Microsoft Lumia 535
The Lumia 535 isn’t the cheapest in the Lumia Windows Phone range: that honour goes to the Lumia 430. And at £100, the 535 has plenty of competition from budget Android smartphones, though, it also offers a lot more than its predecessor, the Lumia 530 (tinyurl.com/oaxpfks).
Superficially, the 535 looks like the 530, but it’s a much more grown-up smartphone. The screen has increased from 4- to 5in and it has also slimmed down to under 9mm thick. The 535 measures 140x73x8.8mm and weighs 146g.
The screen has a resolution of 960x540, which is poor in 2015, but at least it’s an IPS display. It equates to a just-acceptable pixel density of 220ppi, and it’s covered in Gorilla Glass 3.
If this is your first smartphone, you probably won’t mind the limited viewing angles and lacklustre colours (and contrast) too much. Part of the problem is that the LCD panel isn’t laminated to the cover glass, so it looks as if it’s sunken inside the phone. Overall it isn’t a patch on alternatives, such as the second-generation Moto G’s (tinyurl. com/kcb7c5n) screen, but it’s just about usable outdoors.
One of our biggest issues is with the touchscreen. Microsoft has already issued a software update to fix the worst of the problems, but we found the slightest accidental touch by your palm or even using your finger at the slightly wrong angle meant either an errant swipe or an unrecognised tap respectively. When typing, we frequently saw characters doubled up and only by deliberately slowing down could we get it to work properly.
The 535 is unmistakably a Lumia Windows phone, especially if you opt for the bright green or orange versions. However, since the rear covers pop off, you can swap them around at will (there are black and white covers if you want to be more discrete).
We found the super-glossy green version slippery to handle and almost dropped it more than once while trying to take photos. The good news is that there are frontand rear-facing cameras and the back camera has an LED (which is particularly handy as a torch).
There’s a headphone jack at the top and a Micro-USB port at the bottom. On the right are the usual power and volume rocker buttons, but no shutter button for the camera.
One of the sacrifices you’ll make by choosing a Lumia 535 is the processor. It may be a quad-core CPU, but it’s an old Snapdragon 200 running at 1.2GHz. It’s backed by 1GB of RAM, which gives the 535 a better chance of being upgradeable to Windows 10: phones with 512MB of memory probably won’t be able to run it.
We saw a result of 1295ms in SunSpider 1.0.2, which shows this is no speed demon, and in general use the 535 is a little sluggish and lacks the immediate response you expect from a modern smartphone.
There’s 8GB of storage (with slightly over 4GB available for use out of the box), but you can insert a microSD card to expand the capacity by up to 128GB.
The phone also has 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4 and GPS, plus ambient light and proximity sensors. There’s no support for 4G, just 3G.
One of the better features is the front-facing wide-angle camera. It has the same 5Mp resolution as the rear camera, making it technically better than even the iPhone 6 Plus.
The bad news is that photos aren’t great even in brightly lit rooms: they’re grainy and a little fuzzy. On occasion, we also saw painful shutter lag which meant photos weren’t actually taken until a second or two after tapping the screen. That meant plenty of blurry snaps as we’d moved the phone thinking the photo was taken.
Oddly, though, video is shot at 848x480 so video clips are very poor. As well as lacking detail, they’re also wobbly since there’s no stabilisation. They’re just about usable as part of a Facebook feed, just so long as no-one tries to watch them full-screen on a PC.
Windows Phone 8.1 has many strengths and is a great mobile OS. As well as Cortana – your digital assistant – you get Here Drive+ (a great satnav app that can work offline) and free online storage via OneDrive. Skype is built in as is Microsoft Office.
The problem is that you won’t necessarily find all your favourite apps in the Windows store. The selection is better than it was but there are still gaping holes.
When spending £100 there are inevitably some compromises. With the Lumia 535, however, they’re seemingly everywhere: screen resolution and quality, video resolution, performance – the list goes on. There are better budget phones out there.