Microsoft and Nokia's work on Windows Phone Tango devices, to lower device specification requirements, has led to the Lumia 610, a low-end handset primarily designed for emerging markets like China. Although it will be available in a number of other countries, Nokia's Lumia 610 is clearly designed to lower the entry point for potential Windows Phone customers and help entice shoppers who would typically opt for non-smartphone handsets. With plastic styling, 256MB of RAM, and an 800MHz processor, Nokia's latest Lumia is a far cry from its polycarbonate siblings — the 800 and 900 — but the handset will arrive in the UK on £15 ($23) per month contracts, making it an attractive offering for those curious about Windows Phone.
Do low specs, no forward facing camera, and controversial limitations for Windows Phones with 256MB of RAM matter though? Have Microsoft and Nokia compromised Windows Phone features and performance to create a true "entry level" handset? Read on to find out!
Hardware / design
Hardware / design
Nokia has rounded off the corners of its Lumia 610 to present a design that's more akin to its Lumia 710 than the square edges of the Lumia 800 and 900. The result is a great looking handset that weighs in at just 0.29 pounds, a noticeable difference from the Lumia 800. At 0.47 inches, it's thinner than the Lumia 800 too, although what it lacks in thickness it makes up in width at 2.45 inches and a height of 4.69 inches. Neither measurement is particularly high and it leaves the Lumia 610 feeling compact and comfortable to use.
While the Lumia 800 features a curved display with no noticeable edges, the 610 is dominated by a solid LCD that is recessed into its body. Nokia has opted for a glossy white finish with a silver trim on the review unit supplied, a stark difference from its cyan, magenta, and black editions of the handset that include colored plastic around the entire device. There's no forward facing camera on the Lumia 610, much like the 800, so the three capacitive Windows Phone hardware buttons and visible mouth and earpieces make up the rest of the front section of the device.
In typical Nokia style, the left-hand side of the device is buttonless to make way for the power, volume, and camera buttons on the right. The volume rocker and power buttons feel sturdy and exhibit no signs of wiggle. However, the camera button is a different story thanks to a wobbly button that you're never sure has been depressed enough to trigger the camera app. At the top you can find the 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro USB port, leaving the bottom of the device to taper away with no additions. The back features a white glossy finish with a 5-megapixel camera and adjacent LED flash and speaker grill towards the bottom. Behind the removable back is a 3.7V / 4.8Wh Li-ion battery that covers the micro SIM slot. Although it feels like your SIM will disappear into the device, there’s a clicking noise that indicates you’ve pushed the SIM into place and it’s secured. There's no microSD slot on the Lumia 610, leaving just 8GB of space on the device itself to use as storage.
Despite the low specs, this looks and feels like a smartphone
Low-end display washes out Windows Phone's vibrant colors
Although the Lumia 610 is clearly a low-end Windows Phone, I would have preferred to see more investment in its display. Nokia has equipped the handset with a 3.7-inch LCD screen that tends to wash out Windows Phone’s colors at high brightness levels — something that’s particularly noticeable thanks to the the vibrant colors of Microsoft's Metro design. Compared side-by-side to the Lumia 800 or 900 AMOLED displays and the color difference is noticeable — blacks never really feel dark on the Lumia 610.
That said, both horizontal and vertical viewing angles are decent enough, and the display is readable during day light conditions. While there’s a general trend in the smartphone industry to push way above the 4-inch screen size, Nokia’s 3.7-inch choice here makes sense for a variety of reasons.
Windows Phone only supports the 800 x 480-pixel resolution so larger displays lose out on pixel density, and there’s also the added bonus that a smaller screen makes it easier to navigate various parts of Windows Phone single-handedly — an often frustrating experience on larger devices like the Lumia 900. Obviously, a smaller screen also reduces the overall cost of the Lumia 610 — something that’s a key part of this handset.
You'll probably want to carry a point and shoot too
Nokia’s camera and associated software on the Lumia 610 is a fairly basic offering. With a lack of forward facing camera, we’re left to focus on the rear 5-megapixel camera. I shot a number of pictures in various conditions and the results were mixed. The camera does a great job of focusing on objects, but the final images were occasionally washed out. The usual ISO, white balance, and effects settings are present, but there’s no face tracking or burst mode options like other Windows Phone handsets from HTC and others. Microsoft allows device manufacturers to extend its camera software with addons, and it’s one of the hardware aspects that others are using to differentiate (like the Titan II’s 16-megapixel shooter). It’s surprising that Nokia hasn’t, at least, invested on the software additions with its Lumia range.
No 720p video recording
The camera also shoots video, but it lacks any HD shooting options, even forgoing 720p — which given the Lumia 610’s low price is understandable, but leaves it with just VGA capability. Results from the VGA resolution were reasonable and the camera handles autofocus well alongside varying light conditions. I wouldn’t recommend relying on this 28mm f/2.2 lens to capture life’s most important moments, as a dedicated camera would be the better option here, but for casual snaps it holds its own against other 5-megapixel Windows Phone cameras out there.
Perhaps the key differentiator between this particular Windows Phone and others is the low hardware specifications that have a, sometimes adverse, effect on how Windows Phone and its associated apps run. With an 800MHz processor and 256MB of RAM you’d expect Windows Phone to struggle on the Lumia 610, but that is not the case. I was genuinely surprised to see that Windows Phone continued to launch apps and switch between the various hubs just as fast as other devices equipped with double the RAM and processor speed. Microsoft has clearly re-engineered Windows Phone well enough to cope with these low specifications, but at a cost in some areas.
