Up until now, there hasn't been a defining "Windows Phone," but Nokia's Lumia 710 fits that bill and it's reason enough to commend the device. However, that doesn't mean it's enough to recommend the device for someone looking to enter the smartphone market.
We've been taking the entry-level Lumia for a spin over the last couple weeks and have been very pleased with its performance. Even though it's marketed as an inexpensive phone, it can play with the big boys.
Nokia is known worldwide for its masterful grasp of ergonomics and the Lumia 710 is no exception. Granted, those who have become accustomed to the large 4+ inch displays on today's smartphones will find the screen a bit underwhelming.
But even so, with its all-encompassing touch controls, it doesn't feel inadequate. So we went into this knowing Nokia can build good phones. The question was if it can use good software after the collapset of Symbian.
The answer? Yes. Nokia has actually become somewhat of a software developer in addition to a hardware manufacturer, creating custom Windows Phone apps that are only available to Lumia customers.
The most noteworthy is Nokia Drive, which gives GPS directions and can display maps even if users are underground or otherwise have no satellite connection. It's a pretty formidable app, and not something we expected from Nokia.
It also curated a bunch of the best apps in a way that makes it easier to find Windows Phone content - in other words, it built a third-party app that is superior to the built-in Windows Phone option. That's pretty impressive.
Even though it's only $50 after a two-year contract and mail-in rebate, this is a top-of-the-line Windows Phone. Make no mistake about it. We couldn't find a single app in the Windows Phone Marketplace that wasn't compatible. And while the Marketplace does need some work - popular games like Words With Friends are still not available - the Lumia 710 runs the apps that are available with near perfection.
So the Lumia 710 is a solid phone. It may even be the best Windows Phone out there. We didn't need to tell you that; lots of people have already said it. The real question is whether the best Windows Phone is better than an average Android phone, or the iPhone.
The answer, at this point, is probably not. But coming soon, Nokia will be launching the Lumia 900, and hopefully a whole line of future Windows Phone handsets thereafter. If each one can provide incremental value and brand-building to both Nokia and Windows Phone that the Lumia 710 did, it's possible that we'll start creating a legitimate three-way smartphone race.
For now, though, the Lumia 710 is a beta test. Stick with a cheap Android phone for now, but don't be surprised if we change our tune several months down the line.