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Review: Nokia / Microsoft Lumia 735

Well, you might be wondering what’s with the Nokia / Microsoft. You see the Lumia 735 is a bit of a queer duck, while the one I have, the UK model is the last of the Nokia branded Lumia’s. However if you live in over in the US, you’ll see that it has since been branded Microsoft. Given you can whip the backs off the thing it’s an easy rebrand to make, though it does make me think, are they making replacement back covers in both names or are they all now Microsoft? While in the US the Microsoft brand name might be the more recognisable on the rest of the planet, Nokia is. Hell, in India Nokia is slang for a mobile phone in the way that all vacuum cleaners in the UK are hoovers. How then does this farewell device hold up?

So the midrange Lumia 735. It is a mid-range device, with mid-range components, a mid-range size and a mid-range price tag. If you look at the numbers the 735 going head to head with the midrange king, the Moto G, the 735 isn’t anything special. Granted it wasn’t sufficiently special to get me to pick one up if it hadn’t been for the then running Fitbit promotion. Buy a 735, 830 or 930 Lumia and you get a free Fitbit Flex. Not that I desperately was after either but hey, I figured it was a bargain.

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However, the actual process of buying was a bit of a nightmare. First of all I couldn’t buy one on line, they were out of stock. So I rang, they didn’t have any and couldn’t place one on order. So I went to a store. They had one, hooray, oh silly me. You see I wanted one on PAYG and it took a micro-sim. They did not have any micro-sims in stock so they could not sell me the phone. Oh and no, selling me a just a top-up voucher wasn’t acceptable it had to be a sim, specifically only a micro-sim. After firmly suggesting the member of staff might enquire if one of their other stores might have such an exotic combination of the two, she eventually started ringing some. Hooray, the middle one on Princes St. had both. So off I toddled, to which I thought all I had to do was say, hi, we rang, can just buy a PAYG phone with a PAYG sim. Hand over my card and I’m done. (Frankly which is how easy Three have always been to buy phones from.) Alas no, I had a 20 min wait to get to someone and at least another 15 min of fannying about doing god knows what. The impending acquisition of EE by BT, well they have already nailed BT’s customer service levels.

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Overview and Unboxing

The 735 is much like the other Lumia boxes I’ve seen. It’s smallish, flat and square. There is the familiar black sheet of glass on the right hand side as the inside slides out. It is a nice size though I’ve roughly figured out that the ideal size of a phone for my hands is around the 4.7 inch mark, which the 735 is. Pulling it out and then lifting the flaps we then find the battery, the USB outputting plug and a micro USB cable. Nice to see a separate plug and cable there. Eagerly getting the battery and the sim inside and powering it up, I confess I was looking forward to seeing its OLED screen. I was not disappointed. It’s been a long time since my Galaxy Nexus, oh how I loved its screen but they are just not so much available unless you buy a Samsung.

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As it powers up, oh yes the memories are flooding back of just how black the blacks are on an OLED screen. God they are lush, ahh and the colours. Sure I know they are over saturated but so what, it’s a phone and I’m not going to be using it to watch some cinematic masterpiece that would be ruined with gaudy over saturated colours. I wish all phones had OLED screens. Oh and the fact that’s it’s “only” a 720p screen I am completely oblivious to. OLED colours make such an amazingly positive first impression.

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The body, the back of the device having snapped on so easily you forget that it’s not a unibodied device. The build quality is fantastic, the hardware so far is kinda blowing me away, as first impressions go it’s all just so wonderfully nice. No wonder that when it was first announced journalists were reporting it as a unibody device, which they believed and I can absolutely see why they would think so. It’s all so first rate.

Key Features

4.7 inch screen 1280 x 720 pixels (312 ppi.)

Quad core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 (Cortex-A7 CPU.)

Adreno 305 GPU.

1GB of RAM.

8GB of internal storage (Micro SD card up to 128GB supported)

6.7MP rear facing camera with Carl Zeiss Lens’s and LED flash.

5MP front facing camera.

Li-ion 2200mAh removable battery.

Cat 4 LTE modem supporting 800, 1800 and 2600Mhz.

Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n supported.

Running Windows Phone 8.1 update.

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Picking up the handset, I find myself a little bit in awe of it. It’s so lovely in the flesh, Nokia / Lumia / whoever really know how to put something together. The device is a bit of a stunner, scrap that, it’s a total stunner. The screen is sooooooooooo pretty, oh I do love OLED screens, then with the “Clear Black” display. Tbh I think it just means they use a black tinted glass sheet on the front, but it looks awesome. The colours and blacks are just so starkly vivid that when I look over to its prime competitor (Moto G) the 735 is just in another league. The visual difference doesn’t just end there. The 735 looks good, seriously good just as an object. The Moto G in comparison looks so frumpy and dull, the 735 in comparison and so svelte, it’s sweeping curved back and glass front, curved side but starkly angular corners. Its looks great. It also looks completely seamless. You can’t really tell that the back is actually removable. It’s so seamless, it all fits just so utterly perfectly, I find myself wishing all phones were like this instead of sealing the backs. Plus you have the ability of changing the backs, so if you damage it or just fancy a change you can. Why aren’t all phones like this?