The core operating system is Windows Phone, but some parts, that don’t function well on low spec devices, are missing. Bing Local Scout, Microsoft’s localized extension of the built-in Bing search functionality, has been disabled on the Lumia 610, and video podcast / HD video playback is also disabled. There are some subtle changes to the background agents functionality too, a feature new to Windows Phone Mango that allows developers to run arbitrary code in the background. Very few apps use background agents so its removal isn’t a particularly big deal, and push notifications, live tile updates, and regular alerts still work just fine for apps.
Perhaps the biggest change is that some processor-intensive apps that have specific memory requirements will not work on the Lumia 610. Skype, Angry Birds, Tango, and others refuse to install from the Marketplace — they show a warning message about the low memory on the Lumia 610. While this is an issue initially, Microsoft has said it expects 95 percent of apps to run just fine on 256MB of RAM devices and that most developers won’t have to worry about RAM requirements. Rovio is reportedly working to update Angry Birds for 256MB of RAM support, and other developers will surely follow. The question is whether developers will be quick to react and whether consumers who purchase a Lumia 610 will be happy to wait patiently for updates.
Like other Lumias before it, the 610 includes Nokia’s custom ringtones and alerts alongside a collection of exclusive apps. A Nokia collection selection of the Windows Phone Marketplace provides access to Nokia Drive, Transport, Music, and Reading apps alongside some customized versions of ESPN, CNN, and Tango. These exclusive apps are designed to differentiate Nokia from other Windows Phone handsets and they certainly serve as useful additions for navigation and entertainment.
The general lack of quality apps still lets Windows Phone down in many areas though, and the Lumia 610 doesn’t make up for this in many ways. Popular apps and games, like Instagram, Temple Run, Angry Birds Space, Draw Something, and Pandora, are simply not available on Windows Phone — whereas you can find them on iOS and Android. Microsoft is attempting to address this situation, but until developers buy into Windows Phone in a big way, it’s difficult to recommend it for those who are app hungry.
Similar Windows phone experience to most handsets, but 256MB of RAM has some restrictions
Overall the Windows Phone experience is very similar to what you’d expect from any other handset asides from the obvious changes and restrictions for the RAM support. Internet sharing is enabled, and the Lumia 610 also supports the ability to turn off 3G — something not currently available on all Windows Phone devices.
Nokia is also shipping the Lumia 610 with the latest Windows Phone 7.5 "Refresh" updates that include some MMS improvements to support video and voice note attachments, as well as better SIM contact management and a location icon alert to notify you when location information is being accessed. The improvements are fairly minor overall, but the Nokia exclusive apps certainly set it aside from other Windows Phones — even though I’d like to see some additional software camera improvements across Nokia’s entire range of Lumia handsets.
Battery life and call quality
Nokia’s Lumia 610 certainly benefits from improved battery life, I suspect partly due to its low specifications. Nokia claims you'll get 9.5 hours of 3G talk time out of the Lumia 610 as well as a whopping 720 hours of 3G standby time. The reality is that on medium brightness I managed a full day of moderate use (push email, surfing, Twitter, and a few calls) and had just over 40 percent life left. I have used a variety of Windows Phones and most struggle to last a full day of high use so I was impressed to see such a high amount of battery life left at the end of an average day. I'd doubt this will last you an entire weekend away, but it's certainly sufficient for more than a day away from a charger.
Call quality was equally impressive with both the earpiece and speaker giving ample sound to hear callers clearly. I experienced a low amount of drop calls during my testing by moving from a femtocell to more traditional cell towers across a range of areas. The Lumia 610 coped well in typical areas of poor reception, switching in and out of 3G while generally keeping the call alive.
Surprisingly good battery life
While some may question the need for a super low end Windows Phone, Nokia and Microsoft clearly want to target markets that demand smartphone functionality at featurephone price points. The Nokia Lumia 610 delivers this at an affordable price, while trying to retain most Windows Phone features. Microsoft’s “fragmentation” of Windows Phone has begun, but it appears the company is trying its best to manage this in the optimal way for consumers and developers. The approach isn’t perfect, and I’ve witnessed that with the Lumia 610 where some apps refuse to install, but the majority of apps should have no problems running on the Lumia 610 — while developers have the necessary tools to ensure their apps work well for the new memory requirements.
Microsoft’s entry level Windows Phones may appeal to operators in emerging markets, but I’d question if there’s demand for such a handset in the UK and Europe — where network operators tend to subsidize handsets enough to ensure they’re free alongside a relatively low monthly cost. In a sense, it feels like Nokia’s Lumia 610 is designed exclusively for low-end markets, and the initial pricing in the UK of £15 ($23) per month appears to reflect that. Nokia’s advantage here is the close work it is undertaking with Microsoft to integrate its own offerings and services into Windows Phone. So far we’ve only seen examples of this with exclusive applications, and a branded Windows Phone Marketplace, but the firm has promised more. Nokia Drive, Music, Reader, Transport, and more offer a compelling reason to buy a Nokia Windows Phone, but they’re not enough to truly differentiate against similar Samsung and HTC Windows Phones.
Would I recommend the Lumia 610 as a cheap pay-as-you-go handset? Sure. It has all the hallmarks to do well in this particular market and despite its plastic feel it looks like a smartphone. Once you peel past its looks and compare it to other offerings from Nokia then it’s hard to compare. The Lumia 800 / 900 design and polycarbonate body with its unique colors blows the Lumia 610 away, and side-by-side there’s no easy way to compare them. If you’re on a tight budget then the Lumia 610 is a better option than most other feature phones, but if you can find a Lumia 710 at a good price then this will likely serve you better and help avoid some of the restrictions of a 256MB of RAM Windows Phone.