A Gentle Stroll to the Bottom: The Nokia Lumia 635 Review

Sure, the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5 or HTC One is much, much faster than the Lumia 635. Yes, they have higher-density displays, better cameras, more advanced wireless connectivity, and more sensors. But you could buy thirteen Lumia 635s for the price of an iPhone 6.


Recently, the Microsoft Store held a sale on the budget Lumia 635 smartphone, bringing it down from an already reasonable $80 price tag to a preposterous $49. As I’m sure you’re well aware, I have a fascination with both exploring diverse computing ecosystems and “good enough” computing, so naturally I snapped one up. The Lumia 635 mates a competent budget Windows Phone 8.1 experience to an LTE modem for a price only slightly above that of the older, 3G-only Lumia 520 (which as of time of writing is available for an equally absurd $29). So I have spent the last week or so using the Lumia 635 as my daily smart phone in place of my Galaxy S5 in order to get a feel for where both this device specifically and the Windows Phone 8.1 ecosystem lie. What follows, then, is not so much specifically a review of the Lumia 635 specifically as a piece of hardware, but more of a loose treatise on both Microsoft’s place in the smartphone economy and the general state of budget-vs-flagship smartphones.

But First, Some Obligatory Background rambling

I won’t dive deeply into the background of Microsoft’s current smartphone platform, but suffice it to say it has faced some trials and tribulations over the years. I actually previously used a Lumia 900 as my primary smartphone for almost a year, but after Windows Phone 8 was not brought to existing Windows Phone 7 devices, I purchased a Nexus 4 and returned to the world of Android. Since that catastrophe, Microsoft and their partners have been much more diligent in keeping devices updated, and even the first generation of Windows Phone 8 handsets have been updated to the latest builds of Windows Phone 8.1, and look forward to similarly timely updates to Windows 10 when it launches later this year. Still, the combination of early missteps and a late arrival to the current smartphone race have left Microsoft in a precarious position, with recent estimates giving them around 3% of the global smartphone market.

It’s within this framework that the dizzying array of budget-minded Lumia handsets has come into being. Starting with the Lumia 520 in 2013, Windows Phone has seen its greatest success in the low-end market. While this is arguably at least due in part to the lack of widely available flagship Windows Phone handsets, the nonexistence of affordable iOS devices combined with the historically poor experience provided by budget Android phones  left the door wide open for Microsoft. As a result, the focus of the Lumia line has been on these budget devices aimed at pay-as-you-go carriers and developing markets like India and South America.

The Actual ‘Review’ Part of the Review

The reason Windows Phone has seen so much success in the low end is that it manages to provide a smooth and responsive smartphone experience even on inexpensive hardware. As you can see from the specs below, the Lumia 635 definitely meets the criteria for inexpensive hardware:

Nokia Lumia 635 Detailed Specifications  
Display 4.5″ 854×480 IPS LCD with Gorilla Glass 3
Processor Snapdragon 400 MSM8926 (4x 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7)
Graphics Adreno 305
RAM 512 MB
Storage 8 GB eMMC and up to 128 GB MicroSD
Connectivity LTE Cat. 3 and DC-HSDPA 42.2

802.11 b/g/n WiFi

Bluetooth 4.0

A-GPS, A-GLONASS, and BeiDou

Sensors Accelerometer


Camera 5.0 MP w/AF, no flash, no front-facing camera
Dimensions 129.5 x 66.7 x 9.2 mm
Weight 134 g
Battery Removable 1830 mAh 3.7V Lithium Polymer

There’s nothing in there to give the latest iPhone or Galaxy S a run for their money, and in fact there are some omissions that put aspects of the device below the Lumia 520, namely the lack of ambient light and proximity sensors. Still, packing a quad-core SoC and LTE into such an inexpensive package is nothing to scoff at. Build quality is also exactly what we’ve come to expect from Lumia devices: plastic all around, but solid and sturdy with no flexing or creaking despite the removable back. Oddly, despite the anemic camera, there is a very slight camera bump; while it is only a fraction of a millimeter, it’s enough to keep the device from laying completely flat. Nokia has long shown that phones don’t have to be made of fragile glass or easily deformed aluminum to still convey a ‘premium’ feeling, and fortunately it appears Microsoft’s stewardship of the Lumia brand is continuing this tradition.


