Microsoft Lumia 535 Full Review: The New Standard for Affordable Smartphones

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Microsoft's new 5" Affordable Smartphone: The Lumia 535
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Microsoft’s new 5″ Affordable Smartphone: The Lumia 535

Though all the glamour of smartphone interest is primarily directed to the gleaming high end devices, it is increasingly clear that the market segment that has the largest potential for growth is the affordable smartphone. Microsoft (formerly Nokia) was the first company to take advantage in this segment with the successful Lumia 520. This device, released in mid 2013, still commands over 30% of all Windows Phone devices. (Data from AdDuplex). Since then, Microsoft has released a number of affordable devices, culminating with the Lumia 630 (April) Lumia 530 in (July) released this year. Thus many in the tech community were surprised when Microsoft unveiled the Lumia 535 in early November 2014.

With its 5 inch qHD screen, latest Windows Phone software and Lumia firmware, 5MP front facing camera and 5MP rear facing camera (with flash), the Lumia 535 defines the standard for an affordable smartphone in 2015.

After our initial hands-on impression with the Lumia 535 (in which Techweez was one of the first publications in the world to handle this device) and extensive testing over the last 3 weeks, I can confidently say that the Lumia 535 is that special device that disrupts a market segment and sets the tone for its competitors.

Hardware Specifications

The Lumia product team has always excelled in driving the technology in their high tier devices towards the affordable tier. The Lumia 535 is possibly one of their finest achievements in this regard. Not only does it have better specifications than the Lumia 520, but it launches at a price that’s almost 20 % lower than its predecessor. The Lumia 535 also bests the Lumia 630 in screen size, front camera and rear flash, while being cheaper. The table below compares the specifications of the Lumia 535, Lumia 630 and Lumia 520.

MODEL Lumia 535 Lumia 630 Lumia 520
ANNOUNCED 10-Nov-14 2-Apr-14 25-Feb-13
PRICE KES 13,799  (Mid Com Store) KES 15,238 (Mid Com Store) KES 9,999 (Safaricom Stores)
DESIGN
OS Windows Phone 8.1 (Denim Firmware) Windows Phone 8.1 (Cyan Firmware) Windows Phone 8.1 (Cyan Firmware)
Dimensions 140.2 x 72.4 x 8.8 mm 129.5 x 66.7 x 9.2 mm 119.9 x 64 x 9.9 mm
Weight 146 g 134 g 124 g
Colours (Available in Kenya) Black, Gray, Orange, White Black, White Black, Yellow, Red, White
DISPLAY
Physical size 5.0 inches 4.5 inches 4.0 inches
Resolution 540 x 960 pixels 480 x 854 pixels 480 x 800 pixels
Pixel density 220 ppi 218 ppi 235 ppi
Technology IPS LCD IPS LCD IPS LCD
Features Light sensor, Proximity sensor, Scratch-resistant glass (Corning Gorilla Glass 3) Proximity sensor, Scratch-resistant glass (Corning Gorilla Glass 3) Light sensor, Proximity sensor, Scratch-resistant glass
CAMERA
Rear Camera 5 megapixels 5 megapixels 5 megapixels
Flash LED N/A N/A
Camera shutter key N/A N/A Yes
Camcorder 848 x 480 pixels (30 fps) 1280×720 pixels (30 fps) 1280×720 pixels (30 fps)
Recording format MPEG4, H.264 MPEG4, H.264 MPEG4, H.264
Front-facing camera 5 megapixels N/A N/A
Video capture 848 x 480 pixels 30 fps N/A N/A
HARDWARE
System chip Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8227
Processor Quad core, 1200 MHz Quad core, 1200 MHz, ARM Cortex-A7 Dual core, 1000 MHz, Krait
Graphics processor Adreno 302 Adreno 305 Adreno 305
System memory 1024 MB RAM 512 MB RAM 512 MB RAM
Built-in storage 8 GB 8 GB 8 GB
Storage expansion microSD up to 128 GB microSD up to 128 GB microSD up to 64 GB
BATTERY
Capacity 1905 mAh 1830 mAh 1430 mAh
Type Li – Ion Li – Ion Li – Ion
Talk time (2G) 11.00 hours 16.40 hours 17.40 hours
Talk time (3G) 13.00 hours 13.10 hours 9.70 hours
Stand-by time (3G) 23.0 days (552 hours) 25.0 days (600 hours) 16.0 days (384 hours)
Music playback 78.00 hours 58.00 hours 52.00 hours
Video playback 6.50 hours 7.00 hours 5.90 hours
Max Wi-FI Browsing Time 8.50 hours 9.40 hours 7.30 hours
MULTIMEDIA
Radio FM FM FM
Speakers Earpiece, Loudspeaker Earpiece, Loudspeaker Earpiece, Loudspeaker
Audio Enhancement Surround Sound Suround Sound Suround Sound
TECHNOLOGY
Data HSDPA+ (4G) 42.2 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, EDGE, GPRS HSDPA+ (4G) 21.1 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, EDGE, GPRS HSDPA+ (4G) 21.1 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, UMTS, EDGE, GPRS
SIM Dual, Micro SIM Dual, Micro SIM Single, Micro SIM
CONNECTIVITY
Bluetooth 4 4 4
Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g, n 802.11 b, g, n 802.11 b, g, n
Mobile hotspot Yes (up to 8 simultaneous connections) Yes (up to 8 simultaneous connections) Yes (up to 8 simultaneous connections)
USB USB 2.0 USB 2.0 USB 2.0
Connector microUSB microUSB microUSB
Features Mass storage device, USB charging Mass storage device, USB charging Mass storage device, USB charging
Headphones connector 3.5mm 3.5mm 3.5mm
Charging connector microUSB microUSB microUSB
Other Tethering, Computer sync, OTA sync Tethering, Computer sync, OTA sync Tethering, Computer sync, OTA sync
OTHER FEATURES
Additional microphone(s) Yes (Noise cancellation) Yes (Noise cancellation) Yes (Noise cancellation)
Sensors Accelerometer Accelerometer Accelerometer

