Microsoft’s first post-Nokia-acquisition smartphone, the Microsoft Lumia 535 was just recently launched, and it didn’t skip any tradition that Nokia had been following in its budget range smartphones in the recent past. The main target here was the adoption, as Microsoft wants the users to feel no much difference about the transition, and thus almost everything except the brand name looks the same.
While the high-end smartphone market is still reigned by the Android and iOS smartphones, Windows Phones have seen some success in the budget market. The Lumia 520 was one of the highest selling Windows Phone device, and this sparked off the urge for other brands to opt for Windows Phone smartphones as well, alongside their ever growing Android smartphone portfolio. Now, brands like Celkon and Lava also have entered the bandwagon, but we cannot ignore the smartphones from the OS maker itself. It is similar to the case of Nexus devices from Google, as Lumia will now be made by Microsoft running the company’s own Windows Phone. Quite interesting, but with the competition flowing in, is the Lumia 535 worth the price?
Design, Form Factor
Design wise, the Lumia 535 is almost the same as the earlier Nokia Lumia devices and it is a polycarbonate body with a feel of holding a large iPhone 5c, because of those smooth curvy edges and corners. The much noticed Microsoft branding replaces the Nokia tag on the back, and above it is the 5-megapixel rear camera with LED flash. The speaker is located on the back too, towards the bottom. Microsoft also kept the removable back, which extends till the edge of the screen, and pulling out the back cover gives access to the two SIM card slots and the MicroSD card slot.
In a way, no big changes to the design is a good thing from Microsoft, as many were already happy with the Lumia designs, and the transition might have made people decide against a Microsoft Lumia, and the design changes could have made things even worse. Overall with the design, it is all good except for the fact that the glossy back is prone to scratching very easily. And the orange unit we are reviewing, easily shows off the scratches.
The screen is a big compromise, with Microsoft opting to put no better than the qHD resolution display under the 5-inch IPS LCD touchscreen. The display is not really sharp, and to contradict what we said in the Hands-on, the display is not bright under sunlight and you would struggle in reading the content. But again, the device is not heavily priced for us to expect a top notch 720p display, and the qHD display on the 535 does the needed job with the sunlight readability enhancement, a setting available for making the reading experience better. The problem was without this setting, when the screen was very reflective and we couldn’t either read the text or watch any graphic content.
Though not really impressive, the screen and display are pretty much usable and the touch response is not the best, as sometimes while you try to drag the finger up or down, it recognizes a touch rather than a drag and apps get opened unnecessarily.
Lumia – this name has taken over the entire interface. The Microsoft Lumia 535 runs Windows Phone 8.1 with the Lumia Denim update having all the custom Lumia apps, and Microsoft is trying to go the Google way to embed more and more of its own services into the devices, though we don’t see that as a problem.
There is a plethora of pre-installed apps in the interface already, and that includes OneNote, Office 365, Outlook, Skype, Cortana (beta) and OneDrive. It doesn’t end there, because we also see the list of Lumia apps such as Lumia Camera, Lumia Selfie (a separate app for selfie camera), Lumia Storyteller. Apart from these, some other useful apps include Battery Saver, Data Sense, FM Radio, Here Drive+, Here Maps, Maps, MixRadio, Money, Skype and there is a Store for downloading more apps.
One important and very useful feature in the Windows Phone 8.1 OS is the unified notification center. It is given a name Action Center by Microsoft, as it doesn’t limit itself to just the notifications.
Cortana’s still learning and we won’t call this better than both, Siri and Google Now. The recognition of voice is poor and although it tries to pull out answers from our own user data and the Internet, the number of error cases were more with this when compared to the other two. The only good thing about it is that your data is safe and protected, thanks to the security features of Windows Phone 8.1.
The interface and OS still looks like something that young users and geeks might not prefer, due to the limited graphics and not much to do and change the way it looks, unlike in Android or in iOS where at least you already have a vibrant UI. The app availability too is quite limited, although Microsoft has been doing all its efforts to attract developers to work on apps for the Windows Phone platform.
