Shortly after Nokia announced its latest mid-level Windows Phone 8 device, the Lumia 820, it announced that there would be carrier-specific variations of the handset. While the hardware specs and features like its interchangeable shells would remain the same across the board, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile would all get differently-designed versions of the phone.
The Lumia 810 is T-Mobile's offering, and while it offers quite possibly the most attractive design out of all three versions, the fact that it's tied to such a weak network is easily its greatest flaw, making it hard to justify its purchase unless you're already on T-Mobile. Few people are willing to switch to a new (and inferior) carrier just for the sake of having a specific phone, and this Windows Phone 8 smartphone is no exception. That being said, almost everything else about the Lumia 810 impresses, likely making users wish for a perfect world in which it's offered on a better network.
Though I may be of the opinion that the Lumia 810 is the most attractive carrier-exclusive variant of the Lumia 820, right off the bat, I was a little disappointed by the design of the Lumia 810. It wasn't, however, because I thought it was ugly, but rather because it came so close to perfection, only to miss the mark by a hair.
For the Lumia 810, Nokia adopted a sleek but simple design, with subtly rounded corners complimented by a flat back and edges. As far as its shape is concerned, it's like every sexy Windows Phone prototype or conceptual art you've seen (that Microsoft Surface smartphone concept art comes to mind), all clean-cut and stylish.
These were the very thoughts I had about the build of the Lumia 810 the moment I saw press images of it, but once I saw it in person and held it in my hand, I realized that its dimensions are ever so slightly off; they're just enough to make it look and feel a little chunky. It's just a tad too wide, a smidgen too long, a bit too thick.
The length is probably the most apparent, what with the obvious wasted space beneath the capacitive navigation buttons below the screen. The fact that it's a little too wide isn't as obvious until you attempt to reach something on the opposite side of the screen from your thumb and realize that it's an uncomfortable stretch.
As for the phone's thickness, Nokia tried to be a little deceptive about it; the front of the Lumia 810 creates a right angle where it meets with the flat sides, which appears to give the handset an acceptably thin profile if viewed at an angle (say, in flattering press shots). But instead of another sharp edge where the side meets the back, it's an obtuse angle because the phone actually continues to swell outwards, puffing up the shape and making the phone a little too thick. The shots of the top and bottom of the handset featured here gives a good idea of how the Lumia 810 is shaped.
So yes, in a way, the build is a bit of a letdown, because all of the dimensions add up to create a phone with a footprint that's slightly oversized and disappointingly close to being a fantastic design.
While I'm complaining, I'll also mention that the buttons, as well as the Carl Zeiss frame around the rear-facing camera, are covered in an odd "metallic" black plastic. When clean, it looks sharp and works well with the all-black coloring of the handset, but it's remarkably prone to smudges and fingerprints. The only way it ever looks decent is if you wipe down the surfaces and then just never touch them, which has proven to be especially difficult with the buttons.
But the Lumia 810 does have a nice matte finish on the back, which I always love. And yes, as this is one of the carrier-specific variants of the Nokia Lumia 820, the back plating is removable to allow for microSD, SIM card, and battery access. Different shells can also be purchased and swapped in to allow for a different color (cyan) or wireless charging capabilities.
For an 800 x 480 resolution display, the AMOLED screen of the Lumia 810 still looks more than decent thanks to Nokia's ClearBlack display technology, which, as the name suggests, creates deeper blacks to enhance the contrast and cut down reflectivity. And on its highest setting, the screen can be shockingly bright, to boot.
As such, the display looks good even outdoors, and the colored tiles of the Windows Phone home screen look especially crisp against the black background (assuming your background is set to black and not white). Despite the lower resolution, the display never appears grainy or pixelated, so I imagine only the real purists will be unsatisfied with the quality of the screen.
Unlike most of the Windows Phones we've reviewed in the past, the Lumia 810 loads up all three physical buttons -- the volume rocker, the power/standby switch, and the camera button -- on the right side of the device. Initially, I thought it would be tough to get used to having the standby button on the side of the phone instead of the top, where it's usually located. But I found that it was actually more natural to reach and press it with my thumb or middle finger while holding the handset, rather than stretching up with my index finger to hit a button on the top.
Other than that, however, there aren't really any other surprises with the design of the Lumia 810. The headphone jack is placed on the top edge, while the micro-USB/charging port is on the bottom edge. It is worth noting that while there are also two speaker grills on the bottom, suggesting stereo speakers, removing the phone shell reveals that there is, in fact, only one speaker behind the grills.
As for the cameras, the rear-facing shooter and its flash are the only things adorning the back side, while the front-facing camera is located just to the left of the phone's earpiece.
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