Nokia Lumia 630 review

3.5 out of 5
£100

For

Affordable, nicely designed and feels good quality, offers the latest Windows Phone 8.1 software

Against

A number of hardware compromises, display resolution isn't competitive, some software bugs, not 4G

The Nokia Lumia 630 is one of the last devices that will launch with the Nokia Lumia name now that Microsoft is at the helm. It's also the Windows Phone attack on the affordable market, with a price tag of just £100 certain to capture attention.

As one of the first devices to arrive with Windows Phone 8.1 - a software update that addresses many of the shortcomings of Microsoft's mobile platform - the Lumia 630 is built on solid foundations. But with rivals such as the Motorola Moto G offering plenty of budget wow in the Android camp, how does this perky Lumia handset hold up? We've been living with it to find out.

Predictably designed, wonderfully built

If there's one thing that Nokia is known for, it's great design and build. Across its portfolio of devices it's hard to find a device that doesn't offer those high standards.

The Lumia 630 is no different, offering a design that's obviously part of the family, and very much like the Lumia 520, but on a larger scale.

READ: Nokia Lumia 520 review

A visual (and literal) highlight is the vibrancy of the cover. Nokia is on trend with retro neons, which on the 3G-capable Nokia Lumia 630 (as opposed to the 4G-capable Lumia 635) is a matte finish. We didn't expect to like it in truth, but the bright colour of the orange has really grown on us.

Put the phone face down on a table and it almost seems to glow, its colour often reflected in the world around it. There are also green, yellow, black and white options and those covers are interchangeable too.

The construction is plastic but Nokia manages to pull that off without it feeling cheap, something that not all rivals do. The result is that the Lumia 630 feels good quality, a solid construction belying its appealing price tag.

The handset measures 129.5 x 66.7 x 9.2mm and it weighs 134g. It's not the slimmest or lightest for a phone with a 4.5-inch display, but it comes in close to the dimensions for the Moto G, so you could say it's typical.

READ: Motorola Moto G review

Importantly, the Lumia 630 feels good in the hand. The flattened sides make it easy to grip and while it might not nestle down in your hand as nicely as the HTC One mini 2, there's plenty of grip for one-handed use.

Averaging display

There's 4.5-inch display on the front of the Lumia 630, sitting under a sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for added scratch resistance. The display is nice and vibrant, and there is plenty of brightness, so you'll have no problem seeing this phone in bright conditions.

The display is an IPS LCD panel, known for offering good viewing angles, but its implementation here isn't the best example. Although colour fidelity generally holds up when viewing from oblique angles, the display dims quickly when viewing from the side. We also found it to be a fingerprint magnet and it often got rather smeary, meaning we were forever wiping it clean.

That's not a critical failing on a device at this price point, but the 854 x 480 pixel resolution, which is a 221ppi density, isn't competitive: even the smaller Motorola Moto E has a higher resolution display.

Display resolution (in practical terms) is less important when using the Windows Phone interface than when using Android because of its simplicity. However, on the Lumia 630 it has been our biggest gripe: the sometimes rough edges or soft-pixel visuals are the thing that makes the Lumia 630 feel like the budget device it is. 

There's also no ambient light sensor, so the screen won't auto adjust to lighting conditions. We found ourselves leaving it on the medium setting most of the time which served most situations well. Fortunately the new shortcuts in Windows Phone 8.1 make it much easier to access display brightness controls instantly, so we can't really complain.

The display is a little on the yellow side, so doesn't produce the cleanest of whites. We also found some light bleed towards the top of the display, so it looks puckered when viewing something on a white background, like a website. That isn't reflected at the bottom of the display, because this Windows Phone has on-screen controls that hide the offending bleed. 

Performance and hardware

Sitting under the Lumia 630's hood is a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset. That's typical of many devices at this level and gives you the power to perform daily tasks with ease.

It lacks the punch that you get from more powerful handsets, so the Lumia 630 can be a little on the slow side. That is almost certainly down on the 512MB of RAM, which is on the low side, even for Windows Phone.

It proves a point though: Microsoft can provide a decent smartphone experience on a device with even modest specs, even if stepping up the specs makes the Windows Phone experience smoother and faster. The Lumia 630 is very much a case of getting what you pay for.

Some of the sluggishness really shows in things like the camera app: although the Lumia 630 offers many of the smart features that flagship Lumia models offer, Nokia Camera can be pretty slow to open and slow to move from previewing a shot back to shooting again, for example.

There's 8GB of internal storage, which again is a little on the low side, but there's a microSD card slot that will support up to 128GB of additional storage space, so you can cheaply carry all the music and movies you might want. 

