Microsoft Lumia 435 review: Best smartphone you can buy under £50

If you're looking for a cheap smartphone, Microsoft's Lumia 435 is the best phone you'll find under £50. Find out why in our Microsoft Lumia 435 review. (See all Windows Phone reviews.) 

Forgive us, Windows Phone fans, for our surprise at finding ourselves in a position where we would place a Microsoft phone at the top of our cheapest smartphones chart. But, in a way, it totally makes sense. The main criticism levelled at Windows Phone is its lack of apps. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands in the Windows Store, but they aren't necessarily the latest apps or the ones you want (Google apps are not supported, for example). 

But the Lumia 435 is a dirt-cheap smartphone, at £67 SIM-free (from Amazon) or from £49.99 on PAYG (from EE). It's not aimed at phone enthusiasts but light users or those who are looking to buy their first smartphone. And these are not the people who are concerned by downloading apps other than the basics: WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype and the like. These are all covered, plus Windows Phone has some great tricks of its own, including Microsoft Office apps and some fantastic free navigation and music software. Also see: Best budget phones 2015. 

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: The best smartphone you can buy under £50 offers the cheapest entry point to Windows 10

What's really interesting about this cheap Windows Phone is that Microsoft has confirmed it will run Windows 10 when it arrives later this year. The Microsoft Lumia 435 will then be your cheapest entry point to a full Windows 10 computer. Compare that to budget Androids, which are unlikely to ever be upgraded from the KitKat or Jelly Bean operating systems they ship with. Also see: Windows 10 for phones. 

Even now, with its Windows Phone 8.1 software, one thing we've always admired about Windows Phone is how well it runs on lower-spec hardware, making it a fantastic candidate for a cheap smartphone such as the Lumia 435. So we're a little dumbfounded to find a better hardware specification here than in any sub-£50 Android phone (sub-£50 iPhones simply don't exist). 

A standard spec for a £50 Android phone includes a 1- to 1.3GHz single- or dual-core processor, 512B of RAM, 4GB of storage and support for 32GB via microSD. You won't find a screen larger than 4in, or with a higher resolution than 800x480 pixels. The rear camera will be of the fixed-focus variety, topping out at 5Mp but 2- or 3Mp is more likely. A front camera is out of the question, ruling out video chat or selfies. As we'll see below, the Microsoft Lumia 435 wipes the floor with similarly priced Android smartphones. Also see: Best Windows phones 2015. 

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: The best smartphone you can buy under £50 offers the cheapest entry point to Windows 10

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: Design and build 

Short and squat, the Microsoft Lumia 435 is exactly what you'd expect from a budget smartphone. It's pretty chunky at 11.7mm, but rounded edges at the rear and a 4in screen make it comfortable to use in a single hand. We like the 134g weight, too, which stops this cheap phone feeling like a toy. 

It's made from plastic, but unlike many of the black plastic Android slabs you'll find at this price its bright and colourful rear (green, orange, white or black) extends to the front for a splash of colour. In this sense Microsoft (okay, Nokia) has also found a great way of getting around the creakiness associated with removable rear panels, although it does mean the screen juts out somewhat at the front. These covers are interchangeable (but sold separately), giving access to an also-removable battery, Micro-SIM and microSD card slots. Also see: Best smartphones 2015. 

This bright orange or green colour scheme is seen throughout Microsoft's Windows Phone line-up. Pleasingly, here the plastic has a matt rather than gloss finish, helping to ensure the Lumia 435 doesn't slip out your hands. This was a problem with our also-green Lumia 535 review sample. 

The screen is a 4in LCD with an 800x480-pixel resolution, which has a pixel density of 233ppi - actually higher than the 220ppi of the Lumia 535, the next model up, although that has an IPS panel. This is pretty standard for a budget smartphone and, although the bright and colourful Windows Phone tiled interface looks infinitely better on an HD screen, even here it's attractive. We weren't very keen on our sample's sickly green colour scheme out of the box, with that colour to our eyes looking more obviously washed out than any other, but on changing the theme to crimson Windows Phone was back to looking beautiful. 

Sat beside a full-HD screen the difference is notable, but after a few minutes of playing with the Lumia 435 you quickly become used to the screen quality. That hint of fuzziness won't disappear, but watching videos and browsing photos on this sub-HD screen is not about to hurt your eyes either. For the money, the screen quality is absolutely acceptable - plus, it has good viewing angles and doesn't feel overly dim.  

As we noted with the Lumia 535, the screen isn't laminated to the cover glass and therefore seems slightly recessed. We'd also like to see the higher contrast and rich blacks we're used to finding in higher-end Windows Phones, but if our eyes hadn't already been spoiled by these phones we probably wouldn't have questionned it. 

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: The best smartphone you can buy under £50 offers the cheapest entry point to Windows 10

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: Hardware and performance 

You'd be forgiven for thinking the Lumia 435 has the same core hardware specs as the £89 Lumia 535, with both featuring a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 chip, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage - the latter two are extraordinary at this price, and double what you'll find in any £50 Android phone. In fact the processor inside this Windows Phone is a dual-core model, whereas the 535 has a quad-core chip. The 1GB of RAM will be important if you decide to upgrade the Microsoft Lumia 435 to Windows 10. 

General performance is acceptable. Launching apps and moving between menus is by no means instantaneous, but it's fluid enough. One thing we did notice is that the camera still takes a good six or seven seconds to launch, despite this phone running Lumia Denim, which promises faster camera startup and photo capture. It's also notable that there's no dedicated camera button on the side, so that by default you'll have to scroll down to the bottom of the home screen to find the Lumia Camera app and then wait for it to launch, which could result in you missing the moment. (You can tap and hold tiles on the home screen to rearrange them, of course.) 

