Nokia Lumia 735 Review

Nokia Lumia 735 Review

It's easy being green

For the past several weeks, I've been using an international version of the Nokia Lumia 735 as my day-to-day smart phone. There are probably innumerable reasons why I should find this a lackluster experience, but the shocking truth is that I love the thing. I cannot believe how much I enjoy using this phone.

As you may know from my article A Second Look at the Lumia 735 and 830, which was itself a follow-up to my Nokia Lumia 735 First Impressions and Nokia Lumia 830 First Impressions articles, the Lumia 735 has been truly surprising. When I first saw these devices back in August, my initial reaction to the 735 was that it was shockingly, almost magically, light, but what I was really interested in at the time was the Lumia 830, which Microsoft was billing as "the affordable flagship."

We now know that the Lumia 830 is not really all that affordable, and since we're going down that road, I'll point out that it's no flagship either. But the Lumia 735, with very similar specifications to the 830, has delighted me in ways I never anticipated. Indeed, this handset has caused me to throw out some of my well-oiled assumptions about smart phones.

I may struggle to explain why. But here goes.

First, the Lumia 735 is a delightful combination of light weight and "right-sized." It feels great in the hand.

The 4.7-inch screen is below my self-proclaimed 5-inch "sweet spot," but like the similarly-sized screen on the iPhone 6, it's close enough. The Lumia 735 screen is "only" 1280 x 720, but if you know Windows Phone, you know that this platform does a wonderful job of scaling on-screen items and I don't find the quality of text or graphics to be anything less than fantastic. That it's a ClearBlack OLED screen really helps, too: The 735's screen is demonstrably superior to the flatter and less vibrant (but bigger) 830 screen. It really is night and day.

Lumia 735 (left) and Lumia 830 (right)

The performance is ... leisurely. OK, it's middling. The Lumia 735 sports a low-end 1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400, though as I've said in the past this is less of a problem with Windows Phone in general. Games run fine, and with 1 GB of RAM, you should see no restrictions there. But game launch times are tough, as are many app launch times.

But where the performance is most galling is with the camera. There's no camera button, which stinks, and when you finally do find the Camera tile, the app is slow to launch. Pictures are slow to take. And navigating to the camera roll is likewise slow. Everything with the camera is, alas, slow.

That said, the 6.7 megapixel camera, with ZEISS optics and LED flash, may look like nothing special on paper, but the quality of its pictures has surprised me. In fact, I've found them to be generally superior to those taken with the 10 MP Lumia 830, in part because they aren't washed-out like the 830 photos are. (You also gain access to the wide range of Lumia apps, another plus.)

Microsoft markets the Lumia 735 as a selfie phone (and, belatedly, as a Skype phone) due to its impressive-on-paper full HD 5 MP front-facing camera, which offers a wide 24mm focal length. The theory here is that because this camera can capture more around you, you can use it to take selfies to your heart's content. But in my admittedly limited selfie testing—in which I always enlisted the help of friends and family since taking a picture of yourself in public is lame—produced no particularly impressive shots. The rear camera is a happy surprise, but the front camera is not.

The Lumia 735 offers only a paltry 8 GB of onboard storage, which is bad. But it is thankfully expandable with microSD to another 128 GB, which is good. I've added a 64 GB card and moved everything I can over to microSD using the Storage Sense settings app.

One of the things I really like about the Lumia 735—though I've not yet taken advantage of this—is that the handset's shell—i.e. the entire non-screen body of the device—and replace it with a differently colored shell. My review unit comes in the green color I prefer, so I've not replaced it. But there are orange, white and black versions to match your mood, and they all include Qi wireless charging capabilities too. (As does the one that comes with your phone.)

This ability to personalize the Lumia 735 is better implemented than the similar feature on the Lumia 830 because on that latter device, the removable color shell is only on the back, and if the device is laying normally on a table, you'd never see the color shell anyway. With the Lumia 735, the color shell extends to the sides and even the front of the device a bit, so you always see the color. I really like that, and I think a lot of other people will too.

Green Lumia 735, left, and ... some color Lumia 830 on the right. It's hard to say what color

The Lumia 735 doesn't feature the cool Glance feature that graces some other Lumias, including the Lumia 830. But it does support double-tap to wake, which is arguably even more useful. (So does the 830, of course.)

The review unit I've been using is an international version of the device, so I'm not able to get LTE speeds on AT&T: HSPA+ (a sort of pseudo 4G) is the best it will do. I won't hold that against it, of course, but then the 735 isn't coming to AT&T anyway, so if you are on that network, you need to know this and, perhaps, start milling around Expansys if network speed isn't an issue. (And to be clear, this has never posed an issue for me at all.)

If you do go shopping at Expansys, you'll find that an unlocked Lumia 735 costs $299 there. It's not clear how much this phone will cost in the US—Verizon will begin selling it in early 2015—but you can expect it to be less than that. But if you go back and re-read last month's Understanding Nokia's 2014 Lumia Lineup: Pricing, you'll see that I guestimated $299.99 as the no-contract price for this device. Unlike my 830 prediction, that one seems to have panned out. But yes, I would pay $300 for an unlocked 735.

Ultimately, I'm hard-pressed to explain why I'm so willing to live with some of the compromises presented by this phone, but I am. There's just something special about the form factor and the quality of the screen, and while the performance is middling, the camera—which is very important to me—has been a pleasant surprise.

I don't know, maybe special just happens sometimes. The Lumia 735 perfectly balances the affordable with the capable, and does so in a package that is both endearing and enduring. Digital devices like this one are rare, and should be celebrated. The Lumia 735 is highly recommended.

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