely missing, aside from the base search app, while big names like Instagram and Flipboard are nowhere in sight. Searching around the store reveals a mass of lazy knock-offs of better-known apps from other platforms, making it hard to believe there's any quality control at play.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

And though Xbox Live integration is a huge perk of WP8, the game offerings are hugely disappointing. While a big new release like Angry Birds Star Wars is present, it feels like the only huge recent title that's made the jump, while most of the other notable titles are months or even years old elsewhere. A small handful of exclusive gems can be found, but the store doesn't make it easy to find them.

It's a shame, but app selection continues to be Windows Phone's biggest weakness. Casual users might not miss the options, but anyone already used to the apps seen on other smartphones may find it a reason to hold off on taking the WP8 plunge.

Battery and connectivity

The 1800 mAh removable battery held within is a decent, but not overwhelmingly impressive performer. With moderate use – email and messaging, web browsing, and basic app usage – the Lumia 810 can solidly get through a day on a full charge with some battery life to spare.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Add in streaming video, lengthy game sessions, or considerable surfing and you might see the message warning you to plug in the charger before your head hits the pillow. That's expected, though, and you can always carry around and pop in a battery if you're a regular heavy user – assuming you can get the back cover off.

Luckily, Windows Phone 8 has an optional Battery Saver feature for users worried about draining the charge before the day is through. With it enabled, calls and texts still come through, but apps won't run in the background and push is disabled for email, which can eke out a bit more time from the battery.

Connectivity

T-Mobile's 3G HSPA+ network finds itself between plain old 3G and the much better 4G LTE, which is decent but hardly show stopping. In Chicago, where we tested the device, our best download speed was 7.75 Mbps, paired with 1.5 Mbps up.

If 3G isn't available, expect to crawl along on the 2G EDGE network instead. The Lumia 810 also connects to Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, and supports Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC.

Verdict

For those either sticking with or planning to sign up with T-Mobile, the Windows Phone 8 options are currently limited. On the higher end ($250 with a two-year contract) is the HTC Windows Phone 8X, which has offers sleek design and a crisp screen, but lacks a removable battery and expandable storage options.

The Lumia 810 answers both of those concerns, but has its own lacking features as a mid-level handset. And at $150 (a mail-in rebate brings it down to $100) on a two-year contract for a device that lacks 4G LTE service, Nokia's smartphone seems a little overpriced compared to its own offerings on other carriers.

Despite a couple notable deficiencies, there's plenty to like about the Lumia 810.

We liked

Windows Phone 8 is a gorgeous and easy-to-use mobile OS that stands in stark contrast to the usual players of iOS and Android. The various tweaks in WP8 make for a more comfortable and customizable experience, as well, and even add more visual oomph in the process.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

Thanks to its dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor and 1GB RAM, plus the simplicity of the OS, you'll be able to speed through the interface and between apps with little-to-no delay. And despite the mid-range resolution of the display, it's quite clear with great contrast.

In typical Nokia fashion, the camera is a standout feature here, and the dedicated shutter/access button makes it even better. Photos turn out well even in low light, and you can shoot up to 1080p video. Lens apps add additional features.

We disliked

It may not be specific to the device, but the lacking selection of apps and games available for Windows Phone 8 at this time may well scare off serious smartphone users from switching to the OS. It's a sad state of affairs.

Nokia Lumia 810 review

We're not crazy about the dull, bulky, and brick-like build of the Lumia 810, which stands in stark contrast to the more colorful or better-considered designs of Nokia's other Lumia WP8 handsets.

Since it's on T-Mobile, that means no LTE coverage for the Lumia 810. We also encountered some issues with static interference bursts during calls, which happened in varied situations on multiple occasions.

Final verdict

While arguably a hair overpriced and lacking inspiring design, the Lumia 810 strikes us as a good option for T-Mobile users, delivering great performance and helpful features like expandable storage and a replaceable battery.

Without LTE coverage, though, we'd recommend that users on other networks or those looking to jump ship from T-Mobile look elsewhere, as there are better WP8 devices (even within the Lumia line) on other networks that do a bit more at similar or even lower prices.

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