The Microsoft Lumia 435. It’s still a little weird not calling them Nokia’s but anyway….what we have here is Microsoft’s attempt at replicating the success it had with the Lumia 520. Of all the Windows Phone’s sold in the world, by far the largest number was of the 520. It was no high-end super phone but it was cheap. Not only was it cheap, it wasn’t completely horrible and Microsoft seemed surprised that it sold like gangbusters. Yeah who’d have a thought a product that was great value would sell?
The Lumia 435 is one of the first raft of Microsoft branded Lumia’s and so far, the 4xx means that it is the lowest in the range they offer. Yep this is right down at the bottom of the pile, you might think that means it’s total rubbish wouldn’t you. It’s a pretty natural assumption but I believe that this is a device that Microsoft are pinning a lot of hope to. If there is one thing that the Windows Phones platform needs is numbers. You won’t get users if you don’t have app’s and you won’t get app developers writing app’s if you don’t have users. With Android and iOS so far ahead of WP, Microsoft is desperate to stay in the game and if at all possible, at least stay in the running as a truly viable 3rd option. I think much of that hope rests squarely on the 435 and its fat little shoulders.
Microsoft is not a name we traditionally think of as making phones. Sure they make mice and keyboards, they’re computery stuff right? Okay and maybe the Xbox, oh and the surface tablets no one buys but are nevertheless used heavily on TV. Well, if you have been under a rock for the last couple of year’s I’ll explain. Nokia, the Finnish people who made phones, well they made hardware people wanted but sadly for them they weren’t so great at software. Microsoft like to write operating systems so they thought Nokia and Microsoft software would make for a winning combination. Nokia wasn’t so sure but Microsoft’s cheque book soon overcame those hesitations.
Overview and Unboxing
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”It’s a little number and it’s a little box too.”[/pullquote]There is almost a rustic semblance to the box in comparison to the plush things premium devices get. This is positively Spartan. Opening the little box immediately we are greeted with the familiar black sheet of glass of a phone. It’s not a very big sheet though, it’s just a 4 inch screen. Personally I like that it’s small, I mean phones are getting too big for my hands, this certainly isn’t. Going past the phone there is a flap, upon its lifting under there is the battery and the charger. The charger is one with the micro USB cable physically attached to it, so no using it as a data cable. While I can’t say I’m a fan of that I’m not too cut up, after its micro USB and I have no shortage of those around the place.
The contents being simply the phone, the charger and the quick guide instruction booklet.
To assemble the first thing to do is peel off the back so that the battery and the SIM card I have to hand can be inserted. I must confess I don’t love removing the backs of phones as I always think I might break something. Of course I never to date have, but I don’t like seeing things bending. The removable back is a bit of a Nokia legacy meaning that you can change the backs as you like. I have a white one here but it also comes in black, orange and green. Oddly there is no blue but it wouldn’t surprise me if eBay and the Chinese soon offer an assortment of them. With the battery and SIM inserted the back cover snaps back on and it’s rather good how well it’s all fastened together. I wonder if I had of got black I could readily convince people it was a sealed unibody design.
4.0 inch LCD capacitive screen 800 x 480 pixels (233 ppi)
Dual core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 200 (Dual Cortex A7 CPU)
Adreno 302 GPU
1GB of RAM
8GB of internal storage (Micro SD card up to 128GB supported)
2MP rear facing camera, sadly with no flash.
VGA or 0.3MP front facing camera.
Li-ion 1560mAh removable battery.
No 4G support.
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n supported.
Running Windows Phone 8.1 update.
Picking up the device as it powers up, you cannot help but notice that while it’s not a huge phone, with that little 4 inch screen, its uncommonly fat. It’s not something that is a problem, not at all but it just seems so unusual. The spec sheet tells me it’s all of 11.7 mm thick which is strange that I think of something not 12 mm thick is fat, but I do. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”It’s pleasantly chunky in the hand”[/pullquote] It’s pleasantly chunky in the hand that you can hold it without fear of slicing open your fingers. It does perplex me that with it being so chunky they couldn’t have got a bigger battery in there but as its removable that’s something I can happily overlook.
I can’t quite decide if it’s the pleasantness of a soft touch plastic, its girth or lack of humongous screen but it feels extremely comfortable in my hand. My eyes tell me that it’s quite an angular thing but it isn’t feeling so in by hand. What’s more, my little thumb can comfortably reach the top of the device to pull down the notifications and, and from the same position I can reach the windows keys at the bottom!!! The up side of having a little screen.
Hardware & Performance
Qualcomm, that’s a reasonably well-known name isn’t it? Snapdragon is certainly a well-known name. For the last couple of years a Snapdragon has been the big name, the fastest, the best CPU out there. That of course was the Snapdragon 800 and its couple of decedents. Then we had the Snapdragon 400, it was in the Lumia 735 and the massive sales hit, the Moto G, both the first and second gen Moto G’s no less. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”the 435 isn’t going to be a computing powerhouse”[/pullquote] This however is the next model down. They are still Cortex-A7 cores so they are just as fast as those Moto G ones, but there is half as many of them. So it’s probably becoming apparent that the 435 isn’t going to be a computing powerhouse. The GPU too is towards the bottom end of the range. Still WP is known for being kind to meagre hardware so its relatively low specs may not be an issue.