Pretty Pictures

Front-and-center on the Lumia 635 is a 4.5-inch, FWVGA IPS LCD covered in Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. Oddly, this particular Gorilla Glass has more friction than I have become accustomed to from previous devices. It doesn’t really affect usability in any way, but it is a little jarring at first. The resolution is standard for budget Windows Phones, but compared to just about anything higher-end is going to look more than a little pixelated. Even the budget-focused Moto E crams 960×540 pixels into the same 4.5-inch screen, but it’s still worth remembering that even the Android budget champion comes in at around $150 with LTE. That being said, Windows Phone is definitely designed to make the most of the lower resolution, with its fonts and iconography still remaining surprisingly clear despite the low pixel density. Fortunately, the other aspects of the display are actually top-notch. It gets bright enough to see in broad daylight, especially thanks to Nokia’s ClearBlack polarizer. Colors are reproduced faithfully and whites lack either the blue or yellow tones so common on smartphone displays. There is little to no color shift when viewing the display at an angle, either, though brightness can drop off dramatically from the sides. Nokia’s engineers have clearly done everything possible to deliver a quality panel despite the limited density. While they have done an admirable job – and in many regards it really is one of the best smartphone displays I’ve ever seen – that limited dot pitch is an enormous handicap. Each pixel is great, I just wish there were a lot more of them.

Zoom Zoom

So the build quality is excellent and the display is passable. So it comes time to address the elephant in the room when dealing with such low-end hardware: performance. Windows Phone has always striven to deliver a fluid, responsive experience without having to throw quite as much hardware at it as Android and iOS, but the Lumia 635 is an especially dreadful looking spec sheet by any modern standard. How does it fare, then? The shortened version is that the device is snappy and smooth and responsive about 95% of the time, and the other 5% is made up of the occasional judder or 1-second stop at a progress bar.

So yes, it’s good, but no, it isn’t as blisteringly fast as a Moto X or Galaxy Note 4. This is especially true when it comes to loading or navigating around complex web sites and multitasking. There are two major problems you’ll run into. The first, and by far most common, is that you’re essentially limited to one or two apps or open browser tabs at a time thanks to the paltry 512MB of RAM. Anyone who has used an iPhone lately probably knows what this is like: you open a couple of interesting links in new tabs, then when you go back to the page you came from a couple of minutes later, or switch apps to check your Twitter feed, you get a brief pause while the app or tab is reloaded from cache. This is pretty rare with flagship Android devices these days, which usually sport at least 2 and often 3 GB of RAM, but it still isn’t unheard of there. The less RAM you have, the more often you run into it. So on the latest iPhones, which still sport 1 GB of RAM despite launching at $650+ in late 2014 and using 64-bit instructions (which requires more RAM because of the larger primitives) because Apple can get away with anything apparently, you see it pretty often. On the Lumia 635, which has only 512 MB of the good stuff, it’s rarer that you switch tabs or apps and don’t spend a second reloading or watching a little spinner under the word “Resuming…” It’s not the end of the world by any means, and since I’d wager a lot of people scarcely know they can even have more than one app open at once it probably won’t impact as many users as you’d imagine, but it’s a sort of “death by a thousand cuts” to a power user. The bigger issue with the RAM is, of course, that some particularly heavy-duty games just won’t install on the Lumia 635 at all (though as Windows Phone has taken developing markets by storm, these apps have become few and far between). Particularly heavyweight web pages like the Google Play Music web player will actually just cause IE to give up and crash – gracefully, mind you, but it’s a crash nonetheless. Disappointing, to be sure, but perhaps to be expected given the budget we’re dealing with.

