The Lumia 535 is the first Lumia phone with Microsoft branding, after the Big M acquired Nokia’s mobile arm in April last year.
Until now, Lumia smartphones have still been branded with the Nokia logo.
It’s a budget handset, offering low-level specs for not much dosh and arrives at a time when competition is fiercer than ever at the low-end.
The new Motorola Moto E leaked recently, around the same time Sony outed its Xperia E4. Both of which are pretty tasty bits of kit and are also pitched at cost-conscious consumers.
Can Microsoft’s debut unseat the current champion of the cheap, the Motorola Moto G? Let’s find out.
First impressions and design
On first glance, the 535 looks just like any other budget Lumia.
It comes in a selection of lurid colours – ours was a fetching orange – and is made of the same shiny plastic as its stablemates and the iPhone 5C.
Peer a little closer, and what’s that above the screen? It’s a Microsoft logo, though it’s barely noticeable, in grey on black.
Chances are Microsoft wanted it to look as close as possible to previous Lumias.
Either that or it has no faith in its brand image. But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.
It feels nice and sturdy, like it should cost twice its £90 SIM-free price.
The back pops off easily so you can switch it with another colour (choose from orange, black, grey, green, white and blue).
The 5-inch screen is bigger than most at this price, which is another plus.
Most sub-£100 models hover around the 4-inch mark. That would’ve been fine a couple of years ago. Nowadays 5 inches is the standard.
On first impressions, it’s a thumbs-up. Let’s delve a little deeper.
Windows Phone 8.1 comes as standard. It’s the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, and brings neat extras like the Cortana personal assistant and notification centre.
There are some bugbears, however.
While the tile-based layout crams on a lot of information, the smaller ones use icons, so it takes a while to familiarise yourself with what does what.
You can swipe right to the alphabetical list view, but that’s just unwieldy.
Windows Store also has far fewer apps than the iTunes App Store and Google Play.
But that’s enough about Windows Phone 8.1. If you want more, you can see our hands-on here.
The 535 improves on its predecessor – the Lumia 530 – in plenty of ways.
The 5-inch screen dwarfs the 530’s 4-incher, and the camera is far more advanced, with autofocus and an LED flash in place of a fixed focus model.
There’s also a 24mm wide-angle 5-megapixel front-facer for selfies. That’s absurdly powerful, especially considering some handsets in this price bracket don't even have a front-facing snapper.
As on previous Lumias, there are two camera apps – the standard Windows Phone one, and Lumia Camera (previously known as Nokia Camera).
On the plus side, you have plenty of options, and can toggle settings to your heart’s content.
Conversely, two apps is a bit bewildering, and will confuse most people. Chances are they won’t get the most out of the snapper.
Also impressive at this price is an ambient light sensor.
We’ve tested plenty of budget blowers without one, and it’s like stepping back in time.
The 535’s screen, however, is easily readable both in bright sun and murky conditions.
Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant, comes built in too.
She answers your questions and fetches you info from the web, much like Siri and Google Now.
She also has plenty of sass. Ask her what she’s wearing (purely for review purposes, you understand), and she replies: “Just a little something I picked up in engineering.”
Double tapping the screen will wake the phone up, which is handy if you don’t fancy fumbling for the unlock button.
LG previously touted this as a big selling point of its own handsets – how quickly these features become standard.
It also comes with a load of Microsoft software preinstalled.
Office 365 is your one-stop shop for business apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
OneDrive is its cloud storage system, while Here Maps is a navigation tool to keep you on the straight and narrow, and MixRadio is a music streaming service. (These last two were previously owned by Nokia.)
So we’re not short of features. But how do they fare in practice?
The biggest gripe is the screen. While it’s nice and big and the ambient light sensor makes a world of difference, it’s far from sharp.
The 540x960-pixel resolution is quite stretched over 5 inches, and makes images look low-res.
That’s to be expected on a phone costing less than a ton. What’s far worse is how unresponsive it is.
Every time you scroll, you have to wait for the web page to catch up.
Thankfully it’s better at registering normal presses, so you can open apps and web links without prodding over and over again.
But the lag is unforgiveable. Couple it with the narrow keyboard keys, and typos during emails and texts are an all-too common occurrence.
The camera fares a little better. Pictures are decent when the conditions are good, but tend to lack detail. The same can be said of the front-facer.
That wide-angle lens is handy for packing lots of people in to a selfie though.
If only Bradley Cooper had had it at last year’s Oscars.
As you’d expect, basic 2D games run fine, but you can forget about the latest processor-heavy 3D adventures.
It lasted a full day before needing a recharge, which is pretty standard for today’s phones.
We want to like the Lumia 535. It’s bright and bold and not a bad first effort for Microsoft. But it’s let down by the laggy screen.
There are much better alternatives at this price, namely the Moto G.
And with a new Moto E set to become official any day now, and more budget mobiles expected at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks, you’d be wise to hold onto your money for now.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 quad-core 1.2 GHz processor
- 8GB internal storage, expandable by 128GB by microSD
- 5" LCD capacitive touchscreen
- 5-megapixel rear camera, w/autofocus and LED flash
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- Windows Phone 8.1