It says "Nokia" across the top of the handset, but if you covered this label and asked us which company designed this model, we'd have guessed that it came from the team at HTC. Our black-coloured Lumia 610 review unit looks uncannily like the HTC Mozart; one of the first Windows Phone handsets we reviewed after the platform launched at the end of 2010. This design is far more interesting if you can find it in Nokia's neon cyan-blue colour option, but, either way, it serves its purpose well nonetheless. The 610's plastic chassis is stiff and solid feeling, with a battery cover that wraps around the base of the phone and creeps up onto the front.
Our black review unit is a bit dull, but the more colourful options are eye catching.
This is one of Nokia's cheaper smartphones for the year, and it meets this price point with a smaller TFT LCD screen, compared with the AMOLED tech displays in the more expensive Lumia models. This fact shouldn't bother many Nokia customers, though, as the LCD display does a fine job of presenting the bright Windows Phone Metro UI. Off-axis viewing angles are fine, with a decent range visible for a mobile device, and its multi-touch input is impressively responsive. However, there is a distracting colour-banding problem with the screen, where gradients of colour are represented by defined bands of colour.
Nokia has both the phone's micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone socket on the top of the phone, with a volume rocker, power toggle and camera key running down the right-hand side of the handset in that order. There is a micro-SIM card slot beneath the battery cover, but no expandable memory, as per Microsoft's Windows Phone design.
User experience and performance
If you've been following the enhancements in the processing power of smartphones lately, what we are about to tell you might shock you. Nokia chose an 800MHz Qualcomm processor for the Lumia 610, paired with a measly 256MB of RAM. And you know what? It runs like a buttery-smooth smartphone dream. The same hardware in an Android smartphone would result in performance so laggy as to be unusable, but with Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 installed, the Lumia 610 performs like phones worth three times its price.
There are some caveats, though. While applications launch quickly, and multitasking works as it should, some apps are not available to download to the Lumia 610. Bejewelled was one example that we came across during our tests, where the download option was replaced by an apologetic disclaimer. Still, this is a far better solution than downloading apps that don't run as intended — an experience that we are familiar with on Android phones in the same price bracket.
Nokia hasn't included an enormous battery in the 610, but it is sufficient for a day's moderate use. Based on a heavy-duty battery test, where we looped a 720p video file, the Lumia 610 lasted for five hours — a decent result for a phone of this calibre.
Despite its various woes in the smartphone category, Nokia has been the brand to trust in camera phones for several years now, and the Lumia 610 amply maintains this tradition. In fact, we'd go as far as to say that the camera in the 610 is, hands down, the best camera in a phone in its price range.
Much like the pricier Lumias, the 610 fires photos quickly, even when the phone is locked. From pocket to photo, the time wouldn't be more than three seconds, and the camera's auto-focus does a fine job of acting quickly under pressure. The images produced by this camera in our tests have been superb, with great colour, awesome management of mixed lighting temperatures and good, sharp focus. It doesn't over-saturate the colour the way some other phones do, so the results tend to be evocative of the moment they were captured in.
Impressively, you also get all of the same great Nokia Windows Phone software that you find in the 800 and 900, including Nokia Drive, with turn-by-turn directions, Nokia Maps for directions on foot and great point-of-interest searching.
Nokia also includes its own Nokia Music app on the phone, alongside Microsoft's Zune media player. For the most part, this is overkill — except for the fact that Nokia Music includes a streaming music service called Mix Radio. You choose a genre of music you like, and Mix Radio pulls down tracks that you might like over the air. You'll pay for data to use it, but its free and much better than most of the radio stations that you can tune into otherwise.
When we reviewed the Lumia 900 recently, we deducted marks from our score because the handset is not compatible with Windows Phone 8, and we believe this to be a big shortcoming for anyone looking to buy that model. We don't feel the same way about the Lumia 610, though. For AU$229, the 610 is a lot of phone for a small amount of money, despite it not being upgradeable when Microsoft releases Windows Phone 8 at the end of the year.
If you know someone who is looking for their first smartphone, or looking to ditch their overly complex current handset, the Lumia 610 is an excellent option. Microsoft's Windows Phone system is so simple to use, with large, clearly labelled icons, and the 610 delivers a responsive experience with this software. That it has an outstanding camera is the icing on this very affordable cake.