Microsoft Lumia 435 Review

Microsoft Lumia 435 Review

First Impressions:  The box seems unusually small, I suppose it is for a small phone.  So inside is the phone, a micro USB cable and a USB plug.  The usually really for a phone these days.  Having gone with the white one, just to be different and not get another black one.  Its hmm I dunno, the phone itself is all black and it’s just the rear cover / case thing that is white and hmm I’m thinking maybe I should have got black.  Oh well.  It’s not like you can’t just change it so no harm done.  Picking it up and it’s a chunky little bugger, small it maybe but it’s so thick, and because it’s small it makes it look even thicker.  Not that it’s so big you can’t use it or anything, it actually feels really nice in the hand with most of the back having a smooth, gentle curve to it.  Actually I kinda wish most phones where as thick as this, it feels like you actually have something to hold on to.

Firing it up and the screen isn’t horrible.  I mean it’s not a looker, somewhat washed out and bland but hey it was £35 including the mandatory £10 top up.  Weirdly the 3 front buttons aren’t on screen, they are capacitive hardware ones.  Just why the F don’t they light up???  Really Microsoft, dirt cheap I know but that just feels like a penny pinch too far.  Actually same with the no “flash” on the back.  I mean how much exactly are a couple of LED’s???  I know it’s a really cheap device but they just seem like such cheap parts to have cut, could they really have not found a way to add them in, I’d have been more than happy to pay an extra 50p or whatever for the few LED’s that would have made it so much more complete.

Hardware:  All together things are a fairly mediocre assemblage of cheap low end parts that really you can only classify as adequate for a modern phone.  Then you take into account the cost of the device and I’m pretty blown away.  Yes the CPU is a low end Snapdragon 200, yes the screen is washed out but you get a usable 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM.  The RAM is really what saves the phone as it’s actually pleasant to use.  It’s not a joy or anything, the fastest thing in the world it is not, but it’s fast enough that I don’t want to hurl it out a window.  It’s actually a usable device, I really could use it as my phone and not immediately want to kill myself.  Sure, no aspect of the device truly has me impressed or happy in absolute terms, it’s the value proposition of the hardware collected here that makes it a bit of a stunner.  I tell you if this hardware came with android and not WP, these would be absolutely flying off the shelves.

Audio Software:  Once more I find myself saying “ahh but its Windows Phones so……”  Well yes, it is a Windows Phone so your software is okay.  The on-board app, creatively called “Music” is alright in use.  Of course if you want lossless on your up to 128GB SD card then you’ll need to convert it all to WMA as WP8.1 does not support FLAC.  WP10 we are promised will but for the moment, that’s irritating and I had issues finding an app that would happily play them.  I’m not buying apps till I find one that does.  However I do normally use Google Music when doing phones to access my familiar music, there is no Google supplied app so I bought one.  GMusic it’s called and on the whole it’s alright.  Not sure I love the layout but it works which is really all that matters.  Mind you the stock Music app integrates nicely with the lock screen.  Other apps include Spotify, MixRadio, sure I saw Blinkbox Music too.  Its might not have everything but it’s got a pretty good variety to pick from.

Still I do rather like the stock app for some reason.  I don’t know why but it just feels so nicely smooth in its operation.

Audio Hardware:  I’ve no idea what’s in it.  Probably some Qualcomm chip but otherwise who knows.

Lows:  Since the IE8’s are sitting on my desk let’s give them a whirl shall we?  The bass is mountainous as you would expect.  And while I find myself relatively positive about the bass, it is more billowy than I really would have hoped for. The 735 was that bit more taut.  I had rather hoped they might somehow have the same audio bits but it would seem not.  They aren’t tonally dissimilar but there just doesn’t seem to the same authority to the 435 output.  It’s quite clean but while the volume is capable of going very loud, the bass just feels much softer than what IE8’s are capable.  I know I shouldn’t be disappointed given the relative pricing but I find I am.  Swapping to the more easily driven Curve’s and sadly it’s much the same.  Aww L I had really hoped these would have been as awesome as the 635 and 735.  Nevertheless they do much better job with the Curve’s.  The lowest bass tones loose authority but otherwise its nicely clean and has sufficient weight to offer a convincing rendition.