The other issue is one that surprised me a little more, having used a Lumia 900 in the past that carried a much slower GPU and only a single processor core. The Snapdragon 400 just doesn’t seem to be up to the job of making everything 100% as smooth as it should be. Lumia 635 does drop the occasional animation frame, notably when returning to the home screen from an app or scrolling larger web pages. Even on smaller pages the scrolling isn’t quite a solid 60 FPS; the phone doesn’t become unresponsive or anything, but there’s occasionally a brief pause before scrolling on complex web pages and even the slightest judder in the animation on simpler ones. In other places – the Twitter and Facebook apps, the Store, and inside Here Maps – scrolling is liquid smooth all the time, something the same apps still occasionally struggle with on competing platforms. Why the Lumia 900 had none of these issues where the 635, with its much more powerful GPU and quad-core CPU, occasionally hiccups is difficult to say. While Windows Phone 7 and 8.1 may look nearly indistinguishable on the surface, they are completely different animals under the hood. If I had to take a random guess – and really, that is all I can do – it may be due to the 1.4 GHz Scorpion core in the APQ8055 that drove the Lumia 900 actually having ever so slightly more single-threaded oomph than the 1.2 GHz Cortex A7 cores in the MSM8926.

I initially tried running some benchmarks on the Lumia 635, but unfortunately most of the commonly used benchmarks like GFXBench and 3DMark are among the rare remaining apps that do not run correctly on 512 MB devices. I could run the usual gamut of browser benchmarks, but I despise trying to use Javascript benchmarks like SunSpider or Octane to measure relative device performance, because all they really measure is the browser’s aptitude at cheating on SunSpider or Octane. I did run the popular Basemark OS II benchmark, and I’ve included the results in the chart below. I also threw in results from my 2013 Nexus 7 and Galaxy S5 in case you wanted to see results from devices with radically different hardware that don’t really compete with the Lumia 635 in any meaningful way, since that is what tech sites are all about:

Nokia Lumia 635 ASUS Nexus 7 (2013) Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall 429 672 1207
System 626 1646 2345
Memory 596 199 469
Graphics 208 993 2286
Web 435 624 844

What do these numbers mean? I don’t know. I doubt the people who wrote the benchmark even really know. But the Lumia 635 definitely has less of them, which means it’s slower. Except memory, which it has a higher number in despite having ¼ the RAM of the other two devices, because less is more? Or something. In case you’ve managed to miss the point thus far, I don’t put much faith in synthetic microbenchmarks to tell you anything useful about real-world device performance.

To get a feel for the useful performance of the Adreno 305 in the Snapdragon 400, I installed a few popular games like Temple Run 2 and Asphalt 8. These all seemed to run just fine with no framerate issues or input lag. That said, it’s pretty clear that Asphalt at least is dialing the bells and whistles back to maintain that silky smooth framerate on the Lumia 635, as it doesn’t have the level of lighting or texture detail that I see on my Galaxy S5. I didn’t have any problems playing back YouTube or Netflix videos on the Lumia 635, but since the device only has a 480p display you aren’t going to be dealing with decoding particularly high-resolution video anyways. Speaking of large games and video files, this is as good a place as any to mention that the Lumia 635’s 8 GB of storage can be a little limiting. I actually couldn’t get Asphalt to install at all until I popped in a MicroSD card, despite having over 1.6 GB of free space remaining on the internal storage. The system files take up about 3 GB after all the updates to Windows Phone 8.1.1, and pre-installed apps take up another gigabyte or so (not including the AT&T bloatware, which thankfully is trivial to uninstall on Windows Phone), leaving you with just about 4 GB of free space out of the gate to work with.  Fortunately, the device has MicroSD expansion and supports up to 128 GB SDXC cards, so you can easily get all the space you could want for just a few bucks extra. I picked up a 64 GB Class 10 MicroSDXC card on Amazon for less than $30 to go in my Galaxy S5, and was able to pop it right into the Lumia 635 without even having to reformat it. Fortunately, what little internal NAND Nokia did include seems to be reasonably performant, given the short app rehydration times and surprisingly decent loading times, considering the lackluster SoC.

