Nokia Lumia 635 Review
First Impressions: Post referendum day and having not slept I was in a rather good mood. Sufficiently so that I thought I’d buy myself a now toy. I had been thinking for a little while about getting a windows phone, to see what it’s like. I had been thinking 530 or 520, something really cheap but supposedly quite good. When I got to the Three shop the screen on the 530 looked horrible and the 520 had hardware buttons. So I started looking at the 630 and 635, well might as well get one with 4g even if ill not use it. 5 min later I had bought one.
Once I got the thing opened up and powered up the first I noticed was how snappy it felt. I realise all the animations are a cover to hide any responsiveness delays, Ios has done this forever but still, feels oh so snappy. It’s all a bit odd not having a home screen, having this big bunch of menu short cuts. Actually it all feels very Ios like to me.
Two Weeks later, I have come to the conclusion that WP8.1 has ever so much potential but it just feels unfinished. Just how Microsoft still haven’t got something’s in place I just don’t get. I know I’m not a code writer and maybe it is really hard but when you are as big as Microsoft it’s not like they don’t have the resources is it? Time and again I went to do something and it would transpire that you can’t.
The Good: Perhaps I ought to start of more with the positives. The OS feels crazy fluid and snappy. The hardware specs are nothing fancy but it always felt fast. The lovely little animation to do everything were just lovely on the eye. Visually I’m so impressed with everything. The menu system, even if it takes up too much screen space is really a pleasure to use. Swiping from side to side, scrolling up and down. It’s all very intuitive and apps are all very cohesive, using the exact same style. The “live tiles” too are great once you get used to how they work. The little people one, flicking through your friends faces, facebook cycling through its stuff, the weather one doing its thing, etc etc. One thing I especially liked was that you can set your lock screen to use the Bing daily images. I loved that, I have my desktop computer doing the same thing, every day it pulls in the Bing image of the day and sets as my background. It’s great.
Nokia apps, they really need to get a mention as there is a bunch of them and they are all pretty good. The horribly named “Here Maps” is really not bad at all. It’s a real challenger to google maps but for the love of god, change its name to Nokia maps. “Here” is not an F ing name! Is there some translation issue where it doesn’t sound something stupid in Finnish? Oh, one aspect about it that’s great, you can download maps for entire regions or countries. Not googles you can download a square area. I get that google want you to be on a data connection at all times, it’s how they make money. The Nokia solution is smarter and especially a good idea of your going abroad. The “Here” drive solution too is really great. Stupid name aside they are great apps and I can see why people have spoken highly of them. The nokia camera app, is epic. It has every control you can imagine and while I think it’s a bit wasted on the little camera on the 635 if you had one of their higher end, super camera models then it spectacularly more controllable than what apple or android offer up by default.
Microsoft’s own apps are all pretty excellent also. Office, Outlook, that calendar app all impressed me with their prettiness, functionality and snappiness. Then there is the big one, Cortana. Cortana is kinda cool. I like how when you bring it up it has little suggestions of things you can ask of her, it reminds she can do more than just search online for things. You can ask her a question or tell her to do things. One thing I thought just outstanding was you tell her to text someone. It felt like we had really jumped into to the future. Cortana is awesome. She is awesome right up to the point she has to google something. Of course you see the problem is she can’t google things, she has to “Bing” things and frankly Bing is crap. Some seem to suggest that if you’re in America Bing is less crap but I think this is more a function of Bings marketing campaign there. Of all the Microsoft stuff on the 635 the only thing that I found lacking was its insistence on using Bing, everything else was generally a joy to use.
The Bad: So what didn’t I like? Stupid little things, things that felt like they had somehow been overlooked and then forgotten about. Remember I said I loved those Bing image on the day lock screens? Well you can set an image to be the background in the live tile screen. I thought oooh lets set the Bing image of the day to be the image used. You can’t. Not only is there no option to do it apparently there is no api hooks to enable any app to do it automatically. WTF Microsoft????
The keyboard. The keyboard is actually really good but you see I like to use the Dvorak layout. So I look to see where I can change the keyboard. You can’t! Granted the stock one is very good but really, I cannot change it??? This also means that users of Lastpass can’t have it helpfully fill in usernames and passwords. You much jump in and out copy pasting.
Cortana, remember I said she was on the whole really good? Well that’s if you have her. To get her on the UK one I had to accept the “Developer” build. WTF Microsoft??? It’s not like I’m asking her to suddenly speak French or Italian. I am sure this annoys everyone who speaks English but isn’t in America.
Oh and while I’m on the subject of location. Why is it Microsoft your annoying app website when I click a link from externally, directing me to the US site, helpfully tells me “not available in your region click here to go to it.” Just F’ing redirect me! I have read many people complain about how WP handles region issues, by issues I mean you aren’t in in the US so random things break for no apparent reason.
Then we have the issue of things running in the back ground. It would seem that Microsoft has decided that it doesn’t want things to so they don’t. You cannot override this. For me the thing I wanted was to have a VOIP client running but unless the screen was on and the app was in the foreground it could not receive an incoming connection. I know this makes for battery saving, the battery life was amazing compared to my Nexus 4, but let me have the option please.
