The Lumia 710 is wrong for the first Nokia-made Windows Phone in the US

Published: December 14, 2011

When we first learned of the partnership between Nokia and Microsoft, I was torn. The news was bittersweet. I have always and will always love (most) Nokia hardware; that topnotch, differentiating hardware is just what Windows Phone needs at this point. But the billion dollar sack of change from Microsoft all but sealed the deal: there will be no Nokia-made Android phones in the foreseeable future – likely never, for that matter.

We have been waiting for the fruits of that partnership since February. After eight months of waiting and speculation as to what their first batch of Windows Phones would entail, the Finnish-based firm gave us a glimpse into the few handsets powered by Microsoft's relatively new platform at Nokia World. They detailed six upcoming phones: four Symbian-powered Asha handsets (not slated for the States) and the two Windows Phone-powered Lumia handsets, the 710 and 800.

During the keynote, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop also detailed when exactly the world could expect these phones. France, UK, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Hong Kong, India, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan will have all managed to see at least a Lumia or Asha phone before the year's end. They will hit other markets, like the US, Canada or China "in 2012."

At first, I was a little frustrated by this. For one, "in 2012" is still a bit vague. Instead of giving us an estimated quarter, they offered us an entire 12-month window. Since most manufacturers seem to believe time is not of the essence, I assumed this could be interpreted as Q2 of 2012 or even second half. I figured that this uncertainty could be chalked up to Nokia's questionable relations with US carriers. Things between Nokia and wireless providers in the States haven't been terrible, but they haven't been the best over the last several years either. It would be reasonable to believe they were still hashing things out at the time of the keynote and that they might have some time yet to come to an agreement.

But now that we have an official date on a US-bound Nokia Windows Phone (January 11), time is less of a worry. The problem now is which device Nokia and Microsoft are bringing to the States first.

Being the Windows Phone-powered twin of the highly-anticipated and beautiful Nokia N9 running MeeGo, the Lumia 800 was easily the highlight of the Nokia World keynote. It would be easy to assume that this – being their obvious flagship – would be their priority phone for a worldwide launch. But no, it's the ugly duckling brother of the 800, the Lumia 710, that will be debuting on T-Mobile in January.

Thanks to Microsoft's minimum hardware requirements, the differences in specifications between the 800 and 710 aren't major, but they're certainly notable. The Lumia 800 has an 8-megapixel rear camera with Carl Zeiss optics, 3.7-inch AMOLED ClearBlack display, 16GB built-in storage and a 1,450 mAh battery. The 710, on the other hand, has a 5-megapixel camera with no notable optics, a 3.7-inch TFT ClearBlack display, 8GB built-in storage and a 1,300 mAh battery. And instead of looking sleek, stylish and hip like the Lumia 800 and being the epitome of 21st century Nokia mobile hardware, the 710 looks largely more reminiscent of a pre-iPhone Nokia phone, or like a slightly fatter C7 (or a E6 without the keyboard).

Windows Phone originally launched in the US back in November of 2010. Over one year later, it has hardly left the starting line or made a dent in the smartphone market share in the States. However, post-Mango, the platform shows serious promise and is in the running for the third major smartphone ecosystem. Nokia, we believed, was sure to be the answer to the remainder of Microsoft's problems. But if the launch of the 710 (read: instead of an 800) in the US is what we can expect from the future of Nokia-made Windows Phone releases, it may not be that cut and dry.

Clearly, the 710 is a low-end phone (or more low-end than its brother), and the fact that this will be the first Nokia-made Windows Phone to breach US shores blows my mind. Nokia has lost almost all loyal customers and mind share in the States. Trying to earn back their reputation in the current, vicious smartphone market should be tough enough as it is. Trying to do so by releasing the lesser of their two handsets is going to be even more tough, even if Microsoft is banking on "slow and steady wins the race." They have a lot going for them right now, but the US smartphone market is as vicious and volatile as it gets, and taking it lightly isn't going to get them any further than they already are.

Of course, there could be some stuff going on behind the scenes that we don't know about; I'm sure we're eventually going to see the Lumia 800 launch stateside; and the release of a single mediocre phone over a flagship isn't going to kill any future efforts. But you would imagine that if Microsoft wants to capture more of the market and Nokia wants to better their carrier relations (both seemingly by better sales), they would want to push their more anticipated, more feature-packed device.

I have yet to hear a single person excited over the 710. However, I know quite a few people – myself included – who would pounce on a Lumia 800 the day it was released. I'm not even terribly moved by Windows Phone, but I've had my filthy hands on a Lumia 800 already, and it was one solid and fantastic phone. It baffles me why Nokia, Microsoft and T-Mobile wouldn't want to bring the 800 to consumers first. The worst part is that if it eventually makes it to the US much after January, any potential buyers will likely lose focus on the 800 for bigger, better phones of 2012 that will inevitably be announced at CES – it happens every year. They all have missed a very important window for what would have been a great phone, one that could quickly put Windows Phone back on track.

What say you, readers? Do you think the Lumia 710 as the first Nokia-made Windows Phone in the US was the right choice? Or should T-Mobile have ordered up the Lumia 800 instead? Would you ever consider buying a 710? An 800?

Image via CNET

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