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Hands-on with Microsoft's Lumia 735: Does this affordable device deliver more than selfies?

A mix of compromises and extras makes one of the last Nokia smartphones an intriguing proposition.
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By Jo Best on
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1 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

I've reviewed three Microsoft Lumia devices in recent months: the high-end, bells-and-whistles 930, the budget-friendly but underpowered 635, and the now the middle-of-the-pack 735.

In smartphone terms, I'm beginning to feel a bit like Goldilocks: with the 735, it seems Microsoft has got it just right.

When the 735 was launched late last year, and it feels like the cheapest Lumia you can buy without having to sacrifice too much in the way of features in order to keep your wallet happy.

The 735 retails at around £160 or €219 unlocked (bad news for would-be US buyers – there's no release date yet for the device there). Is it a good buy? Read on for all the details...

All images: Jo Best/ZDNet

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2 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

The Lumia 735 adheres to the typical Microsoft-Nokia design choices: you can have any colour as long as it's black, white, or a lurid neon shade (a choice of orange or green in this case).

Unlike some of the higher-end Lumias, there's no metal elements here: the back plate is entirely plastic. While that contributes towards the handset's lightness – it weighs in at 134g – it doesn't feel anything less than solid.

The device comes with an HD display at 1280 x 720 and 321ppi. It's not the highest-end display out there, but the contrast is good, and colours are perky. In short, the 735 suits everyday use, particularly given its price tag, and it's a step up from the 635's actively unpleasant display.

And thanks to its 4.7-inch screen, the 735 is fine for one-handed use, particularly thanks to the palm-friendly polycarbonate backing.

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3 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

The 735 is one of the first Lumias in the UK that comes with Cortana front and centre. Microsoft's personal assistant is a less-polished rival to Apple's Siri and Google Now, though I've yet to find any of the bunch essential tools.

(On a side note, I find Cortana's insistence on having location services switched on before it will work quite frustrating. While I get that some queries are better answered with location information available – where's the nearest etc etc – other simple requests for information really don't need it enabled. I fail to see how needing to know where I am would help deliver a recipe for tomato soup, for example.)

Perhaps one of the greatest delights of using Cortana is finding the easter eggs – queries like 'who's your daddy?', 'will you marry me?', 'why did the chicken cross the road?', and 'are you better than Siri?' all yielded rather sweet results. More practical requests to send texts and get weather forecasts  were all executed without too much trouble. That said, in most cases, such tasks are still easier and quicker to complete without getting Cortana involved.

Not every request to Cortana was successful though, and there was a fair share of 'I'm sorry, I didn't get that'. For best results, it seems you need to hold the phone six inches from your mouth and speak in RP.

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4 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

As Cortana's presence indicates, the 735 runs on Windows 8.1 and, for the neophiles among you, the device is also slated to get Windows 10 for free when it comes out. Elsewhere, you can expect the standard Windows Phone software line-up, including Office and HERE maps.

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5 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

The 735 is one of the last Lumias to bear the Nokia name, and befitting this history, the device makes much of imaging: it offers a 6.7-megapixel rear-facing camera and a front-facing five-megapixel equivalent.

Given the price tag and a front-facing camera with one of the highest-resolution sensors out there, it looks like Microsoft is hoping the 735 will appeal to the selfie generation.

While the front selfie camera is certainly decent, it feels like the rear camera quality has been sacrificed a bit to accommodate both in the price tag – resolution isn't great for example, and pics can look a little flat. If you're looking for high-detail close-ups, you might want to look elsewhere. However, if you're only in the market for something to let you take snaps of you and your mates on a night out, the 735 will do you admirably.

Accordingly, there's also the Lumia Selfie app. Selfie offers a few sensible filters – retro, black and white – as well as some that even most selfie-addicted 16-year-olds would baulk at, including 'poster' which overlays the words 'don't hate me because I'm beautiful' over the top of your selfie. There's also a range of 'enhance' options for faces, including the distinctly disturbing 'enlarge eyes' that leaves any photo that uses it looking very much like a Margaret Keane painting.

(In another move presumably intended to cater to the 735's intended young buyers, you'll find a Domino's Pizza app installed out of the box. The Bing Health & Fitness app is also included, presumably for when you've had one too many Meatlovers.)

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6 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

For storing all those selfies, the 735 comes with 8GB of memory. If your pictures chew through that, there's also a microSD that offers the option of extending storage up to 128GB. As per usual, there's 15GB of free OneDrive space to boot.

The phone offers a few other hardware goodies under the hood, including Qi wireless charging and NFC.

However, the chipset leaves a little to be desired - it's a quad-core Snapdragon 400.  Again, there are faster processors on the market, but for a standard user, it shouldn't feel creaky.

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7 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

All in all, the Lumia 735 isn't a bad buy for the price. That's not to say Microsoft hasn't made compromises along the way with the device - power users may find the chip and camera less than desirable, for instance. But equally the phone is crammed with enough good stuff  to make it worthy of consideration.

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