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Microsoft Lumia 535 Full Review: Another Cheap Lumia That Is Not Bad At All

Lumia 535 was launched at the end of last year and it was the first Lumia to carry Microsoft’s brand name after Microsoft completed the acquisition of Nokia’s Devices and Services division. Despite having an affordable price tag, it came with respectable specifications, at least on paper. So how does it perform in real life and can it live up to the high expectation of being the first Microsoft Lumia?

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The Design

Lumia 535 looks like all other previous Lumia phones but with one notable difference. The Nokia logo is gone (Bye Nokia Lumia!) and its position on the front and the back of the phone are replaced by Microsoft’s branding.  The front of the phone is black and it was covered by Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which is a plus for a budget device. It is certainly a good news for butterfingers.

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It has a colourful polycarbonate back cover which is removable, saving you some trouble in choosing the colours as you can easily replace it later. There are a total of 6 colours offered, namely orange, black, grey, cyan, white and green. With so many choices available, there must be one or two that meet your taste. I find the units with striking colours more appealing than the black and white units.

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We received a cyan Lumia 535 from Microsoft Malaysia and it has a matte finish. Do take note that some colours like orange has a glossy finish. It is prone to fingerprints but it is less slippery as compared to the units with matte finish. Personally, I still prefer the matte finish as it feels much more comfortable to touch.

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The Lumia series has a great tradition in build quality. Regardless of price point, they are usually well built. However, the Lumia 535 does not seem to inherit the excellent  gene of previous Lumias too well. The back cover of the phone does not fit tightly and I can feel that the sides are flexing when I grab the phone tighter. You do not have to worry that the back of the phone will be separated easily under normal use, but the fact that it is a little loose make the phone feels less solid in hand.

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Although the build quality does not meet expectations, at least the phone is really comfortable to hold. The curved body is friendly to our palms and the 8.8mm thin chassis is certainly one of the thinnest you can find in the budget phone market. Coming at 146g, I feel that the weight is neither too light nor too heavy. The power button and the volume rocker on the right of the phone can quite tactile too. There is no capacitive keys on the front, so you will need to depend on the on-screen navigation buttons. The camera button is omitted too.

Generally speaking, there is no major flaw in the design of the Lumia 535.

Generally speaking, there is no major flaw in the design of the Lumia 535. The build quality is not outstanding, but it is what you expected for a phone with that price tag. I feel that the design is appealing and you have a large variety of colours to choose from. Moreover, it is palm-friendly so I guess I shouldn’t be asking for more here. Here are some other shots for the Lumia 535:

Software

It is quite unusual for us to mention about the software this early in a review. However, I feel that the operating system is the first thing to be considered while choosing this phone. Lumia 535 is running Windows Phone 8.1, the world’s third most popular mobile operating system, with Lumia Denim update. However, the top two players, Android and iOS, are leading by a huge margin and it does bring some negative effects.

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This doesn’t mean that Windows Phone is a bad OS. Although the Live Tiles looks quite confusing, the idea of the OS is really simple. You will have the Start screen with Live Tiles which will give you information and lead you to the applications at the same time. Swiping to left will bring you to the application list where all the applications are listed and you can pin them to the Start screen by tapping and holding them. Swiping from the top will bring you to the Notifications+Action center where you can toggle some settings and see all your notifications. You can switching between apps by holding the back button. That’s pretty much all.

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There are two things that Windows Phone did well. The first thing is the performance on low-end hardware. Windows  Phone runs pretty well on any kind of hardware and honestly I haven’t seen any phone which runs Windows Phone performs very poorly. Due to the nature of the OS, the requirement for hardware is lower as compared to Android and iOs (There is no low-end iOS devices, isn’t it?). This means that you do not need the same hardware to provide the same kind of performance. We will discuss more about the performance later.

Secondly, Microsoft has done quite well with software updates recently. All the devices will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 later this year. If you are adventurous enough, Microsoft has the Windows Insider and Developer Preview programme for you to try the new software before the public release. This is something not seen in low-end Android devices. So you can expect the Lumia 535 to last for some time in terms of availability of software updates.

