Our full Nokia Lumia 630 review: what we thought of this £89 Windows Phone 8.1 smartphone, rocking a quad-core processor and 5-megapixel camera.

Just when Motorola thought it had the sub-£100 smartphone castle conquered, along comes Nokia with a Lumia 630-shaped battering ram to smash down the doors and...steal the value phone princess...oh god, this metaphor’s out of control, kill it, kill it dead.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

Priced in the UK at just £89.95, the Nokia Lumia 630 is technically cheaper than the Motorola Moto E, by a whole four pence. Both phones are colourful little beasts and pack surprisingly good specs for the money, but while the Moto E rocks Android 4.4 KitKat, the Lumia 630 sports full Windows Phone 8.1 (the first phone to do so). So is the Lumia 630 worth its meager asking price, and how is that 8.1?

Nokia Lumia 630 design: Chunky chap

A warning: if you don’t like chunky phones, look away now.

The Nokia Lumia 630 is a typically colourful beast, thanks to its detachable back plate which comes in green, orange and yellow - or plain ol’ black and white, if you’re a bit serious. Our review sample came with a matt green cover, but you can swap for glossy cases too and all of the colours really stand out. These covers snap on easily, and hold in place reasonably well - there’s a bit of give around the long edges, but we never worried about the back dropping off.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

We’re a fan of the blocky design, which feels deliciously old-school and is still comfortable to handle. However, the Motorola Moto E definitely feels nicer against the palm, thanks to its soft, rounded rear. Still, the Lumia 630 is easy to fiddle with one-handed, with minimal physical buttonage. The power and volume buttons on the right edge fall naturally beneath your fingers/thumb (depending on which hand you use), and the Windows Phone shortcuts are now on-screen tappers instead.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

Nokia Lumia 630 setup and features: Access denied

Windows Phone 8.1 leads you through the setup process, and it’s all easy enough except for one weird little bug that’s stumped us before on Lumia smartphones. For some irritating reason, the Lumia 630 refuses to sign you into any of your accounts unless you turn off automatic date and time, and manually tweak it so it’s 100% accurate. Once you get past that, the rest of it is pipsqueak, and the phone has a dedicated app for copying across your old contacts, messages and so on.

We’ve already run through the main features of Windows Phone 8.1, but it’s worth pointing out how much better Microsoft’s OS is, now that it’s had a bit of time to grow and mature.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

Desktops are even more customisable, with the ability to pack more tiles on-screen and organise them into folders. The ‘Action Centre’ is a quick and easy way to see your waiting notifications, and toggle popular settings such as Wi-Fi and display brightness. And there are dozens of other improvements, including the ability to set wallpaper and customise your lock screen. All we’re missing is Cortana, which is currently US-only (although there is a quick fix to get around this, if you’re desperate to get to grips with her).

Of course, Windows Phone is still lagging being Android and iOS when it comes to apps. Many huge companies still haven’t signed on to Microsoft’s OS, and a lot of Windows Phone apps are poor translations of other OS versions (WhatsApp recently had to be removed entirely as it was broken), but it’s a situation that Microsoft is working hard to amend, and things are looking brighter these days.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

Our one major complaint is with the games section, which is simply dire. Xbox users at least get some cross-over, with their avatar appearing on the Lumia 630’s games screen and some official companions appearing for titles such as Titanfall. But if you’re looking for simple time-wasters for the commute, you’re getting a bum deal compared with Android and iPhone users.

Thankfully Nokia’s nifty Here suite of apps is still present and correct, including the worthy Here Maps, which allows you to download maps for entire countries to use offline - great news when you’re heading abroad.

Nokia Lumia 630 screen and media: Not the sharpest tack

We’ve been really bloody spoilt with the Motorola Moto G, which boasts an incredible HD screen for just £99. In comparison, most other sub-£100 smartphone screens look grainy and dull, but the Nokia Lumia 630 rises above the dross thanks to its 4.5-inch IPS display.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

With a 480x854 pixel resolution (218ppi), the Lumia 630’s screen isn’t as sharp as the Moto G’s 720p display (329ppi) or even the Moto E’s cut-down panel (256ppi). And while browsing the web, the difference was clear when reading miniature text. We also found the Lumia 630 a bit more fiddly for tapping links, but not to an annoying degree.

The Lumia 630’s screen may lack the crispness of its rivals, but it’s still perfectly fine for everyday duties and pleasingly vibrant. On top brightness it’ll also cut through some pretty horrendous glare, so you won’t have to break your eyeballs squinting.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

There’s 8GB of storage space buried away in the Lumia 630, more than you’ll find on the similarly-priced Moto E, and you can again extend via microSD memory card, to carry tons of media around.

Nokia Lumia 630 performance and battery life: Buttery budget blower

The Lumia 630 packs a quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, a low-powered chappy that handles everyday tasks with ease.

Some apps took a while to load, in some cases with a five or six-second black screen before anything happened. However, once they loaded up, we saw very few performance issues. Basic titles run perfectly well, and even fast-paced games such as Asphalt 8 played with buttery smooth frame rates (although that game certainly doesn’t look as good as its Android counterpart).

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

So, what about battery life? Well, we easily made it through a full 24 hours on each charge, even with regular web browsing and a fair bit of downloading. And if you pummel the Lumia 630 a bit harder, you’ll still get most of a day before the phone gives up the ghost. Streaming video non-stop gave us five hours of life overall, an above-average result.

Nokia Lumia 630 camera: Darkness is its enemy

Like the Motorola Moto E, the Nokia Lumia 630 features a five-megapixel rear-facing camera, but no front-facing lens for video chats. There’s also no flash, so you’re stuck only taking photos when there’s plenty of ambient light. We found that even in soft light, our pics came out grainy and overly orange.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

Still, in typical conditions the Lumia 630’s camera thankfully works well. The lens handles contrast admirably, so our photos taken in harsh glare were well balanced, not half-dark, half-saturated. Close-up macro shots also come out well on auto mode, with crisp detail - something we couldn’t get from the fixed-focus Moto E.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100 Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

The Lumia 630 gives you a choice of two apps for snapping your shots. The standard Camera app presents a simple interface, and takes shots almost the instant you tap the on-screen shutter button. There’s also a Burst Mode if you want to capture around seven snaps a second, for as long as you hold your thumb on the screen. We tested it to see if there was a maximum limit, and shot around 150 photos before finally giving up.

Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100 Nokia Lumia 630 phone review: Windows Phone 8.1 for under £100

If you’re a bit more confident and want more manual control, you can load up the Nokia Camera app, which allows you to easily tweak various settings such as ISO levels, white balance and shutter speed. You also get a Smart Sequence mode, which takes several photos and combines them to add funky effects such as motion focus, or allows you to choose the best shot to keep. However, Nokia Camera also takes longer to line up and capture your shot, which is a little irritating when you’re trying to snap action shots.

Nokia Lumia 630 verdict

We really like the colourful and user-friendly Nokia Lumia 630. As the first Windows Phone 8.1 handset, it not only offers strong value, but also a pleasing all-round experience. It’s a great handset for smartphone noobs who want to test the waters with a cheap device, or anyone simply after a fun and affordable phone.

You’re waiting for the ‘but’, right? Well, here you go then…

BUT the Lumia 630 doesn’t quite do enough to fend off rivals, in particular the Motorola Moto G. For just a tenner more you get a 720p HD screen, a front-facing camera, and the same Lumia highlights such as a vibrant selection of removable covers. If you’re dead set on Windows Phone then the Lumia 630 is the best affordable handset out there right now - else we’d recommend the Moto G.