“But first, let me take a selfie” – lyrics you’d only find in an EDM track with the depth of a kiddie’s paddling pool, but indicative of the times we live – this is the age of the selfie and the new Nokia Lumia 735 is here to embrace it.
We’ve seen various phone makers push out offerings that put a greater emphasis on making you and your friends look ‘hot or cute’ in the club over recent months, usually focusing on a few inbuilt beauty apps and Instagram-style filters to paint your skin a David Dickinson-esq shade of tan, but the 735 takes itself more seriously and wants to put useful tools at your disposal.
So is this a phone that you should simply take at face value, or is there more to Nokia’s new affordable Windows Phone than first appears.
Nokia Lumia 735 review – Design: Blast from the past
For the Nokia initiated, a look over the 735’s polycarbonate bodywork and you’d be forgiven for mistaking for the seminal Nokia Windows Phone, the Nokia Lumia 800. Admittedly, the dimensions have been scaled up a little for 2014, but the tall, slim frame of the 735 looks and feels great in the hand.
The curved edges blend nicely into the display and if it wasn’t for a small lip, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a unibody design, but the matt-finish shell is removable, granting access to a removable battery, microSD card slot and nanoSIM tray (in select markets the Nokia Lumia 730 offers two SIM trays, but lacks 4G support).
The glossy plastic hardware controls serve as a nice contrast to that matt bodywork, although the lack of a dedicated hardware shutter key does remind us that the 735 sits lower down the list, with only the PureView-initiated offering such designs. The centrally positioned microUSB port at the base, rear camera and headphone jack on top work with the rest of the 735’s body to give it a pleasing symmetry and balance.
This handset looks elegant and its design will likely age gracefully, just as so many Lumias do.
Nokia Lumia 735 review – Screen: Bright black
For a well-priced mid-ranger, the Lumia 735 packs an exceptional screen. The most immediately obvious talent is its contrast ratio; with the deepest blacks blurring the boundary of the display and the bezel, both sat under a curved layer of Gorilla Glass 3. It’s made all the more impressive thanks to some excellent whites, particularly for an OLED, not to mention viewing angles that make even Apple’s new iPhones blush.
At 4.7-inches, the 720p HD resolution is enough to offer up crisp imagery and dress it in bright, punchy colours. Nokia’s are often missed when praising phones with great screens, but assuming you’re not after a Full HD experience this is a serious good display.
Nokia Lumia 735 review – OS: New jeans
Microsoft has been working tirelessly to improve the functionality and flexibility of Windows Phone and the Lumia Denim update which debuts on the 735 is the latest revision of the experience.
It affords you things such as the ‘show more tiles’ ability so you can keep more of your favourite apps in view at once, live folders to organise multiple apps under a single tile and the first tea-drinking, fish and chip-eating version of Cortana: a UK-centric version of the virtual voice assistant, now boasting an RP accent. We still would have liked the option of Jen Taylor (the American actress who voices Cortana in the Halo video game series and on US Windows Phones), as you’re presented with more charming, characterful responses.
Out the box, the 735 packs features for all the key smartphone experiences you’d expect. Office for business and productivity, dedicated music (including free music streaming from Nokia’s own MixRadio), video and podcast apps for entertainment and the MSN (formerly Bing) suite for useful news and information on everything from sport to health, fitness and travel. One small love or hate addition in the 735 is the switch to on-screen navigation keys. Like Android, the back, home and search buttons, disappear in certain situations and can be recalled with a swipe from the edge of the display.
There are a number of other behind-the-scenes tweaks to things like VPN connectivity, but the majority of the most exciting new features come with the camera experience, which comes right after…
Nokia Lumia 735 review – Performance: Punching above its weight
Dropping below the 800 series in the Lumia family firmly entrenches you in the mid-range category and whilst the user experience is impressively slick on the 735, the hardware powering it is relatively modest. A 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip and 1GB of RAM offer up a fluid experience for the most part, including 3D gaming.
