Microsoft Lumia 535: User Review

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Microsoft Lumia 535

This is the Microsoft Lumia 535. A pretty old phone, considering it came out in November 2014. The 535 is actually the first phone released with the Microsoft branding. If you can remember, older Windows phones were mostly manufactured by Nokia. Microsoft, having acquired Nokia’s mobile division, decided to rebrand Nokia Lumia into Microsoft Lumia.

I bought my Lumia 535 in February 2015 for about AU$190, or about PHP 7,000 since I bought it in the Philippines. At that time I was actually considering an Asus Zenfone 5 as well, but I wanted to try out Windows Phone for myself. I have read many good reviews then about Windows Phone. Many were praising its stability, smoothness, and good integration with social networks from within its own built-in apps.

Another big thing that convinced me to get a Windows Phone is Cortana. She’s a very unique AI, in that she somehow has “personality”. You can play around with Cortana and ask her any question you like. She has a range of quirky replies for many things. And of course, Cortana knows a lot about the Halo universe. The Cortana of Halo is what this AI is named after, so it is only logical.


Battery Life & Charging

This is where the Microsoft Lumia 535 gets a bit disappointing. Its relatively small 1905 mAh battery is by no means adequate. When connected to WiFi, the battery barely lasts a day, especially if I’m browsing the web or using social media apps. Even when the phone is on standby, having WiFi on takes away a significant slice of the battery (I estimate this “WiFi-standby drain” at 5% per hour). I always notice this when I wake up, having left WiFi on the previous night.

Going back to the web browsing performance. If, say, I have it fully charged at 7 am, and I’m on WiFi and constantly checking Twitter, Instagram, and reading articles on the web, by 5 pm it will have gone down to below 20%. If I’m still away from home by then, that gets me worried. That means I could not effectively browse the web. Well, I could, but I’d risk having a dead phone before I get home, and that could mean disaster in an emergency. I could not even read e-books, because having the screen on eats a lot of the battery. The only thing I could effectively do at this point is to listen to music. If I turn WiFi off, even 10% would be more than enough to get me home with music in my ears.

It’s even worse when I turn mobile data on. Using the same schedule I mentioned above, the battery would only last half a day. Not good at all.

Charging from dead to full, on the other hand, takes roughly three hours. I don’t usually worry about that, since I often charge my Lumia 535 at night while I’m asleep. Good news is the battery has not yet overheated or exploded in almost two years of nightly charging.


Performance & Design

One of the Microsoft Lumia 535’s good points is how smoothly the OS performs. The Lumia 535 runs Windows Phone 8.1, and as I’ve said earlier Windows Phone is known for its responsiveness. Truly, Windows Phone runs quite smoothly, with almost no lag even with several apps open. And because the Lumia 535 runs on a quad-core 1.2 GHz processor and has 1GB of RAM, performance is all the more fluid. Windows Phone does not need top-tier specs to run smoothly, and the Lumia 535’s specs are more than enough.

One thing I particularly like about the Lumia 535’s design is the vibrantly-coloured back cover. Mine is green, and other variants come in white, brown, blue, and orange. If you’re really style-savvy, you’ll be glad to know that the back cover is removable, and you can replace it with one of another colour. Another good thing that’s removable is the battery, which means you can chuck in an extra battery to extend your phone’s day. If you can find one, that is. I haven’t found any store (at least in the Philippines) that sells spare batteries (model number: BL-4A) for the Lumia 535. Apparently, Microsoft doesn’t want to operate like Nokia, who openly sold spare batteries for every model of Nokia phone back in the old days.

Onto the optics. Both the front and back cameras of the Lumia 535 give a 5-megapixel resolution. Despite that, I would still prefer the back camera, because it takes far better photos than the front camera. The back camera also has autofocus; the front one does not. And of course, the back camera has flash if the subject needs some light. Low-light sensitivity is obviously weak with the Lumia 535, though. So when taking photos with this phone, it’s best to have a lot of light on the subject – ideally sunlight. Photos taken at daytime are good, but as the lighting gets darker, picture quality suffers significantly. Shooting in the dark, even with flash, fails to provide satisfactory pictures.