To see how the Lumia 535 stacks up aganist the Lumia 530, please read this Techweez article.

Design

The Lumia 535 follows the design principle established in the Lumia 620. The glossy plastic back with rounded edges combined with well distributed weight feels great in the hand. On the right side of the device you will find the power button and the volume rocker above it. The placement of these buttons makes one handed use feasible. Microsoft eschewed the popular camera shutter button on the Lumia 535. This cost cutting measure (present in the Lumia 530, 630 and 730) requires the user to use touch screen to open the camera app.

NOTE: Though our review unit was Green, the Lumia 535 will be available in in the Kenyan market in Black, Grey, White and Orange.

The back of the device prominently displays the Microsoft logo, as well as the 5 MP rear camera with single LED flash. To maintain the Lumia 535’s slim 8.8 mm thickness, the camera module is raised slightly and has a protective lip for the lens. The 3.5 mm headset jack is placed at the top of the device (off center), while the micro USB charging and sync port is located at the bottom of the phone. The Lumia 535 sports a rather loud rear firing speaker that is also located at the bottom of the device. This speaker is clear and reproduces sound quite well.

Easy and light to carry, but huge on engagement, the 5 inch qHD screen on the Lumia 535 is a delight to use.

This brings us to the one of the three defining hardware specs of the Lumia 535; the qHD (540 pixels wide by 940 pixels tall) 5 inch IPS LCD screen. As smartphone screens have steadily grown in size over the years, the larger displays have primarily been the territory of the flagship devices. The Lumia 535’s 5 inch screen breaks this tradition in a major way (considering that the midrange 2012 Lumia 620 was 3.8 inches), by bringing large screen to the affordable tier. Once you spend time with a large screen, it is very hard to adjust back to a smaller screen. You are able to view more content, experience multimedia more viscerally and be productive when viewing documents or replying to emails. Unlike, the Lumia 1320, whose 6 inch screen proved cumbersome in handling and portability, the 5 inch screen in the Lumia 535 hits the sweet spot.

The display has auto brightness and Lumia’s exclusive sunlight readability enhancement, which automatically adjusts the screen brightness and contrast in direct sunlight to improve legibility. The IPS display has good quality with good colour reproduction.

NOTE: The Lumia 535 will be available in Kenya in Black, Grey, White and Orange.

Camera

The second standard out feature of the Lumia 535 are its dual 5 MP cameras. Microsoft included a LED flash on the rear camera (the first time it has done so on a phone in this price tier), as well as including the same wide angle 5 MP front facing camera that was debuted in the Lumia 730. This camera can capture images of 2592×1452 pixels meaning that your Selfie images are crisp and clear, as well as capturing more of your surroundings. The following two images illustrate the difference between the 5 MP wide angle Super Selfie camera and the 1.3MP front facing camera on the Lumia 1020.

NOTE: To demonstrate the difference, I’ve uploaded both images in their full resolution, thus please be patient as the images may take some time to load.

