Q: What’s the best smartphone?
Siri: Windows Phone.
For a brief time recently, Siri, the iPhone 4S personal assistant, answered the question, “What is the best smartphone?” with the response: “by consumer review average: Nokia Lumia 900 4G.”
The response was generated by search engine Wolfram Alpha, the font of knowledge used by Siri, to answer questions asked of the iPhone 4S. Not so long ago, Siri’s ability to answer questions such as this was the pride and joy of Apple. (Apple has since altered Siri’s response to this query.)
Was Siri Wrong?
T-Mobile recently provided me with the Nokia Lumia 710 for testing. This phone is the lower-end sister phone of the model that was Siri’s favorite smartphone. I came understand why Siri is such a fan of Windows Phones.
The Lumia 710 uses the Windows Phone operating system, which is a latecomer to the smartphone market, but has learned lessons from the mobile operating systems that preceded it. The software flows freely and doesn’t seem prone to lagging or stuttering.
Easy to Use
Windows Phone is a pleasure to use. The operating system is simple to figure out, with intuitive features that don’t require a thick manual to maneuver. Setting up the phone, using the apps, customizing the features, using the camera and making calls all were easy to figure out. The phone does not leave you wondering what to do to get what you want.
Unlike some other smartphones, the Nokia comes with a manual to help guide you through its functions. If you get stuck, no worries. Nokia also has a free service called SmartStart where you can have a Nokia expert call you to walk you through setting up your Windows Phone.
I resisted the urge to read through the Lumia manual, figuring many users wouldn’t bother to read the booklet. Operating the phone is simple enough that I didn’t need to consult the manual to operate the features of the phone. Curious users who bother to peek inside will find the manual filled not only with basic user instructions, but also some tips and tricks to make the phone even more useful.
One of the most useful features of Windows Phone is Live Tiles. These large tiles, instead of the icons on iOS (iPhone) and Android, are animated, making your phone seem somehow more friendly. Instead of a sterile “Contacts” icon, Windows Phone has a People tile with rotating pictures of your friends from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and your contacts. If you get a text message, your Messages tile will smile and show the number of text messages you’ve received. If your message didn’t get sent, a sad face will show. The Weather Channel app provides you with weather information without you having to open the app.
These Live Tiles make the phone seem almost animated, giving it a friendly feel. But Live Tiles aren’t cartoonish. They also alert you quickly and efficiently to what is going on with your life. Windows calls this Metro UI (“User Interface“) and it’s definitely a fun and useful feature and one of the most compelling reasons to get a Windows Phone. Microsoft is bringing Metro UI to computers on Windows 8, now available for consumer testing, which is anticipated to be released in its final form sometime later in 2012.
Windows took a new approach to organizing your friends. By choosing someone in the People app, you can see their contact information, Facebook status, recent Facebook photos, and website. You can get updated information about them through Facebook, including status updates and photos, as well as map their location through Bing maps.
As with most smartphones, the Lumia 710 has a virtual keyboard, but the phone also comes with advanced, unexpected features such as dictation and word prediction as you type. The latter doesn’t learn your writing style, as SwiftKey X does, but is very useful when typing on a virtual keyboard. Unlike the Android phone, you can’t make the keyboard vibrate for each keystroke, but you can adjust the settings to hear a clicking sound for your keystrokes.
A common complaint about smartphones is battery life. Many smartphones struggle to make it through the day without needing to be charged. The Lumia 710 was good for two to three days of light use without needing to be charged. I was concerned that the Live Tiles would be a big drain on the Lumia battery life, as live wallpaper is on Android phones. But the Live Tiles don’t seem to hunger for much battery life, which is great news.
To extend your battery life, you can set up Battery Saver in Settings which prevents the phone from downloading emails automatically and running programs in the background. This feature also tells you the estimated time left on your battery charge.
The Lumia 710 comes with Nokia Drive, a free GPS system with voice commands using Navteq mapping software. Though the icon shows up on your home screen when you first get the phone, you must download the app before you start to use it. You can download maps for the entire US or for individual states. The app for the entire US is a whopping 1.8GB which will consumer a good portion of the 8 GB of space on your phone, so choose your mapping needs wisely.
You can also use Bing Maps or pay $9.99/month to use the TeleNav GPS navigation service from T-Mobile.
Windows Phone makes it easy to transfer contacts from another Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. Launch the Contacts Transfer app, pair your Lumia with your old phone using Bluetooth and within seconds your contacts are transferred.
