Very affordable; Sturdy and fairly lightweight design; Long battery life; Swift performance
Lacks front camera and rear-facing flash; Camera takes fuzzy, washed out photos; Weak speaker
The Nokia Lumia 635 offers a vivid display, responsive performance and long battery life at a wallet-pleasing price.
Budget doesn't need to be a dirty word. Just look at the Nokia Lumia 635, which costs just $168 on T-Mobile (without a contract) and offers a vivid display, snappy performance and more than eight hours of battery life. Some concessions had to be made for the low price, including a missing front camera and rear flash. But in the tug-of-war between value and functionality, shoppers win with this smartphone.
It's a budget phone and it shows. The majority of the Lumia 635 is wrapped in a white plastic shell. It's not pretty, but it's functional, offering a sure grip. When I passed the phone around to fellow staffers, one remarked that the back felt more like a case than a traditional rear panel.
This was especially true when it came time to pop the rear cover and get a look at the battery and microSD slot. Removing the back involved wedging a fingernail between the side of the phone and the shell and gently disengaging the cover by pushing it off the top of the phone. The first time I attempted to remove the back, I was scared I was going to crack the screen, but it came off without a hitch.
Overall, the 635 is a bare-bones operation in terms of design. Instead of an elaborate rear-camera setup like the Lumia 928, Icon and 1020, there's just the simple 5-megapixel camera lens. An unassuming gray Nokia emblem runs down the center with a small circle cut out in the bottom right corner for the speaker.
I was a little annoyed to discover that Nokia placed the Back, Home and Search buttons in the actual display area instead of below the screen. I prefer dedicated buttons. The front area is also missing a camera, so selfie and video chatters will have to resort to other means to get their fix.
Measuring 5.09 x 2.62 x 0.36 inches and weighing 4.72 ounces, the Lumia 635 is slightly thicker and heavier than budget Android phones such as the Alcatel One Touch Fierce (5.13 x 2.64 x 0.35 inches, 4.7 ounces), but sleeker than the Alcatel One Touch Evolve (4.78 x 2.52 x 0.46 inches, 4.8 ounces).
However, the display's low 854 x 480-pixel resolution obfuscated the pattern of Professor X's tweed jacket, as well as the ridges in Wolverine's bone claws. The viewing angles weren't as wide as I'd like, either.
The Lumia 635's screen averaged 292 lux on our brightness test, which is well below the 433 lux smartphone average and the Fierce (327 lux). However, the Nokia topped the Evolve's 271 lux.
Sometimes you get what you pay for, and in this case, it's a lackluster audio experience. Although it cranked out 80 decibels on the Laptop Mag Audio test--on a par with the smartphone average--the 635's single speaker failed to fill the small office I used as a test space.
When I listened to Pharrell's "Come Get It Babe," the artist's voice had a hint of distortion at maximum volume that worsened when the background vocals came in. The usually clear snaps and snares were so quiet they were practically nonexistent.
Windows Phone 8.1 OS
For example, Windows Phone users finally get an omnipresent status bar that sits at the top of the display, showing time, Wi-Fi and battery life. If you swipe down, you'll access Microsoft's Action Center, which is basically a notifications shade and quick settings menu in one.
Long-pressing the Back button still displays all your currently open apps. In another nod to convenience and modernity, swiping down let me close out a program instead of making me repeatedly hit the back button to exit everything.
Swype, is that you? Microsoft has finally added the word-tracing software Windows Phone so desperately needed. The aptly named Word Flow works well in practice, producing a thick blue line as I dragged my finger from letter to letter. The word prediction was fairly accurate, too, suggesting most of the words I was attempting to type (or swipe) before I had a chance to finish.
There is just something thrilling about hearing Cortana from the Halo series answer my questions. It definitely has a sense of humor. When I asked where Master Chief was, Cortana said that it hopes Master Chief is getting some rest and relaxation since "he HAS saved the galaxy three or four times."
Cortana answered more mundane questions, such as who is the U.S. secretary of state and who won the Mets game, quickly and correctly. However, questions about making a proper Manhattan or who is Emmett Till were met with silence and Bing Search.
I successfully used Cortana to navigate to a friend's house in Brooklyn. She pulled up directions from HERE maps, which provided driving, public transit and walking directions.