It does err slightly toward the punchy than the deepest deaths but it’s just not got the power to truly punch you.

Mids:  Things here get a little better.  They are a little like their siblings in their slightly dry, cooler presentation.  This lends itself to sounding rather more open and clear than they strictly are.  Not that clarity is bad but even with the Curve’s wonderful mids I’m just not feeling it.  I should be melting into the music and getting completely wrapped up in them but I’m not.  They are cleanly competent and for the price I can’t really complain, I’m really not complaining, seriously I’m really not.  I’m just that bit disappointed.  Its two siblings I’ve played with (635 and 735) were such audio belters.  Like having 3 kids, one goes to Cambridge, the next to St. Andrews then the third to Manchester Metropolitan.  In absolute terms it is very nice and very capable for its tiny price but it just hasn’t the power behind it to really make even the Curve’s sing their best.

Still they are relatively evenly balanced in quantity terms so the V shaped IE8’s were in a valley and the Curve’s where much more prominent.

Highs:  They like the others, they are in their most absolute terms entirely capable and really I should be showering them with praise for the tiny tiny price tag.  Yet their siblings impressed me so much more.  They are nicely detailed, fairly clean.  They aren’t the most refined obviously and they really just don’t have the power behind them to make things really come to life.  Still a £30 phone is not likely to ever encounter anything that costs more than it does so it seems unfair of me to plug in £200 IEM’s then bitch that they aren’t being driven to their best, I mean duh!

Still they are relatively clean and mostly they aren’t abrasive but neither are they particularly rolled off.  It’s a gentle balance they have.  So long as you stay away from brutally scratchy IEM’s you should be rewarded with a very competent rendition.

Soundstage/Instrument Separation:   Once more, I think we have a lack of power but, isn’t there ever a but, they do a good level of separation while still sounding very nicely integrated.  Scaling is that of a good sized room or of a smallish musical venue.  It generally more a function of the headphone or IEM but these couldn’t drive the IE8’s to their proper symphonic hall grandeur.

Battery Life:  Inside is a rather small battery, only 1560mAh which places it among the smallest you see nowadays.  However the phone is a smallish phone, its screen is only a 4 inch so the small battery isn’t super brutal.  However it was giving me about 2 days of moderate use, which sounds good until you take into account the 735 was giving about 4 days.  So as smartphones go it’s pretty fair but compared with other WP phones, not so much.

Build Quality:  For the price, it’s amazingly good.  I really can’t see anywhere where the quality of construction has suffered in any way whatsoever.  Sure it’s a chunky thing but it feels waaaay nicer than you would expect.  If you tap the back though you can tell the rear cover isn’t super snugly attached but that’s it.  Otherwise it is remarkably nice for such a bargain device.

UI:  Windows Phone isn’t the most customisable UI in the world, you do get its tiles you can amend the size and shape of but that’s it.  It’s all pretty nicely straightforward and simple to use.  Personally it’s a bit too simple for me but it is what it is.  Its clean, it’s simple and it feels snappy.

In The Hand:  On paper the phone is massively fat by modern standards but, you know with that curved back you really wouldn’t think it particularly a chunky device.  It feels rather nice in my hard.  The quality of the build too doesn’t hurt.  It easily slots into my hand and I can squeeze it, it feels firm.  Actually I kinda like that it’s a phone small enough that it feels like it fits my hands comfortable rather than having to stretch to click the other side of it.

Format Support:  WP still is lagging a bit.  If you’re sticking to mp3’s you’re fine but if you want to toss in a giant 128GB SD card for lossless, well you’d better convert things to WMA.  Microsoft promise native FLAC support is coming in WP10 but it’s not here yet.

Volume:  Oh while these may not have the true power to drive things to their best, the volume they can spit out is just fine.  Plugging in the HD600’s (they were near me) and it can push them louder than I’d want.  Granted the volume dial was nearing the top but hey, it worked.

