During the time that I’ve been testing the Lumia 630, one of the complaints that I’ve heard most regularly about the device is that it compares somewhat unfavorably to the Lumia 625, which was launched almost a year ago. It’s understandable, frankly, since the 630 seems like it should, in theory, be the successor to that model.
From Microsoft TechEd and BUILD, to Mobile World Congress and Lumia launch events, the message from Nokia representatives that I have spoken to has been pretty clear: the first digit of the model number indicates the ‘series’ or ‘class’ of model, and the higher the overall (3- or 4-digit) number, the higher its position in the company’s range. Thus, the Lumia 520 sits at the bottom as the most affordable Windows Phone, while the giant 6-inch 1520 phablet sits at the top.
Despite this, though, there have always been some anomalies in the range. For example, the Lumia 1320 has a 6-inch display too, but its 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage and 5MP camera are inferior to the much more expensive Lumia 1020, which has twice the RAM, up to 64GB of storage, and an astonishing 41MP camera.
A higher number alone clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.
In fact, when you compare the specs of the Lumia 630 with the 625, things get a lot more complicated. Check out the specs, and join the article again below the chart:
In many respects, the Lumia 630 is inferior to the 625, on paper at least, with some of its specs taking a notable step down between old and new. Its display is smaller than that of the 625, and it has a smaller battery too (1830mAh, compared with the 625’s 2000mAh), resulting in considerably lower maximum talk-time and music playback figures.
The 625 is also better equipped with an LED flash for its rear camera and a VGA front-facing camera – both notable omissions on the 630. The 630 misses out on proximity and ambient light sensors too, and even ditches one of the best features of Windows Phone – its dedicated camera button – while even the Back, Start and Search buttons have been removed from the hardware, instead being relocated onto the display
But there is one important consideration that must come into this: price. When the Lumia 625 was announced, it came with a price tag in Europe (before taxes and subsidies) of around €220 EUR; the 630 launched last month in Europe for almost half that price, at just €119 EUR.
Given such a price difference, this surely explains why so many features are missing from the 630, right? Well, it would if the new Android-powered Nokia X2 hadn’t complicated things further. The X2, announced this week, costs just €99 EUR – roughly 17% less than the 630 – and yet it includes many features missing from the new Windows Phone: proximity and light sensors, front hardware buttons, LED flash for the rear camera, a front-facing camera, and it even gets a full 1GB of RAM, and dual-SIM support as standard (you have to pay a premium for this on the 630).
Frankly, the Lumia 630 is something of an anomaly in terms of how it’s been positioned in Nokia’s range. Common sense seems to suggest that it’s more of a successor to the Lumia 520 (or the more recent 525) than the 625, given its low price and the many compromises on its spec sheet.
But how does the Lumia 630 compare with the 625 in the real world?
Microsoft invested enormous amounts of time and resources into optimizing Windows Phone 8.1 for lower-end hardware – particularly important as the company has been working hard to attract new manufacturers to the platform. Running 8.1 on the 630 with the latest Lumia Cyan firmware indicates that those efforts have largely paid off (we’ll be discussing the 630’s performance in more detail in a future article, so forgive the brevity of that assessment here).
But then the 625 was no slouch either, and even with the earlier Windows Phone 8 OS, it always managed to handle every task I’ve been able to ask of it without any drama (although there are some games that, like the 630, the 625 cannot handle due to its limited RAM).
The 630 does feel more nimble than the 625 though; apps load a little quicker, navigating through the UI is ever so slightly faster and everything feels a bit more cohesive on the newer model compared with the older one.
The 630 has the edge on camera performance too, at least in good light conditions. In this sample shot, captured just as the sun crept back behind the clouds, the 630 did a decent job of capturing the detail of the scene, along with decent contrast between the many shades of green:
The 625 didn’t do quite as well; much of the detail is lost, and some of the colours appear a little more 'washed-out' than on the 630:
Of course, neither camera is perfect, and the comparisons made here don't constitute a detailed review of either device, but the point to hold on to here is that while the 630 may seem like a major step backward compared with the 625 on paper, in the real world, things aren't quite that black and white.
The work that Microsoft has put in to optimizing low-end hardware for the operating system has created a user experience that may surprise many expecting the Lumia 630 to be inferior based solely on their impressions gleaned from its spec sheet.
While Microsoft has no doubt muddied the waters by calling the device the 630, and raising expectations among spec-hunters who believe that every single aspect of the device should be improved upon with each generation, the experience of using the device is what matters more than a list of specs. In that respect, the 630 does a pretty good job as the new entry-level Windows Phone 8.1 device.
But this argument only extends so far. Sadly, it still falls flat when it comes to genuinely useful features like the front-facing camera, rear camera flash and the additional sensors that the Lumia 630 lacks. Given that the cheaper Nokia X2 Android handset has them, I'm at a loss to understand why the 630 does not, and the decision to exclude them from the new Windows Phone appears to make very little sense.
While the Lumia 630 certainly compares favorably with the 625 in the real world in many ways, the exclusion of these features from the 630 remains a problem, and one that buyers may find sufficiently troubling to prompt them to look elsewhere.
Be sure to share your thoughts on all of this below, and stick with Neowin in the days ahead as we continue our in-depth review of the Lumia 630, with more to come on the handset’s design and performance, along with a more detailed look at its camera.
The comparison chart was updated after publication to correctly state that the Lumia 625 has a non-removable battery.