The Lumia 535 low mid-range smartphone is possibly the most important hardware device Microsoft will ever make. It really changes everything.
This is not because it is the best smartphone ever made, which it certainly is not. What makes it important is how much of the smartphone experience a sub-£100 device is now capable of delivering. It will not be to everyone’s taste, but it ought to appeal to many more people than will actually buy it.
As I reported earlier, four weeks ago I gave my Lumia 930 to my co-blogger, and went to Argos and bought a SIM-free Lumia 535 for £89.99 (now available from Amazon for £84.00). Why on earth would I willingly downgrade from a Lumia 930, the flagship Windows Phone, which is on my personal Top 3 list of smartphones along with the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, to the rather basic if colourful, indeed colour-changing Microsoft Lumia 535.
Well, for a start, I am a technology seer, and I have seen visions of the future of the smartphone, I am also a technology user, so I wanted to find out if there was any substance to my visions, by seeing just how much of smartphone you get for less than 90 quid.
The answer, in short, is that the Lumia 535 packs quite a punch. Of course, it cannot deliver the complete baby-bottom smooth smartphone experience which you get from the Lumia 930 or an iPhone 6 but in most respects it comes very, very, close indeed. I have been incredibly impressed by what the Lumia 535, the first smartphone made by Microsoft, is able to deliver at such a low price.
Specifications lists, whilst already utterly tedious, will soon cease to have any meaning at all as mobile technologies are rapidly maturing to a point where practically any device will be able to deliver the smart experiences of the future, which are less about the device and more about the apps and services that power them. For the majority out there who still think that specifications matter, here are the tech specs of the Lumia 535.
Those less keen on perusing endless lists of mainly obsolete or pointless specification items may want to skip the list, and certainly not cross-reference it with the specifications of the Lumia 930, or the Apple iPhone 6 family. Instead, why not continue reading my relatively short and to the point summary of what you get that matters, as well as what you will have to live without if you choose to spend £80-90 on the jolly, colourful, polycarbonate shell Lumia 535 rather than shell out between £400 and £840 on a silver or golden entity of supposed (Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge) or actual (iPhone 6, Lumia 930) smartphone perfection.
What it delivers
A responsive, satisfying Windows Phone experience. This is not because the Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 Quad-core 1.2GHz CPU is particularly fast, but because Windows Phone is a light-weight operating system well suited to limited resources. Whilst the CPU is not much to shout about, crucially the Microsoft Lumia 535 has 1 GB of RAM, which on Windows Phone is enough to run just about anything.
I know, because I installed and ran Asphalt 8 Overdrive. It works and is perfectly playable, but of course it doesn’t look or play as well as it does on my Google Nexus 9, or on Davy’s iPad Air 2, or on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z2 or even the Hudl 2 I used to own. The Lumia 535 may not a phone for hard-core gamers, but it runs casual games like Despicable Me: Minion Rush very well.
You also get Cortana, still the smartest and most personal of personal assistants. You may not be surprised that the Microsoft apps suite which includes Internet Explorer, Office, OneNote, OneDrive, Mail, Maps, Music and Video work very well. All the third-party apps I regularly use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Wunderlist, LastPass, Plex, Rdio, Deezer, thetrainline, the Natwest mobile banking and Moovit as well as the brilliant, Windows Phone-only Chronos Calendar + and Appy Weather have also worked without issues.
Despite the huge gulf in CPU horsepower, the actual perceived performance difference between the Lumia 535 and the Lumia 930 is surprisingly small. Things do load slightly slower, and on occasions there is a fractionally longer wait when moving between screens, but given the £310 difference in price I have been hugely impressed by how the Lumia 535 performs. Although this is comparing lemons with oranges, it is hilarious that the Lumia 535 has no problem copying and pasting things between apps or browser tabs, whereas switching between apps, or keeping two browser tabs loaded all too often proves too much for Chrome on my Google Nexus 9, despite it having twice the memory.
The Lumia 535 has front and rear-facing 5 megapixel cameras. Both cameras are of high quality compared to the dross one has been forced to encounter on virtually any mid-range Android smartphone, like the Sony Xperia M, which still retails for around £50 more. The limited CPU performance is at its most obvious when using the camera app. For a budget smartphone, the performance is still acceptable, but I cannot deny that I miss the responsiveness and image quality of my old Lumia 930.
