What is the Nokia Lumia 735?

There’s a decent chance the Nokia Lumia 735 is one of the last Nokia branded smartphones ever. Microsoft bought Nokia’s _phone_ division earlier this year and is expected to drop the Nokia name in future. That’s a sobering thought for anyone who has bought Nokia phones over the years, but the good news is the Nokia Lumia 735 is a decent last hurrah.

The Lumia 735, which of course runs Windows Phone, is pitched as the ultimate selfie _phone_ thanks to an ultra-wide, 5-megapixel front-facing camera. But it’s also a capable, 4.7-inch mid-range smartphone that includes 4G, NFC and even supports wireless charging with additional accessories. It has some wrinkles, but it’s free on contracts from £18 a month or £190 SIM-free, making it a decent value option if you fancy something different from the Android rivals like the Moto G 2 or Sony Xperia M2.

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Nokia Lumia 735: Design & Features

The Lumia 735 sticks to the standard Lumia formula: it’s plastic and it’s colourful. We’ve seen the green and orange versions, which are bold, striking shades with a glossy sheen. There are white and black versions, too, but of the four we’d pick the green. The orange is a little too garish, while the black and white are just a tad dull.

We like the design, though. The smooth, curved shape is comfortable and the Lumia 735 has an unfussy quality that instantly endears itself. The only thing we’d change is the location of the power/standby button on the right edge — it’s about halfway down and a real pain if you use your phone in a cradle when driving.

Like most phones this price, the rear is removable and the battery is user replaceable. There’s a microSD card slot in there as well, so you can expand the 8GB built-in storage. This removable rear comes with one small complaint, though, as the case creaks a little when held tight or pressured at specific points. This gives it a slightly cheap feel, though the actual build quality is good — we dropped our Lumia 735 a couple of times with no ill effects, not even a scratch.

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Another benefit to the removable rear is that you can buy an optional Wireless Charging Shell and Nokia Wireless Charging Plate. Both are still listed as ‘coming soon’ but they’re neat options to have, even if they cost extra. Likewise, the Lumia 735 is unique among phones this price in including NFC.

In theory this allows for wireless payments, though in practice you’ll use it more for speeding up pairing with NFC equipped Bluetooth devices. That includes another upcoming accessory, the Microsoft Screen Sharing tool, which will let you beam your phone’s screen to a TV wirelessly using NFC to pair.

All of which means the Lumia 735 is a feature-packed phone for the price. They’re not all the kind of features you’ll use all the time, if at all if you don’t buy the accessories, but few phones this price can match it in this regard.

The Lumia 735 is powered by a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, has 1GB RAM and includes the usual niceties such as Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and 802.11n Wi-Fi. There’s even an FM radio, a feature we don’t see often anymore. The cameras are 6.7-megapixels at the rear and 5-megapixels on the front, which means the rear one is unusually high and the front one is unusually low. We’ll get onto those in detail a bit later.

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Nokia Lumia 735: Screen

First, though, the Lumia 735’s screen. It’s a 4.7-inch, AMOLED screen with a 1,280 x 720 resolution and it’s much like most AMOLED screens you’ll have seen, particularly among cheaper phones. Blacks are completely black, but colours — while rich — are overstated.

This combination means photos and videos look rich, deep and full of contrast, but also unrealistic. Skins tones have a ruddy, tanned complexion that’s out of character, something we noticed most when viewing photos taken on the phone than in online videos and films. We also found the screen tends to ‘crush’ the dark parts of videos so that, in one example, someone wearing a dark shirt seemed to merge into the dark background.

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The other issue is that the Lumia 735’s screen doesn’t look as sharp as its 1,280 x 720 resolution suggests. Despite squeezing in 316 pixels per inch (ppi), only slightly less than the 326ppi of the new iPhone 6, it has a slightly grainy, pixellated quality. This is down to the way the sub-pixels are arranged (referred to as PenTile), which means the screen falls short of Moto G and Moto G 2 whose 720p LCD screen look sharper.

These issues make the screen sound worse than it really is, though. Yes, colours are too much sometimes, but some people will like the punchy, contrasty look — it certainly works well with Windows Phone’s standard dark and colourful interface. Moreover, the most recent Lumia firmware update lets you tweak the colour settings, so you can tone down the colours somewhat. On balance, it’s a better screen than on the Sony Xperia M2 (960 x 540, 229ppi), it’s just not as good as the Moto G 2’s sharper, LCD display.

It also works well when outdoors. Again, it’s not quite as bright as the Moto G 2’s LCD screen, but it handles bright sunlight well and remains useable and the auto brightness system does a good job picking the right setting for the conditions.

