When you think of smart phones the chances are that you will first think of Apples iOS or Google’s iOS but there is a third option which is becoming increasingly viable. With the coming of Windows 10 in July and the mobile version later in the year Windows Phone as a mobile operating system is looking surprisingly viable. From a hardware perspective the Windows Mobile market is dominated by the Nokia Lumia brand which is owned by Microsoft so when EE asked if I wanted to have a look at the Nokia Lumia 635 I jumped at the chance.
The Lumia 635 is like most Lumia designs very distinctive and refreshing. The all gloss plastic case covering the back and sides is smooth and brightly colored – mine was cyan or bright blue – and has very solid feeling. There are three buttons on the right hand side – a volume up or down and a power button halfway up the side. Take off that removable back and inside is a removable 1830mAh battery, a sim card slot and a microSD card slot. Back round to the front of the phone and there is 4.5 Inch display but no selfie camera. Microsoft get around this with an app that lets you use the 5.0 megapixel rear camera instead which works surprisingly well. Internally there is a snappy quad-core 1.2GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM (which is better than it sounds as Windows phone is optimised for less) 8GB of storage (and 30gb of included online OneDrive storage). It ticks all the boxes on connectivity as well with LTE, 3g, Wifi and Bluetooth only missing NFC which few people will be bothered by.
The 635 runs Windows Mobile 8.1 with Denim which at the time of writing is the most up to date version of Windows Mobile. Windows 10 should run on the 635 and the preview versions made available from Microsoft can already be installed and run very smoothly.
Perhaps the biggest feature of the 635 is the price – around £60 straight out and for free on a number of plans.
Windows 8.1 Mobile
Windows Mobile is the third contender with the mobile phone market and after several iterations of Windows 7, Windows 8 and now 8.1 if has become somewhat more conventional. The big problem has always been a lack of apps and this has slowly gotten better. I found that the only big names missing were from Google and there were third party replacements that worked nearly as well even if they were somewhat different. If you are already in the Microsoft ecosystem you will be happy to discover Office, free streaming music, Onedrive, and Skype all built in.
Windows 8.1 mobile also has Cortana built in. This is billed as a personal assistant and is something like a cross between Siri and Google Now. It is a combination of to do list, news and voice control for the phone. I found it (edited from her) far better than I expected. I’m a Gmail and Gcal user and the lack of data it was working with did present some problems but if you go all in on Microsoft properties like Outlook I’m surprised by how well it works and how friendly she feels.
The OS has a lot of little touches which users from iOS and Android will find interesting from its offline SatNav to a database of public wifi hotspots built in that the phone will auto-connect to, the ability to hotspot, a kid mode and an easy to use VPN. I’ve not found anything that could not be reproduced on other OS’s or anything on other OS’s that is not producible on Windows Phone but it does hang together very seamlessly.
The 635 will also probably be upgradeable to Windows 10 and several preview builds can be installed on it right now. These run well and if you really want to you can get Windows 10 mobile now.
When you are looking at the 635 the first thing that springs to mind (well the second after the color) is how much!? Buy it straight out and it will cost you around £60 which for a quality 4g phone is excellent excellent value. There have been some trade offs to get to this price point – perhaps the two big ones are the lack of a selfie camera and the limited 8gb of storage but Microsoft have gotten around these with an app that lets you adjust the standard camera to point directly at yourself and a microSD card slot that lets you increase the storage.
Despite the branding on the phone the Lumia 635 is a Microsoft phone through and through. Microsoft needs little introduction having been on of the most successful tech and IT firms on the planet for the last 30 years. Microsoft bought most of Nokia last year and took over the Lumia brand and produces many phones branded with Nokia.
Environment and social responsibility
The 635 has a number of environmental credentials happily listed by Microsoft. It is free of PVC, has recycled metals, free of nickel on the surface and is free of BFR. The packaging is made of renewable materials and it is 100% recyclable, and containing up to 30% recycled materials.
The phone itself is energy-efficient with a battery saver feature and an energy-efficient charger.
Microsoft itself undertakes a huge number of environmental and social programs which it details in its citizenship reports. That is even before you start to think about Bill Gates and his fight against Malaria.
The 635 is also available on contract although with the straight out cost being so low that is probably not the most economic way to purchase it.
The question of cost effectiveness is usually one that is difficult to answer. If you exclude the very poor knock offs the 635 is one of the most economic smartphones you can buy in the UK and possibly the cheapest 4G smartphone available.
The 635 does not match up in specs to a AAA phone like the Samsung Galaxy S6 but at a tenth the price it fits better as a starter phone, backup phone or just for someone who wants most of the abilities at a fraction of the price.
Included in the box/price
Included in the box is the phone, removable battery and back, a quick start guide, a 3.5mm headset with microphone and earphones, microUSB cable. The first setup of the device also activates 30gb of Onedrive storage for two years.