It's all powered by a 1830mAh battery, which might sound as though it lacks capacity, but we've found it to get through a light day without too many issues. On an intensive day gobbling a lot of data, it will struggle to get you through to the evening, so it fails to match some more expensive rivals. The battery can be accessed under the removable cover, so you could carry a spare, although we found, annoyingly, that every time we pulled the battery the phone fully reset the time and date. 

When making long phone calls we found the top of the phone got a little warm, which did become slightly uncomfortable, but callers came through loud and clear. That warming happens when you put the phone under load and isn't uncommon. It just seems the positioning of some of the internal hardware makes it particularly noticeable on the Lumia 630. 

Cameras

The Nokia Lumia 630 offers a 5-megapixel camera on the rear. There's an f/2.4 28mm equivalent lens, autofocus works well, and as it runs using many of the same Nokia apps it pulls in all the right aspects from well established Nokia Lumia family.

As we said, the software side of things can be a little on the slow side, and Nokia has also done away with the shutter button for the Lumia 630, so it's not a shining example of what Nokia can do with a smartphone camera.

There's also no flash, such is its budget position, nor is there a front camera - so if you're a fan of selfies or groufies (see our Huawei Ascend P7 review) then you'll want to be looking elsewhere.

The camera performance is pretty typical of a 5-megapixel device. Given good light outdoors you'll get some decent shots from it, but indoors shots are typically full of image noise and the lack of flash doesn't help. 

You can't complain about all the options it offers you however, from Nokia's "Lenses" that will allow you do things like refocusing or taking a Cinemagram, through to giving you a range of manual controls too.

Software experience

One of the headlines of the Lumia 630 is using the Windows Phone 8.1 software. It's one of the first devices to arrive with all Microsoft's enhancements, as well as a healthy dose of updates from Nokia in the form of Lumia Cyan.

We've written a lot about Windows Phone over the past few years and with the arrival of 8.1, this mobile platform now feels more compelling than ever. The addition of features like the drag down notifications bar, including shortcuts to hardware toggles, is really useful. We've reviewed WP8.1 separately, so be sure you read that review for all the details.

READ: Windows Phone 8.1 review

It might be a feature that closely reflects Android, but it works better than previous iterations and the day-to-day experience is better for it. Across Windows Phone 8.1 there's added refinement, drawing your Windows Phone closer to your Microsoft PC or tablet.

We also love that you now have better individual control over volume. It's a minor thing, but it makes a big difference in adjusting call, music and apps volume.

If we were going to pick one thing out that's still a problem for Nokia devices (due to their expanded feature set) it's the settings menu. It's now a collection settings that are just thrown together, some from the Microsoft core and some on Nokia's additions. Finding your way to some of the features becomes laborious because of the order and structure. 

The old criticism about lack of apps also still rings true: although many of the popular services are available on Windows Phone - like Netflix or BBC iPlayer - Windows Phone still isn't on the same level. While your Android and iPhone rocking friends are playing the latest game, nine times out of ten you won't have it on Windows Phone... yet. With Microsoft's acquisition we have a sense that will change in the near future, and if not from third party manufacturers then there's got to be some Xbox related input.

That said Nokia (as it was) did a great job of ushering something along to bring that dream of parity closer to reality. In some cases - such as with Skype - the app is better on this platform than others.

Things like Wi-Fi Sense, that will let you share Wi-Fi networks you're signed into with other Microsoft devices, as well as your friends, takes the pain out of Wi-Fi hotspots. If you've signed into your home network and a friend comes over, they can access the same network without doing anything, as long as you've ticked the box to let that happen.

Whilst we'd confidently say that Windows Phone 8.1 make Microsoft Devices more exciting than ever before, we did run into some troubles with the Lumia 630 that looked like software bugs. On one occasion during busy task switching, the vibrate from the keyboard went off continuously as the phone froze.

At worst we had to bull the battery several times in a day due to freezes and, as we've previously mentioned, each time the date reset to a few months before and triggered all subsequent notifications when we got the phone running again.

Verdict

The Nokia Lumia 630 is something of a mixed bag. It's cheap, cheerful and Nokia succeeds in delivering a bright and well built handset that's ahead of many competitors' plastic offerings. It also gives you the latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system experience, as well as the latest additions from Lumia Cyan. 

But we found the software experience can feel a little slow and, with our review device, a little buggy too. There are hardware compromises too, especially in the display, when pitched against rivals such as the Motorola Moto G.

Affordability is one of the things that starts to work against Nokia: with plenty of legacy devices, you could pick up a stronger Lumia device on contract that offers a better hardware experience without breaking the bank. That said, you can get the Nokia Lumia 630 from as little as £10 a month.

With Motorola dominating this market the Nokia Lumia 630 doesn't feel quite like the budget shining star it's designed to be.