Hands-on review: Nokia Lumia 635

Display, design and camera

There have been countless leaks leading up to the the Build 2014 reveal of Nokia’s latest devices – but how does the Finnish company’s Lumia 635 budget phone stack up against the other affordable options?

Two budget Lumias were announced and the candy colored 635 is practically identical twins with the 630. The only noticeable difference in specs between the two models is the fact that the 630 comes in 3G with both single and dual SIMs. The 635, on the other hand, has 4G LTE.

Additionally, the 630 won’t be seeing a US release while the 635 will be getting an unspecified worldwide release. T-Mobile, MetroPCS , AT&T and Aio – an AT&T subsidiary – have all announced they’re carrying the device which will retail for $189 (about £114, AU$205).

The Lumia 635 comes with a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and only 512MB of RAM, which means it doesn’t have a lot of extra horsepower. But swiping tiles around and moving between applications wasn’t horrible. Rather, the transitions were smooth and apps opened quickly.

At only 8GB on internal memory, there also isn’t a lot of on board storage – though you do get 7GB of OneDrive cloud storage and a MicroSD slot that supports up to 128GB.

Nokia Lumia 635

Like a moth to a flame, it’s apparent the bright colors are meant to attract lots of people – possibly the crowd that enjoys the iPhone 5C – though of course Nokia has been out with rainbow hued devices for much longer.

Stephen Elop, Nokia Executive Vice President of Devices and Services, also mentioned during the conference, and again at Nokia’s More event that the ability to “color coordinate” with the phones makes them cool accessories.

The Lumia 635 comes in five different colors: orange, green, yellow (all noted as “bright”) plus the classic white and black. Again, like the iPhone 5C, there are also two different kinds of changeable shells, or covers: matte and a two-toned option.

The neon colors don’t make it completely pleasing to the eye though. The 635 is a bit on the chunky side but still manages to fit in a pants pocket. It also doesn’t particularly stand out against all the other bright Lumias out there.

Nokia Lumia 635

The ClearBlack screen comes in a modest 4.5-inches with a resolution of 854×480 pixels. It’s not superb but you get what you pay for – which is still a decent display.

Nokia has been touting its phones as great cameras but the 635 doesn’t seem to fully fit the bill. Unlike the Lumia 930 and other Windows phones, the 635 doesn’t have a dedicated camera button on the side so you’ll just have to rely on the touchscreen button.

Nokia Lumia 635

The camera is 5MP and shoots video in 720p with no front-facing snapper and no flash anywhere to be seen. But again, these are concessions you’ll have to live with for an affordable smartphone. Still, the photos I took were nice to look at and like the other Lumia cameras, there are multiple photography editing functions present.

Windows 8.1, Cortana and Word Flow

Nokia Lumia 635

The hard-selling points of the 635 probably lie in the newest features. Despite being a budget phone, it will come with the latest Windows Phone 8.1 OS which comes with a bundle of genuinely great upgrades.

If you’re familiar with Android and iOS systems, then the the addition of the Action Center, or Notification Bar should look familiar. Simply swipe down and you’ll be greeted with a swathe of notifications which you can customize to suit your needs whether it’s missed calls, message or social media. There are also four default tiles on top which are also customizable.

Nokia Lumia 635

Cortana is also the other exciting feature that the Lumia 635 comes with. Despite being a beta, the AI helper worked really well.

I asked Cortana for the seven-day forecast of San Francisco in a noisy, crowded room with the phone held at varying distances – near my face and near my hip – just to see if it was able to hear me. Surprisingly Cortana picked up my question with an accurate answer, and was even able to answer more sophisticated questions without missing a beat. It also opened third-party apps seamlessly without having the trouble Siri does with my iPhone. The transition from the question screen to app screen happened in the bat of an eyelash.

Cortana will be released “in the next few months” as a beta for Windows 8.1, and will be US-only to begin with. The full version is planned for a late-2014 launch in the US, UK and China, with other countries following suit in 2015.

Lumia 635 Word Flow

Word Flow was also another feature Nokia was eager to tout. I was told that the typing, or swiping, process takes some time to get used to but after spending 15 minutes with it and then having a colleague try it out, it still didn’t work well. Word Flow is supposed to pick up on words you type as you move your finger across the screen; you don’t even have to stop to press the spacebar for the sentences to form.

It was actually a more amusing experience than annoying, though I can see it becoming irksome over time if you’re trying to type out “how are you” and “Hernando” pops up every time. I suppose practice would make it easier but its definitely not as intuitive as Nokia claims.

Early Verdict

As far as budget phones go, the Lumia 635 is pretty impressive. It’s a bit bulkier than expected but still feels durable. Admittedly, the flashy colors are fun and definitely eye-catching – it seems like it wouldn’t be a Lumia if it wasn’t like a neon sign.

It also makes the 635 looks like every other Lumia out there, but the added bonuses of Windows 8.1 and Cortana really make the phone stand out. Compared to the likes of the Moto G or the iPhone 5C – the cheaper handsets of their counterparts, it seems like the Lumia 635 has a fighting chance.