All the corners and edges are gently rounded to offset the handset's 12mm (0.5-inch) midriff. There's some flex in the chassis, resulting in creaking noises if you squeeze it, but it's not enough to do any harm to the impression that this is a solidly constructed device that will stand up to daily wear. Overall, we wouldn't be surprised if many people preferred the rounded feel of the 610 to that of the 710, which looks duller and feels slightly more blocky in the hand. The only real niggle we have regarding the 610's build is the large indented earpiece at the very top, which accumulates fluff and dust constantly and has to be blown out -- a problem the 710 shares but to a lesser degree.
Turning to the all-important front face of the device, we see that we get capacitive navigation buttons for the primary Windows Phone functions: Back, Home and Search. This is a departure from the 710, which uses hardware navigation buttons, and whether that's a good thing will depend on personal preference. For this author, a fluid UI is paramount and capacitive buttons win because they feel more like navigating the touch panel itself -- there are no jarring shifts from a light touch on the panel to a hard press for navigation. So, notch up one more small, but significant, win for the 610.
The layout of Windows Phone is all about skinny fonts and bold tiles surrounded by vast, calming expanses of black or white space. You need a panel with good contrast to do it justice, and both the Lumia 800 and 710 came well-equipped for the challenge: the 800 has a ClearBlack AMOLED panel, while the 710 had a ClearBlack TFT. The humble 610, meanwhile, has a display that isn't especially clear or black.
Performance, battery life and reception
If there were nasty surprises with the Lumia 610, this is where you'd expect to find them. When the disco's over and the lights come on, it's already proved itself to be an acceptable-looking device, but how well does it move?
Surprisingly, the 800MHz processor delivers a mostly smooth Windows Phone experience -- even though it is noticeably slower than the 710 during basic navigation. You'll occasionally find yourself staring at a blank screen for half a second, but that's a small sacrifice to make when you consider the price of the handset and how just useful that next screen will be when it finally arrives. This experience is borne out in benchmarking, with WP Bench awarding the Lumia 610 a score of just 54 -- far, far below the 710.
Good cameras in phones aren't cheap, and if you take a lot of snaps on your handset then you're in the wrong place. While the weakness of the processor is disguised by the OS, it comes right to the fore as soon as you press the dedicated camera button. Doing so brings up the camera, but only after a roughly three-second wait. Once there, you can either tap the screen once to set focus and exposure for that zone and take the shot (by far the fastest option), or you can press the camera button halfway to lock focus (but not exposure) and then fully to take the shot. If the camera button also locked exposure, it'd make a lot more sense, but frankly that's the least of our worries.
Office and SkyDrive are a combined force for productivity. When you open Office, you can create, view and edit not only locally-stored documents, but also documents that are synced with your cloud storage -- either SkyDrive, Office365 or OneNote. Each of these has its own strengths: SkyDrive is a good repository for all file types; 365 is mainly an enterprise solution; OneNote is perfect for simple but sophisticated note sharing across platforms, not least because there are OneNote apps for Android and iOS.
There are lots of other extras that you only discover over time. For example, the Lumia 610 comes with a recent version of Windows Phone Mango that can handle wireless tethering, allowing you to share a cellular data connection with other devices via WiFi. Also, as with previous versions, if you hook the phone up to your dash or audio system over Bluetooth, it will -- if you so choose -- interrupt your music if you receive an SMS and even read the SMS out to you. It requires no set up and works well, although responding using WP's cloud-based speech recognition is more hit and miss.
We've been banging on about this for a while, but it deserves to be reiterated: Nokia's apps are not bloatware, but are valuable additions. Just look at Drive, for example: a fully-fledged voice-guided navigation system with free offline maps for a large number of countries. Mix Radio is another boon: free, well-presented and sensibly categorized music streaming whenever you have a WiFi connection.
On a more expensive proposition, the weak camera, capped RAM and slow browsing performance on this device would be deal-breakers. On the Lumia 610, however, they're things you can learn to live with. The handset delivers a stunning OS, good phone functionality and a healthy battery life all packaged within an acceptable design. It never once feels like a dumbphone trying to play smart -- it's smart to its core and will deliver all the communication and productivity benefits that you could want in this category.