Lumia 635 and Windows Phone 8.1 – not bad for a cheapy chappy…

Lumia 635 and Windows Phone 8.1 – not bad for a cheapy chappy…
Lumia 635 and Windows Phone 8.1 – not bad for a cheapy chappy…

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently dropped my LG G2 and destroyed the screen. A little research suggests that some interesting decisions in design to keep the phone to the size it is are responsible for the complete destruction with a fairly innocuous drop, but I am off on a tangent.

In my desperate need for a phone quickly, I reverted to (use of the word revert – a topic for a different entry) Windows Phone on a Nokia Lumia 635. Now there is a lot of hate for Windows Phone amongst a lot of the tech crowd, and it certainly isn’t cool, but it works…

But going back to this. It’s a cheap, budget 4G phone that seems very tough. I’ve already dropped it a few times with only the back cover coming off (a great design feature that dissipates a lot of energy) and it does what I need, mostly. But what do I need? Here’s my list:

  • Phone. It must make calls clearly and effectively
  • Text messaging – should just work
  • Internet access – decent quality internet access
  • Mail client – goes without saying really, for both work and home
  • Personal Organiser – keep my contacts, calendar, etc together
  • Camera – I realised how much I use the camera on my phone as my primary photographic tool
  • Photo editing – linked to the camera!
  • When doing different tasks, not take too long to change
  • Battery Life: Must last a day
Not a long list, and one that I’d expect a half decent smartphone to do. And it is a half decent Smartphone. 

Lumia 635 Pros

In fact it’s much more. The reality is that this £120 phone is able to function better than the N9 I had a few years back. It’s without doubt slicker than the Orange San Francisco of 2011. It’s light and easy to carry. In fact, in a list of Pros, it ticks the majority of the boxes I’ve listed above. As a list:
  • Phone: Clear, good signal, Excellent
  • Text messaging: Just Works
  • Internet access: works well, let down by Bing search. One of the best in terms of managing wireless connectivity
  • Mail client – as good as the iPad
  • Personal Organiser – both contacts and calendar work well and the calendar is one of the clearest that I’ve had the pleasure of using
  • Camera – for a 5mp camera, the photos have been  remarkable. In daylight it produces much better pictures than I expected (see below)
  • Editing – plenty of apps, as shown above, plus some good stuff from Nokia out of the box
  • Task switching – now here we run into a bit of a limitation. Sure it’s okay, and it’s way quicker than the N9 was, but the couple of seconds lag while it tells me it’s resuming or the 5 seconds to open the camera. Not quite up to it I’m afraid
  • Battery life – on a hard day it gets to 5.30, but there’s not a lot in the tank after that. Windows Phone is very efficient, but not quite efficient enough
I’m also a fan of the basic Windows Phone interface. No, it’s not infinitely customisable, but who does that anyway? On Android, once I had my Launcher set up, that’s where I left it, and the Live Tiles on the front of the phone are eminently useful. The picture below shows what mine looks like. 36 apps on the “start” page and then everything else listed by alphabetical order on the next, with quicklinks to letters. A surprisingly logical approach to take for someone brought up in the Roman Alphabet. To me, this way of working is considerably superior to the 5×4 Grid on Android and iOs. The live tiles are just enough information and my lack of use of Widgets on Android helps here.

Lumia 635 Cons

Windows Phone….
The obvious and immediate con is always the app selection with Windows Phone and even where apps are available, they just aren’t quite as good. Need some examples? 
Let’s start with Facebook. The default app is relatively simple and doesn’t allow timeline reviews, so you get tagged by someone and you are going to the web interface to deal with it. 
BBC iPlayer? Not the luxurious, graphically pretty client of the iPhone or Android here. A much more clunky and blocky provision, which incidentally doesn’t allow you to download, so all shows are watched streaming. Not so great on a train journey.
And of course there are some missing apps. There is no Sky on here (so if you subscribe to Sky Go, you’d better use something else) and limited other items. Cyclist. Sorry, no Strava for you. You’re an Amazon music user. Tough. Google Play services? Via third party apps, but far from perfect.
Hardware
My other issue with this level of chipset are some of the lags that occur. Starting the camera? Wait seconds, and miss the photo. Have a few apps running? My personal opinion is that with more than five apps “running” it takes the phone a while to switch between them. 
There are also some silly little things, like losing anything you’ve typed when an app is returned to after a longer (but unspecified period). I’m not sure whether this is Windows Phone or the hardware though.

Conclusions

But, and here’s the big but, it’s a budget Smartphone. I shouldn’t expect flagship performance from a £120 phone. And no, I don’t get it. What I get is good midrange performance from a budget phone and that can’t be sniffed at. It has a decent screen size, does everything I need rather than want it to, and I’d have to recommend it if that’s what you need. 
What it also highlights to me is how little difference there really is between Mobile OSs now. iOs is probably the smoothest these days, WinPhone 8.1 comes close though and Android is Android. They all work, they all, ergonomically, are remarkably similar (what can you really differentiate on a Touch Screen device, after all?) and it really seems to be down to the style of the handset and what you want from the hardware look and feel that’s now more important. I use or have used all three in their latest iterations and there is little to really choose between them. I think I prefer Windows as an OS and iOs or Android from an app selection point. 
And there’s the killer. Without the apps, Windows Phone will continue to languish in 3rd place, whatever Microsoft tells you.

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