How do you approach comparing a $50 off-contract smartphone? I suppose you don’t. You buy one – and the rest doesn’t much matter. If you are not a supreme gadget nerd, then you may consider the Lumia 635 as a starter smartphone, a disposable replacement for a lost device, or a cheap way to try the latest from Microsoft’s Windows Phone.
Software: Windows Phone as a OS is a pretty standard affair. You won’t find skinning or much manipulation outside of the occasional carrier bloat apps. My Lumia 635 was branded for AT&T prepaid GoPhone service and was littered with AT&T locker, TV, Navigation, Address Book, and other apps of dubious usefulness. Luckily – these can all be removed without restriction.
The Lumia 635 runs the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1. It even has received the latest Lumia Denim update to bring Cortana and folder support. Because of the lesser hardware spec on the device, the phone does not support rich capture camera modes or other settings menu options that are enabled on other devices. Perhaps more important than this however, is that the phone is compatible with Windows Phone 10 beta builds. It is the cheapest way to try out Windows Phone 10 for those adventurous enough.
Performance of the Windows Phone OS was excellent. The additional app transitions and large font styling of the OS mask the lower performance of the internals quite well. Low internal specs are obvious however when switching between apps. Moving between Spotify and Here Maps added a couple seconds delay as a loading bar of trailed dots trail across the screen. For most users, this will not seem a bottleneck as the switching delays are universal and consistent – regardless the number of apps open. The 635 however will not satisfy anyone who has used recent mid-range models such as the 1020, or high-end 1520, and icon.
Hardware: Inside the 635 is a quad core Snapdragon 400, clocked at 1.2Ghz, 1GB RAM, and a 5MP rear camera. The front facing camera is dropped as part of keeping the device cost low. The screen at 4.5” has a lower 480×854 resolution and 221 ppi. This ppi is quite respectable given the price. The panel itself is IPS and advertises Nokia’s ClearBlack technology. This proves to be simply advertising jargon in practice, as black levels are worse than those in the last generation 520 model. In total however, the panel ranks high against low cost Android models in which it competes – even if a step backwards from the 520 forebear.
Special mention is deserved for the sound out of the device. The back panel mono speaker gets very loud and clear – a Lumia tradition. The device does lack sound EQ options in its settings. Something I missed sorely when comparing to higher-end Lumia models. The back of the device can be removed and swapped for punchy plastic replacement backs. I opted for an eye-searing orange. Inside also houses a micro-sd card slot to supplement the paltry 8GB internal storage. My device purred with a 64GB micro-sd holding photos, downloaded podcasts, and apps.
Conclusion: A lot of people will buy the Lumia 635 as test hardware. It is the cheapest you can sample Windows Phone 10 today. For this – there is no better option. For the general consumer, the Lumia 635 is a sturdy, low cost, and well performing handset. It may be wholly impossible to buy the handset at $50 and find fault. All hardware specs and performance rate well for the price. The only major deal-breaker, being those who absolutely require a front-facing camera. The Lumia also will see distribution as wide as any flagship, including the iPhone. It is on sale for virtually every US carrier and has equally wide distribution outside the US. At $50, you can’t go wrong. Approved.
Rating: 9 of 10