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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.

Storage Sense helps track data storage and decide where to keep it.

Sense lets you manage storage, battery and data use with easy-to-view displays. Storage Sense lets you can see how much battery life is left and also get an estimate of how long that will last, as well as the time since the last charge. Sense also detects which apps deplete the battery the most and optimizes each app to extend battery life, according to Microsoft. Data Sense is helpful for tracking a monthly data allotment from a carrier; users can customize alerts to say when a data limit is near so they can be directed to free Wi-Fi hotspots. Wi-Fi Sense instantly connects the phone to free Wi-Fi.

The Word Flow shape-writing keyboard works smoothly and as well as many of the other shape-writing apps on the market (and I've tried many of them). In a message or email, you tap the first letter of the word to be typed, then drag your finger to each of the next letters, picking up the finger when the last letter is reached. At that point, the word appears on the screen. It's quite a bit faster than picking out each letter. I intentionally tried to flub on picking letters, and Word Flow still figured out the word I was typing almost every time.

Some more valuable apps and features

In addition to Windows Phone 8.1 features, the Lumia 635 came with several interesting apps and features. A free MixRadio streaming music app was one of my favorites and came with no ads or the need to sign up. (T-Mobile also began offering free data use for a number of music streaming services in early July, but hasn't so far included MixRadio.)

I enjoy streaming radio mixes such as MixRadio offers, because they expose me to new music. And MixRadio lets you easily download a mix of songs to the phone to listen to music offline.

Here Maps and Here Drive+ are also among my favorite features. I can use Cortana to start navigating with a simple voice command to find a favorite restaurant; a simple touch on "Start Voice Nav" will then activate Here Drive+ with voice directions. The process is simpler than with Google Maps and some others I've tried, and the maps are clearer to read.

Here Drive+ also knows the speed limits for each segment of a roadway, and users can set the navigation service to sound a tone when the car's speed goes over that limit. You can easily set at how many miles an hour over the limit you want the tone to sound, or completely turn it off. Display options for the maps can be changed from 2D to 3D, and there are 88 different navigation voices to pick from, including a goofy-sounding male Surfer Dude voice. (All this is especially handy because it's very hard to read anything on the Lumia 635's display when outdoors or in a car.)


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