The Nokia Lumia 630 comes with vibrant interchangeable cases, the latest Windows Phone 8.1 software and an affordable price tag.
The Motorola Moto G is undoubtedly the darling of the budget smartphone world, thanks to its mid-range specs and bottom-end price. It's not the only option to go for though -- particularly if you're not keen on Android's sometimes complicated way of doing things.
If you're after something a little different but still don't want to break the bank, cast your eye over the Nokia Lumia 630. It's a 4.5-inch phone, packing a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, a 5-megapixel camera and the latest Windows Phone 8.1 software, complete with its simplistic live tile interface. It also comes in colours bright enough to burn straight through your retinas.
You can pick the phone up now in the UK for free on contracts starting at £8.50 per month, or SIM-free for £129 from Nokia. It's available in Australia for AU$249, and will soon be available in the US. Its price puts it squarely up against the Moto G however, which is a dangerous place to be. So does the fun, vibrant Windows Phone 8.1 software make it a worthy option?
Neither the 630 or Moto G have 4G LTE, although both phones do have slightly more expensive 4G LTE-enabled siblings . In Nokia's case, that's the Lumia 635, which will be available globally later this month.
Like most of Nokia's Lumia phones, it's the bright colours that really make the 630 stand out. The back cover is formed from a single piece of plastic that bends round to meet the glass front. You can get covers in a luminous yellow -- with a green sheen on the surrounding plastic -- a shiny orange and a more sensible matte green. You can also get it in black, but there's just no fun in that at all.
The cases are removable, so you can swap the colour to match your outfit -- although I don't want to see the outfit that matches luminous yellowy-green -- or just pop on a new one when your old one gets a bit battered. The cases are made from a sturdy plastic so it certainly feels like it could take a few knocks and bumps. The toughened Gorilla Glass 3 screen should keep a good deal of scratches at bay too.
It's a good job the back of the phone looks so fun as the front is simply a plain slab of black glass, broken only at the top by a little sliver where the speaker sits. It measures 129mm long and 67mm wide, so you can use it in one hand -- not like its enormous big brother, the Lumia 1520 . Around the sides are the volume and power buttons, a 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top, while the micro-USB port -- for charging and data transfer -- can be found on the bottom.
Beneath the back cover is the micro-SIM card slot, the battery (which I'll come to later) and a microSD card slot. That last one is an important addition as the 630 only comes with 8GB of storage as standard. While that's more than enough for Twitter and Facebook apps and saving your snaps, if you want to keep video stored locally or download huge apps like Asphalt 8, you'll quickly find yourself running out of space.
The 4.5-inch display has an 854x480-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 218 pixels per inch (ppi). It has the same size screen as the Moto G, but the G has a higher resolution, giving a much more impressive pixel density of 326ppi. Side by side, the Moto G is noticeably sharper, particularly when you look at small text.
Still, it's at least sharp enough for your essential networking and the big, colourful live tiles that make up the Windows Phone 8.1 homescreen look good. It might have a particularly high resolution, but it's bright and it has decent colours too. Streaming "Planet Earth" on Netflix didn't look crisp, but less detail-heavy shows like "Adventure Time" looked fine.
It's running on the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8.1. This latest version of the software brings a bunch of new features -- including Cortana, Windows Phone's Siri-rivalling voice assistant -- but not all new features are found on the 630. Cortana, for one, isn't available on any 8.1 device in the UK yet.
Two new features that you will notice pretty quickly are the ability to set photos as background images and the new drop-down notification panel. Although adding photos as a background does help customise the home screen a little, it's not as big a deal as it might sound. The image doesn't change the black backdrop, but rather makes some icons -- the email, People and phone apps, for example -- look transparent, with your photo "behind" them. If you have mostly third-party apps at the top and they're not updated to have transparent icons, you won't be able to see much of your image.
The notifications panel is much more useful though. It's basically the same thing you'll find on Android devices -- swipe down from the top of the screen to pull down a panel showing all your notifications (texts, emails, missed calls etc) and get quick access to critical settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and screen brightness. It's an extremely helpful addition, although one that should have been on board a long time ago.
The rest of the interface is much the same as it was before -- the scrolling live tiles make up the home screen, with your app list a swipe to the left. It's easy to get to grips with, and features like the People hub -- which combines all of your social networks and email contacts into one place to easily see all updates -- are handy.