Other Unique Apps
The Nokia Lumia comes pre-loaded with some unique apps, including
- XBox Live, which lets you use your profile and avatar from your XBox console and has special mobile game
- ESPN Hub, which gives you scores, breaking news and video from your favorite sports and shows you scores on its Live Tile
- T-Mobile TV, with a free 30-day subscription
- Nokia Drive GPS (mentioned above)
In case any of you are interested in using this smartphone as an actual phone, rest assured it can make and receive calls. The call quality is excellent and you can assign ringtones and save favorite contacts to your home screen for easy calling.
The phone is solid and doesn’t feel cheap, though the design is fairly standard. If you want to have a distinctive phone you can invest in a colored back cover from Nokia, available for $16.99 at Amazon in cyan blue, magenta pink, yellow, white and black.
If you’re a fan of physical buttons on a smartphone, you’ll be pleased to know that the Lumia 710 is adorned with them. In addition to customary power and volume buttons, the phone also has a camera button and a bar for its back, home and search buttons (if you’re an Android user, you may miss having a menu button). These buttons make navigation easy, though the search button takes you immediately to Bing, instead of letting you search from within an app.
I don’t usually put tech through durability tests, as I generally want to continue using a device after I write about it and I had every intention of returning this phone to T-Mobile in the exact condition in which I received it. I inadvertently tested the durability of the Lumia 710 when I was taking photos and a bee flew at me, clearly mistaking me for a dreaded paparazzi. As I made my escape, the phone catapulted from my hand, flying much faster than the bee, and landed hard, bouncing repeated on a brick walkway. My fears of finding a demolished phone were unfounded. The Lumia survived in tact, without a scratch.
The Lumia 710 has a 5 MP camera complete with a flash, which may be sufficient reason for your to leave your stand-alone camera at home.
More samples of photos I took with the Lumia 710 camera can be found on The Wonder of Tech Flickr Photo Set, Nokia 710 Sample Photos.
Apps can be the Achilles’ heel of smartphones, as any fan of Palm phones will tell you. To succeed a smartphone has to have access to copious quantities of apps. Windows Phone Marketplace has about 80,000 apps, which sounds like a lot, but when you compare that number to the iTunes App Store with over 600,000 apps, you begin to see how the lack of apps might be an issue.
If you want the basic apps: email, The Weather Channel, Facebook, Twitter, Angry Birds, Netflix, YouTube, Kindle, Geocaching, OpenTable, Pandora, Spotify, Foursquare and iRewardChart, you will be fine. But if you’re looking for apps such as Dropbox, Bump, Google Maps, Reeder, or Pinterest, you’re out of luck.
The app issue is a chicken and egg situation. Some developers don’t want to develop for Windows Phone because there aren’t as many users as Android or iPhone, so there aren’t as many apps. But some people don’t want to get a smartphone with a limited supply of apps, so there aren’t as many users.
You may not need hundreds of thousands of apps to enjoy your smartphone. If you’re a new user of smartphones, the basic apps may be more than plenty for you.
No Front-Facing Camera
Although there is a Skype app for Windows Phone, the Lumia 710 does not have a front-facing camera so the app can only be used for phone calls, not video calls.
Windows Phone 8
Those who want the latest and greatest tech may want to wait to see what the upcoming Windows mobile operating system brings. It’s always easy to say the next great tech is around the corner, but in this case impending tech may be more important as integration with Windows 8 for computers may bring more functionality to Windows Phones. No indication has been given as to whether existing Windows Phones will be upgradable to Windows Phone 8.
All hope for Windows Phone is not lost. Palm faced a similar issue with its WebOS mobile operating system that gained a fan base without having many apps. Unfortunately, WebOS never succeeded but Windows Phone may be a different story due to the impending launch of Windows 8 for computers later this year. Windows 8 will incorporate the Live Tiles and Metro UI features from Windows Phone, making your computer seem more animated and friendly. If apps for Windows 8 can be integrated with those for Windows Phone, people may look to have their smartphones sync with their computers, making Windows Phone a much more compelling platform.
Another consideration is that Microsoft just invested in Barnes & Noble Nook ereader, perhaps to have a platform for a future Windows 8 tablet. Will Nook fans convert to the Windows Phone operating system and increase the demand for apps? Only time will tell.
The Nokia Lumia 710 phone is available in black or white and is free from T-Mobile on the web only with a special promotion until 5/31/12, with a two-year contract. After the promotion ends, the phone will be available for $49.95 with a two-year contract.
If you’re in the market for a smartphone, take a look at the Nokia Lumia series of Windows Phones. If you’re looking for an affordable smartphone on T-Mobile that’s easy to use, then the Nokia Lumia 710 may be your answer.
Have you ever tried a Windows Phone? Are you looking for an affordable smartphone that’s easy to use? Let us know in the Comments section below!