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Feature wise, I feel that Windows Phone has all the basic functions that we need. However, things are not the same for the applications in the Windows Store. Due to the fact that the platform is less popular, developers are not that keen to write apps for it. Most popular titles like Whatsapp, Facebook and Waze are there, but the features are somewhat lagging behind their counterparts in other platforms. For example, voice call for Whatsapp is still unavailable for the public version of the application. There are some apps that are not available at all too. All services from Google are not here, so you might have problems if you depend heavily on the Google Services. Conversely, you will found yourself right at home if you are users of Microsoft’s services such as Office, OneDrive and OneNote.

Windows Phone is a different OS and being different has its pros and cons.

Windows Phone is a different OS and being different has its pros and cons. That being said, you will get a different experience with Windows Phone and most of the things you can do on the other OS, you can do it here either. If you are not heavy users or you are  a new smartphone users, you will not notice the so-called “app gap”. In exchange, you will get a very fluid performance and you are more likely to get future software updates.

Cortana

Cortana is the personal digital assistant in Windows Phone and I am a big fan of her. She has no problem catching my English even though its not my mother tongue. Cortana is still young compared to Siri and Google Now. As a result, a lot of things you ask for will result in a web search.

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However, I think that Cortana is great in her own way. You can ask her to do plenty of things, including sending emails, toggling settings, searching the web, turning on alarms and many more. Cortana has a notebook to record what you care about and she will provide you the information you want to know, like the next game for your sports team and the weather around you. Cortana can be playful too. You can ask her to sing you a song or tell you a joke in case you are really that bored.

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Reminder is something Cortana does differently. You can set up time-based, location-based and people-based reminders. The time-based reminders are nothing special. People-based reminders will be triggered once you are in contact with the person.  Location-based reminders or geofencing reminders are extremely useful for me. For example, I can ask Cortana to remind me to do my laundry once I reach my home. This feature is not available natively on other platforms. Of course, you have to set up your favourite locations to allow this to work.

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There is one annoying thing about Search/Cortana here. If you set Bing as your search engine, everytime you search something in Internet Explorer, the search result will be shown in Cortana’s page. Clicking one of the link will bring you back to IE again. Jumping here and there between apps is not a good experience and to avoid this, I change the choice of search engine to Google.

Performance

Lumia 535 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 SoC. The combination of quad-core 1.2GHz CPU, Adreno 302 GPU and only 1GB of RAM sounds like a disaster for a modern smartphone. Fortunately, that is totally not true for the Lumia 535 which is running Windows Phone like we mentioned earlier. While the CPU and GPU are not fast, 1GB of RAM is quite plenty for a Windows Phone. Therefore, the phone is quite smooth for normal usage.

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Opening up bigger applications will take some time but once you get into the application, things are running smoothly. Navigating through the OS is fluid and switching between applications takes very minimum time, although not instantly. Playing games like Asphalt 8 is possible. Although the graphics rendered are not that nice, frameskip does not often happen so I would say the games are playable. The phone will get warmer than usual while performing heavy tasks, but the heat is neither unbearable nor worrying.

Lumia 535 performs exceptionally well if you consider its price.

If you are a gamer, the Lumia 535 might not be a good buy for you. However for most people who are doing ordinary stuffs on their phone, Lumia 535 performs exceptionally well if you consider its price.

Display & Touch Digitizer

Lumia 535 has a 5″ IPS LCD display. The display size up to current standard and there is not much phone which offer this display size at its price. It is great size for web browsing, gaming, one-handed use and pretty much anything else. The three rows of tiles on the Start screen of Windows Phone 8.1 looks great on the 5″ display too.

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The display has a resolution of 960 x 540 and the pixel density comes at 220 ppi, which is pretty poor by today’s standards. Individual pixels are noticeable, especially on text on the Live Tiles. The colour of the display is little washed out and the black colour displayed is really greyish. Considering most people are using the dark theme on Windows Phone and black background will be used regularly on settings page and native applications, the lack of deep black make the display looks quite bad. Changing to light theme be much better as the display has no trouble showing white colour.

