The 810 combines an 8-megapixel sensor with a Carl Zeiss 26mm f/2.2 lens, which is accompanied by a dual-LED flash and a two-stage shutter button. By default, the camera is set to capture images at 16:9, though we generally prefer the optional 4:3 aspect ratio. When you choose to take a picture, the camera will activate the LED flash to help assist its focus, and from there, it takes a moment to lock in on the subject before snapping the actual shot. In this sense, the camera isn't the speediest, and its software offers no option for burst photography, but your patience will be rewarded with quality results. In all but the rarest cases, the Lumia 810 properly meters light and delivers accurate white balance.
We're also particularly fond of the 810's tap-to-focus feature. Nighttime performance is generally adequate, but it pales in comparison to the low-light photography that's possible with the Lumia 920. We often found it necessary to stabilize the phone on a flat surface or rely on the flash -- otherwise, you risk capturing an unusable amount of blur.
True photo junkies may cringe at the relatively limited options for fine-tuning photos, which is limited to ISO, EV, white balance and a selection of scene modes such as close-up, night, sports and backlight. Unfortunately, the interface also makes it difficult to preview the adjustments, as the options menu covers most of the screen. Nonetheless, the camera is very well-suited for casual photography, and users can further apply stylistic filters to their images with Nokia's Creative Studio app.
Accessible from within the camera application, you'll also find shortcuts to Bing Vision, Cinemagraph, Panorama and Smart Shoot. Each of these apps are known within the Windows Phone ecosystem as Lenses, and you'll find the ability to install additional Lenses within the Windows Phone Store.
You might already be familiar with Bing Vision, which allows users to capture QR codes and Microsoft Tags, and search for books, movies and albums by scanning the barcode or cover. Meanwhile, Cinemagraph is mostly for novelty sake -- it allows users to create moving images by recording brief scenes and then choosing specific areas of the scene to animate. The idea is to combine the quality of a still photo with the motion of a GIF, but as we quickly discovered during our review of the Lumia 920, the files are converted to a still JPG format when you attempt to share the animation via email, Twitter or Facebook. Needless to say, this oversight severely hinders Cinemagraph's appeal. Meanwhile, Panorama is a one-trick pony, but it's dead simple to use, and generally delivers excellent results.
Out of all the Lenses, Smart Shoot is the most intriguing, as it incorporates features found in Scalado Rewind and Remove. Smart Shoot captures a series of images and then allows users to eliminate undesirable elements like cars or pedestrians. It's also quite handy for group shots, as you'll find the ability to choose the best faces from a handful of images and then combine them into the best possible photo. Smart Shoot is a bit finicky and still requires you to be on top of your game when taking pictures, but when it works properly, it's nothing short of magic.
Video capture on the Lumia 810 is somewhat of a mixed bag. To the phone's credit, it records 1080p video with a high amount of detail and good audio quality that places an emphasis on minimizing background noise. Colors are generally accurate, although it's plain to see that the white balance shifts a few times during our short clip. This isn't nearly as distracting, however, as the overall jelly-like motion and jitters that are hard to avoid unless you're able to hold the phone perfectly still. Needless to say, the Lumia 810 lacks the fancy optical image stabilization technologies that you'll find in Lumia 920, and the difference is immediately apparent. For comparison sake, we've included sample videos from both the Lumia 810 and 920.
If you're unfamiliar with Windows Phone 8, we encourage you to read our full review, which delves into the benefits and drawbacks of Microsoft's latest mobile operating system. One particular sore point is its app ecosystem, as developers haven't rallied behind Windows Phone to the same extent as Android and iOS. Some of the official apps you won't find include Flipboard, Instagram, Meetup, MOG, Pandora, Pinterest, Redbox, Sonos, Spotify, Stitcher, TiVo and TuneIn. We hope to see this change in the near future, but for the moment, you may experience some growing pains of your own with Windows Phone 8.
