How low can you go? Microsoft answers the question with a new phone that hit the $129 mark, bringing two SIM slots and just enough mobile for people who need something smart and simple.
If you don’t think you need the best phone, but you do need something, the phone manufacturer formerly known as Nokia and now known as Microsoft might have something up its sleeve, provided you can handle Windows Phone 8.1.
The phone is small, offering up a 4 inch display running the old school resolution of 800×480, which offers roughly 233 pixels per inch, 100 below that of the Apple iPhone 6’s Retina display, with support for touch.
Under this display, you’ll find a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.2GHz processor, paired with 1GB RAM and 8GB storage, the latter of these upgradeable thanks to a microSD slot found inside the phone. Microsoft makes the phone, and so includes its Windows Phone 8.1 operating system on this handset.
Connections for the handset include 802.11b/g/n Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and 3G mobile connectivity, with microUSB 2.0 making the case for wired connectivity on the charge and data transfer side of things.
A 3.5mm headset jack is included, too.
Two microSIM slots are included here, too, making it possible to use two separate phone and data connections if need be, though both will be at most 3G only.
Cameras are found here, too, with a 2 megapixel rear camera with no flash, and a VGA camera up front, making sure there is something if you want to do some video chat or take a selfie.
Few buttons are found on the handset, with physical buttons taken care of via a volume rocker and power button on the right edge, with the three typical soft buttons for Windows below the 4 inch screen, catering to back, home, and search.
The casing for the Lumia 435 is removable, revealing a 1560mAh battery that is also removable.
There are generally three sections of the mobile phone market when it comes to buying one: flagship with its $700 to $1200 options, mid range running from $300 to $699, and then everything else below it being entry level.
Entry level, though, also has its own little divisions. There’s budget bargain bin entry level, offering phones from $49 and higher, and there are prepaid all-rounders that subsidise the cost of the phone by forcing you to go with a telco.
And then there are entry level devices in the $99 to $149 range that don’t, and are open, available for you to insert your SIM — any telco’s SIM — and go for your life, and it’s in that group that we find Microsoft’s Lumia 435 Dual SIM, one of the first phones from Microsoft since the company took over from Nokia in making mobile handsets.
You might look at the handset and go “that’s a Nokia, so why does it say ‘Microsoft’ up top”, and that’s the reason why: Microsoft now makes the Nokia Lumia phones, no longer Nokia, so that’s what’s going on, and that’s what starts the 435 off.
But there’s more to the Lumia 435 than just the Microsoft branding up top.
In the hands, despite the Lumia 435 obviously being made for cheap, it still feels relatively well made, with a fairly thick removable casing that looks like it could be replaced with a different colour if Microsoft decides to release them in stores.
The plastic casing isn’t the sort of quality you can expect out of the older Lumia handsets made by Nokia, and it’s clear this is a less expensive model. That being said, it’s a comfortable albeit edgy design, and when we say edgy, we’re particularly focused on the edges which are pronounced along the sides before leaning into a soft slightly curved back.
We found it comfortable, though the corners can be a bit slippery, and we nearly dropped the phone twice.
Buttons are also here, too, with two physical sets on the side for power and volume, while the main soft buttons along the front are your typical Windows fare for back, home, and search, the latter of which now goes to Microsoft’s Cortana assistant.
But one thing we do need to note is that lack of lights under the buttons, so if you’re using the phone in the dark, you’ll want to remember what does what, because the front buttons do not light up like on other smartphones.
Powering the phone on or returning it from standby is easy, that said, with a simple push on the button on the right edge, and with that the screen will come to life.
As you can well expect, the offering here is a pretty low-end display, with the several year old 800×480 resolution used on an older display with weak viewing angles.
We’re serious when we say the angles aren’t particularly good here, because the colours wash out at any vertical angle and yet hold their own on the horizontal.
The display also leaves a lot to be desired in the whole brightness department, with images that won’t exactly jump off the screen, and just enough colour to see that yes, this is a smartphone that you can look at, browse the web with, listen to music on, and play the odd app or game.
That being said, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 is a fairly colour reduced operating system, with an emphasis more on strong colour grids atop black or white, and while the display isn’t great, it’s used well here thanks to that operating system design. On an Android phone, we’d be sceptical, but here on Windows Phone 8, it works.
It’s not great, but it works.
Performance isn’t bad, though, and provided you can deal with the screen, you’ll have a fairly efficient Windows experience, with few slowdowns when you’re scrolling or customising your app menu, loading apps, and jumping from app to app when you hold down on the back button and kick into multi-tasking.
There is a spot of lag here and there, but nothing that’ll raise alarm bells, especially since this is now Microsoft’s lowest priced phone.
Over to connections, and Microsoft’s 435 is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to budget phones.
