The latest budget Lumia has an odd mix of upsides and downsides, especially considering it’s a Lumia. At its price point, though, it offers excellent value.
The Nokia — or is it Windows Devices yet? — Lumia 635 is the latest in a very long line of Windows Phone Lumia devices, and you could be forgiven for experiencing just a little bit of Lumia fatigue. There’s just a lot of Lumias in the lineup, and the fact that the Lumia 635 is a budget device, where typically the best value Lumias have resided, doesn’t immediately make it leap out from the herd to speak of.
It’s worth digging a little deeper, though, because while there are a number of specifications that the Lumia 635 offers that are distinctly mid-range, there’s also a few key things that mark it out as a good buy in the budget space.
It’s a 4G LTE device, which still isn’t entirely common in the budget space. Wi-Fi is covered by 802.11b/g/n in the 2.4GHz band only — 5GHz and/or AC is going to cost you more than the 635 ships for — and it’s a nicely compact device with a 4.5 inch screen. I’ve long been an advocate for small and powerful devices in the smartphone space, and while the Lumia 635’s inbuilt 1.2Ghz Snapdragon 400 isn’t the most powerful you’ll find, it’s adequate for the task in the Lumia 635’s case.
The Lumia 635’s other big calling card is that it’s running Windows Phone 8.1, one of only a few devices on sale in Australia to do so. Aside from bugfixes and an alleged improvement in performance — more on that shortly — Windows Phone 8.1 also brings with it a notification blind similar to that found in Android and iOS devices, as well as a host of other small scale improvements.
Windows Phone as an operating system has been fine tuned over the years to the point where it’s a very mature environment for smartphone basics. I’ve argued this point before, but I do feel that it’s a smartphone operating system that’s heavily information-centric, and far less app centric.
You know what’s coming, right? Windows Phone Apps. There aren’t enough of them. If you are switching from an Android or iOS device, the odds are that you’ll find one or more major applications that simply don’t exist, either officially or in third-party form for Windows Phone. It’s a pity — but it’s a fact.
There are other catches with the Lumia 635. The 4.5″ display only has a resolution of 854×480, making it a very ordinary display to look at. Just prior to testing the Lumia 635 I was testing out the Lumia 930 — that review’s unfortunately been delayed — and the difference between the two systems running the same operating system is quite stark indeed. There was a time when all Windows Phone devices had fixed low-resolution screens, and it’s hard not to look at the Lumia 635 and feel like it’s a return to those bad old days.
The Lumia brand has been synonymous with good cameras — especially the Lumia 1020 — and while it would be ridiculous to expect that kind of quality out of the Lumia 635’s camera, the included 5MP camera is extremely ordinary in the best of conditions. Challenge it all in any way, and even Nokia’s inbuilt Nokia Camera app won’t save your shot.
I’m not really a selfie person in any way, shape or form, but the Lumia 635’s complete lack of a front-facing camera is still a serious problem if that does appeal to you — as well as making Windows Phone Skype less compelling as well.
Windows Phone 8.1 is meant to make Windows Phone sail along nicely on slower hardware, and it’s long been a focus of the operating system that efficiencies in code meant that lower speed parts didn’t chug too badly. There were instances in testing the Lumia 635, however, where response times definitely lagged. Nothing that you wouldn’t expect from a budget smartphone to be fair, but surprising in a Windows Phone handset, because they usually manage resources so very well.
At $279, the Lumia 635 is an interesting bundle of bits that work very well and bits that don’t. Within the overall smartphone space you can obviously do better both within and external to the Windows Phone environment if you’re willing to spend more.
Within the budget space, though, as long as you can live with its limited camera and still somewhat limited app space, the Lumia 635 is a solid budget option. I’m not a Windows Phone user (that’s my personal choice) but within its niche, at its price point and build quality, the Lumia 635 stands out nicely.