Nokia / Microsoft Lumia 735 Review

Nokia / Microsoft Lumia 735 Review

First Impressions:  Since my last brief time with a windows phone I rather fancied another.  With the 735 having come down in price and with the Fitbit offer on I was tempted.  Then learning that the 735 has an OLED screen and I was sold on getting one.  I do love an OLED screen. Though I will confess that actually getting one was a right old pain in the posterior.  EE had them up on their web site for £130 plus a mandatory £20 top up.  Oh but they had no stock, on the phone then and they could not order one for when stock came in.  So to the website, it never said not in stock but would give the delivery estimate as 14 – 21 days.  So then off to a store, I was going to be near Ocean Terminal (shopping centre, where HMY Britannia is docked) so I could pop in and see if they had one.  They did.  Oh but it takes a nano sim and they didn’t have any PAYG nano sim’s.  They therefore could not sell me it.  Honestly EE, I see you’re already preparing to give the same high standard of customer service that BT customers have enjoyed for years, for when they take you over.  After politely asking the poor girl in the shop if since they have 3 stores on Princes Street alone she might phone them and find if one of them might possibly have the phone and the required sim in stock.    I’m somewhat glossing over elements but suffice to say, EE you did not make a good showing of yourself on that Monday afternoon.

Finally getting home and opening the thing, the box was almost identical to that of the 635.  Same small box, inside the phone, micro USB cable and a charging plug.  It’s a tidy little package.  Sim in, battery in, back clipped on and voila.  Actually the back, Nokia (well Microsoft now) really know how to make a plastic backing clip together snuggly. I’ve seen early commentary of the 735 mistake it as being a unibody device.  It feels really solid in the hand.  Nokia have long had a reputation for impeccable build and this is a real example of that, just excellent.  All things considered it really makes for an excellent first impression.

I’ve now had the thing for a few weeks and so I guess I must press on with the various aspects of the device other than just its build quality.

Hardware:  Well you really can’t fault it.  The thing is solid and feels much more of a premium device.  The only issue, and it feels a bit petty to raise as an issue but the only thing that lets you tell this isn’t a high end device is its screen resolution.  Now I like an OLED screen with the high contrast and perfect blacks.  The screen here is very, very good.  The screen isn’t super-duper bright which I put down to Nokia’s “clear black” which I believe is basically that they use darkened glass on the front.  The colours are crisp, vibrant and just so, well colourful!!!  Oh I do love OLED displays, I really, really do.  The only bit that isn’t super great is that the resolution is only 720p.  Now it’s not like it’s horrible but next to the Nexus 5 with its 1080p screen but you can see the difference.  It’s not something that leaps out at you but you can tell if you look closely.  As downsides go that’s really it, the CPU and ram are both mid-range spec’s but you would never notice it.  The CPU is easily zippy enough and Windows Phone is a very light and snappy felling OS.  The RAM, its only 1GB but windows is very frugal with RAM and as it likes to freeze apps not on screen it hasn’t the same RAM hunger that Android has.  The crazy good build quality along with feeling so fast you could very well believe it was a much more expensive device than it was.  The camera on the back, well it’s a bit mid rangey.  It’s only a 6.7 mega pixel but it reminds you it has Zeiss optics in there.  The front camera, this was for a time labelled as the “selfie” phone.  Probably because the 635 was bashed for having no front facing camera, Nokia slapped in a 5 mega pixel one.  It is all a really nice little bundle.

Audio Software:  With it being windows phone there is not the assortment one might find elsewhere.  Normally when I use a phone for audio, really only for review purposes, I use Google Music.  I tend to live in Google’s world so for me its easy access to my music and just my music, no endless random stuff I don’t know well.  New music is great but not when you’re trying to critically assess something it’s not!  Hitting Google I found the “best” Google Music app.  Right now though it’s broken.  So great start there.

Since I have Deezer preinstalled I thought I’d give it a go.  It seems to be a Pandora like service, but not very good.  The Muppets “Happy Song” really??? Maybe it’s that I’ve not given it long enough to get to know me?  I mean it’s on the whole not a bad offering and it did pluck out some songs I like.  Over time it did grow on me but still a bit random at times.  There is of course the ubiquitous Spotify available too.  There is also the really quite good MixRadio from Nokia.  They are all the same sort of thing.  Pandora itself though refused to install, sad face.

Moving on to my own music, added to a little SD card I had to hand, I put on some stuff.  Naturally I had to convert all the FLAC files before into WMA lossless because WP8.1 still doesn’t support FLAC. Though the soonish coming Windows phone 10 apparently will.  One of the files was a high res, 96k 24bit file too and I’m pleased to say the phone in the default Xbox music app played it fine.  I know it probably doesn’t matter on a phone but nice to know that it can handle it.

