The Windows Phone 8-powered Lumia 810 gives T-Mobile subscribers looking for an Android alternative plenty to get pumped about. Priced at $149 with a classic plan (after $50 mail-in rebate), this midrange device packs a 4.3-inch AMOLED display to make Microsoft's unique Live Tile interface pop, along with a zippy Snapdragon S4 processor and an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss camera. Plus, Nokia bundles a lot of its own software to sweeten the deal -- and to fend off HTC's 8X -- including Nokia Drive for navigation and plenty of fun photo apps. Is the Lumia 810 the Windows Phone to get on T-Mobile?
The Lumia 810 feels good but doesn't look very sleek. At all. In fact, a bar of soap has more interesting lines that this rectangular slab of a phone. (Wasn't Nokia supposed to be railing against so-called monoblocks? We digress.) At least you can order a shell in cyan (or black) to add some personality that supports wireless charging, though it will make an already beefy handset thicker.
On the plus side, the soft-touch finish gives this solidly constructed Windows Phone a nice grip. All of the buttons along the right side provided satisfying feedback, including the volume controls, power button and camera button.
Up top you'll find a headphone jack, and there's a microUSB port on the bottom for charging and syncing. A microSD Card slot sits underneath the battery cover.
At 5 x 2.7 x 0.44 inches and 5.1 ounces, the Lumia 810 is thicker and heavier than its closest competitor, the HTC Windows Phone 8X. HTC's device, which also sports a 4.3-inch display, measures a taller 5.2 inches but cuts a slimmer 0.4-inch profile while weighing just 4.6 ounces. The 8X also boasts a bolder California blue hue.
The Lumia 810 features a 4.3-inch ClearBlack AMOLED display that's vibrant and tough (thanks to Gorilla Glass) but not the sharpest in terms of resolution. The screen has only 800 x 480 pixels, which is behind the HTC Windows Phone 8X's 1280 x 720 pixels. We could really tell the difference when looking at The New York Times homepage on both phones. We could easily make out the copy beneath headlines on the 8X, while the text was blurrier on the Nokia.
On the plus side, the Lumia's screen offered better contrast and deeper black levels than the 8X when viewing the "Skyfall" trailer on both phones. We also saw less washout when viewing the video from wider angles. We'd rather watch a movie on this phone than the 8X.
On our light meter, the Lumia 810 registered 398 lux, which is brighter than the HTC 8X (300 lux) and the category average (299 lux).
The bottom-mounted speakers on the Lumia 810 produced a decent amount of volume when we streamed Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." Even at the max setting the audio didn't sound tinny. The song also had a little more low-end thump than the 8X. While almost as loud, the 8X sounded more like a cheap radio compared to the cleaner sound coming out of the Lumia 810 when we blasted Fun's "We Are Young."
Software and Interface
If you haven't yet tried a Windows Phone, the latest software provides plenty of incentives to switch. First off, the interface is more attractive and modern than Android or iOS. For example, the Lock Screen automatically pulled in our Facebook photos (once we set it up), and we love the way the music app displays full-screen album art with music controls on top.
[More: Windows Phone 8 Mobile OS Review]
What's new with Windows Phone 8? You can now move and resize the Live Tiles on the home screen, letting you decide what should get top priority on your smartphone. For example, you can make your inbox full-size so that it shows the sender and subject of your latest message, or you can shrink it so it just displays how many new messages are waiting for you.
Live Tiles aren't just shortcuts to apps, either. You can pin anything to your Start Screen, from your favorite sports teams (via the ESPN app) and People (you can see their latest social updates flash) to your favorite Slacker radio stations. Having all of this at your fingertips goes a long way toward making using Windows Phone more satisfying than the iPhone's static home screen.
Windows Phone 8 is especially family friendly. The new Rooms feature builds on the Groups functionality of Windows Phone 7.5, letting you share calendars, photos, notes (Get milk!) and even chat with other members. The trick is getting the rest of your family on the Windows Phone bandwagon.