The biggest hurdle Microsoft has to overcome is its relatively small app store. To date, the Windows Store offers approximately 240,000 apps, which is a drop in the bucket compared with the 1 million-plus apps each featured in the Apple Apps Store and Google Play.
While the number of apps is problematic, the quality of apps is definitely troubling. The Windows Store is still missing such popular apps as Snapchat and YouTube. The Instagram app, while available, is still in beta, and daters looking to swipe their way to true love will have to make do without Tinder.
Still, Microsoft has made some progress, adding Facebook Messenger, Uber, Roku, Vine and WhatsApp to its catalog.
Music lovers will want to check out MixRadio, Nokia's version of Slacker. The app offers several mixes created from global music experts, or you can listen to stations based on a particular artist. You can also download mixes for offline listening.
Running a 1.2-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 GPU with 512MB of RAM, the Nokia Lumia 635 is deceptively powerful. I found swiping around the home screen and opening apps to be fairly swift. Surfing was nearly seamless; I encountered a few instances where the page lagged behind my finger.
I took some laps in Asphalt 8 to test the Lumia 635's gaming performance. The performance was smooth for the most part, but the loose tilt controls forced me to tilt the phone at extreme angles to keep from crashing.
On the WP Bench benchmark, which measures overall performance, the phone scored 262.26. That's significantly higher than Nokia Lumia 531 and its 1-GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU, which notched 178.08.
The Nokia Lumia 635 comes with 8GB of onboard storage with a microSD that can expand the storage up to 128GB.
Camera and Camcorder
I experienced better results when I used the 635 to take video of New York City traffic. The 720p video showed off bright yellow taxis and gleaming black Crown Victorias. The edges of the circular decal on the taxi's side looked nice and crisp.
One of my favorite apps, the gif-tastic Nokia Cinemagraph, is also on the Lumia 635. The app takes a few seconds of video and lets you choose which parts are still and which parts are animated. Creative Studio is Nokia's answer to Instagram, providing photogs with eight filters to trick out their photos. Now your food pics can have that quaint, antique look.
There's a catch. In the absence of a front camera, you have to rely on the rear shooter to take your selfie. Glam Me solves this dilemma by adding an auto-selfie mode that detects when your face is in front of the camera. Once your face is in range, the phone emits a series of beeps to let you know it's OK to take the photo. I got a few good shots, but I'd prefer a front camera to check out my pose beforehand.
The Nokia Lumia 635's 1830 mAH battery lasts a long, long time. Over the course of an 8-hour day, I watched video, browsed the Web, snapped and edited a few photos, and the 635 still had about 30 percent battery life.
The phone lasted over 9 hours on the Laptop Mag battery test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE), easily beating the 7:43 smartphone average. The Alcatel One Touch Fierce gave out at 6:33 and the Alcatel One Touch Evolve quit at 4:17.
Due to an errant pop-up during the test, the display was dimmer than the 50 percent setting we were going to use. We will rerun the test and update the review the review.
Like most carriers, T-Mobile's coverage can be spotty in some areas. To combat this, the provider offers Wi-Fi Calling on the Lumia 635. This allows users to send and receive calls over Wi-Fi instead of using your calling plan.
When I used Wi-Fi to dial one of my co-workers, voices were crystal clear on both ends. However, as I moved farther away from my router, I could hear a small bell signaling that the call was in danger of being dropped.
Prefer Android to Windows Phone? Shoppers should check out the $150 Alcatel One Touch Fierce, which is slimmer and lighter than the Lumia with a brighter display. You'll also benefit from a much bigger app selection. But if you're willing to take Microsoft's user-friendly and fun interface for a spin, the Lumia 635 will satisfy.
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|Phone Display Size||4.5|
|Display Resolution||854 x 480|
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|OS Family||Windows Phone|
|Operating System||Windows Phone 8.1|
|Networks||Quad Band GSM; UMTS: Band I (2100), Band II (1900), Band IV (1700/2100), Band V (850); LTE: 2, 4, 5, 7, 17|
|CPU||1.2-GHz Snapdragon 400|
|Processor Family||Qualcomm Snapdragon 400|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSD Card|
|Display (main)||4.5 inches|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0|
|Front Camera Resolution||none|
|Camera Resolution||5 MP|
|Talk / Standby Time||16.4 hours/17 days|
|Size||5.09 x 2.62 x 0.36 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|