What you can do to make the tiles look more uniform, is arrange them and resize based on your need and add a wallpaper that gets layered over them, although the entire live wallpaper isn’t directly visible.
There is a lot to compare between Android and Windows Phone OS, though for a user who doesn’t really want the hassle of big changes and tweaks, Windows Phone has got all the basics right, which should be enough to call this a “smart” phone.
The Lumia 535 sports two 5-megapixel cameras. But what is interesting here, is the front facing camera. Nokia has gained a lot of respect in the past from those smartphone camera enthusiasts with the great technology it had used, but nothing as such is evident in the rear camera and the app in Lumia 535. The pictures are grainy and not the best in quality, though we have seen even worse quality captures with some other 5MP cameras on Android devices.
Let’s put the focus on the selfie camera. That is a 5-megapixel wide angle shooter, and one can indeed see a lot of faces coming into a single frame. Not that it is always necessary, but still having a group of friends around you want yourself in the same picture – that is possible only with a selfie taken with a camera having wide lens.
There are several effects that can be used, and although it is a little confusing for the first time users on how the photo would get saved, and if there is an original copy saved as well, but it is all good after a few tries. The original photos indeed get saved in the Pictures album.
Overall, the 5-megapixel front facing shooter does what it is supposed to – take brilliant selfies. It is a fixed focus camera, but on optimum light conditions it takes perfect selfies. The cameras fail with video capture, as the maximum resolution you can see is 480p and the quality is real bad.
Performance and Battery
The performance is very good, for the price you are paying for the experience you expect to get using a smartphone powered by not a very powerful processor. Windows Phone was always known to handle things well, although with limited multitasking even on 512MB RAM, and thus 1GB RAM here does a good job, and the actual performance is not bad at all.
Gaming experience was not really great, because although the device didn’t fret and no frame drops are seen, it isn’t good because of the display and the touch response takes away all the good experience it could actually give.
Social networking apps, MS Office, OneDrive and such applications were all running with ease, just like one would see in a mid-range device, but as you know, Windows Phone is limited with options and thus the performance could be no less than what it is.
The 1905 mAh battery on the Lumia 535 takes you through the entire day between charges, but at the same time, data network connectivity seems to drain the power in a much quicker way. While the Wi-Fi usage and browsing website on Internet explorer took no more than 11% during an hour of continuous usage, the same time on 3G took about 19%, thus the device should not be a great choice for frequent travelers.
Microsoft has included the Battery saver, which is said to limit the functionality of the smartphone (which includes turning non-essential functions off, background tasks off and limit the push notifications), but in the end giving a longer life on the same power.
Other points to note
- Call quality is good, no disturbing noise or distortion and the same is on the other end of the call.
- The device can play 720p videos with ease, although the screen is of 540p resolution.
- With the given hardware, it is always good to choose a Windows Phone over an Android one, as the performance tends to be better because Windows Phone is not an OS that takes a lot of resources.
- The connectivity is good, and the connection to data network takes very less time. The hotspot works great, and the data network connectivity is possible with 3G networks at max.
- Don’t look at the colors and saturation of the captures on the Lumia’s screen, as what you get on social networks or on computer screens is much better – again, that is because of the display of the Lumia 535.
- The speaker located on the back does not have a great output, at least lesser than what you used to see on Nokia lumia devices, but there is zero distortion and the output is smooth and good.
The Lumia 535 is a smart pick for the buck you are spending, but that is if you are concerned about the brand value, and you already know how well built the Nokia smartphones earlier were, with the Lumia 535 carrying the same ahead. The display and touch sensitivity seems to be the biggest disappointment, but on the other end, Microsoft has given it enough power for a good performance, and also a good camera combination for those photo enthusiasts who need decent cameras on a budget smartphone.
Talking of alternatives, there are Lava Iris Win1 and Celkon Win 400, priced quite lesser than this, and running the Windows Phone OS. But there is a major difference where the budget devices usually needing a visit to the service centers, and that is where the Microsoft Lumia 535 can be called a better choice. For the Android devices, there is Asus Zenfone 5, Xiaomi Redmi 1s and the Android One series.