Audio Hardware:  In a completely non-objective fashion, I’ve just picked up the first IEM I saw on my desk (Alclair Curve) and I don’t hate it.  I’ve spent half the day playing with the quite excellent RS185 so I expected my ears to wretch a little on testing the phone but it’s not at all bad.  I’d love to tell you what hardware is in it but trying to find out, god you’d think I was asking for Bill Gates’s bank details.   Anyway, it sounds pretty damn decent.

Lows:  They have a surprising amount of energy to them.  I note that from memory it’s not too unlike what I encountered in the 635.  They both run Snapdragon 400’s so maybe they have the same audio hardware?  I would love to know but Microsoft were monumentally unhelpful.  It’s inclined to a vigorous, colder more aggressive style.  It wants to drive the Curve’s to a quick punchy place.  Hmm with the sumptuous Curve’s it works very well. I love pairing contrastingly styled DAP’s and IEM’s so throwing any warm IEM would be a good idea, of which there are boatloads.  Think the Momentum In-Ears, or pretty much anything Sony make.  Warm softness gets a good stiff rod up its back and it’s fantastic for quick bouncy pop.  The 735 rhythmically wants the music to go fast so it’s good to add some softness and slowness.  With more snappy headphones it all becomes a little too fast paced.  Too punchy too, you need a bit of softness to mellow and balance them.  Depth wise it’s not awesome, it hasn’t the amp power to drive deep sumptuous lows but the pithy smack the bass likes to give means you don’t really want or notice the lack of furthest depths.  Odds are it won’t be paired to the best quality headphones anyway.

Mids:  A little on the chilly side tonally.  Much like the bass there is an inclination towards a more direct, clean, punchy and “assertive” sound.  All of which is good by me as I like DAP’s, to be clean and headphones to provide the warmth.  For a phone it’s safe to assume they will mostly be encountering lower end, mainstream quality earphones, which I would presume to be warm and bass heavy.  The cool dryness applied to the vocals here then should aid them greatly in clarity.  Give them a bit of width and dry air, give them a little chance to breathe.  So long as you stick to warm and fairly easy to drive things then you can’t go wrong.  If you insist on cooler and harder to drive, like the RE-0 then mids don’t have the breadth to them.  The plucky little Nokia does a really admirable job with the RE-0’s I must say but it’s noticeable that they just don’t have the proper power behind them to really sing.  Still a breathy and airy valiant effort.

Highs:  Since I’ve still got the RE-0’s out, the highs are pretty bloody good.  Of course the RE-0 are doing most of the heavy lifting as they have about the best highs of any IEM ever but….. that means the 735 is feeding them a pretty reasonable signal.  It’s got detail, it’s got refinement (okay so some of that refinement is due to the 0 being so hard to drive) it’s a bit of a shock really.  What are Nokia/Microsoft putting in the Lumia’s in terms of audio hardware?  I tried asking them but they were about as helpful as a bag of cats.  Otherwise I’m still inclined towards tame treble’s, its relatively crisp nature means that highs are a touch hard.  As I’m inclined to warm IEM’s anyway I find it a natural and complimentary pairing.  You know it reminds me greatly of the output of the 1G Ipod Shuffle.  A little brash and brittle but for the money / fact it’s a phone I’m pretty impressed.

Soundstage/Instrument separation:  Sound staging is fairly so so.  It’s not got the power to give things the scale they ought to, even with the Senn IE7’s it was rather middling.  Instrument separation though is pretty good.  For a phone it’s really actually pretty decent stuff.

Battery Life:  Epic.  I have no idea what it does that is radically different but with, admittedly not lots of use, it lasts days.  Maybe it’s the amolod screen and having lots of black?  Either way it’s easily the best battery life I’ve had from a smart phone.  What’s more if that’s not good enough for you, you can always use the handy wireless charging to top it up.  If that’s still not enough, you can just buy a spare battery to shove in it if the need arises.

Build Quality:  As the last of the Nokia’s it holds true to its pedigree. It’s got a removable plastic back but you’d never know to hold it in your hands.  It looks and both feels first rate

UI:  I’ve currently got a build of windows 10 running on it.  It’s not really all that different from 8.1.  If you have a played with a windows phone of any kind you’ll get the gist of things.  It’s all about tiles and a simple list of apps in the main drawer.  It is simple, simple stuff.  It’s a hair more customisable than iOS but nothing like the options you have with Android.   It is fast and fluid feeling but it’s a little on the simple side for me, nice of course but I like to tweak things.  Windows Phone really doesn’t let you tweak very much.

In The Hand:  I’m not sure I love the very square thing, yes it’s visually impressive but otherwise the thing is nicely curved on the back and the front glass is too.  Ever so gently, a bit like was on the Nexus 4, the front glass edges just slop away so our fingers can glide right off to the sides.  I very much like.