One aspect where it does punch above its price point in spec is with the RAM. For a bargain end device to come with 1GB does seem a little odd, it’s very welcome but odd. There is much speculation that it was done because Microsoft wanted to ensure that Windows Phone 10 would run smoothly on it. Microsoft want’s buyers of the 435 to get updates and OS support to show up how bad many Android manufacturers are at this. Only time will tell but either way, 1GB of RAM is a very welcome sight to me.
On to the benchmarks; you might think that would be straightforward but not so much. Most of the Benchmarks we are familiar with seeing for android, well they just aren’t there for Windows Phone. So it’s just a case of making do with what we do have.
Antutu, we’ve all seen it before but for WP it’s getting on a bit. It hasn’t been updated since 2012, yikes! So for what it’s worth the 435 scores an overall 7617. For comparison the 735 scores 11738, the Moto G with the same CPU as the 735 gets a much larger 17782. I can’t readily say if that’s down to the app being ancient or OS differences. Basemark II nets us an overall score of 352, the 735 gets us 469 which is almost the same as the Moto G’s 529. Lastly on Basemark X the little 435 managed a 3857. Curiously it would not run at all on the 735, I don’t know why. The Moto G only got 4294, which to me showed just how well the little 435 manages to keep up.
So from the numbers, comparing to what are mid-range handsets you can see that the little 435 just hasn’t the same power that a quad core chip can deliver. Never the less the cores that it has are on paper as fast as the cores in the 735 and G. In usage the little phone seldom slowed down or stuttered. How much is down the CPU and how much is to WP being easy on it I can’t say, what matters is the result and I am so impressed how responsive it feels in use. That Basemark X scored a respectable 3857, I was not expecting at all, the G only managed 4294. Clearly whatever Microsoft have done to optimise things has worked.
Other aspects of the hardware, are for the most part good. The screen is pleasant to use. The body feels firm. Those are nice, nothing special however there are a couple of bits that I think are a little special. I like there is a micro SD card slot. Nothing that unusual there right? Ahh but there is. You see FAT32 really only really supports about 32GB cards. This is why many phones say they support up to 32GB, sometimes if you get a 64 and format it to fat32 it might work. Microsoft though owns the rights to exFAT which can go to whatever they like. So they officially support 128GB cards!!! Granted a 128GB will cost more than the phone itself but I love that you can. It should be a particular selling point for WP but Microsoft don’t seem to care, they barely mention it.
Elsewhere the two other stand out points for me a both negative ones. I realise that they are small and petty but I cannot stop myself bemoaning their absence. They are just so trivial and small yet they spoil an otherwise perfect device for me. On the front the capacitive buttons, they have no back light and there is no flash/torch LED on the back. [pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”no flash/torch LED on the back”[/pullquote] Ahhhh for the sake of a penny or two you just fall short of it being able to do everything a flagship phone can do. I know neither are critical but they must be such cheap parts they could have found a way to add them. Many won’t care but I simply could not forgive such a low-cost omission.
Ahh, the battery. Well it’s kinda small. The phone is kinda small too. Its life was better than a comparable android phone but is wasn’t half of what the 735 could manage. However it easily survived a day and for most I’d think would survive two. However it has a trick up its sleeve, you can just peel off the back and swap the battery for a fresh one. I cannot express how much I miss that. Not that I almost ever had to swap a battery but I felt comforted with the knowledge I could hammer my phone and not care, safe in the knowledge that if it died I had a fresh battery ready go. In addition there is a special battery sipping mode you can enable, you can even have it automatically kick in whet the battery reaches a certain level. I never felt the need so forced it always off.
Software & UI
The Microsoft Lumia 435, well take a guess what OS it runs. Thus the software and the entire UI is dictated by that fact. The UI I have to say, I like it. I don’t know if it could be my everyday phone as it’s a bit too locked down and simplistic. However its animations and movements are so fluid and uniform. Then we have little things, changing the theme colour, the lock screens, love the lock screens. I have it set to use the Bing daily photo so it’s a new one every day and they are always great pictures. I know it’s a small thing but it never failed to please me.
