Nokia's range of Windows Phone-based handsets is now quite rounded, with the top end Lumia 900 and the entry-level Lumia 610, which I'm reviewing here, topping and tailing a reasonably sized portfolio.
Anyone interested in Windows Phone who might have been put off by the hefty price tag of handsets thus far, might find that the lure of the Lumia 610 is great. My review sample came from Nokia itself, but it can be had for around £165 inc VAT (and is even as low as £130).
Of course, if you are buying Windows Phone on a budget, then you can't expect to get a swanky standout handset either in physical terms or in terms of what's going on under the hood. But with Microsoft setting out some strong minimum specs, where, precisely, has Nokia made its compromises to reach such an admittedly attractive price?
Well, the immediately obvious place is in terms of overall size and build. This is no Lumia 900 or Lumia 800 in terms of looks or build quality. Their polycarbonate body materials are replaced here by standard plastic. The handset doesn't feel flimsy, though, and it does have a certain style.
I'm not too taken with the silver band around the edges, but I do like the way the rather solid backplate wraps around the bottom of the handset in a sort of lip. Stylistically, this is a bit different to the norm and in the white version I had for review, it helps add a splash of colour to proceedings. I imagine the same could be said for the cyan and magenta versions, though the black one might look a little duller.
This bottom lip design means there's no way the micro-USB connector can be accommodated here, so it sits on the upper edge of the handset. This isn't quite the best location for charging, but it's better than the side-mounted alternative, and the slot is far enough over to the right that it doesn't interfere with the centrally located headset slot.
Meanwhile Nokia has opted for the very familiar right-side button arrangement of its other Windows Phone handsets - camera shortcut, on/off and volume rocker - while keeping the left edge clear. Beneath the screen are the very familiar Start, Back and Search touch buttons of Windows Phone.
The Lumia 610 has a relatively small screen at 3.7in, but it retains the 800 x 480-pixel resolution of other Windows Phone handsets, giving it an acceptable 252ppi. The TFT LCD is clear enough, though not the sharpest or brightest I've ever seen, and not the easiest to read outside when the sun is really strong. For a handset of this price, though, it's good enough.
While the screen size isn't large enough to allow you to read many websites without zooming, and video playback isn't the most rewarding experience either, the Lumia 610 itself is small enough to fit comfortably in most pockets and my relatively small hands managed to reach right across the screen for one-handed use.
Nokia has opted for a 5-megapixel back-facing camera with a tiny LED flash, and no front camera. The camera shoots reasonably good photos and has touch focus, which I found to be efficient in itself, but also annoying because the feature combines touch focus and shooting - tapping the screen to initiate focussing also gets the handset to shoot a photo when the focussing is done. Sometimes I didn't actually want the photo, but to see what the touch focus might deliver. Video shooting is limited to a disappointing 640 x 480 pixels.
Nokia has equipped the Lumia 610 with 8GB of internal storage, and you get the usual SkyDrive cloud storage too, but there's no way to expand on that 8GB. If you are wondering, the Lumia 610 supports a microSIM and the slot is under the battery. The battery itself seems pretty good - it delivered a day's worth of action for me between charges.
One of the key reasons Nokia has been able to release the Lumia 610 at such a low price is revisions Microsoft has made to its Windows Phone platform. We could call it Windows Phone 7.5 lite, and the release, which came in April, allows Windows Phone to cope with lower memory and processor specifications than previously. So, the Lumia 610 runs on a Qualcomm 800MHz processor with just 256MB of RAM in support.
What effect does that have on performance? Well, I found that transitions between screens were a bit slow, web pages could take a noticeable time to resolve and in general, things felt a little sluggish when getting around the handset. But I have to admit that if you're not used to GHz or dual-core processors you might not notice this or find it too significant.
Probably more important for anyone thinking about buying the Lumia 610 is that it refuses to run some key apps and games. Angry Birds? Won't even install because it needs more RAM than the Lumia 610 has on offer. The same goes for Skype. And as I waded through the Marketplace looking at the most popular games to download and play, I found that this issue cropped up often enough to become a real irritation. I couldn't get Monopoly, Sid Meier's Pirates, Pac Man Kart Rally, or Assassin's Creed. Special editions of games might be in the pipeline, but for now, the Lumia 610 seems somewhat hampered.
Nokia bulks Windows Phone out with its Maps, Drive and Music apps, and you can download the new Reading and Transport apps from the Marketplace. But also in Nokia's app collection is Tango, the video-calling app and, lo and behold, this won't download because it needs more than 256MB of RAM.
In the end, this is a clincher for me. Windows Phone is supposed to be a solid, unchanging experience across handsets, offering a baseline that phone developers can augment and software makers work to. Fair enough. I can see why Microsoft would set a high baseline in order to stop lower cost devices diluting the brand, as some argue has happened with Android. But the baseline has now been deliberately clouded by Microsoft precisely to allow lower cost Windows Phone devices to exist.
So while I could live with a Windows Phone handset that runs slower than others in order to save on costs, a phone that refuses to run some of the most popular apps out there seems hamstrung, even before the 'can't upgrade to the upcoming Windows Phone 8' comments start being made.
The Nokia Lumia 610 offers Windows Phone on a budget. It's a well-made phone with a neat physical design. But the relatively low level specifications mean it can't run some of the top apps in the Marketplace, and that means it is restricted right out of the starting gate.
Manufacturer and Model
Nokia Lumia 610
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100
3.7in, 800 x 480 pixels
119.2 x 62.2 x 12.0 mm
Windows Phone 7.5 (Tango)