The Lumia 535 impressed us so much with its photography capabilities, that I wrote a separate in-depth article that covers landscapes shots, low light, macro, and off course selfies.. Please read “Photography with the Lumia 535; Low Tier Price, Upper Tier Experience”

Performance

The Lumia 535 runs on the latest Windows Phone 8.1 software (with Lumia Denim Firmware), a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 chipset and 1 GB of RAM. Though the Snapdragon 200 chipset is at the low end of the Snap dragon family, it proved more than sufficient to run Windows Phone 8.1 smoothly. That is a testament to the drastic improvement in the performance of the lower tier Lumias. Unlike competing platforms like Android, Windows Phone users at both end of the price spectrum have a similar experience.

Multitasking is smooth and there was no discernible difference in performance between the Lumia 535 and the Lumia 920 (the first Lumia flagship).

The 1905 mAH removable battery in the Lumia 535 was able to get us through a full day without having to switch off Bluetooth, location services, Wi-Fi, and Auto Brightness. I was able to play “GT2 Racing 2: The Real Car Experience” without any lag and jitters.

Gaming on the Lumia 535. Playing GT2 Racing
Gaming on the Lumia 535. Playing GT2 Racing

The onboard storage is limited to 8GB and expandable with a micro SD slot (can hold cards up to 128 GB). With Windows Phone 8.1, you are able to install apps, pictures, multimedia (music, video or podcasts), and downloads to the SD card. This means that you can easily expand your storage and run games which have large downloads (e.g. Modern Combat 4 requires 2 GB worth of content download).

Users will also get 15 GB of cloud storage on OneDrive for free when they sign in with a Microsoft account. You can use the cloud storage to automatically backup your data to the cloud. To save on data, you can assign the backup to happen when you are on Wi-Fi.

Dual SIM

After using the Smart Dual SIM management system in the Lumia 535, I have to wonder why all smartphones are not equipped with Dual SIM.

Microsoft’s implementation is simply brilliant. I was able to use my Safaricom SIM as well my Orange Kenya SIM simultaneously, effortlessly switching between both carriers. I set up my Orange SIM to use as my data connection, and kept my Safaricom SIM as my voice/SMS connection. I was thus able to take advantage of the great data deal that Orange offered (which I kept track using the Data Sense app), and Safaricom Mpesa network on the same phone. This smart Dual SIM implementation is so slick that Techweez will devote an entire article on to explain how it works.

Software

The Lumia 535 ships with the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1 update 1 which also includes the Denim Firmware. This update brings the following features to Lumia devices;

  • Live Folders – You can combine live tiles into a group. This folder is dynamic and will continue to show you the notifications from each tile within the folder. To create a Live Folder, all you have to do is press then drag a tile on top another tile. The Live folder can even be renamed. When you click on the live folder, it expands to show all the tiles within that folder.
  • Apps Corner – Similar to Kids corner, App corner allows you to create a custom starts screen where only the apps you designate can be used. This will work very well in the workplace when Lumia devices may be issued to employees.
  • SMS Merge and Forward – You can select multiple SMS messages for forwarding or deletion.
  • Improved web browsing (faster download times).

The Lumia 535 is a great device for productivity as it runs Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The 5MP front facing camera will results in clear Skype calls around the world.

Competition Comparison

Rather than compare the feature packed Lumia 535 with its rivals in price (Samsung Galaxy Core 2, X Touch X2 Life), a fairer comparison in terms of features would the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime (KES 19,999) and Techno H7 (KES 15,999). To see how the Lumia 535 (which is 31 % cheaper than the Samsung and 14% cheaper than the Techno) to its more expensive rivals, read on.

