updated 05:30 am EST, Mon February 27, 2012
We try Nokia's entry-level Windows Phone
Among the many introductions Nokia had at its Mobile World Congress event was its centerpiece, the Lumia 610. The device is one of the least expensive Windows Phones to date and will cost just 189 euros ($254) off-contract. Read ahead to find out if it's good enough to take on Android, and possibly Apple, in the low-end space.
Build quality certainly isn't lacking. Although it's not quite as premium-feeling as a phone like the Lumia 800, this is not a throwaway design; it feels good in the hand and like it was treated with respect. You can get it in Nokia's signature Windows Phone colors; as always, white is usually the special color. The LCD wasn't spectacular by itself, but at 3.7 inches and 480x800, it's incredible for the price.
The phone is the first to be running Windows Phone on lowered requirements; while it still says 7.5, this this is what many had referred to as the Tango update. Nokia wouldn't name the processor, although it's likely an 800MHz or 1GHz Snapdragon, but with 256MB of RAM, it still managed to have that trademark snappy responsiveness of Windows Phone. In that sense, it has a leg up on the iPhone 3GS and certainly other budget Android phones, where the performance gap either ranges from just a slight difference (on the iPhone 3GS) to near-intolerable (on the slowest Android phones).
Basic software is the same as usual: it's Windows Phone plus Nokia Drive and, depending on where you live, apps like Maps, Pulse, and MixRadio.
What's new, including for other Lumia phones, are Public Transport and Reading. The former is a simple but effective mass transit navigator; it shows you the upcoming routes with handy visual graphs for how much of a bus, subway, or walking you might need to take. You can't get voice-guided directions -- something Google Maps Navigation's transit mode has -- but you can pin a destination to your home screen, which is very convenient if you tend to need help getting to a given place frequently.
Reading is a very straightforward e-book reader and store. Books come in either ePub (protected or not) and PDF. If you're used to the Amazon Kindle reader, it's not a fundamental break in experience; that is, it's pretty, but straightforward. We noticed that prices in the UK tended to hover under 10 pounds, and there were mentions of books possibly having separate copying and lending rights.
As a whole, the Lumia 610 and the new apps don't necessarily upset the whole mobile industry cart, but they do flesh out an ecosystem. We're worried that the 610's low RAM will exclude it from certain apps, but it's startlingly good for a phone hovering at the $250 price point; you're getting a genuinely fast-feeling, large-screened phone with a five-megapixel autofocusing camera at a price where many start bogging down or resorting to small screens and no-autofocus imaging. Apple just can't compete at this price level right now. We could see the 610 carving out a niche and possibly even making a significant dent in China, where CDMA and WCDMA phones should be coming.
The Lumia 610 should be ready in the spring; some of the apps, including updates to Nokia Drive for speed limit warnings, should be available today.