Windows Phone doesn't support Geekbench or GFXBench, two benchmarks we normally use to test smartphone performance. We tried SunSpider, however, and saw a result of 1284ms. That's actually a very small improvement over the 1295ms of the Lumia 535 but, to be fair, you get a different result every time you run a benchmark, which is why we take the average of several scores. Compare that to some of the superbudget Android phones we've tested (see: What's the fastest smartphone 2015), and that's actually not bad - for example, the ZTE Kis 3 scored 1722ms (lower is better in this test). 

In addition to the 8GB of internal storage the Microsoft Lumia 435 has a microSD card slot that supports up to 128GB. That's fantastic: no £50 Android phone accepts more than 32GB via removable memory. If that's not enough storage you also get 30GB of free cloud storage via the built-in OneDrive app. 

Connectivity-wise you get 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and GLONASS. The Microsoft Lumia 435 accepts a Micro-SIM and operates on 2G- and 3G networks, but it does not support 4G. That's not a surprise - you'll have to pay at least £100 if you want 4G connectivity. A dual-SIM version is also sold outside the UK. Also see: Best cheap 4G phones 2015. 

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: The best smartphone you can buy under £50 offers the cheapest entry point to Windows 10

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: Extras 

Although Windows Phone is often criticised for its lack of apps, a handful of those built into Windows Phone is one of the things that has always endeared us to the OS. Through its HERE Drive suite you get free turn-by-turn driving instructions, offline maps and live traffic information, meaning this £50 smartphone can double as your satnav 

There's also MixRadio, which offers free audio from your favourite artists (without ads, although you can skip the track only six times in an hour). You can play this through the Microsoft Lumia 435's built-in loud but distorted speaker, or add a pair of headphones (not supplied) to also make use of an FM radio. 

Add to that free Office apps, a dedicated Kids Corner, built in Facebook, Twitter and Skype, plus support for WhatsApp, and we're not quite so bothered about what else is or is not to be found in the Windows Store. 

We can't forget Cortana either, Microsoft's voice assistant that is just as capable as Google Now and Siri - you can ask it anything. And we love the Lumia 435's double-tap-to-wake feature. 

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: The best smartphone you can buy under £50 offers the cheapest entry point to Windows 10

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: Cameras 

Photography is one area in which the Microsoft Lumia 435 shows its budget roots, with just a 2Mp fixed-focus camera at the rear. As we mentioned earlier, it takes a while to start up, and there's no LED flash so you can forget about shooting in low light (or using this phone as a torch).  

As you can see from our test shot and video (recorded at WVGA 800x448) there is nothing here to shout about - colours look washed out, detail is lacking, and there's no autofocus, no HDR, no panorama mode, no stabilisation... but there is a camera, and that gives the Lumia 435 an instant advantage over feature phones such as the free Nokia 105. 

Microsoft Lumia 435 review: The best smartphone you can buy under £50 offers the cheapest entry point to Windows 10

Something that also gives the Lumia 435 an advantage over its cheap smartphone rivals is a front-facing camera. Sure, it's just 0.3Mp, fuzzy and pretty horrible to look at, but RE our comment about the rear camera, it exists. This opens up a whole new world of video chat (and unrecognisable selfies) that just aren't possible with cheap Androids. 

Microsoft Lumia 435: Battery life 

Microsoft has fitted the Lumia 435 with a 1560mAh removable battery, which it says is good for 11.7 hours of talk time or 21 days standby. In our experience this is a one-day battery - it might not sound especially high in capacity, but this phone doesn't run particularly demanding hardware. 

If you're a heavy user you might appreciate the removable battery, allowing you to swap in a spare. Alternatively, the Microsoft Lumia 435 charges over Micro-USB, so you might prefer to pair it with a power bank. 

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2015. 

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Microsoft Lumia 435: Specs

  • 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 dual-core processor
  • Windows Phone 8.1 with Lumia Denim
  • Micro-SIM, supports 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM, 900/2100MHz WCDMA
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB storage (plus microSD support up to 128GB and 30GB cloud storage)
  • 4in (800x480, 233ppi) LCD capacitive touchscreen
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • A-GPS
  • GLONASS
  • 2Mp, f2.7 fixed-focus rear camera, WVGA (800x448) video recording at 30fps
  • 0.3Mp (VGA) f2.7 front camera, VGA (640x480) video recording
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 1560mAh removable battery, 11.7 hours talk time, 21 days standby
  • 64.7x11.7x118.1mm
  • 134.1g
  • 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 dual-core processor
  • Windows Phone 8.1 with Lumia Denim
  • Micro-SIM, supports 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM, 900/2100MHz WCDMA
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB storage (plus microSD support up to 128GB and 30GB cloud storage)
  • 4in (800x480, 233ppi) LCD capacitive touchscreen
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • A-GPS
  • GLONASS
  • 2Mp, f2.7 fixed-focus rear camera, WVGA (800x448) video recording at 30fps
  • 0.3Mp (VGA) f2.7 front camera, VGA (640x480) video recording
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 1560mAh removable battery, 11.7 hours talk time, 21 days standby
  • 64.7x11.7x118.1mm
  • 134.1g

OUR VERDICT

The Microsoft Lumia 435 is the best phone you can buy under £50, even accepting the tired old Windows Phone apps argument. Bottom of Microsoft's line-up and just £49.99 on PAYG it's by no means a great phone, but for first-time or light users it wipes the floor with similarly priced Android phones (and iOS at this price point is just a pipe dream - or a nightmare, but whichever way you look at it, it's not going to happen). Unlike the more expensive Lumia 535, Microsoft has confirmed that the Lumia 435 will get Windows 10 when it is released later this year, which will make this the cheapest entry point for a Windows 10 computer, and that alone makes it well worth a look.

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