Friday, August 1, 2014

This is the Lumia 630 | Review

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Three years ago Stephen Elop, former Microsoft Executive and current Nokia CEO (in 2011) inked a deal between Microsoft and Nokia to focus on creating Windows Phone devices. Since then a lot of things changed and Nokia effectively became the savior for windows phone with a near total grasp in the windows phone market share, its like they are the operating system. Late last year Microsoft finally announced that they will be purchasing Nokia’s mobile division for $7 billion, the deal wasn’t much a surprise given the relationship between the two in the past years.

Just before closing the deal, Stephen Elop took the stage at BUILD 2014 to unveil the first Windows Phone 8.1 device(s), the Lumia 930 and Lumia 630. These two devices are probably the very first look at how Microsoft plans to overhaul Nokia’s smartphones. In this review i’ll be specifically talking about the Lumia 630 and more specific, the dual SIM variant. As i said during my article about the Lumia 630 a few weeks back, the Lumia 630 really is full of firsts for a Windows Phone device. For this review’ i’ll first divulge more about that as we progress into this review.

The Box

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First off i would like to start off with the box, it’s not everyday that the box is being talked about during a review. Unlike previous Lumia phones which Nokia made, the Lumia 630 comes in a ‘white themed’ box which is flat and presumably uses less resources to create (it’s also 100% recyclable). Similar to the blue rectangular box which came with previous Lumia devices, this box is as minimalist as the latter with a big image of the device up front and other details are slotted onto the sides and back of the box. The space inside the box has also been managed pretty well and it’s packed to the brim. Inside the box, there is the device itself, a battery, a microUSB wall adapter and the quick start guide.

Hardware

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Alright enough of the ‘box talk’, upfront the Lumia 630 has that solid design we’ve come to expect from Nokia devices. The device is wrapped around a brightly colored polycarbonate shell which has a soft touch feel and a matte texture. In my experience dirt will be attracted to my bright yellow Lumia 630, but a simple wipe with a cloth ought to clean it. On to the right side of the device there are two buttons, the volume rocker and the power button; The buttons have a mushy feel and has a glossy plastic look to accompany the matte sides. On a side note, this is indeed the first Windows Phone device to come without a dedicated camera shutter button.

Under the hood, there is a quad core snapdragon 400 processor accompanied with 512MB of RAM. 8GB of storage is included and is expandable via a microSD card slot which accepts cards up to 128GB. The version which i based this review on was the dual SIM variant but in this period i did not try putting in two SIM cards, but the second SIM card slot is placed facing outwards for easy hot swapping (yes windows phone supports hot swapping SIM cards).

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The relatively low resolution on the display wasn’t up to my standards but what i did like about it is the size (4.5”), coming from a Galaxy Note, using a smaller display really has its advantages. The color reproduction on this panel is quite poor and the viewing angles are passable but i did notice as you tilt the display you can see the light start bleeding out of the sides. Another thing which i was seriously bugged about is that there is no proximity sensor and if you don’t know what a proximity sensor is used for, it is that sensor which turns off your display when you take a call so you don’t accidentally press any buttons. Other than that, the proximity sensor is also used for the auto brightness and without it the Lumia 630 does not have auto brightness, but luckily you can pin the brightness profiles to the Action Center.

Despite, that i did like something about this display and that is the brightness of it. I’m not talking about the maximum brightness but the minimum brightness, i was really impressed when it could tone down to such a level that using it in the dark was a joy. Opposing that, the the medium brightness of the display is too dim even for indoor usage so i’ll always end up using the device in maximum brightness. Additionally this display has Nokia’s clear black tech integrated and covering the front of the display is Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. Another stand out feature of this device is the implementation of software keys, the lack of capacitive keys makes the Lumia 630 the first windows phone handset to utilize software buttons.

Camera

Likewise, the camera on the Lumia 630 wasn’t to my taste but i have to say the pictures which came out was above my expectations. In perfect conditions, the 5MP camera will reproduce a very nice shot and colors are quite accurate. But once you step indoors or a place with insufficient lighting the pictures get worse, noise starts filling the picture and the white balance always goes off giving the image a yellowish tint. The low light performance really impressed me, despite the added noise in the image i can map out the details of the photo.

Another thing which i wasn’t quite fond off on this device is that there is no flash on the back of the device. I don’t usually use the flash for photos but i do use it as a flashlight. In fact when i first started off using the device i actually toggled the flash icon in the nokia camera app and i was like thinking why is this button greyed out, after some thinking i noticed there was no flash on the back (how silly of me).

Videos in the other hand are quite good, zoom and continuous focus can be done while taking videos. Another thing which bugged me is that the Lumia 630 does not have a front facing camera, i’m not the kind of person which takes selfies but sometimes i do use the front facing camera as a mirror. Overall the camera experience on this device is not the best but given the price point this device is at, all can be justified. Anyways, the images by the Lumia 630 are instagram worthy so nothing to worry here. Below here is the collage of unedited camera samples from the Lumia 630.

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Software

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As you may or may not know, the Lumia 630 runs Windows Phone 8.1 out of the box and also included is the new Lumia Cyan software release which enables features like the Motion Data collection and Bluetooth 4.0LE support. Let’s start off with the on screen buttons, being the very first windows phone device to utilize it there seems to be some minor issues. One of them is the inconsistencies in the placement of the on screen keys, when using an app in landscape especially games the buttons do not auto hide making accidental presses a common thing.

However when playing videos on the web browser the buttons do hide in landscape mode. Again these problems will most likely be solved when developers start to configure their application to suit the needs of the on screen buttons. Additionally, during the first few days i was using the Lumia 630 i noticed that apps were like crashing commonly, but little did i know that all of that was just me accidentally clicking the back button. This experience with on screen buttons still won’t change my mind about software keys, i still don’t like it period.