Format Support:  I can’t be arsed trying them all but it should play mp3’s just fine and aac’s too.  Annoyingly it doesn’t support FLAC, with the advent of 128GB SD cards you might want to but MS promises FLAC support is coming with WP10.

Volume:  I can’t say I encountered anything it couldn’t drive more than loud enough, it was regularly in the 20’s out of 30 though.  Oh also note, while it could get loud enough, it wasn’t always powering things super well and so I found I would crank the volume dial a bit just to get that additional power rather than for the added loudness.

Accessories:  It doesn’t come with anything bar a charger.  You want anything else, buy it.

Speaker:  It is adequately loud.  Its quality isn’t horrific, I wouldn’t choose to ever to listen to music on it but it doesn’t distort to hell if you max the volume.

Camera:  I’m no photographer but the rear 6.7MP with Carl Zeis lenses is pretty good.  For a mid-range handset.  6.7MP isn’t very high but the Zeiss lenses mean they have paid at least a bit of attention to it.  Its photos look okay to me.  Comparting to the Moto G then to my eye it’s the better of the two but brand name lenses or not, it’s a midrange handset.  The front one, well it’s a whopping 5MP which is huge for a front facing camera.  To my eyes its looks not bad at all for a front camera but I really am no photographer.  Still verses the Moto G it is plain and simply better, so if “selfies” matter big time to you, take note.

The Good:  There is so much to like about the 735 there really is.  Taking it as one whole. I very much the device, I really honestly do.  Could it ever be my main device, oh hell no, not a snowballs chance in hell!!!  The hardware is just what you expect from “Nokia” (incidentally this is the last Nokia branded phone.)  It may be plastic and have a removable back but the thing is lush in the hand.  If you handed it to someone and told them it’s a unibody phone they would easily believe you.  Its not but you’d never know by the look or feel of the thing. Then you look at its screen and yes, it’s “only” a 720p screen but it is AMOLED so it pops.  Colours are so vibrant and black are infinitely black.  It’s gorgeous.  In short I love the hardware.  The OS, meh, not so much.  It’s not that WP is bad, it’s not, it’s just so locked down, even more so that iOS is.  Anyway this isn’t a WP review.

The good you can summarise as the hardware, its great in the hand, looks like it costs waaaaaaay more than it did and the screen is a stunner.   The audio hardware too, I found myself taking a real liking to too.  Even if Microsoft’s PR people are a bunch of expletives.  Honestly trying to find out what audio bits are inside, you’d think I’d just asked them what position their mother likes best.

The Bad:  This is not and will not be a WP review.  However being a Lumia 735 review and sadly the bad is that WP still feels unfinished.  Yes I realise 10 is unfinished but random little things you just can’t do.  However this isn’t a WP so I’m not going to list its issues, you know what they are in relation to the other two and you know what the benefits are.  It terms of the hardware here, it’s a lovely device.  If it had ran android, this and not the Moto G would have been the go to bargain phone, no question.  The fact is for near identical money and spec the 735 is leaps and bounds the nicer device.

Value:  Excellent.  For £150 if you don’t want Android then grab one of these.  Side by side with an Iphone 5 I have here, metal vs plastic aside (personally I prefer the plastic) the 735 is so easily the much more pleasant device.  So many of the initial impressions of the 735 at its launch had people stating it was a unibody design.  It is not.  That the back is removable so easily, so battery swappable yet is all so nicely done is testament to the knowhow of Nokia’s many years of phone constructing.  It is a nice object and if it ran Android I’m sure it would have been a bigger sales success than the Moto G.

Conclusion:  As a phone, I like it rather a lot.  Well I do so long as you don’t mark it down for being a Windows Phone.  Yes it bugs me the things I want to do but that it can’t because WP doesn’t let you do anything.  In the same way it would be wrong to hammer iOS for the some restrictions.  The fact is not everyone wants to change the launcher on their phone, they want it to look and act exactly the way someone else decided it should be.  The screen is beautiful, the body is too and the internals make it all feel very snappy.  The hardware of the thing is really really nice.  God if this had android it would have sold in huge numbers.

Acoustically, I don’t know what magic they are working but I’ve been a big fan of its light, crisp and clean sounding output.  Seeing as they have the same CPU I’m just assuming it’s the same audio hardware too as was in the 635.  I don’t have the 635 anymore so I can’t confirm but so far, they are the best sounding mobile phones I’ve spent time listening to.  Granted as of yet that isn’t terribly many but still, this is good enough that I could use it as a DAP and not want to kill myself.  Its verging on not just being “good for a phone” but being good for a DAP full stop.

If I had any complaints or reservations really, it’s that the audio output isn’t the most powerful that ever there was.  If you connect things really hard to drive (RE-0) then dynamics take a beating and it can sound a little listless.  However I am well impressed with the 735.  Pair it with a nicely warm IEM like the IE7 or Alclair Curve and you have yourself a credible sounding, grown up audio set up.  From a phone, seriously!

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