Mobile Computing, Reviews

Microsoft Lumia 535: Budget Smartphone Done Right

Software and user interface

At first startup, I was asked to confirm an over-the-air update. I found out that Microsoft pushed this out to address some screen sensitivity issues found in the initial releases of the 535.

One advantage the 535 has over other higher-end devices is that it ships pre-installed with Windows Phone 8.1 Denim. The Denim update brings features like dynamic folders, Cortana improvements and camera improvements. With limited hardware, though, the 535 will not enjoy some of the more processor- and graphics-intensive updates that Denim will offer devices like the 930.

Don’t ask me about apps, however. While I’m satisfied with the availability of major apps like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Skype and the like, I still pine for the native local mobile banking app that I have on my Android device. But productivity-wise, the tight integration with Outlook, OneDrive, Exchange and Office 365, does well for Microsoft’s mobile platform. This is a platform that you can use to get things done. What good is having a million apps when you can’t be productive because of all the noise?

With "Microsoft" branded charger and "Microsoft" branded earphones

With “Microsoft” branded charger and “Microsoft” branded earphones

Performance

As an avid Windows Phone user, I’ve got to hand it to Microsoft. These devices really do have comparable performance across the spec range. While I admit to having a more enjoyable experience with the flagship Lumia 930 and midrange “flagship” 830 I reviewed a few months back, the fluid animations and comparable app loading times on the 535 are still at par with a device with significantly better specs. Understandably, processor- and graphics-intensive applications do suffer some lag, but it’s not everyday you play Asphalt 8 on your smartphone.

Comparing with a similarly-priced Android device, I would expect such devices to be constantly alerting you for low storage space, freezing due to application lags, and bogged down by bloatware that manufacturers are fond of adding onto their Android-based releases.

While performance is decent enough for a phone in this price range, what’s disappointing for me is the display. I can forgive the fact that the screen’s pixel density is only 220 ppi (I grew up on two-liner analog phones with dot-matrix displays in the 1990s). But the Lumia 535’s display will not be usable in direct sunlight. This is a stark contrast to the higher-end devices that have ClearBlack technology, and which automatically increase contrast when outdoors.

Screen is a bit washed out in direct sunlight

Screen is a bit washed out in direct sunlight

In terms of photography, Microsoft touts the wide-angle 5-megapixel selfie-oriented front-camera. It’s quite more practical than most smartphone cameras, which tend to be narrow-angle, therefore resulting in tight shots. But don’t be too optimistic with taking photos in low light. The rear camera is acceptable, but I find the LED flash to be a bit weak.

Sadly, I had to return the phone without being able to copy over the screenshot of Antutu Benchmark results. I got a score between 11,000 to 12,000, which is actually at par with the Lumia 530 and 830 we reviewed before.

Photo gallery

 

Verdict

award-silver-urlThe Microsoft Lumia 535 is a decent smartphone for its price, and is targeted squarely at what has become Microsoft’s foremost market: the entry-level. This strategy has played well with the likes of the Lumia 520 and 530, and the company is following through with the 535 and the subsequent 532 and 435, which will be even more affordable, having a no-frills approach to Windows Phone computing.

I am satisfied with the performance of the device and the kit (or the lack thereof) that one can get for the price. My only gripe would be the highly-reflective screen, which ends up being difficult to use in outdoor situations. By saying it’s a budget smartphone done right, I mean that it’s a reliable device that will work like it’s meant to, and is accessible enough for the price. Even as Microsoft has cut some corners in bringing down the price, thankfully it’s not on buying cheap components that willl bog down in performance just when you need it.

Pros

  • Wide lens front-facing camera
  • Affordable price: $120 unlocked
  • Good grip
  • Decent performance
  • Decent call/audio quality

Cons

  • Reflective/washed out screen
  • Application availability not as extensive as Android and iOS platforms