nokia 630 635 preview 005The mid-range phones Nokia 630 and 635 running on Windows Phone 8.1 have been announced during the Build 2014 Keynote yesterday morning, but it is only later at a Nokia event in San Francisco that we have been able to get our hands on them and check them out for ourselves. First, here’s a short video that shows you what they look like in the real world:

If you have missed the details about Windows Phone 8.1 now would be a good time to check on that, but the highlights are new lock and home screens with can now be controlled by a third party app, the ability to display many more tiles on the home page which is great for productivity, a new notification center, which looks like Android’s (which Apple also drew inspiration from), Internet Explorer 11 to  have a parity between desktop and mobile browsing, and a better flow keyboard for those who want to break new texting records – that’s among many other things.

But we are now interested by the phones themselves. Since they are priced relatively low, they could be prime candidates for off-contract users, so it’s worth checking out.

Nokia 630, 635 Specifications

Lumia 630 Lumia 635
Display size (inches) 4.5 4.5
Display Technology IPS LCD IPS LCD
Display Resolution 845×480 845×481
Display Density (PPI) 221 221
Main Camera (MP) 5 5
Processor Snapdragon 400 Snapdragon 401
RAM (GB) 0.5 0.5
Processor speed (GHz) 1.2 1.2
Battery (mAh) 1830 1830
Dimensions (mm) 129.5×66.7×9.2 129.5×66.7×9.3
Weight (g) 134 134
Internal Storage (GB) 8 8
MicroSD Yes Yes
MicroSD Max 128GB 128GB
Network 3G (HSPA+) 4G LTE
Dual Sim SKU Yes No

Industrial Design

nokia 630 635 preview 009

Both the Nokia 630 and 635 use a design language that is very recognizable and that would be immediately associated with the Nokia Windows Phones. A closer look will reveal that the Polycarbonate used for the removable back cover feels very much like what Nokia had on its Lumia X Android smartphone.

The shell can be very easily removed and it is also possible to buy some with different colors if you feel like it. Nokia uses a matte finish on the 630 and a glossy finish on the 635 to differentiate them, but their shells are interchangeable. The glossy finish looks nicer, but tends to attract fingerprints, while the matte version looks a little duller but always feels dry and clean.

The phones feel very good in the hand, and on the right side, you will find the Power and Volume controls, while the left side is completely devoid of buttons, which is nice to avoid accidental presses. As usual, the top has a 3.5mm audio connector, while the bottom hosts the micro-USB connector for charge and sync.

Display

nokia 630 635 preview 002

As you can see in the video, both phones have nice displays, and although their contrast level could be worked on, you have to remember that they cost only 1/3 of the price of a high-end phone, so I think that for the price, these screens are very good. To put things in perspective, I think that the Moto G has a slightly better screen, but most mid-range phones aren’t so lucky. I’m pretty happy with the display that Nokia is using here.

Software

This is where things get really interesting: with the latest Windows Phone 8.1, Nokia will come out of the gate with the best that Windows Phone has to offer, including the new digital assistant called Cortana. Admittedly, Windows Phone is very much still in an uphill battle with a small market share, except in a few countries.

nokia 630 635 preview 003However, I think that newcomers to the smartphone world can still be delighted by the user experience which is fast, ultra-responsive and mixed with an excellent typography. And this is really where Windows Phone has the most success: users who just jump on the smartphone train aren’t coming with a baggage of iOS or Android usage and are ready to discover something new.

As you can see in the high-end phone market, I found that Windows Phone is actually limiting hardware like the excellent Nokia Icon, because the Apps Market needs to improve further. To be fair, Windows Apps have gotten a lot better, but the competition is moving as well, so an acceleration is required.

Once users have gotten used to using a number of apps, however small, chances are that one of them will not be available on the Windows Market, and this is something that both Nokia and Microsoft are realistic about, and this is the main reason why the mid-range market is so important for both companies: Windows Phone performs better with low-end hardware, and can please a public with a more open mind, and no particular smartphone habits.

From a user standpoint, Windows Phone 8.1 improves on a number of things that were points of friction, and I welcome that very much. Things like the lack of quick display brightness settings were a bit annoying at times, and this is now solved, or nearly solved (there is no dial for the quick-settings brightness, just low/medium/high quick)

Conclusion

We will need further testing to see how good the battery life is, etc… but the Nokia 630 and 635 will probably consolidate the success that the Nokia 520 has gathered. It expands that market for Nokia and it will be available in most major markets very soon, including the USA with AT&T, T-Mobile, Metro PCS, and AIO.

With a price of $159 to $189 depending on the model, these two Nokia phones aren’t competing only in terms of pricing: the Moto G which is available in retail for $99 represents a formidable competitor in the mid-range. It runs on a similar Snapdragon 400 hardware platform and has a better 720p display — it’s  a very tough market.

We will have to see what the street price for the Nokia 630 and 635 will be and how customers react to this offering. Since a pricing edge seems out of the equation, the success of these two phones will truly represent the kind of “pull” that Microsoft and Nokia can generate with a fun design and carrier support worldwide.

Filed in Cellphones >Featured. Read more about build 2014, Nokia, nokia lumia, Windows Phone and windows phone 8.1.

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