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Action Center is yet another new feature in Windows Phone 8.1, it’s a lot like the notification panel on android and iOS. The interface is simple to use and is really all about the notifications and the quick settings toggles. There is also a pretty neat feature in Action Center where if you pull the notification panel 1/4 the way down it’ll stick there, i’m not sure what this is supposed to be but yeah quite a neat thing. Like all good things i have something not positive to say about Action Center, similar to the on screen keys, the problem here lies when in landscape mode. Normally in an android phone toggling the notification panel in landscape mode means pulling it down from the top, but in windows phone you’ll need to swipe from the left hand side to toggle the Action Center. Again this is my personal preference, nothing is wrong just have to take some time to get used to it. I’ll talk about the other problems with Action Center in my Windows Phone 8.1 review.
“it’s there but not perfect”
Next is the new WordFlow keyboard which at the time of unveiling at Build 2014 was the record holder for the world’s fastest typing on a smartphone (the title now resides with the Fleksy keyboard). Despite losing the title by a mere milliseconds, the windows phone 8.1 WordFlow keyboard is still top notch and at the core is shape writing (just a fancy word for swype). I’ve always like the keyboard on windows phone and this is the first time i’m using it for a long period of time.

From this experience i can conclude that the windows phone keyboard is really well thought, the keys are spaced out perfectly and typing on it is a joy. Autocorrect is as good a in swiftkey but one thing which i would like to see is a little bit more customization like maybe changing the color of the keyboard. The shape writing in the other hand wasn’t to my liking, yes it does work like swype but the predictions which come out sometimes end up really wrong and at the end of the day i would rather just type out the individual words.

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Finally, i’ve saved the best for last. Cortana is the new voice assistant in the block and it takes cues from both siri and Google Now with a personal touch. She is represented by a circular 2D orb which follows your theme color. Powered by Bing, Cortana can respond to you questions and unlike other competing virtual assistants, she can actually continue on from the previous request. For example, if you ask for the nearest fast food joint, Cortana will list up a few, from there you can just ask her to navigate you to the second one in the list. Additionally, Microsoft has made her as personal as windows phone, she can do reminders and the best thing is that she has a notebook where you can list down what you want her to provide you with. The voice recognition on Cortana is just stellar and to top things up you can also type out the query and she’ll reply you in text. In my experience all of this is quite useful in day to day usage, but the thing which i’m most impressed is not the offline support nor the hidden easter eggs, it’s the implementation with other applications.

For example there is this app which changes the lockscreen wallpaper in a given interval, with Cortana integrated, i can just tell Cortana “Photostream change my wallpaper” and my wallpaper will then change. I know this might sound like a minor feature but think about the possibilities if it gets integrated into more higher profile apps, the possibilities are endless. Currently there aren’t much apps which integrate cortana but i’m sure when Microsoft brings Cortana to the desktop and XBOX, developers will surely be attracted.

That is all for the software part, Be sure to check out my Windows Phone 8.1 review as i’ll talk in more in depth about features like Cortana and the new sensor core SDK apps.

Performance

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Powered by a 1.2GHz quad core snapdragon 400 processor and accompanied by 512MB of memory, the Lumia 630 has mediocre specs in today’s world filled with android phones powered by snapdragon 800’s. Despite the midrange hardware, the performance of the Lumia 630 was superb, it is windows phone for a reason you know. The past few weeks i’ve been heavily testing the device and unlike android this phone really doesn’t lag at all the only downfall is the extra second or two while loading certain applications. But overall everything is buttery smooth even with 50+ apps installed.

In the same context, this phone does have a microSD card slot and with windows phone 8.1 apps can be installed onto the external storage and because the Lumia 630 has only 8GB of internal storage (< 5GB for apps), i inserted a 16GB class 10 card. Throughout my review period i didn’t notice any performance slowdowns by opting to install my apps on the microSD card opposed to have it onboard the internal storage. Overall the battery life on this device is quite good, i managed to squeeze out nearly two days of moderate usage. However i did notice that if i were to play games the battery would drain like a sponge and yeah the device will also get pretty warm especially on the sides.

Conclusion

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Nokia is the undisputed ruler of Windows Phone and with Microsoft being the owner of Nokia’s mobile division, they basically own the entire market leaving only a little space for other WP OEMs. With the Lumia 630 Microsoft is trying to build up the success of the Lumia 520 which is the most popular Windows Phone device ever! From what i see they are trying a bit too hard and have left out quite a lot of important elements. From a windows phone comparison, yes the Lumia 630 is a great deal for the money but once you compare it to the competing android based counterparts the Lumia 630 looks like a joke. I could understand why it doesn’t have a dedicated camera button and a front facing camera but taking away the proximity sensor is like cutting costs to the next level.

The display is another thing, looking at the Moto E which is certainly cheaper than what the Lumia 630 is going for have a more higher res and pixel dense panel makes me feel like i’ve been cheated of my money. But the bottom line, despite all the bad comments on the shortcoming of the hardware the Lumia 630 is a spectacular device and it’s a contender to those budget android smartphones. If you want to give Windows Phone a try, go with the Lumia 630. This my first jump onto the Windows Phone ecosystem, so yeah this sets the bar for my future windows phone reviews.

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(+) The Good: (-) The Bad:
  • great battery life
  • performance is consistent system wide
  • ability to install apps directly on the microSD
  • on screen buttons are not optimized…yet
  • display quality is below average
  • no proximity sensor