Another feature parents will appreciate is Kid's Corner, which enables them to decide which apps, videos, games and music their children can access. They'll also get their own Start screen. This mode is best for younger kids because there's no browser.
SkyDrive also plays a pivotal role in Windows Phone 8, keeping your photos, documents and more in sync with the cloud. If you own a Windows 8 device, you'll really appreciate the way this service keeps everything up to date.
Windows Phone 8 is far from perfect. Some critical info remains hidden from view unless you call it up with a tap, such as your signal strength and battery life. In addition, it's not easy to close apps, and too many options (Airplane mode, brightness) are buried in the Settings menu. Overall, though, Windows Phone 8 is inviting and refreshing.
No one is doing more to add value to Windows Phone than Nokia. Like the Lumia 920, the Lumia 810 comes with a ton of useful and fun Nokia-branded apps and services.
Nokia Drive, for example, provides spoken turn-by-turn GPS directions. In our testing, the app pinpointed our location within a mere 10 seconds and provided accurate guidance from Manhattan to Central New Jersey. Just don't expect any bells and whistles. You can't search for businesses along your route, and the standard male voice (you can download more) doesn't speak street names.
Another highlight is Nokia Music, which offers more than 150 channels with over 1 million songs ready to play. Similar to Pandora and Slacker, you can create your own stations, but you can also cache stations to your device for offline play without paying a dime. You can't favorite songs as you can with other services, but overall we enjoyed being able to rock out in the subway without a Web connection.
Other Nokia apps include Nokia Maps (now venue maps for looking inside destinations) and Nokia Transit (for getting local directions for public transit). Nokia City Lens is more overstimulating that it is practical, overlaying local businesses on the live-camera view as you pan the Lumia 810 around. We used the Shopping view, and the phone showed businesses that were a mile away but not right in front of us.
App Store and Third-Party Apps
Microsoft says it now has 46 out of the top 50 apps on other platforms available through the Windows Phone marketplace, and that it stocks more than 120,000 apps overall. Android (675,500) and iOS (700,000) are still way ahead, but at least Windows Phone is making progress.
Some of the more popular apps include Facebook (though it's made by Microsoft), Twitter, Words with Friends, Skype and Urban Spoon. Pandora will debut early next year (finally) but in the meantime there's Slacker, Nokia Music and Microsoft's own Xbox Music service. Instagram is still missing.
Based on our testing we'd say the game selection is just OK. We were glad to see "Angry Birds Space," "Asphalt 5" and had fun playing the run-and-jump game "Mirror's Edge." However, "Temple Run" isn't yet available, and we don't yet see any titles that deliver the kind of console-quality eye candy you'd see from a "Dead Trigger" or "Infinity Blade." In some cases it seems like developers are just porting older games from other platforms (like 2010's "Assasin's Creed Altair") to Windows Phone.
The Lumia 810 features a 1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM, which handled Windows Phone 8 with ease. The device opened apps almost instantly, and scrolling through the Start screen and app list was smooth. The camera app took 1.5 seconds to open from the app menu and 2.5 seconds to open when long-pressing the shutter key from the Start or lock screen, which is pretty swift.
On WPBench, which measures CPU, data and GPU performance, the Lumia 810 scored 236, practically identical to the 235 score the HTC 8X notched (it has the same processor).
We also ran the AnTuTu Benchmark app, which measures CPU, graphics, I/O, and read-and-write performance. The Lumia 810 averaged 11,074 on three runs, compared to 11,609 for the 8X.
During our testing we did notice a couple of bugs. On one occasion the Windows Marketplace just stopped working, forcing us to reset the app. The phone also couldn't connect to the Nokia Music service at one point. Overall, though, the Lumia 810 performed well.
The Lumia 810 comes with 8GB of storage (which is kind of small for the price) but you can expand that to up to 64GB via a microSD card.