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Hardware & Performance

Inside the 735, well if you know the spec of just about any midrange phone, take a guess what CPU is inside? Yep it’s a Snapdragon 400. Now while that is an uninteresting choice it is the default one for a good reason. It’s a good CPU. It’s not the fastest out there but it offers comfortably good performance and when you pair this to the fact the 735 runs Windows Phone, it’s more than capable. The CPU, paired with 1GB of RAM means that it should be capable with dealing with anything you are likely to throw at it, indeed firing up a game or two “Asphalt 8: Airborne” and the game played very well. Or I should say it played as well as my somewhat lacking game playing skills allowed. The car crashes looked good.

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The 1GB of RAM here serves not only to allow an assortment of things to run fine (Windows Phone like iOS isn’t keen on letting much run in the background.) The bigger issue is a future one, Microsoft have said that everything with a 1GB will be getting Windows Phone 10 and indeed there are beta builds you can install right now on the 735. So I’m fairly optimistic that it means Microsoft is taking a long term view and plans to support the device for a good while to come. That’s not always something that can be said for Android handset manufacturers.

Turning to the “numbers” then. Benchmarks, we do have a little bit of an issue in that things aren’t always available on WP so we shall just have to make do with a couple that we can directly compare to non WP devices.

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Antutu, though it’s very old a version is still there and gives us 11738. Now compared to the same CPU in the Moto G which got a whopping 17782. How much of that difference is due to being such an old version of Antutu I can’t say. Basemark II, 469 which is close to the G’s 529 and lastly Basemark X, well it was buggy. It crashed regularly but eventually I did get a complete run at 4886. That beats the G’s 4294.

Turning to the universal Sunspider Benchmark, things look good for the Lumia. The G manages 2117ms but the 735 smashes it, it scores 1257ms which given the similarity of hardware, and by similar I mean almost identical, the Lumia just powers away. The difference is extreme and I can only put it down to be WP being just so much more optimised than Android / Chrome is. Not that the number truly matter, that it feels quick and snappy in usage is what matters. Nevertheless the numbers all point to Lumia giving the G a fair old kicking doesn’t it.

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Turning to other aspects of the hardware. For me there are two things that strand out as warranting particular attention. The first being the screen. Yes I know I mentioned it already but damn, it’s a really nice screen. Seriously, the screen is fantastic to look at, so bright, colourful, blacks are just so black, everything about it just looks outstanding. I realise that on paper it’s “only” a 720p screen but I don’t care. The resolution may in theory be lacking but in no way whatsoever do you look at it think oh no, its pixels are just huge, I couldn’t possibly use that!!!

The other stand out hardware feature that I must mention is the micro SD card slot. Sure many phones have them, it’s not a big deal is it? Well yes it is. You see that for compatibilities sake handset makers all want to use FAT32, everything can read FAT32. The trouble is it doesn’t like to go above 32GB and while you can force formatting 64GB cards into FAT32, it’s never supported. So you’ll see, micro SD card slot, up to 32GB. The reason they can’t just use exFAT is because Microsoft owns the rights to it and no one wants to pay for it. Microsoft however doesn’t have to pay anyone for the rights. So the card slot here happily and officially supports up to 128GB cards. Now granted 128GB cards are expensive, so expensive no one buys them but hey, so were 64GB cards too not too long ago. I would bet that unofficially it could handle even bigger cards too.

In terms of negatives in the hardware, well only one springs to mind. It’s a very small, petty, almost insignificant but I’d have liked to see a hardware camera button. That’s it.

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Battery Life

On paper the battery isn’t anything special, it’s a 2200mAh but the battery life is beyond good. Given the fact that the battery isn’t that big, it’s clearly not to thank for it. I can’t say how much is due to the screen, as much of WP can be black so that will be power saving. However it still doesn’t make up for the insane battery life. Looking at the battery saver app, with conserve battery turned off. It’s been 19 and half hours since it was last fully charged, it’s on 87% and it estimates that it has 6 days and 9 hours of life left!!!!!! Now sure it’s been pretty light usage but bloody hell!!! My Moto G if untouched can barely make 48 hours so what on earth its doing to predict it can get 7 days, I have no idea. Bare in mind that is with the battery saver function turned off too. How Microsoft have done it, I don’t know, I don’t recall the 635 I had being this spectacular.

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Software & UI

This could be the single most important aspect of the 735. If for some reason you don’t know already, the 735 runs Windows Phone. (Presently it runs 8.1 Update. But it has been promised an upgrade to 10 when it launches, indeed you can install a beta build of 10 right now if you like.) Windows Phone may or may not matter to you. If you have never used a smart phone then you aren’t familiar with any over another, in which case WP is a great option. It really is a completely viable option for newbie’s. The 735 isn’t a super high priced handset (yes Apple I mean you) so you don’t have to lay out a fortune to give it a try. It’s simple, very simple yet it feels very modern and slick. Things all animate just a little bit so it feels wonderfully smooth and responsive. The big tile “shortcuts” which can give you some live info is really good. It’s simple to use yet completely obvious how it works without feeling horribly over simplified (yes Apple I mean you again.) If you have never used any smart phones before I think WP is probably the best option available right now.