Accessories:  Inside the box you get a cable and changer.  Otherwise eBay can provide you with a fair assortment of things, and of course you can peal the back of the phone off and swap it for a different backing.  So if you can’t decide if you want white or orange, well get the additional cover and swap them about as you like.  Sadly you can’t get a Qi charging capable one as the phone doesn’t have the points for it which is a shame.  I’d have liked that but as it is a super bargain device, I’ll forgive them.  Cases can be had a plenty on there though, clearly it’s expected to be a good seller in low cost markets.

Speaker:  It may be located on the back but it is plenty loud.  Maybe because it’s so chunky or maybe because it’s aimed at a low cost market but the speaker is really good.  It’s happily loud enough to stick on a vid of something and you and a friend could watch something.  Sure it’s a tiny screen but you know.  Music is loud enough to make people want to punch you so please don’t be playing stuff in public.

Camera:  The rear is a 2MP sensor which is, well, it’s a bit rubbish.  However it’s such a cheap device I’m more than fine with that.  It also has a front camera too, granted only a VGA camera, that’s 0.3 MP.  So it will take a selfie but it probably won’t be very good.  Frustratingly though the rear camera has no “flash” now it wouldn’t really help for taking pic’s but they are super handy to use as a torch.  For a low cost market I’d have thought torch functionality would have been a big plus but sadly Microsoft felt differently.

The Good:  Above all else, the good comes down to cheap.  Nothing in particular is great about this device in absolute terms but that they are good as they are for its price is what makes it shine.  Its dirt cheap but it’s actually usable and not only that is reasonably pleasant to actually use.  The build quality is very pleasant and the screen and snappiness of operation just seem so out of step with its tiny little price.  It feels like it’s been as well-crafted as any Nokia of old, so my hats off to them.

The Bad:  Well it’s not great spec wise, anywhere but my only real complaints are that the front buttons, they don’t have a back light and that there is no rear “flash” to use as a torch.  That’s it.  I really cannot complain about any other aspect of the device.  It’s so beyond what I’d expect that each and every aspect I am more than pleased with.

Value:  Exemplary.  I got it for £35 and that was with a mandatory £10 worth of credit.  The phone therefore cost me £25.  That today would be US$38. For a sim free phone that can do practically everything that a £600 top of the range smartphone can do.  I mean you just can’t get better value for money.

Conclusion:  The Lumia 435 is in absolute terms a mediocre, chunky, small phone.  It is mediocre in pretty much every aspect aside maybe from its construction.  It feels rather good actually.  However by the numbers, the spec of it is nothing that would excite anyone.  Then you get to its price.  It is not just low priced, it’s practically free with a packet of cornflakes kinda money.  I mean it’s so staggeringly cheap that I look at how it performs and I am stunned.

In day to day use the phone feels useable.  The UI is mostly always snappy and fluid.  Apps load reasonably quickly.  Scrolling feels fluid and responsive.  It’s truly a little wonder at how well it performs and how nice it is given its cost.  I realise of course that in two years’ time it will probably feel painfully slow and that while right now its 1GB of RAM is super value and great for running apps, it won’t forever, but you find a phone that has the spec’s this has for anywhere near its price.  You just can’t.  All the cheapest android phones come with just 512mb of RAM and 4GB of built in storage, which is practically all eaten up by the OS.

The Lumia 435 then, it’s actually a completely usable smart phone.  It’s not a great smart phone but it’s a usable one normally that would be cause enough to pan something but its saving grace is that it is absurdly cheap.  Its relative value is simply off the scale.  Sure it’s only adequate as a phone and it’s pretty reasonable as a DAP (it’s way better than the super crappy Nexus 4) so if nothing else you could throw in a massive SD card and use it as DAP.  It’s not the best DAP in the world but it is just so incredibly cheap, I mean it is ridiculous how cheap it is.  So while I personally wouldn’t want it to be my only phone or my DAP the fact is you could use it for both and have a setup good enough to use every day.  That you can get that so cheaply is a marvel unto itself.

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