The Lumia 630 is the first phone to be released fresh out of the box with Windows Phone 8.1, a mid-stage release that will bridge the gap between Windows Phone 8 and, presumably, Windows Phone 9.
Some of the big differences it introduces are ones that make phones like the Lumia 630 possible. For example, before Windows Phone 8.1, mobiles had to have physical soft keys as there was no support for software ones.
The Lumia 630’s soft keys use the bottom bit of the display, rather than having separate sensors, and this makes the phone a bit simpler to produce. Simpler equals cheaper.
There’s also no need for a separate camera shutter button these days – the Lumia 630 doesn’t have one.
SEE ALSO: Windows 9 release date, news and rumours
Windows Phone 8.1 isn’t just about making Windows phones even cheaper, though. There are several important new functions.
There is an Android-like notifications drop-down menu that gives you a round-up of your latest emails and so on, and a row of buttons that act as a Wi-Fi switch, Bluetooth switch, camera shortcut and screen brightness flicker.
As we said in our Windows Phone 8.1 review, these new elements aren’t particularly well executed in visual terms, but this doesn’t necessarily matter a great deal in a low-cost phone like this.
Windows Phone 8.1’s other big feature is something that’s not available in the UK yet – the Cortana digital assistant. This works a little like a mash-up of Siri and Google Now, offering a voice assistant and something that functions a little like a more intelligent web search. However, you won’t be able to access it until later in the year.
SEE ALSO: Cortana vs Google Now vs Siri
Windows Phone 8.1 is a bit of a work in progress effort, and feels like a stop-gap release. But the most important question to ask yourself is whether you’ll get on with Windows Phone as a whole.
The system has significant pros and cons. In the plus column, Windows Phone looks and feels quick and slick. At its original release Windows Phone looked a good deal more sophisticated than the competition. iOS 7 and newer version of Android have largely caught up, but the Lumia 630 will look a good deal better than some of the half-hearted custom Android interfaces that are common at the price.
The basic navigation lag that is also a feature of cheap Androids is largely a non-issue with Windows Phones like the Lumia 630.
On the negative end, Windows Phone still has a serious apps and games problem. The library is much weaker than that of Android or iOS.
The arrival of Windows Phone 8.1 has only compounded this problem, as they also need to be tweaked for release on the new system. For example, at the time of writing there’s no Whatsapp.
The longer-term issue for many – given these issues will likely be sorted fairly soon – is that you don’t get the stream of new games seen on iOS and, to a lesser extent, Android. Most of us settle down to use a core team of apps, but if you like your games you’ll probably want regular new ones. And that is an area where the Lumia 630 will not shine.
Storage isn't a big issue here, though, as it is in some budget phones. You get just 8GB of internal memory, but there's a microSD slot under the cover and you can manually select where games/apps are installed to.
As it lacks a strong selection of high-end 3D games, it’s actually quite tricky to really test the power of the Lumia 630 in a real-world sense. Nothing we tried posed any particular problem: Despicable Me: Minion Rush, Kinectimals and a bunch of other games all run fine.
That’s no great surprise. The Lumia 630 has a fairly decent Snapdragon Qualcomm 400 processor, the same used by the Motorola Moto G.
There’s just 512MB of RAM, and this seems to make loading apps pretty sluggish. As we’ve said, flicking through the Windows Phone 8.1 interface is nice and quick, but actually moving between apps is a lot slower. Slower too than the best Android phones at the price, such as the Motorola Moto G. If anything this seems to have got worse since last year's budget Windows Phones, although this may be a side effect of our increasing expectations of budget mobiles.
Most of our normal phone benchmarks are not available for Windows Phone, but the browser-based Sunspider test shows you roughly what to expect. The Lumia 630 completes this test of Java-based tasks in 1461 milliseconds, around the same time as the Moto G. Windows phones used to decimate Androids in this test, but with the latest version of Android and the latest version of Chrome, they’re pretty even.
Windows Phone’s performance lead over Android doesn’t really exist anymore, if you pick the right Android phone (at this price that means the Moto G).
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