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Nokia Lumia 710 Hits T-Mobile January 11th for $49, Worth the Wait?

Can Nokia make itself relevant in the U.S. again? The giant-turned-underdog is hoping to do just that by starting with the Lumia 710, a $49 Windows Phone. The little brother to the Lumia 800 offers everything we like about Microsoft's OS--plus some exclusive goodies--in a well designed package. The Lumia 710 won't arrive in T-Mobile stores until January 11th, but Nokia gave us some hands on time with the handset ahead of its release. Will it be worth the wait?

Read on for our impressions and check out our photo gallery for the Lumia 710.

Available in white or black, the Lumia 710 features a 3.7-inch Clear Black display, zippy 1.4-GHz processor, and a 5-MP camera. We like the soft-touch finish on the back of this lightweight 4.4-ounce phone, but we're not fans of the clear plastic buttons underneath the screen. They're narrow and felt somewhat stiff; we prefer the physical home button on the $49 Samsung Focus Flash for AT&T, which is flanked by capacitive buttons.

On the software front, the Lumia 710 comes with Nokia Drive, offering free turn-by-turn GPS. This is a big deal because other Windows phones force you to pay for this functionality through apps like TeleNav. Android phones have had free GPS for ages via Google Maps, and you don't want to give first-time smartphone buyers an excuse to look the other way.

Nokia is also working with ESPN on a sports app that will be exclusive to Nokia Windows Phones, providing unique content and the ability to pin your favorite team to the Start screen as a Live Tile. Other bundled apps include Netflix, the Weather Channel, and T-Mobile TV, so Lumia 710 owners will have plenty to do out of the box.

Sadly, the the Lumia 710 supports T-Mobile's slowest 4G technology in HSPA+ 14.4 Mbps, so those looking for blazing downloads will want to look elsewhere. However, this phone isn't targeted at speed demons but the 150 million or so people who haven't yet upgraded to a smartphone. And to make sure customers are happy, Nokia is rolling out a concierge service for the Lumia 710 that will allow users to set up online appointments for setting up their device or getting help.

With an aggressive marketing attack planned for early next year along with front-and-center treatment in T-Mobile stores, the Lumia 710 could very well help Microsoft's OS finally break out of its 2 percent market share funk. But we'll just have to see how good this handset performs. Stay tuned for our full review.