Nokia’s modest U.S. re-entry: $50 Lumia 710 on T-Mobile

Nokia’s Lumia 710 (s nok) is leading the phone maker’s Windows Phone 7 (s msft) charge in the U.S. and is set to go on sale January 11 with T-Mobile. T-Mobile announced that the 710, the younger sibling to the Lumia 800, will sell for $50 with a two-year contract and will ride atop its 4G network.

The launch of the 710 is the opening salvo for Nokia as it works to re-establish itself in the U.S. following its decision to adopt Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform. It might disappoint some users who are more anxious to see the Lumia 800, which has gotten positive reviews since it launched in Europe. But T-Mobile said the 710 fits with its strategy of targeting the 150 million Americans who have yet to buy their first smartphone.

“It’s been T-Mobile’s strategy to really upgrade folks who haven’t used a smartphone before to their first smartphone,” said Rhone Rarick, senior product manager for T-Mobile. “The barriers for that are really cost and intimidation of something too complex. From T-Mobile’s perspective we think Windows Phone is a great platform for those folks and from a hardware perspective we need to make certain things happen to get down to great price point of $49.”

The 710 offers a 3.7-inch WVGA display with a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon processor, 8 GB of storage and a 5 megapixel camera. It will be able to access speeds of 14.4 megabits per second on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. The T-Mobile version of the Lumia 710 will also get Netflix (s nflx) pre-loaded along with T-Mobile TV, a streaming video service. The Lumia 710 will join two other Windows Phone 7 devices, the HD7, T-Mobile’s first WP7 smartphone, and the HTC Radar 4G.

”The Nokia Lumia 710 is the perfect first-time smartphone: a well-designed product that delivers the most compelling Windows Phone experience in its price range and with access to great content and thousands of applications,” said Chris Weber, president, Nokia Americas in a statement. “This is the perfect first Nokia Lumia experience and the start of our re-entry into the U.S. smartphone market.”

The news was widely predicted after Nokia and T-Mobile sent out invitations to a Wednesday night event. An FCC filing also indicated the upcoming device would be the 710, removing any doubt about a possible Lumia 800 launch. But the choice of the 710 is still a disappointment in some ways considering the mounting pressure on Nokia to show that it’s serious about its new direction with Windows Phone 7. Our reviewer Kevin really enjoyed Nokia’s N9, the design the Lumia 800 is built off of.

Launching with T-Mobile would also seem to be weak choice for Nokia to debut its Windows Phone 7 line in the U.S. But it makes sense in that T-Mobile has been a strong supporter of Nokia for years. And Nokia is familiar with T-Mobile’s bands so preparing the devices for the network was relatively easy. But it still means that Nokia is starting with a struggling fourth-place carrier and will need to move quickly to roll out on the other operators. This is just the first step for Nokia but it will need to do a lot more to really make good on its bet on Windows Phone 7 in the U.S.