Remember that time everyone came together in one place to agree that now mobile phones are “smart” and capable of entertainment, they would from then onwards be all about how many crazy bells and whistles you could squeeze into a bodyshell? No? Us neither, but it seems Nokia and Microsoft also didn’t get the memo. That’s turned out rather well though, as phones such as the Lumia 630 continue to come along and remind us that simple and straightforward devices with well-implemented features definitely have their charm.
There have been quite a few developments in the Windows Phone space during 2014. The release of Windows Phone 8.1, for one, and of course the release of the Lumia 930, which is positioned to do battle with handsets like Apple’s iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.
In 2015 Microsoft will release Windows 10 to consumers –– yep, it’s skipping 9 –– and this will introduce some BIG changes for Windows Phone. But one of the most significant is that developers will be able to create Universal Apps that will work on phones, tablets, PCs and consoles (basically, anything Windows-powered). ALL existing hardware will be eligible for an upgrade too, meaning no one gets left behind.
The Lumia 630 falls into the “affordable” smartphone category with a fairly merciful price point of around £95-£130 depending on where you pick one up, but despite its humble status in the market it’s quite a significant model, as it’s the first to arrive carrying Microsoft’s latest Windows Phone 8.1 software build.
Nokia Lumia 630 Review: Design
On the outside the Lumia 630 is typical Nokia fare, which means it’s distinctively atypical in comparison to the rest of the smartphone market. True to form, Nokia offers the feature of an interchangeable back cover design available in a range of colours. I like a bit of colour as much as the next man, and the hue of our review unit is certainly eye-catching, just that it’s more along the lines of snagged -through-the-peepers-by-an-errant- fishhook than “ooh isn’t it pretty”. This particular shade of luminescent green is about as easy on the eyes as Superman’s kryptonite contact lenses. Fortunately you can also grab it in black, white, yellow, and orange, and you can swap between the panels as you like.
The overall design is a fairly standard and somewhat mundane rectangle with generic rounded corners, although the wide edges that taper towards the back look nice and offer decent grip. The best thing here though is the build quality and feel of the materials – Nokia’s gone for an appealingly robust polycarbonate with a matte finish. It’s pleasant to handle and stands up well to the odd knock. Nokia’s done its usual trick of sticking the power and volume keys on the right-hand side of the phone in a uniform fashion, and unlike a lot of other phones in this price category they’ve got a really solid feel and a nice level of feedback – no wobbliness here.
Nokia Lumia 630 Review: Display
The touchscreen is a wee bit on the pokey side at 4.5-inches but visual quality is fairly decent thanks to Nokia’s ClearBlack technology layered over an IPS LCD with an 854×480 pixel resolution. There are definitely sharper displays around and there’s a little bit of pixilation, but on the whole it’s really not bad at all with some fairly rich colours and decent viewing angles. The pokiness is also somewhat alleviated by the blocky Windows interface being easy to see and operate, and if you’re really having trouble you can always go into the settings and make the text massive.
Nokia Lumia 630 Review: Hardware & Performance
You get 8GB of space built into the Lumia 630, which isn’t much, but considering most devices on the £90-£120-odd borderline will give you around 4GB it’s really quite good. Top that off with microSD support up to a massive 128GB and you’ve got a fairly neat setup for a few good apps and stacks of multimedia.
It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and 3G, but none of that 4G stuff, not that this is necessarily a big deal in a budget handset.
The Lumia 630 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 quad-core chip, which is pretty standard in lower-cost phones in the Android space at the moment. It does just as good a job over here in Microsoft’s corner, but that’s to be expected considering how streamlined and optimised the Windows software is, and the experience is smooth and uniform across the board. As we’ve seen on Android phones packing this chip, the handset can cope reasonably well with even fairly flashy games and intensive apps.
Nokia Lumia 630 Review: Software
The Lumia 630 is a decent enough vehicle for Windows Phone 8.1, and a highly affordable one delivered with a rewarding level of polish to boot, but how does the new software itself fare? Blimey, this is fraught with fever trees. Historically I’ve been rather critical of Windows Phone but I find myself quite enjoying this latest edition despite it still being riddled with more holes than Sonny Corleone’s suit.
You see, the problem is a lot of the added functionality which improves the experience so much is quite basic stuff which, it can easily be argued, should’ve been included from the start – I do think that argument falls flat on its arse though, because it’s daft to criticise a product for attempting to cater to your whims and demands in the same way it is to shoot someone who just baked you a misshapen yet rather tasty cake.
There are welcome changes. Things like the drop-down notifications screen complete with Quick Settings, the re-introduction of screen rotation at the OS (rather than app) level, and some added functionality to the multitasking screen. Credit where it’s due these are worthwhile additions and better late than never, but a lot of them don’t really seem to go far enough – to me that is a valid criticism. The Quick Settings panel, for example, only has four controls: a Wi-Fi shortcut/toggle, the same for Bluetooth, a brightness toggle (with low, medium, and high settings), and a shortcut to the camera app. There’s also a shortcut to the full settings menu, these controls can be swapped out with other things, but it’s a frustratingly limited set of options. Similarly, while most rival OSes are now offering the ability to interact with notifications directly in their equivalent screens, Windows Phone 8.1 still merely lets you tap on one to go all the way into the relevant app.
Windows Phone’s expanded customisation options are a welcome addition and really improve the overall look and feel of the platform, but once again, they fall a bit short in some areas. You can now set a picture as a custom background to your Start (Home) screen, which shows through the now-transparent Live Tiles and looks really cool. But, certain app Tiles still ignore this and appear with their own block colour, which is fine, but there’s no way to override it and have the photo show through everything. You still can’t add individual settings toggles to the Start screen as Live Tiles natively, there are apps available which can do this but the implementation isn’t great and it’s such an obviously good idea it’s ridiculous Microsoft hasn’t done it itself.
And on it goes – every positive seems to be offset by a negative – the alphabetical sorting of the app drawer is rather useful, but the Settings screen is still one of the messiest in the mobile space. It’s an absolute quagmire; a seemingly endlessly scrolling list of fiddly sections and sub-categories to the extent that it takes forever to find whatever you need to tweak.
The flipside of all this is that in spite of all these grips and grumbles I still enjoy the platform more than previous builds. It feels more accessible, more like a proper mobile OS, even though it could still stand to become even better.
Windows Phone 8.1’s app ecosystem has improved tremendously and the majority of major mobile apps and services are present and correct, from Netflix to WhatsApp and many more besides. Google’s App suite is still starkly absent for the most part, particularly the bits that count, Microsoft’s own Youtube app simply doesn’t cut it, for example.
Some of the built-in app suites are excellent, like the Nokia Music radio streaming service. Nokia’s mapping services are better than most, although still prone to the occasional hiccup. Other stuff is not quite where it needs to be, however, the People Hub is still a great idea but poorly executed and I find myself avoiding it in favour of separate apps for Facebook, Twitter, Email, Messaging and Contacts – it should be bringing all these components together smoothly and seamlessly but the result is just clunky.
Nokia Lumia 630 Review: Battery
Battery life is fair for a phone of this calibre; it’s got a 1830mAh cell. Our video test running The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from 100% charge, with full brightness and Wi-Fi switched on, left the handset with 44% at the end of the 2 hour 49 minute runtime, so expect to get around five hours of continuous video playback on one charge.
Nokia Lumia 630 Review: Conclusion
As you may have noticed from my previous comments, I like the Lumia 630 and Windows Phone 8.1. There are stumbling blocks here and there, but ultimately you get a very cohesive and comprehensive smartphone experience which is definitely moving in the right direction, and all for £130 or less.