OEM Microsoft  Samsung  Tecno
MODEL Lumia 535 Galaxy Grand Prime H7
PRICE KES 13,799 (Midcom Store) KES 19,999 (Jumia Kenya Online) KES 15,999 (Jumia Kenya Online)
DESIGN
OS Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 (Denim Firmware) Android (4.4.4, 4.4.2) Kitkat Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
Dimensions 140.2 x 72.4 x 8.8 mm 144.8 x 72.1 x 8.6 mm 143.5 x 72.7 x 8.75 mm
Weight 146 g 156 g    130 g
Colours (available in Kenya) Black, Gray, White, Orange (Replaceable back covers) Grey, White    Black
DISPLAY
Physical size 5.0 inches 5.0 inches 5.0 inches
Resolution 540 x 960 pixels 540 x 960 pixels 540 x 960 pixels
Pixel density 220 ppi 220 ppi 220 ppi
Technology IPS LCD TFT TFT
Colours 16 777 216 16 777 216 256 000
Touchscreen Multi-touch Multi-touch Multi-touch
Scratch-resistant glass Corning Gorilla Glass 3 n/a n/a
Sunlight readbility Yes n/a n/a
Sensors Accelerometer Sensor, Light sensor, Proximity sensor Accelerometer Sensor, Light sensor, Proximity sensor Accelerometer Sensor, Light sensor, Proximity sensor
CAMERA
Rear Camera 5 megapixels 8 megapixels 8 megapixels
Flash LED LED LED
Camcorder 848 x 480 pixels, 30 fps 1920×1080 pixels, 30 fps 1280×720 pixels, 30 fps
Front-facing camera 5 megapixels wide angle 5 megapixels wide angle 2 megapixels
HARDWARE
System chip Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 MediaTek MT6582
Processor Quad core, 1200 MHz Quad core, 1200 MHz Quad core, 1300 MHz
Graphics processor Adreno 302, 400 MHz Adreno 306, 450 MHz ARM Mali-400 MP2, 500 MHz
System memory 1024 MB RAM 1024 MB RAM 1024 MB RAM
Built-in storage 8 GB 8 GB 4 GB
Storage expansion microSD up to 128 GB microSD up to 64 GB microSD up to 32 GB
BATTERY
Talk time (3G) 13.00 hours 16.00 hours    6.5 hours
Capacity 1905 mAh 2600 mAh 2020 mAh
Removeable Yes Yes Yes
MULTIMEDIA
Radio FM FM FM
Speakers Earpiece, Loudspeaker Earpiece, Loudspeaker Earpiece, Loudspeaker
TECHNOLOGY
Data HSDPA+ (4G) 42.2 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, EDGE, GPRS HSPA (unspecified), HSUPA, EDGE, GPRS HSPA (unspecified), HSUPA, EDGE, GPRS
Multiple SIM cards Dual Slots, Micro SIM Dual Slots, Micro SIM Dual Slots, Micro SIM
CONNECTIVITY
Bluetooth 4 4 3
Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g, n 802.11 b, g, n 802.11 b, g, n
Mobile hotspot Yes Yes Yes
USB USB 2.0 USB 2.0 USB 2.0
Connector microUSB microUSB microUSB
Features Mass storage device, USB charging Mass storage device, USB charging Mass storage device, USB charging
DLNA Yes No No
  • Size and Design – All three devices are very close in size and weight. The Lumia 535 has the advantage with more available colours.
  • Operating System – The Lumia 535 runs on the latest Windows Phone OS and will be upgradeable to the next version of the Microsoft Operating System, Windows 10. Due out in late 2015, this system will bring more features and functionality to the entire Lumia line. The Galaxy Grand Prime is running on the last generation Android software (KitKat), while the Tecno H7 is running a version that is two generations older (Jelly Bean). No time frame has been provided on whether the competing devices will be upgradeable to the latest Android version (Lollipop) let alone the next generation.
  • Display – All 3 devices have a 5” inch qHD screen. However the Lumia 535 has an IPS screen whereas the Grand Prime and H7 use TFT. An IPS LCD screen has improved wide angle viewing as well as decreased power consumption and is considered to be far superior to TFT in smartphone applications. The 535 also has Sunlight readability where as its competitors don’t.
  • Rear Camera – The 535 loses this category as its 5MP rear camera can’t compete with the both the Grand Prime and H7, who both sport 8 MP rearing facing cameras with flash.
  • Front Cameras – 5 MP wide angle camera on the 535 and Grand Prime edge out the H7’s 2 MP Front camera.
  • Processing Power – All three devices run on Quad Core chipsets. Though the 535 has the lowest spec chipset, the low requirements of Windows Phone ensure a smooth running experience. The 535 also edges out the completion with support of 128GB micro SD cards.
  • Battery Life – Though the 535 has the lowest battery capacity, it beats the H7 while finishing close to the Grand Prime.
  • Data Speeds – With the recent unveiling of the Safaricom 4G Data network, the Lumia 535 will perform better (with up to 42.2 Mbit/s support) than the Grand Prime or H7.

From a value versus price comparison, it’s clear that the Lumia 535 is a much better value proposition than either Android device listed above.

Conclusion

The Lumia 535 brings mid-range features including a 5 inch qHD screen, a front facing 5 MP selfie camera and a 5 MP rear camera with flash at a price tier that has often made do with little frills. With the latest version of  Windows Phone, this device offers an experience that its competitors can only provide at a much higher price point. The Lumia 535 has redefined  the benchmark for affordable smartphones in 2015.

The Lumia 535 is now available at local outlets or online at the Midcom Store. Save your money and buy two because I have a strong suspicion that this device will sell out rather quickly.

Post Edited at 1:30pm, 12/15/2014  by Latiff Cherono to clarify the current Lumia 520 retail price, and colour availability on the Lumia 535 in the Kenyan Market. 

Acknowledgement: I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to the local Microsoft team for availing this device to us for extended reviewing.

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