In the end, I don’t mean to suggest that the Lumia 635’s performance is poor on the whole or really even anything short of astounding for the price of admission. It’s just important that you realize that you aren’t dealing with flagship hardware here, so you aren’t going to be getting flagship performance. This carries over into other aspects of the device as well. The cellular baseband is LTE-enabled and provides genuinely excellent reception – beating my Galaxy S5 in many locations, in fact. It doesn’t support LTE Category 4 and carrier aggregation like the newer modems shipped with last years’ Android flagships, however, so if you are lucky enough to live in a market where those features are live, you won’t get to take advantage of them (though don’t worry, this is naturally true of the iPhone 6/6+ as well because…Apple). The WiFi radio also only supports a single spatial stream over 2.4 GHz, giving you a maximum theoretical connection speed of 72 Mbps when the stars align. I’m actually able to get a surprising portion of that performance when connected to my home WiFi router in a moderate-sized apartment complex with lots of competing 2.4 GHz networks. I consistently see around 35-45 Mbps, which is certainly more than enough for most smartphone usage. Still, downloading large apps and lots of map data could be a minor exercise in frustration, and if you live in an especially dense area like New York City, the 2.4 GHz band is likely to be so saturated as to be useless. And since I seem to have a theme going of pointing out where purveyors of much more expensive products have made similar cost-cutting measures, Sony also opted to go for 2.4 GHz-only WiFi in their $400 PlayStation 4.

This both is and isn’t a crop. By default, the camera will take photos in a 16:9 aspect ratio, but it turns out to be a traditional 4:3 format sensor so the default mode just crops off image data from the top and bottom of the shot.

Say ‘Cheese’

The next area of performance to examine is that of the camera. The unit in the Lumia 635 is a ¼-inch 5.0 MP sensor with F/2.4 optics and autofocus that lacks any sort of image stabilization or LED flash/autofocus assist light. The end result is a decidedly low-end camera experience, though still superior to that of some budget handsets like the first-generation Moto E and Lumia 520 which used fixed-focus cameras. Photos taken outdoors in sufficient light are serviceable, but once you bring the camera inside or add a heavy layer of clouds, things get noisy quickly.

This photo is noisier than the bees in it, but detail and white balance are surprisingly okay for an overcast morning.

Once dusk lands or the lights turn off, forget about it – no flash, no optical image stabilization, and a small sensor combine to give you low-light photos that range from grainy and blurry to near-complete blackness. You aren’t going to be winning any art festivals with the images taken by this camera, but for quick snaps outdoors it puts in a decent enough showing.

A typical daytime photo from this week. "Sunshine State" my ass.
A typical daytime photo from this week in the full 4:3 aspect ratio. “Sunshine State” my ass.

Unless you’re the “selfie” type, that is, as there’s no front-facing camera at all. Which brings me to the last major omissions in pursuit of the almighty price point: the various sensors that adorn the fronts of most smartphones. In addition to lacking a front shooter (odd enough from the company that makes Skype), there are no ambient light or proximity sensors. This means two things. First, it means that the screen doesn’t adjust itself based on ambient lighting levels, leaving you to do this yourself (thankfully, there’s a quick-setting toggle for fast access). And second, the screen can’t turn itself off when brought to your ear during a call. Actually, this second one isn’t exactly true: while it doesn’t work 100% of the time, the phone will try to use the accelerometer to detect the motion of the phone being brought up to your ear and turn the screen off, then turn it back on as you bring it away. I found in practice that while the latter part of this system always worked, the former was about a 50/50, depending on the angle and speed which I brought the phone up from. Fortunately, all of Windows Phone’s call controls are at the bottom of the screen anyways, so it doesn’t really make that big of a difference, and the screen timeout appears to be greatly shortened when on a call as well. It is possible that the lack of a proximity sensor also plays a role in the Lumia 635 missing the glance screen support from higher-end Lumia devices, though I suspect that sourcing a panel with built-in display memory just wasn’t in the cards for a sub-$100 handset to begin with.

