At a Glance
We’re fans of Windows Phone 8.1 but the Lumia 535 compromises in too many areas to make it a bargain at £100. You’re better off with a Motorola Moto E or – if you want 4G – the EE Kestrel.
The Lumia 535 isn’t the cheapest in the Lumia Windows Phone range: that honour goes to the new Lumia 430. At £100 the 535 has plenty of competition from budget
Android smartphones, but also offers quite a bit more than its predecessor, the
Lumia 530. Here’s our Lumia 535 review.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: Design and screen
Superficially, the 535 looks like the 530 but it’s a much more grown-up
smartphone. The screen has increased from 4 to 5in and it has also slimmed down to under 9mm thick. The Lumia 535 measures 140x73x8.8mm and weighs 146g.
The screen has a resolution of 960×540, which is poor in 2015, but at least it’s an IPS display, rather than the lower-quality TN-based screen in the Lumia 530. It equates to a just-acceptable pixel density of 220ppi, and it’s covered in Gorilla Glass 3.
If this is your first smartphone, you probably won’t mind the limited viewing angles and lacklustre colours (and contrast) too much. Part of the problem is that the LCD panel isn’t laminated to the cover glass, so it looks as if it’s sunken inside the phone. Overall it isn’t a patch on, say, the
2nd Gen Moto G’s screen, but it’s just about usable outdoors.
One of the biggest issues is with the touchscreen. Microsoft has already issued a software update to fix the worst of the problems but we found the slightest accidental touch by your palm or even using your finger at slightly the wrong angle meant either an errant swipe or an unrecognised tap respectively. When typing, we frequently saw characters doubled up and only by deliberately slowing down could we get it to work properly.
The Lumia 535 is unmistakably a Lumia Windows phone, especially if you opt for the bright green or orange versions but since the rear covers pop off, you can swap them around at will (there are black and white covers if you want to be more discrete).
We found the super-glossy green version very slippery to handle and almost dropped it more than once while trying to take photos. The good news is that there are front- and rear-facing cameras and the back camera has an LED (which is particularly handy as a torch).
There’s a headphone jack at the top and a microUSB port at the bottom. On the right are the usual power and volume rocker buttons, but no shutter button for the camera.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: hardware and performance
One of the sacrifices you’ll make by choosing a Lumia 535 is the processor. It may be a quad-core CPU, but it’s an old Snapdragon 200 running at 1.2GHz. It’s backed by 1GB of RAM which gives the 535 a better chance of being upgradeable to Windows 10: phones with 512MB of memory probably won’t be able to run it.
We saw a result of 1295ms in SunSpider 1.0.2 which shows this is no speed demon, and in general use the 535 is a bit sluggish and lacks the immediate response you expect from a modern smartphone.
There’s 8GB of storage (with slightly over 4GB available for use out of the box) but you can insert a microSD card to expand the 535’s capacity by up to 128GB.
The phone also has 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4 and GPS plus ambient light and proximity sensors. It’s all basic and essential stuff. The 535 isn’t about frills: it’s a low-cost, functional phone. There’s no support for 4G, just 3G.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: Cameras
One of the better features is the front-facing wide-angle camera. It has the same 5Mp resolution as the rear camera, making it technically better than even the iPhone 6 Plus.
The bad news is that photos aren’t great even in brightly lit rooms: they’re grainy and a little fuzzy. On occasion we also saw painful shutter lag which meant photos weren’t actually taken until a second or two after tapping the screen. That meant plenty of blurry snaps as we’d moved the phone thinking the photo was taken. Bear in mind that the default camera app is set to 16:9 images out of the box. You’ll have to change this to 4:3 in the Photo Settings (within the app) if you want to use the full 5Mp. Leaving it set to 16:9 crops the top and bottom and gives you a 3.8Mp photo. Here’s a 4:3 photo:
Here are more examples – again, these are the original shots from the phone and not modified, edited or resized in any way.
Oddly, though, video is shot at 848×480 so video clips are very poor. As well as lacking detail, they’re also wobbly since there’s no stabilisation. They’re just about usable as part of a Facebook feed, just so long as no-one tries to watch them full-screen on a PC.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: Software
Windows Phone 8.1 has many strengths and is a great mobile OS. As well as Cortana – your digital assistant – you get Here Drive+ (a great satnav app which can work offline) and free online storage via OneDrive. Skype is built in as is Microsoft Office.
The problem is that you won’t necessarily find all your favourite apps in the Windows store. The selection is better than it was, thanks to the arrival of Fitbit and some catch-up TV services (iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player and Demand 5), but there are still gaping holes. It’s a particular problem for Bluetooth and other gadgets, such as smart thermostats.
Microsoft Lumia 535 review: Bottom line
When spending £100 or less on a smartphone there are inevitably some compromises. With the Lumia 535 they’re seemingly everywhere: screen resolution and quality, video resolution, performance – the list goes on.
Most people probably won’t mind the lack of support for 4G but the continued absence of certain apps is a black mark against Windows Phone. There’s no guarantee that the 535 will be upgradeable to Windows 10 either.
The 535 is considerably better than the 530 it replaces, but that doesn’t make it a great buy. If you can’t stretch to a Moto G, then instead look at the Motorola Moto E or the EE Kestrel.
You might also like to read:
The 19 best new smartphones coming in 2015
Microsoft Lumia 535: Specs
- 140x73x 8.8mm
- 146 g
- 5in IPS capacitive touchscreen, 960×540 pixels, 220ppi
- microSD, up to 128 GB
- 8GB storage
- 1GB RAM
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0
- microUSB v2.0
- 5MP front and rear cameras
- Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1 with Lumia Denim
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 (1.2GHz)
- Li-Ion 7Wh / 1905mAh battery (BL-L4A)