Hands-on with Microsoft's Nokia Lumia 630: A Windows Phone game changer?

The Nokia Lumia 630 is no LG G3. It doesn't muscle onto the market with a QHD 2K display; nor does it pack the polished metal finish of the HTC One M8. Then again, it is £300 cheaper.

It's true, the Nokia Lumia 630 is a budget smartphone but that doesn't mean we can't be all jazz hands about it. Retailing for around £100, it is Nokia's alternative to Motorola's penny-pinching Moto G handset currently making waves in the lower cost market.

The 620 is essentially a larger version of 2013's Lumia 520, a smartphone that accounted for a healthy third of Windows Phone sales last year. Now upgraded with the latest Windows Phone 8.1 software, the 620 could be the olive branch that unites customers with the divisive operating system. It's like Britain and France. We finally understand each other. There will be antagonism and murder between us no more.

On first glance, the Lumia 630 is a well-designed and compact phone. The one we tested was an all-black model, but the handset comes in neon green and bright orange flavours for more adventurous palettes.

On the screen front, the 630 hits the 4.5in sweet spot that other popular 2014 handsets like the Moto G and HTC One Mini 2 favour. However, Nokia was unfortunately stingy with the pixels when it upped the screen size from 4in to 4.5. The result is an 854 x 480 resolution that is poor even by budget smartphone terms.

Fonts and contrast are not as clean on the 221ppi Nokia Lumia as they are on, for instance, the 720ppi Moto G. We found that a thin strip at the top of the screen tended to dim on white backgrounds too, while sometimes the screen took on an altogether orange tinge. Still, for your daily tasks of checking emails and reading texts it holds its own.

Read more: Hands on with Motorola's £89 Moto E: An affordable revolution?

The camera is also decent for everyday snaps, but is no rival to the Lumia 1020. The 630 doesn't have a front facing snapper (though neither does the Moto E) but its 5-megapixel offering on the back takes decent enough pictures outdoors. Having no flash means it can struggle more in low-light scenes and some of the photos will turn out quite grainy.

Under the hood, the Nokia Lumia 630 packs a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor. This is decent enough for a budget handset, but it's paired with just 512MB of RAM which means slightly more sluggish performance than you may be expecting. Still, overall the phone runs smoothly with just the occasional stutter when browsing.

On the battery front the 630 holds its own. It can last from morning until evening without being charged – as long as you are not constantly gaming or browsing over its 3G connection. The Lumia also offers a Battery Saver option that will conserve juice in emergencies.

The Nokia Lumia 630 is the first smartphone to come upgraded to the Windows 8.1, and the new OS is well worth the wait. A colourful smorgasbord of updates are a vast improvement on the old interface – for instance the new Action Center allows users to pull down a notification window that was sorely missing in previous models. Combined with more customisation options on the home screen, including the ability to layer pictures behind icons.

We particularly loved the Swype-esque keyboard which Microsoft has dubbed Word Flow. Accurate and fast, it's one of the strongest features of the updated OS.

Verdict

You can buy the Lumia outright from Nokia for £129, though savvy deal-hunters can also find it at Carphone Warehouse for just £99.

While we were impressed by the improved software and the impressive design, the fact remains that even at this low budget range there are better performing smartphones out there. Poor screen resolution and a laggy processor dampen what could have been a truly great option for first-time smartphone buyers.

But it's not all bad. The new operating system really does save this smartphone from bargain bin oblivion. If you are a flag-flying Windows Phone fan, the Nokia Lumia 630 is a must have to fully understand the clever tweaks Microsoft has made. It's just a shame Redmond didn't spend a little longer buffing the edges.