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Reviews are coming in of the Nokia Lumia 710, a low-end smartphone and Nokia’s first to run Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. The L.A. Times, for instance, gives it a nice little review, saying, “Is the Lumia 710 a good smartphone or not? Simply put, it is.” At $49.99 on a two-year T-Mobile contract, the phone is not hugely ambitious, but the specs are all there: a 3.7-inch touchscreen, a single-core 1.4-gigahertz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, 512 MB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, a 5-megapixel camera with flash. The whole thing performs well, per the Times; and the reviewer was especially impressed with Nokia Drive, a turn-by-turn voice navigation app.

But these specs aren’t what makes the phone significant. Why the phone matters is that it’s the first little salvo that Nokia and Windows are making together to stay relevant in the smartphone wars. The two inked a multibillion-dollar partnership last year (more on that in this report from February from the BBC), and the little phone is what the Times calls “the first tangible product to hit store shelves” as a result of this deal.

Why bring a pea-shooter, though, to a great battle? This phone is just a starting point in what Nokia and Microsoft apparently hope will be a beautiful (and lucrative) friendship. The Nokia Lumia 710 is more of a testing-the-waters sort of device, mostly for smartphone beginners. You won’t be ditching your iPhone or your Galaxy Nexus for Lumia 710, in other words–though you might be buying it for your grandma.

Nevertheless, the little smartphone that could is something of a preview of what we might see in the near future: a more souped-up Nokia/Windows phone that pulls out all the stops in the race to capture some of the market share away from Apple and Google. Actually, Nokia already has one such phone on the market–the Lumia 800–but it’s only on sale in Europe and Asia, for now. (The Lumia 900, a successor, was just announced at CES this week.)

The annals of war are filled with the heroics of minor generals who are not long remembered, but who nonetheless took bold stands and changed, in a small way, the course of history. In the much lower-stakes wars that are the smartphone wars, the Lumia 710 may just turn out to be one of those interesting historical footnotes.

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