Nokia Lumia 635 Review: A Speedy Budget 4G Phone With Some Quirky Compromises

Overview

Microsoft has been hard at work with Windows Phone 8.1, and the first wave of next-generation Windows Phone devices are finally here. Leading the pack is the Lumia 630/635 duo, with the latest operating system loaded straight out of the box. Successors of the Lumia 620, the 630/635 promise “Big Features, Small Price”. But does this budget 4G phone have what it takes to dethrone the ever-so-successful Lumia 520? Our editor Nicholas finds out.

Pros

  • Quad core 1.2Ghz processor provides a speedy smartphone experience
  • There aren’t many 4G/LTE phones at this price range
  • Battery life is actually pretty good
  • Comes straight with WP8.1 and Lumia Cyan out of the box

Cons

  • 512MB of RAM means some apps/games may be incompatible
  • No front facing camera, no dedicated shutter key, no rear-facing flash
  • Lack of ambient light sensor and proximity sensor

Introduction

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Some of you may be wondering by now what’s the difference between the Lumia 630 and 635. The Lumia 635 comes with 4G/LTE connectivity while the 630 is restricted to 3G speeds (though it does have a dual sim variant). Other than that they’re virtually the same phone. Apparently the paint job is a little different as well but let’s not go into that. Nokia decided to bring in the 635 to fill the gap in the affordable 4G smartphone market.

First let’s take a look at the specs:

  • 129.5 x 66.7 x 9.2 mm, 134g
  • 4.5″ 480 x 854 (218ppi) IPS LCD screen, Corning Gorilla Glass 3, Virtual on-screen buttons
  • 1.2Ghz Quad Core Snapdragon 400 Processor
  • 512MB RAM, 8GB storage
  • 5MP rear camera, no flash, no front facing camera
  • 1830mAh battery
  • Available in green, orange, yellow, black and white

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the inclusion of Gorilla Glass 3 in such a budget device. Virtual on screen buttons is a first for Windows Phone, and currently the 630/635 are the only ones which have them. Some may be disappointed by the mere 512MB of RAM, but Windows Phone does run very smoothly even on half a gig of RAM. Time for a tour of the hardware.

The Compromises

Lumias

Yes, there’s a whole section about this because I want to tell you exactly what you’re getting yourself into when purchasing this phone. If any of the following compromises put you off, perhaps you should look elsewhere.

First of all, the camera is not equipped with flash. That basically means that the camera is pretty much useless in low light. Otherwise, in daylight the camera actually does pretty well (we’ll talk more about this later).

Still sticking on the topic of the camera, the 635 lacks a camera shutter key. This won’t be a problem for most people, but if you’re a Nokia or Sony user, the lack of a physical shutter key might make you feel a little uneasy. I didn’t really like it at first, but got used to it soon after. But the experience will never be the same without the physical button though, as you won’t be able to launch the camera simply by holding down the shutter key.

Moving on to the front-facing camera. Well it doesn’t exist. So you can’t really take selfies with this phone. In fact the lack of a physical shutter key makes it even harder to take selfies even with the rear camera. (On a side note, if you’re really into selfies you might want to take a look at Sony’s new Xperia C3. It has a 5MP camera with flash on front. It may be a little overdone but oh well)

Word Flow... Keyboaed. Oops
Word Flow… Keyboaed. Oops

The last compromise would be the lack of certain sensors. There’s no ambient light sensor, so there’s no auto brightness for the screen; you’re stuck with manually switching between low, medium and high. Fortunately though, with the addition of the action centre with wp8.1, this isn’t such a tedious task. But what about those times when low is too dim and medium is just too bright? Nokia already thought of that, and added in a “brightness profile” into the device. You can choose exactly how bright “low”, “medium” and “high” will be, a really neat feature, though I don’t see why Microsoft can’t just put in a slider to control the brightness. That would have made much more sense.

The second sensor that’s not present is the proximity sensor. You know, that sensor which detects when your face is near when you’re answering a call and turns off the screen so that your face doesn’t prod at any on-screen controls. So the screen doesn’t shut off when your face is near. What Nokia did instead is to turn the screen off when it detects your face pressing against the screen during a call. So far it has worked fine and I haven’t experienced any issues.

So if you absolutely can’t live with any of these features missing, you should probably get some other phone. But if you think you can live with these compromises, then read on, because the review gets pretty positive from here.

Design, Handling and Build Quality

The Lumia 635 closely resembles the Lumia 630 in terms of design. Nokia decided to cut down on the curves and go for a more “boxy” design, with flat sides that slope at an angle to the back of the device.

The shell is completely removable, revealing the battery, sim card slot and micro SD card slot underneath, both of which can only be accessed upon removing the battery.

The front of the device is completely bare other than the screen and Nokia logo (and speaker grille). No front facing camera, no sensors, no buttons. It’s about as plain as it can get.

The right side houses the lock/power button and volume controls. For the first time in Nokia Lumia history, there is no physical camera shutter key. The shutter key was mandatory for Windows Phones, but looks like Microsoft decided to forgo this criteria. The lack of the physical camera button is just one of the “compromises” that we’ll talk about later.

The back is completely bare other than the 5MP camera, Nokia logo and speaker grille. Left is totally bare. The standard headphone jack is at the top while the micro usb port is on the bottom.