This is the Lumia 635's best effort in a dark room.
This is the Lumia 635’s best effort in a dark room.
The same photo from the Galaxy S5. Seriously.
The same photo from the Galaxy S5. Seriously.

I’ve Got the Power

Last, but by no means least, comes one of the most crucial areas of a modern phone, and one in which many find themselves sorely lacking: battery life. The Lumia 635 is equipped with an 1830 mAh battery running with a now almost old-school 3.7V chemistry. On the surface, this seems rather small compared to the enormous 2500+ mAh, 3.8V batteries shipping in flagships from HTC, LG, and Samsung. While I don’t really have the means or time to do proper rundown tests, I can provide some real-world estimates of the Lumia 635’s battery life in what I imagine to be fairly common scenarios. Let’s again start with the short version: battery life is excellent for the capacity, but once again all the wizardry in the world can’t beat raw specs. While idle, the Lumia 635 seems to sip battery, losing maybe 1% per hour or so when connected to WiFi or a strong LTE signal, with all syncing enabled. Bring that signal strength down to a tenuous 3G connection – say because you work in an office building that is apparently lined with lead – and you see that rise to 2-3%. Add in streaming music over said tenuous 3G connection and you jump to 5-6%. So it’ll easily last you through an 8 hour work day of streaming music with about half the battery left, which is great and actually pretty comparable to my Galaxy S5 (when the latter even gets enough signal to stream music – as alluded to earlier, the Lumia 635 rather surprisingly seems to fare a little better at work in staying connected to high-speed data than my GS5). The problem comes when using the device more intensely. Browsing around in IE and flipping between various social media, productivity, and communications apps seems to drain the battery at around 15% per hour, compared to 10% per hour of so on the Galaxy S5, despite the latter’s huge 5.1” 1080p SAMOLED panel. A big part of this is the latter’s larger battery pack, but perhaps an even greater contributor is a principle called “race to idle.” The Galaxy S5’s beastly Snapdragon 801 might use a great deal more power when running at full clip than the sluggish Snapdragon 400 in the Lumia 635, but it also finishes its work faster – a lot faster. So it gets to spend a lot more of its time in the coveted idle states that sip juice. It’s not just the SoC at work here, either; the faster WiFi and cellular radios mean less time spent downloading data and more time in idle states; the larger pool of RAM means less CPU cycles wasted reloading tabs and fewer trips to the eMMC to rehydrate paged-out apps; even the larger display contributes somewhat with less time spent scrolling meaning more time letting the internals sleep while panel self-refresh (PSR) keeps the image on the screen. The upshot is that while the Lumia 635 gets perfectly good battery life for a device of this price and size, it isn’t going to last for weeks like an old early-2000s Nokia brick just because it happens to have lower-end components.

Put Your Phone in the Box

Speaking of power, I’ll round out the review with a quick mention of the included accessories, or to be more accurate, the accessories that aren’t included. The Spartan packaging of the Lumia 635 includes the phone itself, the wall charger, a quick start guide with SIM card for AT&T’s GoPhone offering, and…that’s it. There’s no microfiber cleaning cloth or dubious-quality pair of earbuds. The USB cable doesn’t even come out of the wall charger; if you need to connect the phone to your computer, you need to bring your own MicroUSB cable. When trying to hit a price point this low, no corner is above cutting, apparently.

That’s the core any device though: a series of compromises. I’ve touched on some of the compromises that even the vaunted $650 iPhone 6 makes already in this piece, because even the most expensive flagship has compromises to make for margins, design, and even the laws of physics. There’s never going to be such a thing as the perfect phone for everyone, but at the end of the day I’m glad Nokia and Microsoft cut corners like the earbuds and a front-facing camera rather than more important ones like build quality and viewing angles. The performance is also here to make this a truly usable device. You aren’t getting a flagship experience, but you aren’t getting the nearly-unusable mess that is iOS 8 on 512 MB devices or the laughable Intex CloudFX, either.