On the one hand, we’re seeing more and more $99 to $149 4G phones than ever lately, and in that area, the Lumia 435 is a bit of a downer, only including 3G, with nothing super-fast to write home about.
Oh sure, you could write home, but we’d stick to emails, because a video chat will be pretty low resolution with the 3 to 5Mbps download speeds and 1 to 3Mbps upload speeds our speed tests achieved.
That’s not great for a 3G phone, and we certainly expect closer to 8 to 15 from such old technology, so we’re a little confused why this is the case.
One reason, though, might have to do with the positive feature of the 435, and that’s two SIM slots.
Yes, the dual SIM technology has finally landed on Windows Phone, allowing you to make phone calls and text people from two different SIM cards, or from two different numbers and plans.
That means if you have both a work and a business phone, you could technically throw both SIMs into the one Lumia 435 and go for your life, killing two birds with the one stone. Alternatively, if you go overseas, you could leave your regular SIM in and take phone calls on it, switching to another SIM for data.
Really, the possibilities are endless, and Microsoft even makes the jump between the two SIMs really easy, with a lighter shade of your Lumia colour theme providing the box for you to jump into SIM 2 for phone calls and SMS, as well as a switch inside the SMS and phone dial-pad to let you jump from SIM 1 to SIM 2.
And we’re actually impressed with Microsoft’s SIM card slots for another reason: the SIM slots actually feel well designed, with little doors that allow you to close the SIM in place.
Interestingly, while the phone has been designed for a microSIM, this door locking SIM slot means you can also use a nanoSIM, which is especially handy if you have one of those instead.
At least the battery life fares well for a budget entry, nabbing us a full 24 hours, with that second day possible too provided you take it light on the work you exert.
That was with one SIM, and our estimation is the full day will also occur with two SIMs, which isn’t bad for a hundred dollar phone, so you’ll probably want to charge this nightly, as most people do.
So good points and bad points are here for the Lumia 435, but there’s also one thing that is seriously wrong with the phone, and does it no favours.
While this is obviously a budget phone, Microsoft manages to make the Lumia 435 feel like a bit of a dunce at the camera level, and that’s frustrating because while Nokia made some pretty bold strides with its Lumia range, the Lumia 435 that Microsoft has made feels like a slap in the face for all that PureView research.
It’s almost as if Microsoft put a call out in the Kingdom of Lumia to say “bring me the worst possible camera you can find, and we shall put it in the Lumia 435.”
The good people of Lumia responded in kind with a 2 megapixel shooter that shouldn’t even be used on something called a “smartphone”, simply because there is no auto-focus and no flash, and is the sort of camera you’d expect on a budget dumb phone, not a budget smartphone.
It’s the sort of camera you’d be better off not using simply because it is completely inflexible, totally unremarkable, and generally terrible, providing the sort of images that you probably wouldn’t want to post online simply because the images aren’t amazing to look at, and any compact camera you own — even one from a decade ago — will do a better job than this.
The front camera manages to make things even worse, bringing a 640×480 camera to the mix, which is barely usable for a selfie, and will probably at most make you look okay on the tiny screen of the Lumia 435, but a big lot of soft pixels on another display… any display.
The thing is, it’s a real shame that the camera is so weak on this camera, especially given that some Android phones manage to tackle similar prices and yet offer at least 5 megapixel shooters on the back, and at least 1 megapixel up front, and given that Microsoft has left Nokia’s excellent camera software that lets you change ISO and shutter speed like an advanced camera, you’re left feeling like this is wasted, since the Lumia 435’s camera is so weak, there’s no reason to attempt it in the first place.
There’s also no camera button, something we’re not shocked by, though it would have been nice given most of the other Lumia models have featured this in the past.
Given how terrible the camera is, we can’t say we’re surprised by this exclusion, though again, it’s a little annoying to see a previous Lumia staple missed out on.
Microsoft’s take on the budget smartphone certainly has its positives, but its negative is pretty severe too, with low 3G speeds and a piddly little camera that just feels so out of place in a modern device, even one with this sort of price point.
Strangely, these two issues make it a bit of an odd creature in the smartphone world, because while it’s an acceptable entry level smartphone for someone who doesn’t need much, or someone who wants something easy — say a child or a senior — you also want something a little better quality for the camera, because those two categories would expect something at least half usable, which unfortunately the camera is not.
And that’s where the price stops us, because really, this should be under the $100 price, not $29 over it.
Simply put, if the Lumia 435 was closer to the $79 mark (or even lower), it would make more sense, offering enough of what budget phone buyers are looking for, without realising their pennies are getting pinched. Over the $100 mark and it’s harder to see the value, though street price is obviously different from what Microsoft recommends, so if you can find it lower, even at $99, it might make an excellent beginner’s smartphone.