Nokia Lumia 735: Software

One of the reasons Nokia is the main Windows phone maker is the time and effort it has put into extending Windows Phone. The Lumia 735 runs the latest version, Windows phone 8.1, as well as the UK beta for Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant, but it’s also one of the first to run the Lumia Cyan update. This adds a few nice additions, such as double tap to wake, Miracast support and colour profile controls, that are missing on standard Windows phone 8.1 devices.

You can read our Windows phone 8.1 review for a more in-depth look at what it offers, but overall it’s a very solid update to an improving operating system. It adds some much needed features, such as a notifications center, and improves the Live Tile interface to reduce the amount of scrolling you have to do.

As for Cortana, Microsoft’s Siri and Google Now alternative, it’s a decent service, albeit one that shows its ‘Beta’ origins. In fact, it’s often better at complex requests like getting directions than simple ones. For example, our main gripe is the fact it doesn’t always suggest ‘on device’ options when it ought to — ask for ‘Facebook’ and you get Bing search results first, ask for ‘Facebook app’ and you get the app, albeit after a long pause for it to think about the request. Indeed, it’s much slower than Google Now or Siri generally, mainly because it always makes a web search even when it’s not the best option.

But Cortana is still a beta and Windows phone as a whole runs smoothly. Its Live Tiles interface, now complete with ‘Live Folders’ and smaller tiles and icons, remains the most engaging homescreen interface of the three major mobile players, and Microsoft has plugged most of the glaring gaps in functionality recently. It’s a thoroughly modern and most of the time enjoyable system to use — it’s worth trying for a while if you never have before.

On apps it still lags slightly behind iOS and Android, but the situation isn’t quite as dire as often portrayed. Windows phone has, broadly speaking, 80% of the apps people use everyday, including a beta version of Instagram. What it lacks are the 20% that sometimes make the difference, while the regularity and scope of major app updates often lag behind Android and iOS. How much this matters will depend on how much of an app fanatic you are.

It must be said, also, that Microsoft doesn’t help app discovery. For example, the ‘best-rated’ section of the Windows Store is full of spammy rubbish, while searching for Flipboard showed no results despite it being in the store — we eventually found it in a featured section and installed it fine despite the desktop version of the Windows phone Store insisting it wasn’t available on our phone.

Finally, it must be added that the default apps are (mostly) very good. Nokia Here Drive is the best sat-nav experience of the three major operating systems, while Bing Maps has everything you need. We love the News and Sports apps, too, which give Flipboard and co. a run for their money.

Nokia Lumia 735: Performance

Mid-range phones seem to have settled on the exact same formula recently as the Lumia 735 is yet another phone to use the 1.2GHz, quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip. It’s backed by the standard 1GB of RAM, which judging by Android phones should be ample to keep things ticking over at a decent speed.

Most of the time, it is. Windows phone runs smoothly for general tasks and web browsing with only occasional hiccups — mainly when waiting for slow internet connections to catchup. That said, we did encounter a couple of issues, the severity of which will depend on your perspective.

First, we found the Lumia 735 started to chug a little when downloading apps in the background, particularly if it’s a large app or there’s several in the queue. This is mostly trivial, but we felt the keyboard lagging and animations stuttering on these occasions.

The second problem was performance in games — games on the Lumia 735 look worse and run less smoothly than on identical Android hardware. The new FIFA 15: Ultimate Team is the worst offender. It looks fuzzy, the frame-rate is choppy and it freezes frequently. Even the menus feel sluggish. The same game on the Moto G 2, running on the same core hardware and screen resolution, looked much better and ran faultlessly.

Lumia 735

Asphalt: Overdrive on Lumia 735 (left) and Moto G 2 (right). The Android phone enjoys higher quality textures, more advanced lighting effects and runs smoother, even using the same hardware and resolution.

We saw similar but far less severe problems in Asphalt: Overdrive and Star Wars: Commander. Asphalt ran mostly smoothly with only occasional dropped frames, but it didn’t look as good as Android versions (see above screenshot) and the loading times felt endless. Star Wars: Commander was the best of the three, but it still stuttered from time to time.

We played other less demanding games that ran fine, but the differences between platforms was unambiguous and obvious. Whether this is down to poorer developer optimisation for games on Windows phone or an underlying Windows phone issue we can’t say, but if you like playing more demanding games then you should think twice about he Lumia 735.

Nokia Lumia 735: Camera

Nokia is rightly proud of its pedigree for making good cameras for phones, and it’s also unafraid to break with convention. The Lumia 735’s cameras demonstrate both traits. The main, rearward camera has a relatively lowly 6.7-megapixel resolution, while the front-facing is a more impressive sounding 5-megapixels with a wide-angle lens. That said, the main camera also has an impressive f/1.9 maximum aperture, which should give it an edge in tricky light.

