Microsoft Lumia 535 review
Headlines rarely come more literal than this: one of the most interesting things about the Lumia 535 is stamped right over the screen. The Microsoft branding marks the end of an era for Nokia, whose name will no longer adorn its handsets.
Of most significance is the price: you can have the Lumia 535 delivered, SIM-free and unlocked, for a mere £83: impressive indeed for what appears at first to be a fully functioning smartphone. The specifications are basic, but there are no obvious compromises. Inside is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor running at 1.2GHz, as well as 1GB of RAM – plenty enough for a Windows Phone device.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: benchmarks and performance
The reality of the Lumia 535’s specifications is reasonably good performance. It isn’t overly enthusiastic, but it doesn’t drag: Windows Phone’s icons stutter slightly when you return to the homescreen and panning around Here Maps is a little juddery, but users who can keep their ambitions in check will find little to complain about.
There’s some modest gaming potential, too: a quick blast along the tracks of Asphalt 8 was borderline acceptable, although the GFXBench T-Rex benchmark stuttered along at an average of only 7.7fps, meaning the luxuriously smooth frame rates of pricier handsets are some way off. When you consider that the Honor Holly managed 7.1fps with its higher-resolution 720p display, the Lumia 535 is just a little off the pace.
Running the SunSpider browser benchmark confirmed our subjective experiences: a result of 1,306ms is decent for the money, and a smidgen ahead of the Honor Holly, but very far from the leading edge set by more expensive handsets. Still, overall performance is acceptable, with the only caveat that Windows Phone 8 has changed enormously in the past 18 months, and it’s possible that it will continue to evolve. If you keep the Lumia 535 up to date with updates it’s hard to say what its performance will be in 12 months.
Battery life is a tad disappointing. In our audio-streaming test, the Lumia 535 consumed 5.3% of its battery capacity per hour, a result that compares unfavourably to the 1.9% consumed by the Honor Holly. The Lumia redeemed itself slightly in GFXBench’s battery test, with its projected runtime of 4hrs 7mins striding past the 2hrs 51mins of the Honor Holly, but this isn’t quite as impressive as it sounds: the Honor Holly’s display has 77% more pixels than that of the Lumia, so is using far more horsepower to complete the test.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: features, display and cameras
Sadly, the Lumia’s screen fails to get the pulse racing. For the money it’s unfair to expect a blinder, but even so the Lumia 535’s 5in, 540 x 960 display is mediocre. The measured brightness of 330cd/m2 is acceptable, but it isn’t up to the standards of its closest rivals: the Honor Holly’s pips it with a brightness of 431cd/m2. The contrast ratio is a tad behind the curve too, at 875:1. Things could be sharper as well: the size and resolution work out to a pixel density of 220ppi, which makes for a noticeably less crisp display than rival 720p handsets.
It’s a similar story elsewhere: a roll call of minor exclusions and compromises that Microsoft will hope doesn’t amount to death by a thousand cuts. 4G hasn’t made the cut; there’s no compass, so whichever maps app you use won’t be able to show you which way you’re heading; and as for storage, there’s 8GB inside, half of which is occupied out of the box. You’ll have to shell out for a microSD card to keep the phone usable once you start using the cameras and installing apps.
The cameras in question are a pair of 5-megapixel snappers front and back. The front lens is slightly wider than the back (24mm to 28mm), but otherwise both cameras are identical. Unfortunately, that extends to the next compromise: no HD-recording ability. The maximum resolution either camera can record is 848 x 480. Otherwise, the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera produces decently sharp, well-balanced images.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: build quality and replaceable covers
The Lumia 535 comes with a degree of customisability: you can snap the back cover off and replace it with one with an integrated, screen-protecting flap. Unfortunately, both supplied covers are horrid: flimsy plastic things in lurid shades of green and orange. We keenly examined the box for a plain one with no success; a black flip cover can be bought for a steep £20. The interchangeable covers come with other drawbacks: they don’t fit as perfectly as they might if they were permanent. Consequently, the right-hand side of our review unit gave a creak every time it was squeezed, whichever case it was wearing, and there was a similar amount of give between the case and the back of the phone. It’s a relief that Microsoft hasn’t economised on the build quality of the screen: Corning’s Gorilla Glass makes a welcome appearance.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: verdict
It’s easy to pick faults with the Lumia 535: virtually everywhere you look there is a compromise of some size. The screen in particular is far from perfect, performance is considerably behind the bleeding-edge, and the lack of 4G is a nuisance. However, the biggest hurdle to the Lumia 535’s success is the quality of the competition: with Honor Holly packing in a far better display and superior camera for £90, the first Microsoft-branded Lumia fails to hit the mark.