Hardware: It’s nice. It’s a Nokia and they have always had a great reputation for building things well. I like that you can pull the back off and you can replace the battery and put in an SD card slot. Up to 128GB it’ll support too!!!! So would make for a good capacity music player if that’s your thing. The camera is a bit so so. For a 5 it’s quite nice but oddly there isn’t an LED flash. Sure it’s a budget device but they cost like 1p. The other camera oddity is no front facing camera. Again I’m perplexed by this but it isn’t something I basically ever use anyway so for me it was no massive loss. Just more odd than anything else. The screen, this too has been a cost saving measure, it’s only a 480 by 854 pixel. So on paper that’s seriously falling behind but in real world use the screen is pretty nice. Its coloration is rather pleasant. Given its pixel count it’s still a nice screen. One other omission, no camera button. I wish all phones had them but if you really are super fussed about a camera your prob not buying this phone anyway.
Audio: here we go with the important stuff. I think I’m going to spit it in two a little. The hardware and the plethora of music playback apps. First we shall go with the apps.
Audio Software: I do not use my phone for music. I realise many do though so it matters. With this Lumia and Windows Phone things are different to what were all used to. No Itunes managing your Iphone, no google music on your android (though some apps claim to connect to your google music account) I however am not trying those. The one I’m most curious about is Nokia’s own “MixRadio” which as you can see has another Nokia idiotic name. It is rather like a Spotify clone but just felt nicer. It didn’t play any ads at me and if you want to pay them money for enabling additional stuff its only £4 a month. Seems like a bargain to me if you’re into streaming music. Oh and it could locally store things too as can Spotify.
The other “big” music app we have on here is just called Music. Until you open it and then it’s suddenly all “Xbox Music” I presume if you live in the Xbox ecosystem then yey for you. However I’ve always found Xbox to be rather more of an American thing. Still it lets you buy music from them and stuff but what I’m really more interested in is playing back stuff I already own. Yes this is the app to use for playing back stuff from that SD card slot. On putting one in with music it instantly found it and instantly listed it. Granted I’m only using a small card but super, super snappy. The app, like the mixradio, when showing the lock screen shows a little play/pause skip track controls. Visually its rather slick. One problem though, FLAC is not supported. I did find an app that worked but it was horrible to use and I wasn’t buying one just for this. Given it’s a phone and if your using your phone as your music player a 320k MP3 is more than good enough so my advice is do that, don’t bother trying to make FLAC work. It just is not worth the pain.
Audio Hardware: First things first, if you use something sensitive with the 635 be aware that you get a ton of back ground pops and crackles. It’s not really noticeable in music playback though, well apart from the quiet moments but I suspect that’s not an issue buyers of the 635 would encounter. If you are one of those people who just cannot at all live with extraneous noise move on.
So, the amp inside the 635, I have had a look round the net and a cannot see anywhere that specifies what it is. That’s a little bit irritating but not the end of the world, what really matters is how it sounds, not what it called.
Lows: Ever more a factor of what you’re using with them than the amp itself but there is some influence. Here the amp seems to be a tad on the cool, hard bass with a bit of an inclination to the punchy. Depth wise there does seem to be a bit missing and I’ll readily confess that the amp here seems to want to be pushed to be its best. Even when playing with the super easy to drive DN-2000 the amp just yearned to be given a bit of oomf. If you play things quietly then the bass is the one to suffer most, its little bit of lacking down low and its inclination to punch doesn’t get that opportunity. Time and again I found myself bumping up the volume to give it space to show what it can do. So despite it being a phone using things a little harder to drive, things that usually need a crack of the volume dial to sing work pretty well. If I were you I would try and aim for things that are a bit boosted in bottom. That shouldn’t be a problem as pretty much everything mainstream is anyway.
Quantity wise it’s not dripping in abundance but its cleanliness and rhythmic inclination to punch and party I think serve its target market particularly well.
Mids: Once more I find the amp in the 635 pulling itself over to the slightly cool, bit dry etc etc. For me that’s just dandy as it lends itself to sounding that touch more vocally articulate than the alternative warm and fuzzy type. It isn’t what I would say is best suited to hard core audiophiles, looking for vocal notes that linger and drip down your ear canals. It is not that. Overall I’m not being wowed, by its sumptuousness, it’s just not. However as with all things the trade is that it feels highly explicit vocally. While I may be playing FLAC files and at present using a pair of DN-900’s which cost most of the price of the phone but you know what, Savage Gardens “I Want You” just feels so very articulate and joyful. I may or may not find myself dancing in my chair J
Tonally sure it’s not ultra dead on but for poppy, bouncy music which I’m pretty sure is going to be the domain of the device its really quite pleasing.
Highs: It overall cooler tonal nature continues on though to the highs also. They are inclined to the clean and crisp. This I think asks a little for trouble as its shortcomings begin to become rather noticeable if you pair it up with high end stuff. The DN-2000 isn’t the most brutal but it was a bit unforgiving. The highs just aren’t amazing but…… given the price point I really can’t complain. When paired up with its more likely natural accompaniments, something warm and bassy, this colder metallic twang is a boon. You need a little clang to cut through and that it does in a fairly pleasing manner. Swapping to the ever warm, rich and indulgently bassy IE7 the little clatter of cymbals cutting through works well. The 635 is like the little phone that could.
