Nokia’s Lumia 630 is a cheap and cheerful smartphone with a fairly big screen. And we really do mean "cheap": you can buy it outright for £90. That's got your attention, hasn't it?
It’s essentially a bigger version of last year’s Lumia 520 with the latest Windows Phone 8.1 software. And that's no bad thing.
That phone sold millions around the world and accounted for a third of total WinPho sales in 2013. But by our reckoning the 520 couldn’t quite match up to the benchmark set by the brilliant, Android-toting Motorola Moto G, itself now available for £100.
With a lower price from the start, can the 630 offer better value than Motorola’s mightiest?
Eight Point Win
This is the first Windows Phone 8.1 phone we’ve tested. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with Microsoft's smartphone OS, here's a definitive statement on it: there’s no real reason to avoid Windows Phone anymore.
The recent update feels like much more than a bunch of .1 tweaks. You now get the incredibly useful Action Centre - a quick settings and notifications pulldown - plus a new suite of usage monitoring apps including Battery Saver, Data Sense and Storage Sense. All of these help elevate WinPho to Android levels of practicality and customisation.
OK, so these features have been in Android for years. But we like them all the same.
Multi-tasking is now a longpress on the back button and Microsoft’s Live Tiles, which display apps dynamically on the homescreen, get some attention too. More tiles can be added to the Start screen and a photo can be set as the background to icons that don’t pull in images. Nice touch.
Microsoft extras include mobile Office and its cloud service SkyDrive baked in. Nokia adds offline HERE Maps, superb free navigation app HERE Drive+ and its playlist-creating app MixRadio. Xbox Music and Video are present and correct too though Video delivers SD only to Windows phones, but HD to other devices and Xbox.
READ MORE: Windows Phone 8.1 in-depth review
We’re a little disappointed that Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri, isn’t quite ready for her UK debut just yet. The voice assistant is out in the US but won’t be available, even in beta, until later in 2014 while Microsoft gets its localisation - of both dialects and transport and business info - in order.
For now, you can switch your settings to American English and download the 8.1 developer preview with just a quick sign-up to get Cortana. There’s no UK-specific data just yet and it’ll void your warranty but it’s worth the (small) effort to start dictating reminders and whatnot.
Microsoft is continuing its pledge to keep improving the Windows Store, too. Recent additions include UK banking apps and heavy hitters such as Instagram. There are still some gaps, but overall it’s no longer an embarrassment of junk.
Screen - Good Enough
Aside from running Windows Phone 8.1 out of the box, the bigger screen is the other main improvement over the 520. A 4.5in display seems to be the sweet spot for 2014 - the Moto G and HTC One Mini 2 are also this size. But while this one’s good, it's not the best for the money.
Like the 520, it’s got plenty of punch, displaying colours which are a little on the warmer side of the palette and serving up very good viewing angles for a budget phone. Sadly, Nokia didn’t increase the number of pixels by much when it upped the screen size from 4in to 4.5in, so we’re stuck with a 854 x 480 resolution.
It’s not a deal-breaker for video, as the picture's pleasant enough anyway. But pixels are clearly visible when you're looking at text. Then again, we’ve spent the past few months staring at 1080p screens, and we doubt that's the case for most 630 buyers.
Still, with the the slightly higher res EE Kestrel and 720p Moto G displaying cleaner fonts, it’s a problem for the 221ppi Lumia. White web pages can show an orangey tinge, too, and though it’s bright, the 630’s screen doesn’t go quite as bright as budget rivals.
Camera - Workmanlike but no Lumia 1020
It’s a similar story for the camera: it's decent enough but hardly spectacular. The 5MP snapper on the back won’t let you down outdoors and 720p video is a treat for a smartphone of this price - the comparable Moto E, for instance, shoots 480p.
For casual snaps, you’ll notice the low resolution once you start exporting to social media or opening up files on your computer at home. Otherwise, colours are vivid but reasonably accurate and contrast is good too. There’s no flash, but the 630 does a decent job of brightening up low-light scenes. Just be warned: the results are still pretty grainy.
Given Nokia’s fondness for photography, it’s no surprise that there are two camera apps to choose from. Pick the regular Windows Phone Camera app if you just want to snap and go - it has a burst mode and macro shots look good. The Nokia Camera app is a bit slower to get going but offers manual focus, control over settings such as ISO and more editing options and features.
And if impromptu Skype calls appeal to you, we should point out that there's no front camera. Budget rivals such as the Moto E have made this choice too, but personally we’d pay the extra just in case.
READ MORE: Stuff's guide to photography
Welcome to Slow Club
Budget and even mid-range handsets can be painfully slow and sluggish to the point that basics such as messaging are a chore.
The Lumia 630 works. It won’t crash constantly and at this price, there’s far worse performance to be had. But there are also slightly slicker handsets out there too - if you’re willing to part with an extra £10 or so (yep, Moto G again).
We’ve just got no time for those dots. If you’ve used Windows Phone, you’ll know the ones. They appear when you want to open an app, download a file or do just about anything else. And on the 630, we’ve been seeing a bit too much of them.
A 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 should be enough to power it, but the 512MB of RAM lets the side down slightly. Microsoft assures us that’s enough to run the OS reliably, but in our experience browsing can be stuttery at times and HD video playback isn’t always 100% smooth. Like we said, it works - sometimes you just need an extra second of patience.
Processor: 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
Camera: 5MP rear, 720p video
Storage: 8GB (microSD up to 128GB)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions: 129.5 x 66.7 x 9.2mm
Battery - Good For A Day
Good news on this front - slow and steady wins the race. The 630 is good for a day unless you use it heavily, about on a par with the Lumia 520. In an hour and a half commute spent browsing over 3G, gaming and messaging it’ll drop 30%, so you’ll probably want to be charging at work if the prospect of a handset dying causes you to panic.
Androids such as the Moto G have bigger batteries than the 630’s 1870mAh unit and generally last an hour or so longer. But the Lumia does have a Battery Saver option to help stretch it in emergencies.
READ MORE: Nokia Lumia Icon review
We almost forgot to mention it, but this thing is bright green. Alien goo green. In the UK, you can get it in neon, matte orange and white, with more colours available around the world. This is no subtle smartphone.
Otherwise, it’s a tidy design. Even with the extra 0.5in screen space, it’s easy to hold and sturdy too. It’s chunky at 9.2mm but the fact that it’s light, at 134g, makes all the difference. Another sensible tweak to last year’s model: where the Lumia 520’s pointed corners could dig into palms a little, these have been swapped out for rounded corners and a straighter back edge. Works for us.
The rear cases mark quite easily but they’re swappable - as is the battery. Plus there’s room for a microSD card slot for up to 128GB of extra storage. Get one of these asap, as we blitzed through the 8GB of onboard storage (3.72GB of that is reserved for the system) in the first 24 hours.
As with the 520, it’s a practical rather than swoon-worthy build, but one that we’re sure millions will be more than happy to pocket.
READ MORE: 25 amazing free games for Windows Phone 8
Nokia Lumia 630 Verdict
The 630 is easy to get along with. Yes it’s a bit slow and nothing about this Nokia screams ‘game-changer’. It’s just a nice phone for the money.
It looks fun, comes with some excellent Nokia and Microsoft freebies and the OS is friendlier at first glance than KitKat, Google’s latest smartphone software.
Right now though, affordable Androids (still) make more sense. And by affordable Androids, we (still) mean the brilliant Moto G. It’s selling for around the £100 mark and is worth every penny. And more.
If your heart's set on Windows Phone and your budget's a little stretched, the Lumia 630 won't disappoint. But if you're OS-agnostic the Moto G offers unbeatable value.