Video quality is a bit rubbish, though; it only takes a maximum resolution of 848×480. It’s a proper shame that the Lumia 535 can’t take HD video, considering that most other phones at this price point can.

One minor issue is that the top right corner of the phone – the spot near the 3G antenna – gets pretty hot when I’m using mobile data. It’s only that corner, though, that heats up; not the entire phone. And that’s a good thing, especially because the heat source is away from the battery. We know all too well what happens when you mix a lithium battery and lots of heat.


Strength & Durability

This is where it gets more disappointing. Just a little over a month into my Lumia 535, it just blacked out suddenly. It would turn on, because if I hold the power button the phone would vibrate and play the startup sound, but nothing shows on screen. Thank God for warranties; I had to bring it in for repairs. But that “repair” went on for three months before I could get the phone back. Why? Because the main board was the problem, according to the repair person. And they had to order the parts from overseas, and apparently it takes that long to ship those parts from wherever they came. That was the biggest downer for me. I have never had a phone that clocked out after just a little over a month. What a shame.

I do like how the Lumia 535’s body was designed, though. The back cover is engineered like those of old Nokia phones: When you drop it, it breaks apart into 3 pieces: the main body, the battery, and the back cover. This “disintegration” absorbs the impact of the fall, preventing damage to the screen or the other parts of the phone. Right now, the back cover of my Lumia 535 already has a crack in the bottom right corner, because I dropped it on a gravel floor. The screen didn’t break though, thanks to that nifty design feature.


Best Features

Microsoft Lumia Windows Phone

What I like the most about the Microsoft Lumia 535 is the smooth performance of Windows Phone. As I mentioned before, even with several apps open, there’s almost no lag. Even switching between apps is smooth; the phone does not freeze for a few seconds. This kind of performance is the biggest reason that I decided to go for a Windows Phone. When I bought it, I just wanted a phone that works smoothly. In this regard, the Lumia 535 does not disappoint.

Cortana is another big plus for me. Strange as it may seem, I somehow “fell in love” with Cortana upon interacting with her. You can ask her some quirky questions, and she will give you equally quirky answers. You can ask her how she feels, if she’s human, who created her, and even what she thinks of you. That’s a really nice thing for me, especially if I’m bored, alone at home, and have no one else to talk to. It does get predictable after a while though. Apparently all of Cortana’s replies are pre-programmed, and there’s very little variation to them. Still, it’s a good addition to a personal assistant AI. Cortana just feels more relatable that way.

As with any personal assistant, you can tell Cortana to set reminders, alarms, tell you the weather, and give you a rundown of your activities for the day, among other things. You can even ask her how to get back home if you get lost somewhere. I tried that when I was biking around in Blacktown (a town near Sydney). I had gotten lost, so I asked Cortana how to get back to the house I was staying in. As expected, I was given directions on how to get back to the house based on my current location.

Another great feature is Live Tiles. You can pin apps to the home screen, and they can update you in real time as to what’s going on. The weather app, for example, can give you the current temperature at your location. The news app can give you the day’s top headline right in your home screen; no need to open the app. And the photos app can show you a slideshow of your favourite photos as well. The tiles can even be resized to small, medium, or large tiles. The large tiles are quite helpful for messaging apps, because it can show you the latest message you received. So then, you’re always aware of most things going on with your phone. What’s better is that no matter how many live tiles you have on the home screen, the phone does not lag at all.

The keyboard is also great in that it has gesture typing built in. Those who have used SwiftKey for Android would know what I’m talking about. Just slide your finger across the screen, and the keyboard will “type” the words for you. Quite convenient because it allows me to type faster on a phone.

I also liked the Lumia Camera app. It’s not a proper basic app like the iOS counterpart; Lumia Camera gives you more control over the nitty gritty features of the camera. An advanced shooting mode allows you to control focus, exposure, ISO, and shutter speed. I like having these features for some photos I take to bring a bit more creative touch to them.