The negative is, if you are some crazed treble junky with a pair of RE-272’s you will want to give it a skip. The 635 puts of a really admirable effort of top, very admirable but it’s not going to be troubling the Studio 3rd Anv. any time soon.
Build Quality: As you expect from Nokia, it’s pretty great. I really can’t fault anything. Do keep in mind it is all plastic if that’s an issue for you.
UI: I like it. It’s a little odd at first but the “live tiles” are nice to use and the full menu is great. It’s a bit slow to only have one single list but you just tap a letter and the alphabet pops up. You hit x or whatever and its takes to that location in the list. Exceedingly handy. Otherwise the UI felt amazingly fluid given the spec’s and you get very used to, very quickly the swiping right and left to slide though menu structures. It might not be the most screen efficient UI ever, I think WP really needs a BIG phone screen to shine but I found it is most pleasant to interact with.
Accessories: Erm, a charger.
Battery Life: Excellent. Maybe it’s because I’m used to battery destroying android with a ton of stuff running in the background but the 635 was a massive jump improvement. I know it wasn’t my dally phone so it didn’t see any call or texting time but it stood up very well. Like charge every third day good. Plus you can swap the battery with a spare if you need. Massive min for the 635 on the battery front.
Speaker: It has a tiny little hole to output sound but is rather impressive. I mean you won’t be listening to music from it unless you’re a monster but playing a podcast or speaker phone call its really quite clear and loud.
Value: Well at £130 I rather feel it’s not great. Given its meagre hardware it performs superbly but tell me why a Moto G has vastly better specs for the same money? It’s not that it’s a bad device or that it’s not nice to use and really snappy but it feels like for the money the hardware should at least have a flash and front facing camera. Even if I never ever use them, it still niggles me they aren’t here. Acoustically though, I’m somewhat more pleased with. The little amp / DAC might be cheap but it’s a really clean and playful sound, I really enjoy it. I also need to note, that Microsoft have cut its US price to only US$99 and that’s outright, not on a contract as is the norm there. That makes it a bloody cheap device!
Conclusion: This might get long. There are three distinct aspects to the 635. That is Windows Phone, that it’s a phone and as an audio device.
Windows phone; well it’s really nice, it feels so snappy and elegant. However it still lacks things that I found hard to believe are absent. You can’t leave a VoIP app running to accept incoming connections????? The app store too lacks but that for me was mostly about because the things I wanted WP itself prevents an app from doing. Still, if you want something simple and uncomplicated then it’s a lovely OS. I have no doubts the proverbial mother or granny would get along just great with it. I like to tinker and do specific things, with WP it felt like it was throwing roadblocks at me. Personally its lack of FLAC support was a pain. Yes I know it’s a phone, it’s not good enough to make FLAC actually matter over using a 320k mp3 but…… just why the F is it not supported? That’s my real problem with WP, the strangest things are locked down or not supported. Honestly Microsoft, what is taking so long???
As a phone; here it’s okay. A big factor of what the device can do is a factor of the OS. If you want simple, easy and elegant then yey for you. It felt all exceedingly functional, email especially was a really great experience and its built in keyboard was fab. (Even though I was annoyed I couldn’t change it.) Everything is so very straightforward and functional. It would I think make the perfect business phone. Office and email are just bang on and being a Nokia the signal and call quality were great.
Audio: Well this is getting to the heart of it. I don’t know what the DAC in there is but I was highly impressed with it. I myself don’t use a phone for music as I would much rather have a dedicated device. The 635 being a phone, a pretty budget end phone at that I would have expected it to suck big time. I can safely say as a rule Nexus phones suck for audio, the 5 isn’t terrible but the 4 certainly is. Whatever Nokia have slapped in here is actually not at all bad. It’s fairly shifted to the cool, clean, dry end of tonality but its detail level is rather good. My only complaint is that its amp really wants you to crank the volume to get the best from it but when you do, its actually a pretty credible source! I won’t be trading in my Studio anytime soon but for a cheap phone, that feels snappy, offers up to 128GB SD card support (yes Nexus line I’m looking at you!) means you could have a cheap convergence device and get some rather decent audio quality.
When paired up to my beloved IE7, its soft, warm and a bit flabby bottom end really gains a whack of solidity. Scissor Sister’s “Making Ladies” takes a really vigorous and voluminous punch, punch you right in face kinda bass!!! While I would not want that all day everyday all day, I like a bit more genteel but surely the target market for the 635 is the teen. So hard face slapping, vigorous bass lines must be an epic boon, right? It’s mightily enjoyable party time. Using Senn’s Momentum IEM’s with volume and play/pause/skip button only served to make things even better!!
So, in short I have mixed feeling about WP as an OS. As a phone I find its hardware a bit lacking for the money. As an audio device I found it to be far better than expected. Its clean and punchy character shine with the sort of warm and bassy IEM’s its likely to encounter. For the money, you could look at this a DAP or PMP given it’ll play video too, that just happens to make phone calls.