Perhaps this is Windows Phone's future: very affordable handsets that reach the widest possible demographic. The platform has so far done particularly well there. The Nokia Lumia 635 is one of the least expensive smartphones on the US market. The T-Mobile version used for this review lists for $168 outright (no contract, no monthly pay off) and sells for just $129 on MicrosoftStore.com and $119 on the Home Shopping Network. The AT&T GoPhone version is $99 full retail. And surprisingly, the phone doesn't stink. Quite the opposite: it's nice enough looking, has a decent display, 4G LTE where most ultra-budget phones stop at 3G, a quad core processor and a decent rear 5 megapixel camera.
In the spirit of the Moto E, the Lumia is meant to be a phone that most anyone can afford (T-Mobile does offer $7/month payment plans if the full retail exceeds the contents of your wallet). Yet it ships with the latest version of the OS, Windows Phone 8.1, has a truly good voice assistant named Cortana and important core features like expandable storage via microSD card slot and a replaceable battery. Yes, it lacks features that high and mid tier smartphones offer like a front camera (that will be a deal breaker for some), and it has a paltry amount of internal storage. To a certain extent, you do get what you pay for, so everything is scaled back here to achieve the affordable price tag. Build quality is good and you can get different colored backs for $15 apiece from Microsoft's store.
The Nokia Lumia 635 is essentially the 4G LTE version of the 3G Lumia 630 available overseas. It runs Windows Phone 8.1 on a 1.2GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, and it has 512 megs of RAM and 8 gigs of internal storage (with around 4 gigs actually free for your use). It has a microSD card slot under the removable back cover and it uses a micro SIM rather than the more obscure nano SIM used on some higher end Lumia phones and the iPhone 5s. The smartphone has single band WiFi 802.11n where dual band is the norm, Bluetooth 4.0 and a GPS with GLONASS. It ships with Nokia HERE Maps, HERE Drive+ and Here Transit: all solid offerings. Like all Windows phones, a mobile version of IE and MS Office are pre-loaded. The 4.5" ClearBlack IPS display doesn't win resolution awards at 845 x 480 pixels, but it does have decent viewing angles, good color saturation and plenty of clarity.
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Nokia Lumia 635 Video Review
Windows Phone is a very fluid OS that doesn't demand cutting edge hardware. Thus the Lumia 635 generally felt fluid and peppy, but we did notice it lagging just a little here and there. It has a tough act to follow when top of the line models like the Nokia Lumia Icon have a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 and 2 gigs of RAM. The Lumia 635's 512 megs of RAM sounds atavistic in a world where 1 gig is the standard and minimum, but apps march on just fine with that small amount thanks to Windows Phone's aggressive memory management. Still, there are some 3D games that require a gig of RAM, so if playing the top 3D games is important to you, this isn't your phone. But then, $99 to $168 phones aren't serious gaming handsets. The 8 gigs of storage sounds limiting, but the fact you can put not just movies and music on microSD cards up to 128 gigs capacity, but apps too really helps.
There is no front camera! Skype users and selfie artists, this isn't your phone. The rear 5MP camera has no flash (again, budget phone) and it records 720p but not 1080p video. It's a decent camera for well lit environments, and will likely seem like an improvement if you're moving up from a feature phone or older smartphone. Photo colors are pleasing, but the camera tends to wash out lighter colored items in the sun, and noise is average.
The Nokia Lumia 635 has a removable 1830 mAh Lithium Ion battery and it ships with the usual compact 5v charger and micro USB 2.0 cable. Since neither the processor nor the display are particularly demanding, we expected long battery life. In fact, battery life with moderate use was the same as on bigger screen flagship phones: 1 day. Video playback is the Lumia 635's Achilles' heel, where the phone hovered just over the 5 hour mark. Non-multimedia runtimes were better, and the phone held up fine for web, email, social networking and snapping a few photos.
Clearly, the most exciting thing about the Lumia 635 is the price to feature and quality ratio. Most everything is here, except a front camera. Performance is decent, Windows Phone 8.1 is a solid and easy to use OS, the phone has a good display for the price and it feels comfy in hand. Yes, the Windows Phone app store still lags behind Android and iOS, but there are enough apps to make the phone a productive and entertaining product.