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So if it’s so great why doesn’t everyone use it? Well, Microsoft was very late to the party. Pretty much anyone interested in tech or below 50 has a smart phone already. People are inclined to stick to what they know. What’s more if they have been buying app’s then they are to some degree locked into a platform. Therefore WP doesn’t have the number that iOS and Android have which in turn means it doesn’t have the same attraction for app developers.

The built in suit of apps are mostly of a high standard however its voice control “assistant” which has been widely praised in the US, well its rubbish. Cortana itself may not be to blame here as its reliant on searching using Microsoft’s own Bing, which to not put too fine a point on it, is rubbish.

The upside however to thing is that apps all tend to be built in the “Metro” style interface. I’ve not come across anything yet that didn’t comply with the elegant framework found in the rest of the interface. The one overriding feeling that everything gives is that the phone feels fluid, snappy and pleasant to use. It’s plain and simply a nice user experience.

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Optics

I am no photographer so I warn thee now, take my commentary with a pinch or two of salt.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Carl Zeiss lens”[/pullquote]

Starting with the main camera, the one on the back with the Carl Zeiss lens’s. On paper it’s a mediocre set up and to my eyes, that would seem about right. Brand name lens or no the sensor isn’t hugely spec’ed and hasn’t any particularly significant attributes. It takes a reasonable pic, I’d say pretty good for a mid-range phone. It’s not something I’d go wildly out of my way to use but it’s better than nothing.

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The front camera, is for me, by far the more interesting of the two. Not that the front is better than the rear, it’s not. It’s a 5MP and no fancy lens on it. Hold on a second, a 5 mega pixel camera???? If you didn’t know the Lumia 635, in many ways similarly spec’ed to the 735, had one notable absence. It lacked a front facing camera, it was widely picked up on that the youth market, which in the west was the more probable buyer of the 635, would have a real problem with the inability to take a “selfie.” Microsoft therefore felt the need to over compensate and then gave us the phone they briefly were calling the “selfie phone.” For a mid-range handset, at launch, it was unheard of to put such a camera on the front of a phone.

What it then also gives you is the Lumia Selfie app. Yes they have made a specific selfie camera app with effects and all. I fear I am not the target audience for this app. If you are at all familiar with the song, that I am sure is the target audience for this app.

Audio

While I don’t know much about cameras I know plenty about audio. In short the audio output of the 735 is outstanding. Okay, maybe that’s the wrong word as having a Moto G too it is also of a quality level I did not expect. I can only presume that by stint of their similarities the excellent quality is down to whatever the default audio components are that come with the Snapdragon 400 is.

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Tonally the sound is clean, cool, a bit on the dry side.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”clean, cool, a bit on the dry side”[/pullquote]

It lends itself highly to a very clean open sound. The clarity it offers is just superb and to come out of phone, not just a midrange phone I was highly pleased to see. That the tonal nature of it is so highly complementary to the sorts of warm, slow and heavy earphones its likely to come into contact with I can’t tell if its dumb luck or intentional. In any case I was impressed with its audio quality.

Conclusion

Overall, the Lumia 735 while not perfect is a jaw dropingly good device. It is, it really, really is just so good in almost every single way. However, that almost inevitable however because how can something so great not have some fly in the ointment. That fly in this case is Windows Phone. While I do like much about Windows Phone, it’s a nice OS, seriously, it’s really nice to use but it’s still so limited. I like to tinker, I like to be able to change things and WP is almost as locked down as iOS is. I therefore know that I could not get by with this, nor really any Windows Phone device as my main phone. That is a real shame.

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It’s not just a shame for me though. I firmly believe if this handset an Android on it, it would have comfortably became the midrange handset. The Moto G was the default suggestion for so many and the fact is the 735, physically is just so much nicer. It looks better, it feels better, its screen is so much better, everything physical in fact is either the exact same, or better. Again however you just come back to Windows Phone. The reality, while its nice, and it really is nice, is miles behind in app’s though most of what you want is there. There just isn’t a wildly compelling reason for anyone to pick WP over android besides its simplicity. Even then you can make android as simple as you like too.

Oh Nokia, I wonder how things might have been if you had gone with Android instead of Windows Phone. Clearly your team of people had got the handset construction thing sussed but as nice as WP is to use, I keep feeling that the world missed out on something. This handset, running Android would have been a sales tsunami. The hardware, is in every way just so good. There is literally nowhere the Moto G beats it except in software. However if you aren’t wedded to Android and fancy a pleasantly simple interface, then it is a tremendous device. It looks and feels like something several times its price tag, its solid, beautiful, a truly capable device that runs Windows Phone, for good or ill.

 

Lumia 735

8.8

Hardware

9.5/10

Software

7.5/10

Camera

8.5/10

Performance

9.5/10

Value

9.0/10

Pros

  • Hardware is outstanding.
  • Beautiful.
  • Feels very responsive.

Cons

  • Run’s Windows Phone.
  • Doesn’t Run Android.

About Mark Ramos

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