What is the Nokia Lumia 635?

The Nokia Lumia 635 is the 4G version of the Nokia Lumia 630. Most other elements remain the same, except the 635 has a glossy body rather than a matt one. However, it’s a bit more important than that description might suggest.

This _phone_ is part of the new 4G revolution, which is all about bringing 4G phones to people who previously might have dismissed faster mobile internet as just too expensive to consider. The Lumia 635 costs around £120 without a contract, making it pretty easy to buy outright.

Nokia Lumia 635

Nokia Lumia 635 - Design

In several ways the Nokia Lumia 635 is quite a typical budget phone. As it has a 4.5-inch screen, its footprint is smaller than that of most more expensive phones. But at 9.2mm thick it’s not too obsessed with being super-skinny either.

These give the Lumia 635 a similar small-but-chunky feel to phones like the Motorola Moto G and, of course, the Lumia 630. Nokia has added a few nice touches to elevate it above some lesser budget phones, though.

Like other Lumias, the Lumia 635 comes in a few different colours. We’re trying the bright green version, whose larger-than-life shade is far enough removed from real neon lime green to avoid turning of 95 per cent of the population. But it is bright.
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There are also orange and yellow versions, and the more conservative white and black shades. All have a glossy finish, and they use a translucent coloured layer rather than pure block colour in order to give the finish an appearance of depth.

While the finish of the Lumia 635 has that typical glossy plastic feel, this kind of translucent finish stops the _phone_ from seeming too cheap and tacky. Nokia has also made the side buttons a similar shade of green as the rest of the body, once again pushing the phone’s looks above those of cheap and anonymous (generally Android) phones.
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There are a few hardware changes you may notice from Nokia’s older Windows Phones if you’re a long-term fan, though. The camera button has been ditched, as have the hardware soft keys. These used to be part of the hardware requirements of the Windows phone system, but since Windows phone 8.1 they’re no longer demanded.

As the contrast and screen resolution of the Lumia 635’s display are less than perfect, the software nav keys do highlight that this is a budget phone a bit. But then the phone isn’t being sold as anything but a budget 4G Windows phone – of which this is only the second, after the more expensive Nokia Lumia 625.

There aren’t as many cuts here as in the lower-end Lumia 530, though. You get a reasonable 8GB of storage and there’s a microSD card slot under the back cover, which pops off with a quick flick of your thumbnail.

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Nokia Lumia 635 - Connectivity

4G is the most important feature of the Lumia 635, when stacked up against the other low-cost Windows phones. This is certainly not the cheapest 4G phone yet, but it is among the new wave of more accessible 4G devices.

Predictably, most come from the Android stable. The cheapest of the lot (that we’ve reviewed) is the Alcatel One Touch S3 Pop, but we’d recommend stepping up to the thoroughly decent £99 EE Kestrel if the idea of a 4G Android phone also appeals.

 
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For now, though, this is the cheapest 4G Windows phone you can get, short of seeking out a second-hand bargain. As the most important UK 4G bands are supported by the Lumia 635, you’ll be able to pick any 4G network here too.

Nokia Lumia 635 - Screen

As 4G phones get cheaper, though, you can no longer assume that a 4G mobile will be as capable in other areas. The Nokia Lumia 635 screen is a case in point – it’s fairly basic.

You get a 4.5-inch 854 x 480 IPS LCD screen, one that has an extra 54 pixels in height to give that bit of extra room for the software nav keys. Despite those extra pixels, this is a pretty low-res screen.

The limits of the 218ppi pixel density will be immediately obvious if you’ve used a sharper phone before. 18 months ago this sort of resolution used to be the norm in sub-£150 phones, but no longer. Phones like the Motorola Moto E, Moto G and EE Kestrel have taught us to expect a bit more.

And to our eyes 854 x 480 resolution in a 4.5-inch screen just doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

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There are also some other issues. The blacks have a blue tint to them, reducing how punchy and vivid the screen looks, and there’s pretty significant loss of brightness when you view the screen from a horizontal angle. As this is an IPS display, though, viewing angles are otherwise good.