Size: 129.5 x 66.7 x 9.2 mm
Item Weight: 134g with sim card
Colour: Black, orange or bright blue backs but many third party backs and integrated back cases of different colors and styles are available
Processor: Quad-core 1.2GHz
Operating System: Windows mobile 8.1 Denim
Network: MicroSim most 3G and 4G
Memory:8GB storage, 512MB RAM
Display: 4.5 inches at 854 x 480 pixels and 221ppi
Camera: 5.0 Megapixels
Connectivity: USB 2.0
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5 GHz) capable
Wifi hotspot: Capable
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 A2DP, AVRCP, GATT, HFP, OPP and PBAP
FM radio: Integrated
Headset: 3.5mm headset socket
Battery: Replaceable 1830mAh battery with around 13 hours talktime
Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyroscope
GPS: Yes with GLONASS, BeiDou, Cellular positioning and Wifi positioning
The 635 is designed to be a low cost but relatively high spec phone to get users into the Microsoft Windows mobile space. At its cost it can be well aimed at teenagers, students and children, for use as a backup phone or a phone to be carried when exercising or out and about.
Reuse and repurpose potential
The 635 is a full on smartphone but its low cost, microSD card slot and makes it attractive to use as a MP3 player or video player.
I also found it very useful as a stand alone sat-nav. The first time you start up the mapping program you get the option to download the maps for entire countries. I’ve done this for England and when travelling last week I found myself in an area with no mobile signal and the 635 worked perfectly when my Google Maps could not get itself started.
Ease of use
The 635 was very easy to setup. Assemble the battery, sim, microSD and the back and charge then switch on. The first time it is turned on it will ask for Microsoft account details, wifi access points and then auto-update the installed apps. The process familiar and similar to that of Android and should not give any major problems.
As a full time Android user I found the 635 rather odd to use initially. If you have never seen a Windows phone it can best be described as taking an entirely widget based approach. The home screen is made of a grid of tickers which each give information about an app. For a news app this might be a headline, for email the number of unread, sat nav might be distance to home, music the current song and so on. From this screen you can either select an app from its widget or swipe right to get to a vertical alphabetical list of the apps on the phone. Notifications are handled in a normal way – drag down from the top of the screen and inside apps things are relatively conventional as expected.
I found it an adjustment but no odder than some launchers. Once I’d gotten used to it it worked reasonably well.
As a Windows Phone device the 635 will work best signed into a (free) Microsoft account. Without it you can use the phone but (for example) the app store will not work correctly. To use the 635 on a mobile network you will also need a mobile phone contract or a pay-as-you go sim. The 635 is perfectly useable on wifi only without using a sim and several of the apps such as the sat nav are optimised for this.
Like almost any modern OS Windows 8.1 has a number of built in accessibility options. These will be standard across most Windows Phones running 8.1 and are not unique to the 635.
Built in the OS has the ability to change text size, to change the system and some apps to high contrast, to have the text narrated, to magnify areas of the screen and to zoom in and out.
The screen is clear and bright and while not as high a PPI as some you still have to look very carefully to see the pixels. The OS also has the built in ability to mirror the screen to an external monitor or TV via MirrorCast. I tested this with an Amazon Fire Stick and it worked well although there was always a slight lag.
The OS is both reactive allowing messages and parts of the screen to be read out loud and controllable letting almost any system function be controllable via Cortana. Individual apps have a greater or lesser amount of controllability although Cortana seems to have more hooks and support than its iOS or Android alternatives. In addition the whole OS has a graphics equalizer built in which works both for the built in speaker, bluetooth and the headphone socket and overrides apps. This means that you could for example boost the treble if you had problems hearing in that range.
The speaker built into the 635 is reasonable but is a bit short on bass and high on treble. The highest volume is sufficient for alarms and notifications but I found in too quiet for music or podcasts. Luckily it supports the appropriate Bluetooth protocols so attaching an external speaker is easy enough.
As with most modern devices the phone has two microphones and handles a certain amount of noise cancellation. If I had to think of a single work to describe the effect and recording I would go with adequate. Most people will find it sufficient.
At the current time it is not possible to use an OTG cable and hook USB devices up to Windows phone (although this may come in Windows 10) so external controllers are restricted to Bluetooth. I was able to get an external mouse and keyboard working with the 635 and then mirror the screen to my TV using the built in Miracast. I would not say the result was perfect – it was a little laggy and the UI was not designed to work that way but it did work. If you really need an external mouse or keyboard it can be done.
Windows Phone and the 635 are simple and straightforward to use and if you have never used a smartphone before it could be a near perfect place to start. There is a problem with this though. When WP started out as a replacement for Windows Mobile they decided to go their own way and create a unique product. Over the last few years this has slowly evolved back towards the mainstream of Android and iOS but it is still thematically and practically different in a number of places. Unless you are used to it this can be very jarring.
The Microsoft Nokia Lumia 635 is not what I expected. For its low price I expected poor quality hardware and a laggy experience. What I got was a reasonably well specced and very well made handset which had made very careful cuts and compensated for them to keep the price low.
If you have the latest Apple or Samsung phone would I recommend ditching it and going for the 635? No, not at all. However if you are looking to make an entry into the smartphone market, are after a phone for a child or teenager, want the best combination of price to specs or are after a second less precious phone for active weekends and festivals this is for you.
For myself I’m going to take my own advice and keep using the 635 as an MP3 player and Sat Nav and spare phone. Highly recommended.