Not so long ago, when mobiles were simpler devices, swappable covers were the way to customise your phone, and Nokia's range of Xpress-On cover handsets dominated the trend for face-change, show-your-personality mobiles.

Now Nokia is attempting to revive the fashion for instant mobile makeovers, by introducing a new wave of Xpress-On-sporting handsets.

The Nokia 7310 Supernova is one of a trio of fascia-changing Supernova-tagged phones to hit stores, promising a bit of personalisation and style for younger mobile buyers.

Basic spec

The Nokia 7310 Supernova's specifications are less spectacular than its name might suggest. It has a fairly standard set of Nokia lower-tier features under those exchangeable covers. Illustrating this, there's no 3G (let alone Wi-Fi) for high-speed browsing and downloads; instead it relies on GPRS/EDGE slower speed data connectivity.

The 7310 Supernova does, though, have some essentials for its target audience - including a 2-megapixel camera, multi-format music and video players, an FM radio built in and expandable MicroSD card memory.

It also has a crop of web-based applications, including an Opera Mini browser and Yahoo! Go, pre-loaded, and supports email and instant messaging.

Customisable covers

With style and personalisation at the top of the agenda, the 7310 Supernova arrives with two covers in-box. The phone comes ready-dressed in either Steel Blue or White covers, depending on which network it's bought from.

The extra supplied covers are in either 'candy pink' or 'wasabi green', each having its own distinctive design trim. Additional covers can be bought from Nokia, with a DIY design-it-yourself option for more personalisation. These clip on easily enough, and are quick to exchange.

The out of the box covers have an eye-catching mirrored display section, covering the whole of the 2-inch 16 million-colour QVGA screen when it's sleeping.

This design theme is carried into a shiny chrome-effect keypad, though the plasticky look and feel of it gives it a cheap rather than classy appearance.

Nonetheless, the keypad itself is fine and springy enough for rapid texting. The controls – based around a navigation D-pad and a conventional set of softkeys – are also straightforward and good to tap. Having a typical Nokia Series 40 user interface, the 7310 is easy to operate and get to grips with. And there are plenty of function shortcuts on its Active Standby screen and navigation pad.

Simple design

The 7310 is a shade under 12mm thin (measurements are 106.5(h) x 45.4(w) x 11.95(d)mm) and weighs a pocket-friendly 83g. It's an uncluttered design with only a volume rocker key on the sides.

A microUSB socket on the top sits next to a earphone socket. Unfortunately, this is a 2.5mm rather than standard headphone 3.5mm jack, so you'll need an adapter if you want to use your own earphones rather than the boxed headset.

This socket can also be used with an optional TV-Out cable, for playing music or video on a TV set, but Nokia doesn't put one in the box.

Expandable memory

Naturally, the music player is a feature that's going to have some appeal to its target audience.

The phone has just 32MB of internal memory, but storage can be upped by slotting in a MicroSD card under the cover – cards up to 4GB are supported. None is supplied, but MicroSDs are a cheap and essential upgrade if you want to listen to more than a handful of tracks.

It's a typical Nokia mid-tier music player, with familiar track categories – playlists, albums, artists, genres and videos – that works effectively and has a functional navi-pad control set up. It's a shame the supplied earphones aren't great. They give a trebly quality to the sound that's lacking in bass clout. Swapping for decent headphones (using an adapter we sourced) improves sound considerably.

Also disappointing is the lack of in-box USB cable to aid track copying from a PC. There's no Nokia PC Suite software CD either to manage music or syncing, though this can be easily downloaded from the Nokia website. You can however transfer tracks via Bluetooth, or simply copy them on to a MicroSD card.

Average camera

The respectable if unexciting 2-megapixel camera is similar to the sort used on the 5310 XpressMusic, with no flash or autofocus system to bump up the performance.

The full screen viewfinder is OK, but the quality of shots isn't great. They have a tendency to be a bit soft and lacking in detail and refinement. Some of the colouring – normally bright - can veer towards oversaturated under strong lighting conditions, while it struggles with shots in doors or in darker conditions.

It's fine for basic snapping, but don't expect high-class results. Another downer is the time it takes for processing pics; from pressing to take a shot it can take around 15 seconds until it's ready to shoot again.

There's little to get excited about in the video capture department either, with low-resolution 176x144 pixels shooting producing averagely poor quality mobile fare.

Mini browser

Nokia packs in a reasonably good set of mid-level standard functionality to go with the music and imaging. Browsing may not be the quickest, without 3G kicking it along, but the addition of Opera Mini browser software – in addition to Nokia's own browser – is very welcome. It's an excellent set-up to have on any phone, and you get a good choice of viewing and page navigation options.

Other Web-based apps now becoming commonplace on Nokia Series 40 phones include Yahoo! Go, which brings together a variety of news, information, messaging and other services together in one virtual desktop.

Similarly, Nokia's own WidSets widgets-based application is pre-loaded, giving you fast access to personalised blog and website updates via RSS-style feeds. A quick online Search option, using Windows Live Search or Yahoo!, is offered too.

Email and instant messaging functionality is built in to the phone, while other tools include a voice recorder, calendar, calculator, convertor, world clock, to-do lists, notes, timer, stopwatch. Four games are slotted in too. You can download more Java apps directly from Nokia using the Downloads! tool.

Decent battery life

Making and taking calls, the Nokia 7310 Supernova produces no compromises – sound quality is top-rate, with no problems in our tests.

Battery life is pretty good too, if not exceptional. Between charges, Nokia estimates you can get up to 4 hours talktime ro up to 300 hours on standby.

Our real-life scenario test, with typical usage gave us a comfortable 3 days before having to grab the charger.

Life beyond the novelty factor?

This is a decent Nokia budget handset, providing a reasonable set of features for the price. Apart from its Xpress-On cover routine, it's quite standard-issue functionality with little wow-factor.

With the 7310 Supernova, Nokia is aiming for a new generation of mobile users who want to express their individuality through their phones, and for whom cover-swapping has some novelty factor.

It may score on this point, but with plenty of other smart-looking and well-equipped phones vying for attention, the moderately specified Nokia 7310 Supernova has its work cut out.

Network availability: Orange, others TBC

Looks: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Features: 3/5
Call quality: 4.5/5
Value: 3.5/5