As it did with previous Lumias, Nokia has chucked in its own software, including Here Maps, Here Drive and Here Transit. Nokia's mapping software is pretty good and it allows you to download large areas -- such as the entirety of England -- to your phone for offline use. Here Drive gives you turn-by-turn satellite navigation, meaning you won't need to shell out on a TomTom. I had a little trouble though, as the app wouldn't load on my phone, even though it was apparently up to date. I was forced to manually download the app from the online store onto a microSD card, then load that into the phone. It may be just a one-off bug, but it's worth bearing in mind if you have similar troubles.
Here Transit meanwhile gives you live departure times for local public transport -- buses, trains and the Underground too, if you're in London. You'll also find Nokia's Mix Radio on board, which lets you stream free music playlists, without ads. It's a good job Nokia includes so much stuff as the Windows Phone app store is still poorly stocked. While big names like Netflix, Spotify, WhatsApp and Instagram are on board, Windows Phone almost always receives apps long after they have launched on iOS and Android.
Powering the phone is a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. It's the same chip that you'll find in the Motorola Moto G, although the G has 1GB of RAM, while the Lumia 630 has 512MB. Microsoft argues that Windows Phone doesn't require as much RAM as Android to work smoothly however and indeed I found the phone to be perfectly capable.
Navigating around the radiant tiles was swift, with no noticeable stuttering or slow down. Apps opened quickly, although the camera app is subject to a several second delay, which could prove annoying if you're trying to catch your pet doing something particularly cute.
Still, it handled more demanding tasks without trouble. Glossy 3D racer Asphalt 8 played smoothly with high frame rates in all but the most intense of racing moments, while video streaming in Netflix and BBC iPlayer was handled admirably. It might not have the world's most powerful processor on paper, but the fact remains that there's not a whole lot in the Windows Phone store that will really tax the top-end processors. For the majority of tasks you're likely to ask of your phone, 630 has enough juice to cope.
On the back of the phone is a 5-megapixel camera -- the same number of megapixels you'll get from the Moto G. I took it for a spin in the CNET office and found it gave adequate results for a budget phone.
My first shot was rather dark -- certainly darker than the area actually was -- and there's a far bit of image noise in the shadowy areas. Still, it achieved a decent focus.
On my second shot of our pool table, I again found the camera to err rather on the dark side. The Nokia camera app does give some manual control over settings like exposure, shutter speed and white balance, so it's worth playing around if you're not happy with the auto mode.
I'd certainly need to tweak the white balance settings on this close up shot of some fruit, as the colours on full-automatic mode are very drab and unimpressive.
The camera doesn't really impress, but I won't go so far as to call it awful -- realistically, it's about what you should expect, given the price of the phone. It's not going to catapult you into photography stardom, but so long as you take your shots in well-lit areas and take the time to use the manual controls properly, you should be able to get snaps good enough for Facebook. Bear in mind that there's no flash -- something you will find on the Moto G -- so you can forget about night-time portraits of your friends.
The Lumia 630 is powered by a 1,830mAh battery, which Nokia reckons will provide 13 hours of 3G talk time. That's a fairly decent claim and from my own testing, I'd say it's pretty close to the mark. With general use -- a bit of Web browsing, social networking and so forth -- the phone holds its charge fairly well.
In my more demanding video looping test, the battery had dropped to 73 percent after 2 hours and 32 percent after 5 hours, which isn't too bad. You certainly shouldn't be worrying about eating through all your power when watching a film on a long train journey. If you're not too careful about how much battery you're using, you'll almost certainly want to give it a charge overnight.
If you want to squeeze every last bit of juice possible from the battery, keep the screen brightness down, keep Wi-Fi turned off and avoid doing anything processor-heavy like gaming or video streaming. The battery is removable so you could always pick up a spare to carry around in case of emergency.
If you're taking your first tentative steps into the smartphone world, the Nokia Lumia 630 isn't a bad option. It's dirt cheap, it has enough power for anything you're likely to want to do and its Windows Phone 8.1 software is simple to get to grips with. Nokia's software additions are a bonus too.
You'd be wise to consider the Motorola Moto G though. It has a higher-resolution display for crisper photos and text and its Android software, while a little more complicated, means you have considerably more apps to choose from in the Google Play store. If you want the latest games when your Galaxy S5 -toting friends get them, the Moto G is the one to go for.