Unless you have a particular need for expandable storage, the HTC 8X is without a doubt the better Windows Phone on T-Mobile with respect to hardware. If you'll recall, however, we hinted at the beginning of this review that Nokia has loaded the Lumia 810 with its own assortment of useful apps, which may be enough to sway your decision in favor of the Nokia. We've already discussed some of these titles in the camera portion of our review, but you'll also find a number of location and navigation based apps, along with Nokia Music.
First on deck is City Lens, which is Nokia's own version of Local Scout, but with a greater number of categories and an added augmented reality component. The app is fun and packs a certain "gee whiz" element, but it's also quite useful when you're looking to familiarize yourself with new surroundings. Oddly enough, City Lens demands that users calibrate the compass whenever loading the app, which is frustrating and seems a bit unnecessary. What's more, once you select a place of interest, you'll be kicked over to Nokia Maps, which takes a few seconds to load. Do this a few times and the wait times really begin to add up. As another frustrating point, Nokia Maps suffers from a lack of photos and reviews, which means that you'll probably need to turn to Foursquare or Yelp for genuine insight. City Lens shows a lot of promise, but it'll need a lot of polish to become a serious contender to other location-based discovery apps.
While City Lens has a certain experimental feel to it, the Lumia 810 begins to shine with Nokia's navigation apps. Without mincing words, travelers and commuters alike should give serious consideration to a Windows Phone from Nokia, as Drive and Transit are two apps that could very well be worth the price of admission.
Nokia Drive provides free, voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions, but as a unique twist, it's also capable of storing maps locally on the handset -- nothing short of a godsend for times when you navigate outside of mobile data coverage. Not only does this extend to maps for all 50 states, but you can also download maps from most countries across six continents. Nokia Drive also alerts users when they're speeding, and offers the ability to avoid potential nuisances such as toll roads, ferries, tunnels and unpaved roads. We used the app for a quick test drive and came away with the same impression of our full review: it's quick, competent and capable of replacing a dedicated GPS navigation unit.
Nokia Transit does only one thing, but it does it really well. The app serves to guide users through their commutes and journeys with public transit, and it fills a much-needed void on Windows Phone. The app is easy to use, and thanks to its step-by-step maps and guidance, transfers are a breeze. Another nice perk: you can pin your most commonly used destinations to the home screen.
Another fantastic app is Nokia Music, which combines a store, a service known as Mix Radio and concert listings into a single hub. It's worth pointing out that you'll also find the Xbox Music Store on the Lumia 810, which is part of the Windows Phone Store. Within Nokia Music, you'll typically find songs that sell between $0.99 and $1.29. Mix Radio is without a doubt the standout feature, however, which is similar to Pandora, but it turns things up to 11 by eschewing the ads and allowing users to download tracks for offline listening. The concert listings is certainly a welcome bonus, and as a nice touch, you'll often find links to purchase tickets from your phone.
Other apps from Nokia include ESPN and Transfer My Data. The latter may be handy for new users, which seeks to import data from other phones via Bluetooth. If you're not a fan of any particular Nokia app, you'll be happy to know that you can uninstall anything you don't want. The same applies to apps that T-Mobile has loaded onto the Lumia 810, which includes 411 & More, CallerTunes, Slacker Radio and T-Mobile TV. You'll also find an app entry for Zynga Games, which merely serves as a shortcut to download the ad-free versions of Draw Something and Words with Friends.
The Nokia Lumia 810 is an undoubtedly solid smartphone, but its ultimate undoing is the Lumia 920, a better device that costs less money. If you're unwilling to jump ship from T-Mobile, Nokia's custom software also throws a wrench in the equation, because you'll need to choose between superior hardware that does less (HTC 8X), or a relatively inferior smartphone that does more (Lumia 810). Alternatively, you could also wait for the Lumia 920 to break free of its six-month AT&T exclusivity. Or you could import the Canadian version, which just so happens to support T-Mobile's HSPA+ bands. So long as you're aware of the alternatives, we have no qualms recommending the Lumia 810. If you're wanting to snag the phone right away, however, you should prepare to swallow a bitter pill, because we don't expect its $150 price tag to last far beyond the holiday season.