Other elements of the UI did not please me so much. Head into the settings menu and there is just a bunch of assorted rubbish. There are confusing and seemingly redundant items and they are just thrown in. There is no order at all, WTF Microsoft???? The other big issue I had was with setting defaults. Trying to make the damn thing open video files with the app I want was resolved by uninstalling the ones I didn’t want to use. I was not having fun. It’s the same issue I have with iOS, they are trying to over simplify things to the point of removing options, damn it I’m a power user let me change what I want!! Some of these are due to be fixed in WP10 but……
Then we come to Cortana. Microsoft has made a big deal about it and that a dirt cheap device you can talk to and it can understand you is a modern marvel. [pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Trying to get Cortana to do or say anything useful though is another matter. It sucks.”[/pullquote] Trying to get Cortana to do or say anything useful though is another matter. It sucks. I’m told if you are in the US it’s not bad but its single biggest problem is that it uses Bing. If Cortana has to search, frankly Bing is a steaming great pile of cow poop. As best I can tell Bing thinks the world ends at the Canadian and Mexican borders.
One curious feature that I only discovered when setting the phone up for my nephew, on creating for him his own outlook account so that his stuff is his, sure it’ll probably be me running it but I’m not using my account. It wanted linked to a parents account. Oh!!! So I linked my account to his and suddenly I was offered all these parental controls. I could set when he could use the phone, for how long and a bunch of other stuff. I’ve never encountered that with Android. (Not that I’ve ever looked for it.) I was so impressed with the options available. Personally I would never use them, if he wants to look at boobies, I don’t see what the big deal is. Surely the News, filled with death and destruction is worse than looking at baby feeding bags? Still I liked how well thought out the options are. So if he was being punished you could lock out him from doing anything but call home or whatever.
What I know about cameras, well it wouldn’t fill the back of a stamp. By the number the little 435 has a 2MP snapper on the back and a VGA, yes that’s just 0.3MP camera on the front. On paper, yikes!! They must be terrible. Well the front one, it works just fine for firing up skype and having a video call. I wouldn’t probably want to blow the photos up to billboard size but it, as they say, does the job. The rear camera too, it isn’t going to win any awards and its ‘mehness’ is compounded by a lack of a flash. Still, it’s a considerable deal better than having no camera at all. You do get the Lumia camera programme for what it’s worth. You can supposedly make it do clever things but, 1 the camera isn’t great to begin with and 2, I have no idea what I’m doing with the settings!
In short, the camera here is a case of it’s not the worst in the world but I can’t think that anyone would go out of their way to use its camera. You would use it because it’s what you’ve got and as always the best camera is the one you have on you.
This is one place where things start to pick up again. I don’t believe anyone is going to be buying the 435 off of the back of its audio abilities but not only is it good for the money, it’s good for a phone, period. Even when you compare it too much more costly phones the little 435. It is rather clean and crisp. The amp power isn’t quite all one might hope but for a phone, a dirt cheap phone, its way better than I’d have expected. That the coolness of its sound signature is likely to pair up notably well with the sorts of warm, heavy sounding earphones that it’s likely to meet. I know some prefer a warm sound such as on the Iphone but this should make for far more synergistic pairings.
I can’t tell if Microsoft have done it intentionally, tuned the audio output in this way but the resulting output makes the little 435 a viable option to use as a little DAP on its own.
The dinky little Lumia 435 is as far as I am concerned a little wonder device. Sure I know you might think me mad, just look at the spec of the thing, look at the bland 480p screen. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”The dinky little Lumia 435 is as far as I am concerned a little wonder device.”[/pullquote] I get all of that and you’re right, on paper the specifications of the phone are by today’s standards, meh. Spec wise it’s roughly about the same as was found on the Samsung Galaxy S2, which dates from 2011 so that’s 4 years ago. That’s practically a million years in the phone world right? So what you may be wondering am I smoking? I’ll tell you, money.
The little 435 is not just low-priced, not just cheap, it’s free with a pack of cornflakes cheap. You can get it for as little as £30 plus £10 top up or if you are eligible for a PAYG upgrade, from just £15!!! Seriously, £15. I’ve seen phone cases go for more than that never mind an actual phone. Not just that it’s a phone too but it’s a real, genuine smart phone. Apart from that lack of using the flash as a torch it can do everything a £700 flagship phone can do. Maybe not as fast or colourfully but you really could use it as your phone. Microsoft must be losing money on them. They have to be. Clearly they want to try to get people to try a Windows Phone. The way to do that is to sell them for silly money. The 435 is just so cheap you could buy one just to play with.
What Microsoft needs to stay a viable option in the mobile OS race is to get WP handsets out there, into people’s hands and to then have enough users that developers will start developing for the platform. Right now the biggest downside to WP is that app’s are still not quite there. Sure most things you want are there or have something that’ll do the job but there is very much a perception that Windows Phone doesn’t have any app’s. That’s not true but it is so far behind Android and iOS in app numbers that it’s comparatively Spartan. That it doesn’t have app’s stop’s people buying, so lack’s user numbers which means developers don’t make apps for it. Microsoft need to break that cycle and one way is to make not just a passable but a good device and make it so dirt cheap people will buy one on a whim. That’s really the point. Microsoft wants, needs you to be interested enough to buy a Windows Phone and with the 435 its set that bar for entry staggeringly low yet miraculously kept the user experience unfathomably high.