On the more practical side, the Lumia 635 doesn’t have an automatic brightness setting, something that requires an extra bit of hardware on the front of the phone: an ambient light sensor. This means you have to manually bump-up the brightness setting when you go outdoors.

There are only three backlight settings – low, medium and high – so flicking between them isn’t too arduous. But it does get annoying.
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Given this limited control, it’s a surprise that the Lumia 635 gives you such good control over the character of the display. In the Settings menu you can alter the colour temperature, colour saturation and green/purple tint. With a bit of a fiddle you should be able to get fairly decent colour reproduction.

If you find the three Lumia 635 brightness settings don’t suit your needs, you can also alter exactly how bright each of these is. It’s patching up a hardware deficit with software, but it is better than nothing.  

There’s nothing that can really fix the resolution issue, though. While the pixel structure isn’t as apparent as it is in some lower-quality LCD screens, we find it limits the enjoyment of playing games and browsing. The sharpness you get in some Androids at the price just isn’t here.  

Nokia Lumia 635 - Software

The Nokia Lumia 635 runs Windows phone 8.1, an updated version of Windows phone 8 that adds a few important features and takes away a few restrictions.

It is what makes the Lumber 635 hardware possible, allowing things like software nav keys and letting manufacturers leave out a camera button. It also adds a few features that make Windows phone feel a bit more like Android.

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Action Center is Windows’s equivalent of the drop-down notifications menu. It shows you your latest updates, and gives you four little buttons to toggle features and head to the camera. As standard, you get Bluetooth and Wi-Fi switches and a screen brightness toggle, plus that camera shortcut.

We used to praise Nokia’s budget Windows phone as some of the best ways to get super-cheap phones that are still slick, but now that has changed a bit. Phones like the Motorola Moto E and Moto G offer good performance on a budget, and there are some ways they can feel faster than the Lumia 635.

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Nokia Lumia 635 - Performance

Cheaper Windows Phones like the Lumia 635 are good as making swishing through the basic interface quick. One of the key early aims of the system was to offer better all-round performance across the lower price bands than the competition.

However, you do see where the Lumia 635 is a bit less capable in its app load speeds and in-app performance. The phone has just 512MB of RAM, which won’t help in this field. Some apps take a couple of seconds to load where they’ll fire-up more snappily in something like the Lumia 930.  The processor is pretty good, though.

Nokia uses a Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.2GHz CPU in the Lumia 635. That’s the same CPU as the Motorola Moto G, and even much more expensive phones like the Sony Xperia T3. It’s a pretty good chipset.

Our usual benchmarks like Geekbench 3 aren’t available for Windows Phone, so we tried the Sunspider Javascript benchmark instead. Using the inbuilt Internet Explorer browser, the Lumia 635 took 1460ms to complete the test. For a couple of comparisons, the Moto G (using the Chrome browser) took 1290ms and the Lumia 930 a blistering 512ms. It's an entry-level performance.
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Nokia Lumia 635 - Apps and Games

Still, performance is no grand issue with the Nokia Lumia 635. What we found more annoying was the standard old complaint of Windows phone that hasn’t changed – the apps and games situation.

The Windows phone app store now has more than 300,000 apps, but you wouldn’t know it from browsing its shelves.

We won’t be too cruel – the vast majority of the ‘standard’ smartphone apps are here. Social networking, music streamers, and all kinds of utilities are covered. However, there’s not the same sort of app culture as there is on iOS and – to a lesser extent – Android.

If you want to discover a cool new app and game every few days, you’d be better off with an Android phone. If you’re not much of a gamer and don’t need more than the app basics to cover each are of your digital life, there’s nothing to worry about. This is one of the reasons why Windows phone has suited lower-end devices so well over the last couple of years.

