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Deep-dive review: The Lumia 635 smartphone -- a study in contrasts

Matt Hamblen | July 25, 2014
Nokia's new low-cost Lumia 635 smartphone makes some unfortunate hardware compromises, but on the plus side it comes with the excellent Windows Phone 8.1.

Nokia's new Lumia 635 smartphone could be a glimpse of what future lower-cost Lumia devices will be like — assuming there are any. After several days of use, I found that its greatest strength was the fact that it comes with the latest version (8.1) of Windows Phone — which includes Office software and a new "personal assistant" called Cortana.

AT&T will introduce a prepaid version of the Lumia 635 for a $99 promotional price starting July 25th and $140 after Aug. 8th; T-Mobile began selling it on July 9th at $7 a month over 24 months, for a total of $168. Both offers are without contract.

Nokia Lumia 635

Using the Lumia 635 can be an adjustment for a smartphone user who is accustomed to higher-end devices such as iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, but the device may be attractive to buyers looking for a low-cost Windows Phone.

The new Windows Phone 8.1 operating system retains the great Windows Phone live tile concept that, to my taste, offers the best home screen look and feel on the market. With live tiles, you can pin your favorite website to your home screen and it's large enough to easily see it constantly updated.

Still, the Lumia 635 is a phone laden with contradictions: For example, there's only one camera in the rear with just a 5-megapixel lens, even though, before its acquisition by Microsoft, Nokia was known for including high-quality cameras in most of its other phones.

Ultimately, the Lumia 635 is a mixed bag.

Hardware — many lower-cost tradeoffs

The look and feel of the Lumia 635 is a lot like the iPhone 5C. The back cover is a shell made of polycarbonate plastic. My review unit from T-Mobile had a white cover, but Microsoft has promised black, orange, green and yellow covers also. The display runs nearly to the edges without any physical buttons, with the back cover wrapping around the front just a bit to leave an attractive slim trim edge all around the rectangular device. The corners are rounded off, so it almost has the shape of a somewhat larger iPhone.

What's going on with Microsoft and the Lumia line?

Microsoft finished the purchase of Nokia in April and in early July released the low-cost Nokia Lumia 635 to the U.S. market.

Initial sales of the Lumia 635 came just days before Microsoft said on July 17 that it would lay off 18,000 workers (including 12,500 people from Nokia), its biggest layoff ever.

The layoff announcement also included a reorganization of Microsoft smartphone production, with a focus on lower-cost Windows Phone devices and the conversion of some planned Nokia X smartphone designs, which were originally intended to run Android, to run Windows Phone.


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