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I was really curious to try a mid-range Lumia as I own the current flagship Lumia 930 and thought it'd be interesting to see what, if anything, had been compromised between the two experiences. As it turns out, it's hard to find a practical difference between the two in everyday use. The most obvious difference is the build. The 930 has that lovely, rigid metallic band joining the glass screen to the polycarbonate back. On the 735, the whole phone is made of that matt polycarbonate in the style of the older 800 or 920 models. This is no bad thing, and means there are no joins around the handset. It's one piece of smooth, high quality plastic and the screen's curved edges melt into it, which makes swiping around the Windows Phone 8.1 (with Denim) interface feel awesome and really natural.
I was sent the green version, but it's also available in orange, white and regular black for the more conservative amongst us. Many employers are rolling these out so having less "fun" colours available is a good move for professionals!
I was surprised to find that the phone's green shell is removable and this is the first Nokia phone I've used in years where the battery is replaceable. This is a feature many people like, as they can carry spares with them (although I found battery life to be above average). Removing the battery enables you to insert your SIM card and expand the storage with micro SD cards too, which is a very welcome feature. More on potential storage issues for heavy users later.
Removing the cover from the screen is an easy process, and it doesn't feel flimsy. The cover also adds QI wireless charging to the phone which is something I've come to really love having in my life. It's also becoming more ubiquitous, as the latest Samsung phones support it and IKEA have released a range of QI charging furniture and accessories for the home. It's hard to argue that they've scrimped on features here, however the phone didn't come with an actual wireless charger, another piece of evidence pointing to the fact this is a medium budget phone.
On start-up, I noticed it's a faster process by a few seconds than starting the Lumia 930. I don't know whether that's to do with the amount I already have stored on my phone, or the fact that the Lumia 735 comes with the latest "Lumia Denim" firmware installed out of the box, but every little helps on a phone with a less powerful processor.
Another thing that really surprised me about the phone is the quality of the screen. It's blacks and dark colours are really dark, and colours are vivid and clear. It's an HD screen (although not the Full HD found on the higher-end models) and looks really impressive and very easy to read. No scrimping evident here. One niggle I found with the screen is that the auto-brightness settings default to slightly darker than I personally like, which I've not noticed on other models, but it's only a small thing, and easy to choose your own preferred brightness in settings.
Something I didn't actually notice until I'd started the Lumia 735 was that it has no physical buttons on the front. Most people are used to at least one, whether it's the home button on iPhone; Android's various menu and "back" buttons or the three uniform Windows Phone back, home and search (now Cortana) buttons. It's only when the icons pop up at the bottom of the screen that you realise there's been a change.
I'm not entirely convinced it's a welcome change either. I had to turn the "auto-hide" feature off, so that they were always visible as it seemed inconsistent when they would hide themselves and needed an extra gesture to make them reappear to go either go back a page in apps, or to initiate app-switching. The situation is the same to return home. I tried on a number of occasions to get used to this, but had to make the buttons appear permanently. It's personal choice again though, and at least the option is there. Without the buttons on the screen, the extra space available is noticeable.
Nokia and now Microsoft have had amazing cameras in their recent hardware offerings. PureView lenses in the Lumia 920, then 1020 and 930 have impressed reviewers all over the world, and I was surprised to find that the camera in this phone is just as impressive as those I've tried, given the price-point. It's obviously not quite as powerful in places and a relatively low 6.7 megapixels, but I found it more than capable in low-light and when taking macro photos and genuinely brilliant in good lighting conditions. Lumia Camera is a great app that I've covered before, and if you want manual control over your pictures then you can't beat it. I'm seriously impressed with what is a mid-range camera on this phone. Again, there don't seem to be many corners cut here either!
Photos straight from the phone, unedited.
Camera: Selfie Edition
Now, here's the thing and my only real issue with this phone. Microsoft are marketing the Lumia 735 as a selfie phone. Very now! Such pictures! HOWEVER, in my experience with it, it is virtually impossible to take a decent selfie picture using the front camera. Yes, it's a 5 megapixel camera, and yes it's a lovely wide angle, HOWEVER the image quality is no better than any other phone I've used, worse than some, and it's very difficult to actually get the phone to take a picture whilst holding it at arms length.
There's no dedicated camera button, something that made earlier (and new high-end) Lumias unique. Even Apple conceded it was a good idea when they enabled one of their volume buttons to act as a shutter button on iPhone. Here, you have to manoeuvre your finger onto the screen with one of your fingers, whilst trying to hold the thing steady at arms length. If (like me) you're left handed, you can forget it entirely. I hoped that rotating the phone would make the buttons appear on the opposite side to make it a bit easier for we lefties, but nope.
Sadly, the very feature they've marketed this phone on is the very thing it does the worst. A real dropped ball in my opinion. I REALLY missed my dedicated camera button.
— Lumia UK (@LumiaUK) December 10, 2014
Another minor niggle with the phone is the amount of storage present out-of-the-box. It's sold as 8GB, which is where costs have been cut. That's fine for a couple of playlists of songs, some apps and a few months of photos... However 3GB+ of that storage is already useless due to being taken up by the operating system.
It's not a specific problem to this phone, or even Microsoft, and Apple recently got called out on mis-representing space on their devices, but to sell an 8GB device already half-full is lust mean. Luckily, you can expand the memory on the phone with a micro SD card, up to an extra 128GB, and photos, apps and music can be set to automatically be stored there. I experienced no problems with this during my trial, so it does seem to be a good, robust situation. You also get loads of free space on the increasingly excellent OneDrive to back everything up to, so it's easy to keep the built-in memory clean.
I didn't notice any significant difference in speed between most tasks on it and performing the same tasks on my 930. The only real time I noticed the reduced processing power was when opening/re-opening apps which occasionally show the "Resuming..." or "Loading..." screens, but that's to be expected.
Those niggles aside, the 735 is a very competent, modern smartphone and I'd recommend it to anyone who's on a budget and fed up with clunky, budget Androids or who's bored with their older iPhone. If you're fully into mobile photography, then you'll love the Lumia Camera app which gets great results more often than not, but you might be better off spending a BIT more on the Lumia 830, which has a slightly better screen and that all important shutter button.