It’s the front-facing camera that is the Lumia 735’s key selling point, at least in Microsoft’s eyes, as the Lumia 735 is marketed as the ultimate selfie camera. This is thanks to a new app, Lumia Selfie, and the fact the wide-angle lens is perfect for ‘group selfies’ — also referred to as groufie, though Huawei is trying to trademark this term. Good luck with that Huawei.

Lumia 735

You definitely can fit more people into your selfies, not that this is always a good thing...

Anyway, if you do take lots of selfies (groufies or otherwise) then the Lumia 735 is a good phone to have. Its wide-angle lens really does help fit people in, as this rather unfortunate office effort attests. Shots in normal light are perhaps a tad noisy, but you’ll only notice this at full resolution — at Facebook friendly resolutions shots look great. It copes well with gloomy lighting, too, which is perfect for nights out.

The Nokia Selfie gives you lots of ways to tweak and improve your selfies, including a decent selection of filters and some dubious additions such as the ability to make you smile more or appear slimmer. Still, it's easy to use and quickly compare your embellishments before sharing them.

The main camera is good, too. Its limited 6.7-megapixel resolution means it doesn’t capture much detail, but it’s a good camera if you care more about sharing decent photos with friends than showing off your photography skills.

Lumia 735

This shot shows the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Lumia 735’s camera rather well. It’s a nicely balanced, accurate shot but the lack of a dedicated HDR mode — a continuing absence on Nokia’s Windows Phones — means the sky outside the window is totally overexposed.

Lumia 735

This is another good shot from the Lumia 735. You won’t see much detail if you zoom in, but the full frame has a nice balance to it. The same scene on the Moto G 2, in contrast, looks a tad gloomy, though it was shot without the benefit of HDR, which it supports.

Lumia 735
Lumia 735

And that HDR support shines through in this shot. The Nokia Lumia 735 really struggles here — you basically have to choose between an over exposed sky or an under exposed foreground.

Moto G 2 with HDR enabled
Lumia 735

The Moto G 2 in the shot above, on the other hand, has an effective HDR mode that creates a nice, balanced and interesting shot.

Lumia 735

But the Lumia 735 really excels in close-up portraits, as this shot shows. The subject is nicely in focussed, colours are accurate and there’s even a nice sense of bokeh (background blur). We couldn’t get a decent shot from the Moto G 2 in this test — it really struggled to focus accurately.

Lumia 735

The Lumia 735 also excels in low-light situations without the flash. While its aggressive processing destroys detail, it does produce a useable photo provided you don’t look too closely. Vitally, it’ll produce the kind of photo you’d happily share on Facebook, whereas the Moto G 2 won’t.

Nokia Lumia 735: Battery Life

The Lumia 735's 2,200mAh battery is a decent size. A normal day, combining music, some light gaming, web browsing and general use led us to around 15 to 20% of spare capacity after a 12-hour day. You'll get a little more from it if you don't play games often, but probably not enough to forgo charging it every night.

This is good enough for most people, though the Lumia 735 isn't the fastest charger. It typically charges at around 30% per hour, which means it takes a little over three hours to charge fully. Again, this is standard for a phone this size and price, though the Moto G 2 manages a brisk 30% every half an hour.

Nokia Lumia 735: Call and Sound Quality

Call quality is fine. The Lumia 735 has active noise-cancelling and the earpiece is loud and clear, if a little muddy. We didn't suffer any dropped calls or poor connections, even when calling from a moving train in an average signal area.

Sound from the built-in speaker is less impressive. It's at the back and while it reaches reasonable volumes, it tends to distort and reverberate in the case slightly. This is most noticeable when using the phone as a sat-nav, where instructions sometimes sound slightly garbled and clipped. It didn't cause us to miss any crucial instructions, but you need to pay attention more to hear the instructions.

Unsurprisingly, this means music sounds tinny, muffled and generally unfit for even very casual listening.

Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 735?

There are plenty of good reasons to consider it, particularly at its sub-£200 SIM-free price. It has two good cameras, it looks smart and there lots of things to like about Windows phone if you spend a little time with it. We prefer it to its most immediate Android alternatives, such as the Sony Xperia M2.

Its problems lie in sluggish performance in games and the fact we'd be tempted by cheaper Android alternatives, such as Moto G 2. The Moto G 2 might lack 4G, but it's cheaper, faster and has a better screen. Its camera isn't as good in low light, but it's decent all the same.

That said, if this alternative doesn't interest you then the Lumia 735 is a very good buy. It takes great selfies, good-looking photos and only let's itself down when playing more demanding games.


A very good phone for sharing photos, but less so for games. But if you don't play games there are few reasons not to buy one.

Note: We updated this review after Microsoft listed the phone for £190 SIM-free, less than the £230 at third-party stockists.

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