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The viewing angle isn’t very wide although it is an IPS display. The reflective glass might be the culprit but the main point here is that sharing the content with your friend might be a little challenging when there is light coming from any side.
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While the quality of the display is forgivable after getting used to it, the fact touch digitizer is not performing well is really disappointing. A digitizer is a thin film on the touch screen to register our press and swipe actions. The digitizer on Lumia 535 will  go haywire if there is moisture on the screen. Sometimes, a tap can be registered as a swipe too. It is extremely hard to keep the screen 100% dry as we will wash our hands and sweat too. So you would encounter this problem at least once per day and that is really frustrating.

Given that it is the primary way to navigate around in modern smartphones, having a poor digitizer is one of the last thing we want to see.

Given that it is the primary way to navigate around in modern smartphones, having a poor digitizer is one of the last thing we want to see. Microsoft had pushed out software updates to solve the issue. Although it gets better, the problem still exists. I would suggest you to bring a piece of microfibre cloth with you to clean the screen whenever the digitizer is not working.

Storage

Lumia 535 comes with 8GB of internal storage and around half of it is taken by the system and other preloaded applications out of the box. Filling up the rest of the storage can be done easily and that can’t be a good thing right? But fear not as you can insert micro-SD card into the Lumia 535 to expand the storage and the 8GB of internal storage certainly forced you to do so, soon or later. Up to 128GB of external storage is supported.

While most Android phones supports micro-SD cards, some of them lack the ability to install applications to the external storage so this is a huge plus for Lumia 535.

The best part about it is that installing applications to SD card is supported natively by Windows Phone. This means that the external storage is not limited to photos and other media files. While most Android phones supports micro-SD cards, some of them lack the ability to install applications to the external storage so this is a huge plus for Lumia 535. Just make sure you get a micro-SD card with class 10 standard so that things will not slow down too much.

Battery Life

Lumia 535 has a 1,905mAh battery. The battery capacity is a little low for a phone with 5″ display. Luckily, the battery life of Lumia 535 is not as bad as I imagined. The Lumia 535 can still last for a full day with moderate use. I have used the phone for browsing the web, playing some games and using GPS navigation for some time but the phone never gave up before the end of the day even once. However, the remaining charge can never get you through the second day. Do take note that I had turned on the location all the time as Cortana needs that to work. I guess the battery can last longer if you are willing to sacrifice it.

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Anyway, there is a battery saver app built in where you can turn on battery saving mode. You can also choose to turn it on everytime the charge is less than 20%. The battery usage list can be found in the app too. From there you can see which application is the culprit for killing the battery life and you can disallow the applications from running in the background to improve battery life.

The Essentials

Lumia 535 sold in Malaysia is supporting dual SIM dual standby. The size for both SIM slots are microSIM standard. Cellular connection supported is only up to 3G network, so you might need to look somewhere else if 4G LTE connection is important for you.

For this part, no news is good news right? Fortunately, that holds true for Lumia 535.

Signal strength is satisfactory on Lumia 535 and phone calls are clear, although the volume can be a little soft. The speaker is placed on the back and it is not really loud. Playing songs in your private area will be fine but the audio quality is just okay. Nevertheless, it gets the job done.

Other essential connectivity options such as WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 are here. The GPS system on the Lumia 535 can locate the position quite speedily. Combining that with the offline maps support by Here Drive+, navigation is easy and it cost you nothing.  For this part, no news is good news right? Fortunately, that holds true for Lumia 535.

Camera

Lumia 535 has a 5 megapixels camera on its back and another 5 megapixels shooter facing the front. There is a LED flash on the back but there is no hardware camera button on the phone.

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On Lumia 535, you can either choose Microsoft Camera or Lumia Camera to take pictures. Both applications give similar results in auto mode, but if you know more about photography, the later with more robust control can produce better looking photos.  The Microsoft Camera is faster and simpler. You can use it if you want a snap a picture quickly.