Whilst you can’t call the experience ‘laggy’, you may notice waiting times for things like opening select apps, multitasking and processing freshly snapped photos and video; none of these shortcomings are deal breakers, but they remind you that this isn’t a flagship handset, despite being an otherwise snappy smartphone.
On-board storage is limited too, leaving you around 3GB of the total 8GB internally. That said Microsoft bundles on 15GB of cloud storage in the form of OneDrive and the microSD slot concealed under the 2220mAh battery can impressively take cards up to 128GB in size – unusually good for a mid-range device.
One area you won’t be waiting in is page load time; the ‘5’ in the 735 differentiates this Lumia from its dual-SIM twin with the inclusion of Cat 4 LTE. It’s not the fastest 4G phone in The West, but its fast enough, and another impressive inclusion considering the price point.
The generous battery capacity gives you excellent two-day battery life and although some might not appreciate the bulkier 9mm thick bodywork, it houses NFC and Qi wireless charging too – another premium feature that’s somehow squeezed its way into the 735 without adding cost.
Nokia Lumia 735 review – Camera: Serious about selfies
As we said at the start, Nokia bills this phone as the selfie machine; a handset for those looking to snap the perfect face-on shots for Instagram and the rest of the internet to enjoy/endure. The truth is, whilst it’s clearly been geared for such a task the experience is much deeper than that.
The rear camera is the more conventional part of the photography story on the 735; a 6.7-megapixel autofocus camera with an impressive f/1.9 aperture and a single LED flash. It takes nice photos, nothing to write home about, but in most conditions expect good colours and contrast, even on a bright, cloudy day. The lack of PureView imaging tech paired to that smaller rear sensor mean detail and noise go down and up respectively when you zoom in, but if you stick with the image the phone captures without zooming, you’ll be pleased with the results nine times out of ten.
Nokia’s camera experience is as ever, excellent thanks to the Nokia Camera app – that means manual control for elements like focus, white balance, exposure and ISO. Meanwhile the omission of a hardware shutter key seems strange and inconvenient, as does the lack of a dedicated HDR mode (bracketing is an awkward substitute).
Now onto the star of the show, the front-facing 5-megapixel camera. The resolution alone should hint at that this phone’s selfie capabilities, but Nokia went further than that, giving it a superior wide-angle lens to the rear camera and a decent f/2.4 aperture too. The hardware is paired with the new Lumia selfie app, which offers simple execution with impressive results.
The preview suggests mediocre quality at best, especially when placed alongside the likes of the iPhone 6’s FaceTime HD snapper, but the post processing work completely transforms your face, with more natural skin tones, excellent contrast and surprisingly good detail.
The app also lets you swipe through more subtle and extreme variations on your face as well as offering a set of somewhat strange tools for whitening teeth and enlarging your eyes. Should the 5-megapixel images not wow you for some reason, the Lumia Selfie app can also direct you using beeps to get your face front and centre using the larger rear camera, a trait that also enables superior selfie-taking on front-facing-camera-free Lumias like the new 530.
The wide-angle lens and Full HD resolution also serve video calling well, with excellent clarity and detail when we tested it with the likes of Skype.
Nokia Lumia 735 review – Verdict: More than your average mid-ranger
It’s almost as if billing the Lumia 735 as a ‘selfie phone’ does it a disservice. There’s no denying that it’s one of the most competent devices in the space for this sort of thing, but it can do and offer so much more.
For the £220 SIM-free price tag, there’s little that offers the same level of quality across so many areas; screen, imaging, productivity, connectivity and services. It’s not perfect and we’d have liked a sharper camera, a hardware shutter and perhaps better quality audio recording and playback, but for the most part, there’s little that can touch the Nokia Lumia 735 across the board.
The next logical step up would be Sony’s new Xperia Z3 Compact – it may cost an extra £110, but its a fully-certified flagship in practically every sense of the term. That said, the Lumia 735 covers all the important bases and has more than enough to offer even the most discerning of smartphone users.