Finally, my favourite thing about the Microsoft Lumia 535 (other than the price), is the battery life. It lasts a lot longer than the Lumia 930, which lasts a lot longer than the Sony Xperia Z1, which in turn lasts a lot longer than the frankly pathetic 10 to 14 hours which the Samsung Galaxy S6 delivers according to surprisingly positive reviews (Wired, Gizmodo). Personally, if I dropped between £600 and £840 on a smartphone, I would be distinctly miffed by that, no matter how gorgeous the screen may be.
By contrast I tend to plug my Lumia 535 in every two days, even when I have spent a lot of time on hold on the phone. In my three weeks of using it, the battery remaining has ranged between 18% and 45% after 48 hours.
What it does not deliver
You do not get NFC, wireless charging, or SensorCore, which is Qualcomm’s name for the collection of always-on sensors that enable the phone to track your position in real-time and tell you how many more steps you should have walked or run if you wanted to lose weight. The Lumia 535 is not a phone for fitness fanatics. Also, no matter how enthusiastically you shout “Hey, Cortana!” she will not answer, but she will respond to a long press on the search button. You also do not get 4G data or 5 GHz Wi-Fi N.
The Lumia 535 has on-screen buttons, and they are not as good as the hardware buttons on the Lumia 930. They are too close to the action bar above and it took me weeks to get used to their proximity and stop pressing the back, home or search buttons by mistake. I wager that this will be less of a problem for Microsoft’s target audience for this phone, which I take to be children, teenage girls and their mothers, than for a well-built fat-handed twat like me.
I do miss the gorgeous screen of the Lumia 930. Given the low market share of Windows Phone, chances are that you have not been lucky enough to have experienced it, but if you have an Apple iPhone 5 or 6 or a flagship Android device from Sony or Samsung you will have experienced something close to it.
The screen of the Microsoft Lumia 535 is certainly superior or equal to any other phone at twice the price, but it is not as perfectly accurate or sensitive as the miracle screens on the devices listed above. The colours are not quite as vibrant, and the screen is not as readable in bright sunlight as on a top of the line device. Still, given that you are paying 75-80% less, I do not feel that the Lumia 535 really lets you down.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the screen resolution. This is because screen resolution ceased to matter for smartphones several years ago. This is doubly true of Windows Phone because of the design language. The qHD 960 x 540 resolution (220 PPI) of the Lumia 535 is thus way beyond adequate.
Go on your way if you doubt me, but not before considering what the resolution of your fingertips would be, even if they were pampered with creams and unguents and perfectly manicured at all times. I bet that neither your eyes nor fingertips are capable of adequately making use of the 5.1”, 2560 x 1440, 577 PPI screen on the ridiculous contraption that is the Samsung Galaxy S6, for example. When was the last time you thought the text on your laser printer was not sharp enough? For me, it was before I bought an HP LaserJet 5L, in 1996.
The Lumia 535 redefines what a budget smartphone is capable of. It is not perfect for everyone, but it is very good at doing the things it claims it can do, and should satisfy most people, particularly those with smallish fingers. Fitness or photography enthusiasts, hard-core gamers, or people affected by extreme techno-lust will want to look elsewhere.
Given that I am somewhat affected by techno-lust, want a better screen, need a better camera and that have large-ish fingers, I will be buying a Microsoft Lumia 640 XL LTE as soon as I can afford one. In Cyan, of course! I will keep my Lumia 535 in order to try out Windows 10 Technical Preview, the next big thing for Windows Phone, and report on its evolution.
A final word on Microsoft’s Sales Pitch
To finish off, I wanted to give my impressions about the way the Lumia 535 is marketed. The Lumia 535 page on the Microsoft site does an excellent job of expressing what this phone is about, right above the fold, and long before you get to the specifications. It is immediately clear that the Lumia 535 delivers the full Windows Phone experience in a variety of colours to suit the personalities and moods of most people, except those who favour Champagne gold or pink, of course.
You get a sense that the Lumia 535 is a colourful, fun device along with most of the important information you would want to know on the specs at a glance page. I wish they would have shown that it has 1 GB of RAM, and the standby time is only relevant if you turn off mobile data, which makes no sense on a smartphone.