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If you have more time to craft your photo, Lumia Camera will suit you better as you can change the exposure value, ISO, exposure time, white balance and focus range manually. Taking macro shots are easier with the Lumia Camera too. With longer exposure time, you can shoot light trails created by car lamps at night. But do take note that the maximum exposure time is 1 seconds only and you have to keep your hands extremely steady for that.

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With bright light, the pictures taken are not that bad. Landscape is taken nicely. Even though the photos lack the sharpness and the colours are a little muted, it is still acceptable if the price is considered. The colour temperature is colder in default. Therefore, things in blue like the sky are taken perfectly but for the red flowers, the colour is certainly not accurate.

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The problems are magnified when the light goes dimmer and the noise starts creeping into the photos. Do take note that the problems regarding the camera are pretty common for devices with similar price. You will have to fork out more cash if the quality of the camera is your main priority.

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On the other hand, the 5MP front facing camera can provide higher resolution selfies as compared to the competitors but the quality did not stand out either. The front facing camera will produce more pinkish photos and it will make you look better when your face is pale. The video quality is really disappointing. The video resolution is limited at 480p only and the video shakes terribly. If you capture videos regularly, I would advise you to look for other phones.

The camera is neither particularly bad nor good enough to win any compliments.

Nevertheless, the cameras of Lumia 535 really reflect the phone’s status as an entry level device. The camera is neither particularly bad nor good enough to win any compliments. Here’s some photos taken by the Lumia 535:

Should You Buy It?

As mentioned earlier, the first thing you should consider is whether you are willing to use Windows Phone, which is a less popular choice. There are a few gives and takes over here and you should think clearly about that before pulling the trigger.
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The next thing you should consider is the touch issue. You might need to go to a store to try the phone out to see if you can live with that or not. It might be a deal breaker for you.

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The last thing to think about is what are you using the phone for. Lumia 535 is pretty good at serious and essential stuffs. To work or to play, the choice really depends on every individual. Microsoft Office, Here Drive+ and  other useful preloaded applications will help you to be productive with your phone. However, if you plan to get yourself entertained with gaming and media consuming with the phone, even though the screen size is adequate, the entry-level chipset, average screen and tiny speaker will leave you wanting for more. However, if you want to have better specifications, I doubt you can get it with a similar price. So, either if you are using the phone for the basic things only if you do not wish to pay more for a phone.

The Good

  • Windows Phone 8.1 runs well on entry-level hardware
  • Smooth performance
  • Upgradeable in the future
  • Storage is not an issue with excellent micro-SD support

The Bad

  • Unsatisfied viewing experience with the display
  • Problem exists with touch digitizer
  • Applications available are less than other platforms

Conclusion

Lumia 535 is the first Lumia to bear Microsoft’s name and the phone really reflects the company’s strategy to concentrate on the low-end market. The phone has everything essential that everyone expect from a modern day smartphones. Sluggish performance and limited storage are the main issues for budget friendly devices. However, these two problems are not seen for a Windows Phone due to the software and the support of installing applications in SD cards. This makes Lumia 535 a capable phone to carry you through normal tasks.

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Lumia 535 is not without flaws either. The largest problem is the touch digitizer where touch will be registered incorrectly. This is extremely frustrating. The colour of the display is not 100% accurate too. Running Windows Phone also means that you will have less applications and the new features will go to the other platforms first before it reaches the Windows Phone apps. Lumia 535 is also device for serious stuff more than a device for entertainment.

Lumia 535 is another solid offerings from the Lumia brand and it is a budget friendly device that lives up to its price.

Other than that, there is nothing to complain about the phone. The camera, battery life, connectivity options and design are not outstanding but they do get their job done. Microsoft will not be exceptionally proud to have it as the company’s first phone, but the Lumia 535 will not embarrass the company either. In conclusion, Lumia 535 is another solid offerings from the Lumia brand and it is a budget friendly device that lives up to its price.

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