Which raises the question: are those flagships worth the price tag? Sure, the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5 or HTC One is much, much faster than the Lumia 635. Yes, they have higher-density displays, better cameras, more advanced wireless connectivity, and more sensors. But you could buy thirteen Lumia 635s for the price of an iPhone 6. When you put it that way, it hardly seems worth…

But MUH APPZ!!!!1!1!1one

Ah, right. It’s an interesting footnote of history that the smartphone credited with launched the “app store economy” didn’t even support 3rd-party applications on its initial outing. Apple had originally intended for any functionality their users may desire that wasn’t available from a bundled application be accessed by way of a web app in Safari. But the iPhone’s lack of Flash, slow ARM11 CPU, and limited EDGE-only cellular capability combined with the slow adoption of the HTML5 standard to leave a very sub-par experience waiting for users who wanted to venture outside of Apple’s pack-in apps. In order to address this deficiency, they provided an App Store for sandboxed, native-code applications with iPhone OS 2.0 where registered developers could submit applications. The rest, as they say, is history.

These days it’s essentially impossible to have any discussion of smartphone operating systems without hearing words like “ecosystem” and “app gap” bandied around. If you pick a Windows Phone, the conventional wisdom says, you’ll be stuck in a barren wasteland of loneliness where you won’t be able to communicate with any of your friends, read any news, play any games, or consume any media. Eventually you will perish alone in your room, crying yourself to sleep because you made the woeful error of not buying Thy Lord Jobs’ Holy Gift Unto Thou, and no one will mourn your passing. Or at least that’s what The Verge says in every Windows Phone handset review. The reality is rather more mundane, I’m afraid. There are in fact first-party applications available on Windows Phone for a huge majority of popular social media and communications platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and of course Skype. There media apps galore as well – Pandora, Spotify, Xbox Music and Video, Slacker, Netflix, Kindle, Audible, Hulu+, and more put in appearances. Productivity is an open-and-shut case since Windows Phone ships with Office and OneNote, and the built-in News app aggregates stories from Reuters, AP, MSN (duh), CBS, ABC, Fox, and more and puts them into an easily-readable, distraction-free format. Dropbox, Runtastic, GasBuddy, Uber, Waze, Flipboard, Speedtest.net, and other high-profile staples from other platforms put in appearances as well. For all the doom and gloom about an “app gap”, the top apps lists in most categories are almost indistinguishable from other platforms.

Note, however, that I said almost indistinguishable. There are two major exceptions: games, and the near complete lack of Google apps. Part of the problem with the games section on the Lumia 635 is that games are far more likely to require more than the paltry 512MB of RAM on display here, and rather than appear and then fail to install as on a certain fruitier platform, apps that are incompatible with your Windows Phone simply don’t show up at all. Still, even with a flagship device like the Lumia 930, the story wouldn’t be much rosier. Some of the important heavy hitters like Asphalt 8, Temple Run 2, Candy Crush, and Minecraft are here. There are even some (semi-)exclusives that are pretty good, like Halo: Spartan Assault and Mirror’s Edge. A handful of newer games even support the ability to sync progress and even play multiplayer between desktop Windows Store and Windows Phone versions via Xbox Live, which is nifty. But there’s a lot missing, too. You won’t find Threes or Clash of Clans or Monument Valley here. There is always the chicken-and-egg scenario with a latecomer, and given Windows Phone’s fall 2010 launch (and then fall 2012 re-launch that obliterated support for all existing handsets), developers haven’t yet seen a good reason to get fully on board given the lower market share of the platform. Still, I was actually pretty surprised by how many of the top games from the Play Store were also available in the Windows Phone store when composing the comparisons in this section, so the situation is far from hopeless. Personally, I don’t play that many games on my phone or tablet because I have a powerful gaming desktop and an Xbox 360 for that sort of thing, so mostly I just play Wordament when I’m in bed or out somewhere and bored, no matter how full to the gills my platforms app store may be. If you are a hardcore mobile gamer, though, know that right now Windows Phone does have some deficiencies – though Microsoft (as always) promises Windows 10’s increased focus on gaming and universal apps will alleviate this.


