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Nokia Lumia 735: A closer look at Microsoft's new 4G ‘selfie phone'

Over a year and a half ago, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Nokia unveiled two new Windows Phone 8 devices. The first device, the Lumia 520, would go on to become the most successful Windows Phone ever, and one of the best-selling Windows devices of all time, with over 12 million units sold worldwide. The second device… fared less well.

It's not that the Lumia 720 was a bad device - it wasn't; in fact, it was really rather good, and when we reviewed it last year, it earned 8.5 out of 10 in our final verdict. But it never really shined especially brightly in Nokia's range, and with fairly limited carrier support compared with other Lumia devices, its sales never matched those of its siblings.

Two devices replace the 720 in what is now Microsoft's range of Windows Phones: the Lumia 730, which offers 3G support and dual-SIM capabilities; and the Lumia 735, which ditches the dual-SIM setup and adds 4G LTE connectivity.

Microsoft has set out to define a much clearer position in its range for these devices, and this differentiation has led to the new devices being referred to as its ‘selfie phones'. The reason is simple: Microsoft believes that the Lumia 730 and 735 offer superior front-facing cameras to those that you would ordinarily find on similarly priced devices, and given how wild folks seem to get about taking selfies, that seems like a pretty decent selling point in the increasingly crowded mid-range of the market.

The Lumia 735 occupies the lower end of the mid-range, priced at €199 EUR before taxes and subsidies. In the UK, the device has gone on sale for around £199 GBP off contract, and is also available on two-year contracts costing around £17 per month, with no upfront cost.

Microsoft UK has kindly provided us with a Lumia 735 for review, although we've been overflowing with review devices recently, so please forgive us for not getting around to this one sooner! We've been using the Lumia 735 regularly, alongside the Lumia 830 - which we'll also be reviewing soon - for the last few days, and ahead of our full review, we thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at the handset and what it offers.

First, let's remind ourselves of some of the Lumia 735's key specs:

  • 4.7-inch ClearBlack AMOLED with HD (1280x720px) resolution and Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB onboard storage (plus microSD support up to 128GB)
  • 6.7MP rear camera with ZEISS optics, autofocus and LED flash, 1080p video at 30fps
  • 5MP front-facing wide-angle camera with 1080p video
  • 134.7 x 68.5 x 8.9mm, 134g
  • 4G LTE connectivity (800 / 1800 / 2600MHz)
  • Integrated Qi wireless charging
  • Removable 2200mAh battery
  • Interchangeable shells (black, white, orange, green)

The Lumia 735 is also one of the first handsets (the other two are the 730 and 830) to be released with the very latest OS version, Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, pre-installed along with the newest firmware, Lumia Denim.

Don't get too excited about the contents of the box - in addition to the handset itself, you'll get a quick-start guide, a brief intro to wireless charging accessories, a USB cable, and a wall charger (to which the USB cable can connect).

In the UK, the Microsoft website states that you'll also get a WH-108 stereo headset in the box, but senior Microsoft folks have told Neowin that this isn't actually the case, and that no headset is included. However, Microsoft offices around the world are free to adjust the offering for their markets, so you may find that a headset is included in the box in your part of the world. If this is likely to be an issue for you, check with your local retailers before handing over the cash!

Before we even turn the handset on, it's easy to spot a problem, and it's one that's common to Microsoft's lower-end devices, as well as many of the entry-level Windows Phones from the new wave of hardware partners that have joined the platform: there's no dedicated camera button.

On the right edge of the device, there are the familiar volume controls and power/sleep button, but the camera button found on higher-end Lumias is conspicuously absent. If you've read our in-depth review of the Lumia 630, you'll already know what a hassle that can be. Similarly, the Back, Start and Search controls on the front of the handset are on-screen ‘soft buttons' instead of hardware ones.

These primary UI buttons really aren't as problematic as many people like to make out, and for the most part, using them to navigate back, to search, or to return to the Start screen, is no more hassle than it would be if they were hardware buttons half an inch further down the handset's body.

However, just as with the Lumia 630, having to launch the camera and take photos via the on-screen controls is far more annoying than the near-effortless simplicity of just pushing a dedicated camera button on the side of the device.

The rest of the handset's edges are broken only by the 3.5mm audio jack at the top, and the microUSB port at the bottom. On the rear, you'll find the primary camera - with a very slight extrusion - and LED flash, along with a speaker cut-out further down the handset.

The Lumia 735's design will be immediately familiar to anyone who remembers the very first Nokia Windows Phone, the Lumia 800, and the Lumia 900 that followed it. That's a very good thing - to our eyes, at least - as those devices were handsome, and beautiful to some, winning various awards for design.

The 735 feels dramatically lighter than both of those earlier handsets - the 800 was only a few grams heavier, but it was a good deal smaller too, so it felt much denser and brick-like; the 900 was also a little smaller than the 735 but thicker and a fair bit heavier at 160g. At 8.9mm-thick, and weighing 134g, the 4.7-inch Lumia 735 feels fantastic, both in size and weight.

Indeed, it's a delight to hold, especially in the matte green version that we're reviewing. The matte finish feels far more expensive than the handset's price might lead you to expect, and it offers a considerably more premium feel than the glossy models, which feel much cheaper in comparison. That said, the entire rear shell is removable and can be replaced with other options as desired, so you can switch between matte and glossy versions to suit your tastes.

The display is impressive too, and it's a relief to see that Microsoft hasn't cheaped-out with another WVGA display here. Having been using the Lumia 735 for a few days now, I'm impressed by the quality of its HD (1280x720px) AMOLED screen. Yes, of course, it would have been nicer to have a Full HD display, but it's hard to argue with a 720p screen at this price level, and frankly - unless you're exceptionally picky, or you insist on holding the phone absurdly close to your eyes all the time - you'll have a hard time noticing the difference in normal usage.

The handset's performance is also pretty snappy, and having 1GB of RAM gives the handset just a bit more kick compared with the Lumia 630, for example. Apps seem to load just a little faster and games seem to run just a little more smoothly; it's not like the 735 leaves the 630 for dust as it vanishes off towards the horizon, but it just feels like it's got a tiny bit more fire in its belly than its cheaper siblings.

But what about the handset's ‘selfie' credentials? Well, Microsoft has put a good deal of thought into this, and rather than just slapping a high-res camera on the front of the device and leaving it at that, it actually developed an entirely new Lumia Selfie app, dedicated to capturing and - if desired, editing - the perfect selfie.

Launch the app, take a snap and you'll be presented with a world of options to help you customize your selfie with some intriguing tools, including some pretty funky stuff, like enhancing your eyes, adjusting your smile and even making your teeth whiter. There are also various filters and themes available, and it would perhaps be remiss of me not to include a couple of examples:

Oh my.

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