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Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about how the device actually looks and feels. The review unit that we got comes in bright orange. Nokia decided to carry on with its “two tone” colour scheme for its shells, which apparently makes the colours pop out more. The gloss plastic may seem attractive to some, while others may find it too cheap-looking or just too darn bright. Personally I think its fine. Those who do find it overly cheap-looking or bright can opt for the more conventional black or white shells.

You shouldn’t be too critical on the cheap build of the Lumia 635 though. It is a cheap phone. The important thing is, despite being plastic, it’s got a solid build. It feels great in the hand. There aren’t any creaks it squeaks when using the phone, and the only two buttons that it’s got give a solid, satisfying click. Kudos to Nokia for that.

While previous generations of Lumia handsets are too wide for their screen sizes, Nokia has finally adopted a more palm friendly design with their latest phones. The Lumia 635 and the recently released flagship 930 have narrower screens and slimmer bezels than the Lumias of yore, making one handed operation a much more comfortable affair.

Display

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I’d say the Lumia 635’s 4.5″ IPS LCD display is somewhere in between the 620 and 625 both in terms of quality and size. The 218ppi isn’t very flattering. The pixels are extremely visible. But then again, the Lumia 820 mid ranger had exactly the same pixel density and it had pretty positive reviews. However, in a world where budget phones like the Moto G and the Xiaomi Redmi 1s have pixel densities above the 300ppi mark, the measly 218ppi of the 635 seems almost pathetic.

The good news is that Nokia’s ClearBlack display technology is present, giving the LCD panel deeper blacks than usual, and a rather good level of contrast. Viewing angles though, is where the display suffers. Colours become washed out when the screen is tilted to the side, making it nearly impossible to read at an angle. Thankfully, sunlight readability is rather good for its class.

The most interesting thing however, is the inclusion of gorilla glass 3. To think that Microsoft didn’t have the budget to put a layer of oleophobic coating on the screen, but had enough cash to install the latest, strongest glass from Corning. While many things are regrettably not included in the 635, the inclusion of Gorilla Glass 3 seems like overkill for a budget phone.

The lack of an oleophobic coating on the screen is a real problem though. It is nothing short of a fingerprint magnet, and it’s really hard to get rid of all the smudges on the screen.

Battery Life

Surprisingly, battery life was (relatively) good compared to most other Nokia Lumia handsets. With 4G/WiFi on most of the time, lots of browsing and whatsapping, some gaming on Rayman Fiesta Run, and about an hour of typing this review on Office Mobile, the Lumia 635 lasted me throughout the day, averaging about 50% by the end of the day.

In comparison, my Lumia 820 and Lumia 925 (both running on Windows Phone 8.1 dev preivew) suffer terribly in this respect. I thought it was an issue with firmware, but even after getting the Lumia Cyan update on my Lumia 925, there is no noticeable improvement in battery life (yet). Windows Phones with good battery life are hard to come by, folks. The only one I know with respectable battery life is the Lumia 1520, and though the 635 doesn’t come close to the 1520’s legendary battery life, I’m gonna add it to the “Windows Phones with good battery life” list.

Performance

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Now you might think that the Lumia 635 has rather terrible processor. After all, it is a phone that’s going for S$239 off contract. Under the hood it has a Snapdragon 400 1.2Ghz quad core processor, the same processor on most budget phones like the Moto G and Redmi 1s. It keeps things running smoothly on the Windows Phone OS, and I didn’t experience any lag when doing daily tasks (texting, browsing, etc.) You shouldn’t have any problems with speed.

The main concern that most people would have with the Lumia 635 is its measly 512MB of RAM, and they are right to be worried. There are some apps and games that are not compatible on 512MB devices, including the lockscreen app that Microsoft is launching soon. The lack of RAM also makes games run less smoothly compared to say, the Lumia 925. Rayman Fiesta Run started lagging terribly in the later, more graphically intensive stages (which lava flying around the screen).

If you’re looking for a budget phone that can run all your games and apps, you might want to consider the Lumia 525, as it has 1GB of RAM. Or you know, you can just get a Redmi 1s or a Moto G, though none of these have 4G.

Camera Performance

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I won’t be going too much into this as I’ve already sort of mentioned it before. Basically, the 5MP shooter does pretty well in good sunlight, with good colour reproduction, presumably due to the Lumia Cyan firmware.

However, due to the lack of flash, the camera becomes pretty useless at night.

Videos are taken at [email protected] We have a sample video below.

Miscellaneous

You must be wondering about the on screen buttons and how they work. You have 3 options: they can be set to match the colour of the background, stay always black, or have the same colour as your current theme colour.

I don’t really like what Microsoft has done with the on screen buttons. Unlike on Android, these on screen buttons are always there. They don’t go away when you’re watching a video; or when you’re playing a game; or when you’re browsing pictures. The point of having on screen keys is so that they can adapt to give you different options in different situations, and so that they can disappear when not needed. There’s no point in having them there if they’re just going to remain static. You might as well have capacitive keys. There’s no difference.

Prices and Conclusion

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Who is the Lumia 635 for? At S$239, I’d say it’s for the casual user who wants a good LTE/4G experience on their phone. There’s no noticeable lag (one of the advantages of Windows Phone over Android), a decent camera, and pretty good battery life. But the usual warning still applies: If you’re one of those people who love to tweak their phones and try out the latest and newest apps, Windows Phone probably isn’t the way to go. But if you’re anything like me and can appreciate the simplicity of Windows Phone, and are contented with the apps available, then the 635 is a great phone for the budget-conscious.

 

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