Microsoft Lumia 535 Review: 5x5x5 budget smartphone

Overview

As Microsoft’s first Lumia phone since its acquisition of Nokia’s hardware division, the Lumia 535 defines Microsoft’s target market – the fast-growing low-end market. As yet another budget phone that provides a whole lot for its $199 retail price, can it differentiate itself from the wildly popular Lumia 520, or will it ultimately live in its spiritual predecessor’s shadow?

Pros

  • Dual SIM capabilities
  • Screen is sufficiently bright
  • Quite affordable for what it offers

Cons

  • Touch sensitivity issues
  • Viewing angles lacking

Introduction

The Lumia 535 seems to offer a lot, with its ‘5x5x5’ innovation. 5 Microsoft services, namely Skype, Office, OneDrive, Cortana, and OneNote, a 5-inch screen, and 5 MP front and rear cameras. How does the marketing talk translate into real world usage?

First, let’s take a look at the specs:

  • 140.2 x 72.4 x 8.8mm, 146g
  • 5” 540 x 960 (220 PPI) IPS LCD screen, Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 1.2 GHz Quad core Snapdragon 200 Processor
  • 1 GB RAM, 8 GB storage (expandable via micro SD)
  • 5 MP rear camera with LED flash, 5 MP wide angle front facing camera
  • Dual SIM
  • 1905 mAh battery

Other than the surprising inclusion of Gorilla Glass 3, normally found on high-end phones, Microsoft has also included a 5 MP wide angle front facing camera, which is sure to entice the selfie-crazed world. The bump to 1 GB of RAM up from the usual 512 MB of RAM on budget Windows Phone is welcoming. While Windows Phone is perfectly capable of running smoothly on a measly 512 MB of RAM, the additional RAM ensures that all apps are compatible on the 535. Dual SIM is also much appreciated, and is puzzlingly sort of an exclusive to budget phones. I’d love to see some dual SIM capabilities on high-end phones as well.

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Dual SIM goodness

Let us now take a look a closer look at the hardware.

Design, Handling, and Build Quality

The back cover of the Lumia 535 is removable, and removing it will reveal the removable battery, dual SIM card trays, and the micro SD card slot. Both the SIM trays can only be accessed upon removing the battery.

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You can find the 5 MP front facing camera that puts the 5 into 5x5x5 (well, one of the 5’s) at the front, along side the Microsoft logo in place of the familiar Nokia logo.

The right side of the phone houses the volume rocker and the power button, but not the physical shutter key we have all come to love.

The back of the phone features the 5 MP camera with its LED flash by the side, another Microsoft logo, and the speaker grille. Headphone jack is at the top, micro USB port at the bottom.

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When you pick up the Lumia 535, you can immediately tell that it is a phone for the budget-conscious.

A telltale sign that the 535 is a budget phone is that the removable shell isn’t exactly snuggly hugging the phone, causing the phone to creak and move about inside the shell. Not exactly something you’d like to feel every time you do some scrolling.

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Another point on handling the phone is that the shell is made of a matte material, and can be rather slippery at times. The phone may slip out of your hand if you do not grip it firmly. This can be pretty annoying, and you may drop your phone on the floor. Luckily, the Lumia 535 looks like it can withstand everyday usage and even possibly a few drops. That is ultimately not an excuse for the pretty much non-existent grip, and a material with slightly more grip would have been much appreciated.

Yet another thing to note about the shell is that when you remove the shell, make sure the phone is facing downwards, or the battery may just decide to pop out as well.

While majority of the blemishes in the build quality is due to the removable shell, not all is bad about the shell. The colour of the shell borders the front side of the phone, and with a matching theme colour, it can prove to be rather fun looking.

The build quality of the Lumia 535 is subpar, but ultimately reasonable enough for its price. A material with slightly more grip coupled with some form of oleophobic coating on the screen, and the build quality would be pretty decent.

Performance

Despite the Lumia 535 being a budget phone running on the extremely unflattering 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 200 quad-core processor, it runs on the resource-light Windows Phone after all, known for its buttery smooth performance even with entry-level specifications, so performance should be of no concern. In general, operations like scrolling and opening apps were smooth, much like what I would expect from a Windows Phone, so no surprises there.

Display

The Lumia 535 packs a qHD (quarter, not quad) IPS LCD 5-inch screen, with the much appreciated inclusion of Gorilla Glass 3, and the not-so appreciated exclusion of an oleophobic coating which makes the screen a fingerprint nightmare. The 960 x 540 resolution paired with a 5-inch screen size translate to a PPI of roughly 220. While it is not exactly pleasing on the eyes and makes pixel-spotting a walk in the park, I guess it is reasonable enough for a phone its price although it should be noted that more budget phones are now packing HD screens, like the Xiaomi Redmi.

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The auto-brightness actually works pretty well, though it tends to set the brightness a tad brighter than what I would’ve preferred. On the same note, sunlight readability is also surprisingly well.

While it is an IPS LCD display, I found the viewing angles to be horribly lacking, anything slightly off-centre and the colours would be extremely washed-out. This is by no means a deal breaker though, as you would be looking at your screen head-on most, if not all the time.

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One jarring issue with the screen is the touch sensitivity, or lack thereof. It would often either not register my touch or register multiple touches, and this makes typing on the Lumia 535 a nightmare.

Another issue is the time it takes for the phone to register the touch. The first time I turned it on, there was a noticeable delay before the phone registered my touch. Attributing it to the the fact that it just booted up for the first time and needed time to warm up, I casually dismissed it and went on with my daily usage.

However, it never did go away. When scrolling through the app list and settings (which is puzzlingly still an uncategorised mess), the phone handled it perfectly well, with the various apps and settings breezing through the screen. But the ever-present delay is noticeable enough to, well, be noticed, and Windows Phone being an OS that emphasises on swiping and scrolling did not help at all.

While the display is reasonable enough, the issues with the touchscreen will put off many. I certainly do hope that it is a software and not a hardware issue that will easily be solved via a software update.

Battery life

Powered by a 1905 mAh battery, the battery life of the Lumia 535 is mediocre. Using the phone as my daily driver, I regularly ended the day with around 30% of the battery left. I would rate my usage as rather light, since I may have been trying to avoid using it due to the touchscreen issues. Heavy users would want to keep a spare battery or a power bank handy.

Camera

The ‘5x5x5’ Lumia 535 comes with a 5 MP front facing wide angle camera, and a 5 MP rear camera equipped with a LED flash. While the 5 MP front facing camera sure sounds enticing, the rear camera is no PureView. Also, the Lumia 535 does not come with a physical shutter key, and Nokia.. I mean Microsoft Lumia fans are sure to miss it.

With sufficient lighting, the photos turn out decently, but the details are ultimately lacking.

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In dark conditions, count yourself lucky if you manage to snap a photo you like.

Conclusion

The Lumia 535 is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction by Microsoft, keeping the price low while squeezing in as many feature as it can, but it is still just a step. At $199, the 5x5x5 Lumia 535 is okay at best, there are other similarly-priced phones out there that provides an overall better experience than the 535. However, that is not to say that the 535 is an outright bad phone. If you’re looking for a budget Windows Phone, the 535 is still a solid choice and you will not go wrong with it, spare a few issues like the touch sensitivity.

If you are undecided, do head down to a telco store to play around with it and get a better sense of the phone, as the problems I’ve described in my review may be limited to the review unit. If you are are set on getting the Lumia 535, well, do keep the points I’ve raised in mind. 

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