The other, more glaring omission results from Google and Microsoft’s prolonged pissing match. The story goes that Google wanted the ability to have its apps use native code and replace stock apps as defaults back in the WP7 days as a condition to support the platform, and Microsoft refused to let them get preferential treatment and instead insisted they play in the same sandbox that every other developer has to. Google decided that while they were willing to put up with those limitations for iOS, they didn’t need to for the fledgling Windows Phone platform and instead opted to release a half-assed search app and call it a day. Microsoft then tried to fill some of the key gaps themselves, with varying success. The platform natively supports push sync for Google’s email, contacts, and calendars, and at one point had a Microsoft-developed YouTube app that surpassed Google’s own efforts on Android and iOS…until Google threatened a lawsuit if they didn’t take it down; now it’s just a link to m.youtube.com. Other services like Play Music, Google Maps, and Google+ are completely MIA in any official form. There are 3rd-party apps that fill these roles with varying degrees of success, but suffice it to say that if you’re deeply entrenched in Google’s ecosystem, life on Windows Phone will occasionally be unpleasant.

So that’s the rundown on the “app gap.” It’s definitely still there, at least in raw numbers – at last count the Windows Store sported about a third of the applications that are present in the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. But it’s also not as bad as you’ve probably been led to believe. This isn’t like Tizen, where there are barely 1000 apps and most are just links to mobile sites; I’d wager that 99% of everything the average smartphone user needs is here. The most glaring omission that doesn’t have any third-party substitute (due to the recently-closed API) is probably Snapchat, although I don’t personally miss it since it’s not like anyone’s sending me pictures of their genitalia on a regular basis. Oh, and one final note before you go dismissing Windows Phone for the everyman because of the “app gap” (real or perceived): it’s worth remembering that almost 66% of smartphone users install precisely zero apps a month.

A Brief (I Swear) Conclusion-y Thingy

So now we come to the end of this rambling treatise, and return to the questions we set out with. Firstly, is the Lumia 635 a good entry-level smartphone? To that we can emphatically answer in the affirmative. For the price, you won’t find a better blend of specs and build quality, nor a superior user experience. Whether you get in at the bargain-basement discount of under $50, or the normal price of $80-100 (depending on carrier and regional variant), the Lumia 635 represents a value that few can undercut. Arguably, the only device that comes close to doing so is the Lumia 520/521, currently also on sale for an even more absurd $29. It has an even slower SoC, worse display, and no LTE connectivity, but it still runs the operating system fluidly and has the necessary trimmings of a modern smartphone in a package that costs less than a tank of gas. So back to the question, then, of whether the Lumia 635 specifically, and Windows Phone 8.1 more generally, can stand up to the big flagship elephants in the room. Can the likes of the Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 6 defend their price tags with spec sheets that read like science fiction and screens so fancy you need even more expensive equipment to find flaws? Truth be told: probably, yeah. The fact that you can buy 13 Lumia 635s for the price of one of these devices doesn’t do you much good when you’re still waiting on a web page to load long after your iPhone-toting friend has loaded it, read it, and moved on. Or when you’re bouncing between Facebook messages, texts, and reading the news and get hit with a split-second of “Resuming…” on almost every single app switch. These are all problems with hardware, though, that faster chips and more RAM can address. Does Windows Phone itself stack up to the competition? Can a power user get a good experience from Windows Phone, especially such a lowly one, or will they run screaming after ten minutes with the platform? I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but as I finalized this piece, I took the covers off my Galaxy S5 and Lumia 635 and popped the SD card out to go back to Samsung’s technological marvel. I sat there for a moment fiddling with the SIM card and then set the phones back down and reflected for a moment on the past week.

Then I popped the MicroSD card and battery back in the Lumia 635 and turned it back on.

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