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Microsoft Lumia 535 Review: In Depth

2.5
Familiar face, different name

The Good

  • Dual-SIM
  • Rich software experience
  • Great expandable memory options

The Bad

  • Lacklustre, unresponsive screen
  • Laggy performance
  • Disappointing camera

We get up close and personal with the new Microsoft Lumia 535, a significant device in the mobile world for a number of reasons.

It’s all strangely familiar, but slightly different. Like a family photo that’s orientation has been flipped. Our first encounter with the Lumia 535 reminded us that this is a bit of a milestone device, simply based on the fact that the Finnish phone-maker's name, the name that gave birth to the Lumia brand is nowhere to be found.

So under the guise and guidance of Microsoft, how does the latest Windows Phone to hit the streets shape up?

Design: It’s all big and shiny

One thing we weren’t quite prepared for was the 535’s size. Typically the numbering of the Lumia family has had an affect on each device’s physical size, with last year’s lineup ranging from the petite Lumia 520 up to the first Windows Phone phablet: the leviathan that is the Lumia 1520.

Lumia 535 - front Lumia 535 - back

The 535 goes against this convention, expanding in all directions to the point that it’s larger than an iPhone 6. That said it doesn’t feel all that chunky, with an impressive waistline that’s just 8.8mm thick. The body itself also boasts some nice rounding along the sides, tactile hardware controls and only the smallest of camera bumps.

The removable polycarbonate back plate features a high-gloss finish and as per the 2014 Lumia family is offered up in an array of punchy colours (in our case, something along the lines of Hulk Green). The gloss does emphasis the affordable nature of the handset, but it doesn’t cheapen the overall feel too much.

Despite its size, the Lumia 535 is also nice and light, great for a big screen device, weighing in at an impressive 146 grams.

Screen: Sizeable but sluggish

Pick up most Lumias and you’ll likely be treated to a pretty enjoyable display experience. The majority offer up great blacks, good viewing angles, strong overall brightness and even the added bonus of Glance View in some cases.

Lumia 535 - screen

The belt-tightening rules that the Lumia 535 adheres to mean that it doesn’t quite measure up to its comrades in this regard and its 5-inch qHD display falls short of the mark, on pretty much all accounts.

Although it’s fairly bright, more aggressive viewing angles suffer heavily from distortion; colours aren’t as punchy as its siblings, the resolution at such a large size is detrimental to picture quality and there are no fancy gesture modes, not to mention it makes for a downright unresponsive user experience sometimes.

OS: The best part of the Nokia legacy

Starting with its arrival in 2011, Nokia turned the skeletal frame of Windows Phone into a well-rounded ecosystem with powerful apps and services all its own, designed to rival offerings from even the strongest competition.

That hasn’t changed and the same DNA lives on in more than just the Lumia name with the 535. There are a ton of Lumia-branded apps out-the-box, Mix Radio for free music streaming and Microsoft’s Bing suite for news, health, sport and more.

Despite this, one area where the user experience does fall short on is innovation. It may pack the latest rendition of the Windows Phone OS, but there’s nothing particularly new to be found on the 535. It does the basics well, but for the most part that’s all you'll get without downloading a few more apps.

The 535 is a dual-SIM Windows Phone 8.1 device, unusual in the UK market, and as such receives two sets of phone and messaging apps as well as tools to limit the access to mobile data or connectivity as a whole on either SIM independently, from the Settings menu. Other than that it feels like just another Lumia.

Performance: A little underpowered out the gate

When you weigh up the user experience/performance balance offered by the Lumia 535, it’s somewhat surprising that this is the device Microsoft decided to finally stamp its mark upon. It’s certain not the most sluggish phone out there, but it’s clearly underpowered.

Lumia 535 - buttons

The pairing of 1GB RAM and a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 200 brain gives you smoother operability when swiping between Start screen and apps menu, but beyond this, performance appears to take a hit, with long load times for apps and actions. It just doesn’t feel as tightly wound as the Windows Phone experience we’re used to seeing on pretty much everything else.

One notable advantage of being a big phone is that you get a big battery and although there’s a modest sounding 1950mAh cell, we managed a snip under a day and a half of use between charges.

Lumia 535 - SIM

Connectivity falls to a fairly minimal set of offerings. We’ve already covered the independently controlled dual SIM setup, there’s 3G data, WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS, but being a budget device means more impressive options like 4G and NFC are sadly absent.

The 535 makes up for these omissions with its robust storage capabilities; microSD cards up to a mighty 128GB and 15GB of cloud storage help pad out the 8GB of user memory the phone contains out-the-box.

Camera: Going full manual

The Lumia Selfie app is one of a number of photography-focused applications that the 535 totes from the off and as such it can pull the same trick as the selfie-centred Lumia 735 by making an average mug shot significantly prettier with a bit of post-processing wizardry.

Hardware-wise the front-facing 5-megapixel snapper is decent enough for the things you’ll typically rely on a front-facer for and the rear camera, which promises the same 5-megapixel sensor size is also surprisingly clear. On the phone's display shots may look a bit naff, but on a larger, sharper screen there’s actually a surprising amount of clarity.

That doesn’t detract from fairly flat looking snaps overall, sub-HD resolution video recording and terrible low light performance that’s noisier than Spinal Tap turned up to 11. As ever, with Lumia devices, the one saving grace is the Lumia Camera app, giving you impressively high levels of manual control over everything from ISO, and focus to white balance and shutter speed.

Verdict: It does its job but not much else

As we mentioned earlier, the Lumia 535 is an interesting choice for Microsoft to place its mark on. We were expecting the rebranding to make its debut on a flagship handset, but siding with the affordable pushes a different message to consumers.

Lumia 535 - handheld

As it’s not set to hit the UK until next year, we’re expecting a sub-£100 price tag based on its current European RRP of €110. How close to that mark it hits will define whether we can really recommend it or not. Naturally the lower, the better, particularly when the likes of Huawei have 4G-toting Android devices like the Y550 that boast faster hardware for around the same price.

It’s arguably the weakest link in Microsoft’s newly acquired Lumia lineup right now, despite the dual-SIM, large-screen experience it offers. If you want a taste of the Lumia brand, we wouldn’t dissuade you from the 535 entirely, but it might pay look further back into 2014 and grab the Lumia 635 or wait it out until the next handset hits.

Key Specs

  • 5-inches
  • qHD (960x540)
  • 146 grams
  • Windows Phone 8.1
  • 5-megapixel
  • 5-megapixel w/ wide-angle lens
  • 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB (3GB user accessible). Expandable via microSD up to 128GB
  • No
  • Dual SIM

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