Worst Features

By far the most annoying feature of the Microsoft Lumia 535 is the touchscreen. Sometimes, especially when my fingers are slightly wet, I would get phantom touches in random areas on screen. That is proper annoying especially when I’m typing a text (which is about 95% of what I do on the phone). Every time that happens, I have to hit the power button, wipe the screen, then unlock the phone again and get back to typing. Proper annoying. Even with two software updates already, it’s still not fixed. I still continue to get those random phantom touches sometimes. Even with a screen protector on, the ghost touches are still there. Looks like the digitiser (aka the touchscreen hardware) itself is problematic.

It’s also a shame that the image quality the camera brings is not that good. If the camera hardware were better, the advanced shooting features I mentioned earlier would have been of use to me more often. Video is also not good, because it only shoots at a maximum of 480p. Would have been a lot nicer if it could take at least HD video.

GPS tracking is also quite buggy with the Lumia 535. Most of the time it could not accurately pinpoint my location, despite being outside with clear skies and having the GPS radio on all the time. Such a disappointment, especially when using a bike tracking app and maps.

Speaking of maps, Windows Phone has its own version of a maps app. But it’s inaccurate, and isn’t updated with the correct street names, buildings, and other ground features. Google Maps is nowhere to be found on the Windows app store, so I’m stuck with Microsoft’s rubbish maps app.

Speaking of the Windows app store, the selection of apps here is sorely lacking. It doesn’t even have half as many apps as Android or iOS. What’s worse is that Windows Phone apps rarely get updates, and only a few devs are working on coding apps for WP. Another big downer for me is that Google apps have no more support for Windows Phone. Apparently Google doesn’t like Microsoft, and so they’ve pulled out of the Windows app marketplace altogether. What a shame. More so, the apps I use for work are nowhere near Windows Phone, so I may have to switch back to Android soon.

By the way, Windows 10 is already here. According to the Microsoft site all Windows Phones can get a free upgrade to Windows 10. However, upon checking mine, no software update is available. Looks like Microsoft has pulled support for the Lumia 535 in favour of the newer Lumias, then. What a proper shame again.


Overall Review

Windows Phone smartphone

At first, I loved my Lumia 535 for the smoothness of Windows Phone, Cortana’s quirkiness, advanced shooting modes for the camera app, and the good design features of the phone. It was a great step ahead of my old Android phone, which was of an unknown brand. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that. But hey, thanks to it, I decided to get a Windows Phone. I like discovering new technology, so I went for it.

I didn’t buy the Lumia 535 at a moment’s notice though. I’m the type of buyer who always checks the reviews before making a decision. Actually, it was not my first choice; I was considering the older Nokia models, like the Lumia 520 that my friend had. I was not quite satisfied with the specs of older Nokia Lumias, though, so I kept looking for a better model of Windows Phone. After much hunting around, I chanced upon the Lumia 535, which apparently is the first phone to be released with the Microsoft branding. It looked like a good idea to me, and the specs were much better: quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM, 540×960 resolution, and 5 MP front and rear cameras. These were steps ahead of the Lumia 520, which only had a dual-core CPU, 512MB RAM, 480×800 resolution, and no front camera. And the Lumia 535 is only slightly more expensive than the 520, so I went for it.

But when I realised the horrors of phantom touches, I started regretting it. More so when my Lumia 535 clocked just over a month after I bought it. I had to wait three whole months to get it back, and because of that I had to buy a cheaper phone for the time being. The lack of good apps and limited developer support for the app environment is the last straw. And since Microsoft doesn’t want to give me Windows 10 for my Lumia 535, it’s over. I have realised that I’m missing out on a lot of general usefulness and innovation with Windows Phone. Especially with a phone that has a problematic touchscreen – and that’s the main input system of any smartphone. What a proper disappointment.

I still use my Lumia 535, though. But I don’t enjoy it as much as I did before, now that I know of its many shortfalls. It just wouldn’t cut it for me, especially in this age when technology develops almost at the speed of light.

I’d give this phone a 5/10, because it’s just as good as a basic phone now. I will be switching back to an Android phone soon, and I would make sure that it’s no longer one of those obscure brands that no one else knows about.

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