Nokia Lumia 635 - Camera

The Nokia Lumia 635 has the same main camera as the Lumia 630. And in turn it’s very similar to the cameras of last year’s models, like the Lumia 520 and Lumia 620.

On the back sits a 5-megapixel sensor, but there’s no flash and no front camera at all. This is a shame in a phone that sells for over £100, although no great loss if you’re not bothered about selfies or video chat.
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One feature the Lumia 635 does have, one that is often missing from entry-level phones at present, is autofocus. This lets you take close-ups, and is a must for even the most basic bits of creative photography. We’re very glad it’s here.

Camera quality is also a fair bit better than some Android at the price. Exposure is usually even, colours reproduction is decent.

Hight-light shots can look a little too processed, the autofocus is a touch slow and detail falls off a cliff when ambient light conditions are poor. But give it some good light to work with and detail levels and punchiness of images are quite good for an entry-level 5-megapixel sensor. We wish it had a proper HDR mode, but it's not too bad at all.

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Natural colours, acceptable shadow detail: all good stuff

Lumia 635 photo

Shots like this could do with an HDR spruce-up, missing from the Lumia 635

Lumia 635 photo

Autofocus means you can shoot close-ups like this. Several at the price used fixed-focus lenses these days

As with other Nokia Windows phone mobiles, though, using the camera can feel quite fiddly. It’s because there are two main camera apps. One is provided by Microsoft, the other by Nokia.

The standard Windows phone camera app is designed to be simple, offering few controls, letting you just tap on the screen to focus, then the shutter button to take a pic.

The Nokia Camera app offers a lot more control but, confusingly, doesn’t show this off from the main camera screen. You could easily mistake one for the other – after all, why would you have two camera apps that don’t have a clear differences in purpose?

Dig a little deeper, though, and you find that Nokia Camera actually gives you a bunch more control, over settings like ISO, white balance and shutter speed. In top-end phones like the Lumia 930, we've said it’s a pretty good place to learn about the basics of photography.

In a budget phone like the Lumia 625, whose image quality is more restrained by hardware, it feels a bit less useful. However, it’s still neat to play with.

Nokia Lumia 635 - Battery Life

The Nokia Lumia 635 has a 1,830mAh battery, the same used in the Lumia 630. And battery performance is similar too. You should get a day's use out of the phoe easily enough, but it's no two full day beast.

You'll get around seven hours of video playback off a charge, which is again nothing special. Some Android alternatives get near to 8-10 hours these days.


Nokia Lumia 635 - Call Quality and Sound Quality

As is common among Nokia phones, the Lumia 635 offers pretty decent call quality. Top volume is respectable and the call speaker has a beefy tone that means it deals with noisy environments better than plenty at the price.

Speaker quality is less noteworthy, though. There's a single mono speaker on the back, and it's rather boxy-sounding. That's better than sounding completely thin and harsh, but both top-end detail and low-end power are limited. We didn't expect anything more at the price, though.
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Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 635?

The Nokia Lumia 635 is one of the cheaper 4G phones, and the cheapest 4G Windows phone we’ve reviewed. However, as we said of the Lumia 630, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as competitive as the Lumia 520 and Lumia 620 did when they were released back in 2013.

Has Nokia been lazy? It’s not necessarily a case of laziness, but in having to make a bit more profit from each phone it sells, having now bitten off a nice bit of the budget market for itself. Keen pricing has given way to a slightly more laissez-faire approach that smacks just a little of complacency.

This doesn’t mean the Nokia Lumia 635 is a bad phone, just that it is not the stonking deal that Androids like the Motorola Moto E, Moto G and EE Kestrel represent. And unfortunately, there’s no killer budget Windows phone mobile on the horizon either.

Verdict

The Nokia Lumia 635 is a competent little Windows phone 8.1 mobile with 4G. However, a few too many little niggles and cuts mean it’s not the bargain the Lumia 520 and Lumia 620 were last year.

Next, check out our list of the best mobile phones