Despite the fact that the Nokia Lumia 810 is meant to be a mid-tier smartphone — its big brother being the AT&T-exclusive Lumia 920 — it performs extremely well, at least on the hardware front. It’s actually powered by the same 1.5 GHz, dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor as the top-tier HTC 8X, giving it comparable performance even though it’s the more affordable option; after online-only discounts, the Lumia 810 is free from T-Mobile with a two-year contract, while the 8X is still $200.
In fact, according to benchmarks provided by WP Bench, the Lumia 810 technically outstrips the HTC 8X as far as hard numbers are concerned. Over a run of five tests, the Lumia 810 averaged 240 marks and a high of 250, higher than the 8X’s score of 229.29. That being said, one probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the performances of the two handsets in practice, which are basically the same; the efficiency of Windows Phone 8 helps keep everything zippy, while even the more intensive apps ran without any lag or slowdown.
At 8 GB, the phone’s storage isn’t exactly plentiful, but thankfully the Lumia 810 has expandable memory via microSD, which is always a welcome feature. To access the card slot, users just need to pry off the back shell, easy as pie.
Not everything is perfect with the Lumia 810 though, because far and away the phone’s biggest detractor is the network to which it’s connected. T-Mobile is just awful; not just in terms of its speeds (HSPA+, in my experience, does not perform as well as LTE), but in terms of its coverage. I don’t understand how I can live in a relatively significant city like Boston and yet always be struggling to find a signal.
More often than not, the Lumia 810 switches down to a 2G or a 1X network; on the rare occasion that I have a “4G” signal, it’s never more than one or two bars. In my entire time with the unit — during which I used it not only in Boston, but also Philadelphia and Connecticut — I never saw it with a full “4G” signal. It’s a real shame, because the Lumia 810 is otherwise a quality device…but unfortunately, the data connection is kind of an important factor in its performance. After all, it’s the very thing that allows so many of its (and Windows Phone 8’s) attractive features to actually work.
There’s no shortage of preloaded software from Nokia on the Lumia 810, with almost equal amounts of hits and misses. Since the Lumia 810 runs Windows Phone 8, there’s a little more room for some game-changing software — or at least software that helps set the phone apart from other devices for reasons other than hardware.
There’s definitely a fair share of throwaway apps just cluttering up the phone right out of the box, including 411 & More, App Highlights, Bonus Apps (apps exclusive to T-Mobile data plan subscribers, which would be good in theory, but they’re all garbage), CallerTunes (so you can pay extra to have people calling you have to suffer through whatever song of choice you pick), ESPN, Slacker Radio (some users may appreciate this, but I don’t know anyone who uses it), T-Mobile TV, and Zynga Games (just links to app downloads, nothing I hate more).
There are a couple of logistical things that may or may not be handy to you, depending on your situation, like a My Account app for information about your T-Mobile subscription, or the Transfer My Data app, which allows you to do exactly that with your previous phone, as long as it has Bluetooth.
The Nokia-branded content is where it starts to get more interesting. Yes, there are a couple of redundant apps, like Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, and Nokia Music, which all more or less perform functions that can be accomplished with baked-in apps, like Bing Maps or Xbox Music — though I would venture to say that Nokia Music is probably the most different, what with its gig finder and free mix radio. There’s also Nokia Transit, which has proven to be a surprisingly capable app for those of us who live in a city. All of the other transit apps that I’ve tried in the past couldn’t seem to pull up scheduled times for the train line that’s closest to where I live, but Nokia Transit could and has subsequently proven to be quite useful to me.
It’s when you get to Nokia’s “lenses” that things get really interesting, though. Windows Phone 8 allows for different “lenses” to be used within its camera app, which basically lets users utilize the camera to perform unique or specialized functions.
For example, there’s the City Lens, which is essentially an augmented reality app, using the camera to display your surroundings on the screen while tagging nearby points of interest in whatever direction you’re facing (while also indicating, by the size of the icon, how far away they are from your current position). There is also the Panorama lens, which is pretty self-explanatory, as well as the Smart Shoot lens, which takes a series of shots when the shutter button is pressed so you can pick and choose elements from each of them (e.g. different faces) and combine them into one image for the perfect shot.
After you’re done taking your photos, you can also edit them in the Creative Studio, which allows you to select different filters and adjust color balance, brightness, clarity, and vibrance.
But I was a particularly big fan of the Cinemagraph lens, which was essentially a GIF maker on steroids. Users can capture moving pictures — not videos — and then tinker with them after the fact: elements in the picture that are moving are tagged by the software, and users can decide whether or not to animate them. So for instance, after taking a picture of two people standing next to each other and waving their arms, I can use the Cinemagraph lens to highlight one of the people and freeze them mid-action while keeping the other person in motion. The software isn’t just neat and fun to mess around with, it’s actually quite impressive.
That being said, I can’t really think of any practical or particularly useful applications for the Cinemagraph lens, other than to use it to just have fun. But perhaps that’s the point of it.
The battery life of the Lumia 810 is great, especially considering that it’s a 4G handset (well, T-Mobile 4G, which is actually HSPA+). Nevertheless, it provided better battery life than the last 4G Windows Phone 8 handset that I reviewed, the HTC 8X, and this is a phone that I usually leave on the maximum brightness setting because the screen just looks so darn good.
Since Windows Phone 8 has push notifications for many of its supported apps now, I tend to keep most of those on in addition to my email push, despite the fact that it’s not great for the battery. Nevertheless, I was still able to get just shy of three days out of a single charge (though I did make the effort to keep Wi-Fi and location services off when I wasn’t using them).
And while my usage was generally light — reading emails, short sessions of web browsing — there was the occasional heavy lifting thrown in there in the form of streaming videos or goofing around at length with Nokia’s different camera “lenses”. I really couldn’t get enough of the Cinemagraph when I first tried it.
To give an idea of its capacity at a full charge, the settings menu indicated that the Lumia 810 had 6 days and 16 hours to spare the moment I unplugged it from a fresh charge. Not bad at all, though that number does, of course, refer to the remaining battery life if the phone were to be left in standby the whole time.
Unfortunately, the same problems that plagued the Carl Zeiss optics on the last generation of Lumias appear to still be present in the Lumia 810; namely, the issues with the white balance. Whites tend to gravitate to hot and cold tones very easily, depending on whether reds or blues are also in the picture.
Grain can also be seen in low-light shots, and similar conditions tend to disrupt the sharpness of the images at times, too. I found myself wishing that the Lumia 810, like the Lumia 920, was the beneficiary of Nokia’s PureView imaging technology, as it could really use it to help take brighter shots.
However, when in suitable lighting, like the outdoors or well-lit rooms, the Lumia 810 could produce good quality shots with admirable sharpness. But in all, the 8-megapixel camera of the Lumia 810 is not the highlight of the handset, even if Nokia’s proprietary photo software does make it a blast to use. It may be fun to use the camera to mess around with the “lenses”, but don’t expect the quality to blow you away.
Some will also be upset to hear that certain settings, like resolution or saturation levels, can’t be tinkered with. The camera isn’t devoid of any options, though, since you can toy with some of the other settings like ISO or exposure value.