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Nokia Lumia 635 review: Is this budget 4G Windows Phone worth a little extra?

Microsoft has updated the low-end 630 with LTE connectivity and a larger price tag to match.
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By Jo Best on
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1 of 6 Jo Best/ZDNet

In June this year, the Nokia Lumia 630 was released — a small, cheap, Windows 8.1 handset of the type that the company has managed to sell in decent numbers. Not long after, the 635 appeared — another small, cheap Windows 8.1 handset. The difference? £30 and 4G connectivity.

What helped Windows Phone build its (still small) market share was this device's predecessor, the 520. At a reasonable £130, the 635 handset is certain to appeal to the bunch of buyers looking for full-fat smartphone experience without the equivalent price tag.

One obvious way to keep costs down is with the screen size. At 4.5 inches, it's at the smaller end of the smartphone spectrum, and with 854x480 resolution and FGWA, it's not the sharpest you'll find at this price point, but decent enough. Put next to the 930's Full HD 1920 x 1080 screen, for example, it stands up surprisingly well.

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2 of 6 Jo Best/ZDNet

The other major compromise comes in the form of the camera. Nokia has made great cameras its stock in trade, but the 635's feels distinctly low-grade. The colours aren't true to life and closer photos can turn out fuzzy.

That's perhaps understandable given there's none of the usual Carl Zeiss optics and it's a five megapixel sensor, but it's hard to shake the feeling that Nokia could have done better. The camera hardware specs are almost identical to those found on the Nokia Lumia 520, released more than a year ago.

There's also no front-facing camera, which means flipping your phone around for a selfie, which is no biggie. It also means going without any videocalling on Skype, which is more problematic — for Microsoft at least, given how hard it's been pushing the service of late.

There's also no dedicated camera hard button on the side of the device — not a must-have, but it does mean that you'll spend a couple of extra seconds getting your handset ready to snap that spur-of-the-moment image.

While the hard button and the front-facing cameras feel like acceptable tradeoffs for the price, the quality of the main camera really doesn't.

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3 of 6 Jo Best/ZDNet

The outside of the device is traditional Nokia — eye-popping colour scheme and a design that's pleasant to hold. There's also the characteristic robustness from Nokia, but the vivid green plastic on our review unit did put me in mind of Fisher Price.

 It comes in orange, green, or black. Microsoft also has offers a choice of replaceable shells if you fancy more colour choices, though — a nice nod to Nokia's history of fascias.

One other hardware element that deserves a hat tip is a replaceable battery, and a fairly decent 1830mAh one at that, which is something not seen often enough on smartphone hardware.

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4 of 6 Jo Best/ZDNet

Elsewhere on the specs, there are some hits and misses. The 8GB of memory seems fair enough, particularly when coupled with microUSB expandable to 128GB. There's also the usual offer of GBs of storage on OneDrive, but that should always feel like an offer the device owner can accept or decline as they see fit. Without expandable memory or a generous hard drive, it can feel like a straight jacket they're being forced into. Microsoft's happily decided against that course of action here.

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5 of 6 Jo Best/ZDNet

On the software front,  the 635 has Windows Phone 8.1 out of the box, and all that that entails — Cortana, the useful new notification and action centre, the TouchFlow keyboard, and the separate volume for notifications and calls that seems to be puzzlingly popular. Like every other Microsoft device, there's also all manner of useless apps on there for good measure — Bing Fitness, anyone? — as well as some more appealing offerings of Nokia heritage, including Here maps and photo editing software.

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6 of 6 Jo Best/ZDNet

Is it a business device? 4G makes the possibility more likely, but a 4.5-inch screen with a less than fantastic resolution can make viewing detailed Office documents a not entirely pleasant affair.

4G is without doubt a useful feature for any phone, and £30 is not unreasonable addition to the cost of a handset for its inclusion. That said, £30 is not the same for every handset — if you were considering the 630 at £100, you'd be adding around one third to the cost of your device for the pleasure of LTE.

Whether that £30 is worth it for you will be a matter of taking into account your provider and your data consumption. If you're likely to do most of your browsing on wi-fi, this may not be the phone for you. If you're an avid data and app consumer, you might want to see if there's any give in your budget for something with a little more RAM and a bigger screen.

The 635 isn't a bad handset in itself but, with the 630 on one hand and Motorola's budget Moto range on the other, it does rather leave you questioning if there's a place for the device out there.

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