4G and Web Browsing
Tapping into T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, the Lumia 810 delivered decent performance when surfing the Web, but you might want to stick to mobile pages to save time. For instance, while the phone loaded mobile versions of ESPN and CNN in 5.4 and 4.4 seconds. respectively, it took the device 14 seconds to load Laptopmag.com and 25 seconds to load CNN.
Throughput on the Speed Test app was all over the place, ranging from a high of 10 Mbps download rate to 1.5 Mbps. Uploads were similarly erratic depending on the location, from a measly 200 Kbps to a high of 3.4 Mbps. We saw an average download speed of 5.5 Mbps and uploads of 1.5 Mbps. Devices with LTE on other networks are about twice as fast.
Surprisingly, on several occasions the Lumia 810 displayed that it was only getting 2G speeds, which is pretty alarming for a smartphone in 2012. The good news is that it usually didn't take that long for the Nokia to latch onto T-Mobile's 4G network again.
Camera and Camcorder
Despite having a Carl Zeiss lens, the Lumia 810's 8-MP camera took only average photos during our testing. A picture of a gray Vespa had a decent amount of detail but looked dimmer compared to a shot taken by the HTC 8X. Similarly, a shot we took indoors of figurines with a coffee mug in the background looked fuzzier than the 8X. One shot we took outdoors of pumpkins had rich color.
Nokia does make taking and sharing photos more fun with its Lens apps, which are add-ons for the camera app. Our favorite is Cinemagraph, which turns pictures into GIFs with motion. You can also decide which part of the image you want animated. Other Lens apps include Panorama and Smart Shoot for picking the best faces in a group shot.
The 1080p camcorder inside the Lumia 810 performed better, capturing detailed footage of New York City. We could easily make out the license plate of a passing tour bus, and the phone did a fairly good job handling transitions between the ground and bright blue skyline.
So how about the front camera? Using Skype we had slightly better results over Wi-Fi than 4G, but the 1.2-MP camera didn't impress our other caller. He said our face looked pretty grainy, although our voice came through clearly. We did like that we could switch to text chat view while on a call.
Call Quality and Battery Life
We have no complaints about the Lumia 810's call quality. Calls made to a landline sounded loud and clear both through the handset and the speakerphone. The other caller said we sounded better than most cellphones, and had no problem hearing us when we switched to speaker mode.
The 1800 mAh battery inside the Lumia 810 didn't give us as much endurance as we'd like during day-to-day use. For example, after unplugging the phone right before 6 a.m. and then using the device periodically to listen to Nokia Music, check email and shoot some photos and videos, the battery was down to 62 percent by 10 a.m.. We'll update this review once we've run our formal battery test, but we expect below-average results.
Fortunately, Nokia is trying to make it easy to juice this device by allowing T-Mobile to offer exchangeable shells for wireless charging using the Qi standard. You'll need to purchase a wireless charging pad separately, however, when AT&T throws one in for free with the Lumia 920. It costs about $50.
The $149 Nokia Lumia 810 gives T-Mobile customers clamoring for a Windows Phone some appetizing features, such as an AMOLED screen that's great for enjoying photos and videos, a sturdy build and Nokia-exclusive features such as Nokia Music and Nokia Drive. And while the camera itself isn't great, we do like the Camera Lens apps that come with the 810. The reason why we like but don't love this phone is because of its bulky and bland design and the display's low resolution.
While it costs more, we prefer the $199 HTC Windows Phone 8X for T-Mobile. Although it lacks free turn-by-turn navigation and other Nokia niceties, you get a much sleeker design and sharper camera. The 8X is the Windows Phone we'd rather carry on this carrier. Those not sold on Windows Phone are better off picking up the Android-powered HTC One S for free.
If you're not wedded to T-Mobile, you can get the similar Nokia Lumia 820 on AT&T for just $49, although it has a smaller battery. A better bet is AT&T's $99 Lumia 920, with its higher quality PureView camera and built-in wireless charging. Overall, the Lumia 810 is a good Windows Phone 8 device, but there are better values.