At this point in time, when the brand encompasses over 95% of sales in the market it is a part of, it is easy to forget that Lumia is not the totality of Windows Phone.
Though many of the bigger players, like Samsung and HTC, have come and gone, leaving decent devices (with limited support) in their wake, there are still a few shoots of growth attempting to break through. In the USA, BLU has enjoyed some success away from its traditional Android fare, with phones, like the Win HD LTE, that combine good looks with solid performance at a great price.
Others have tried too, Micromax in India, Colours Mobile in Nepal, all a part of Microsoft’s strategy of offering reference designs and significant incentives to win support. In the UK, it is emergent mobile player Kazam that leads the local flock, producing an array of well-priced devices under the odd moniker ‘Thunder’, all running Windows Phone.
Of these, the 340W sits near the bottom, a relative runt. With a 4-inch screen, a quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor and a 5MP rear-facing camera with autofocus, it boasts similar specs to the competition. The question is, can it really bring the ‘Thunder’ that the range promises?
When first holding the 340W, several things spring to mind. The rear of the device is covered in a glossy silver brushed plastic that, against expectations, is reasonably grippy and even a little handsome from some angles. Unfortunately, like most glossy plastic backs, it is prone to picking up an unpleasant film of oils from the hand, making a microfiber cloth essential for the fussy.
As the screen is only 4 inches across, the rest of the device is adequately proportioned. Emphasized by its slightly excessive curves, the 340W sits comfortably in almost any adult hand, feeling almost pebble-like. It brings to mind a Samsung Galaxy S3 designed by Fisher Price, that is to say comfortable and familiar, if a little too chunky.
The physical feel isn’t the only thing reminiscent of Samsung. Anyone coming to this device from a Lumia is in for something of a shock, as the button layout is significantly different. Near the top on the right hand side rests the power button, while the volume rocker inhabits the upper portion of the left side. The bottom of the device is completely devoid of any buttons and ports, while the top houses the micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack.
Around the rear of the device can be found a Kazam logo, a Windows Phone logo, the rear-firing speaker and the 5MP rear-facing camera, along with a single-LED flash. The front holds the screen, the VGA selfie-cam and an ambient brightness sensor, along with three capacitive Windows keys.
In all, it makes for a decent first impression, especially given the price. Coming in at £75, it is placed at the lower end of the budget market, and amongst the mostly lacklustre competition at this level, that it has any character at all is something of an achievement.
However, as with many other phones produced for tears and peanuts, although the general quality has definitely improved even since last year, the screen lags badly behind its more expensive rivals.
Color reproduction, although a little cool, was acceptable, though the panel was quite dim. At extremely wide angles, it also suffers from a significant drop off in both brightness and saturation.
With a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, the screen on the 340W has a density of 233 PPI, which proves to be adequate in daily use. Although text can appear jagged, especially against white backgrounds, given the size of the screen, I personally found that my eyes had great difficulty picking up any faults.
Spread across a tablet screen, they would be glaring, but nitpicking at such an issue, especially given the price of the device, isn’t quite the point. In general use, for gaming, browsing the internet, watching video, the panel on the 340W is liveable, if not massively enjoyable.
There is one issue that is significant however, and cannot be ignored: the sensitivity of the panel. On my review device, I found that, when entering text on the virtual keyboard, a fair bit of lag came into play. That is to say that, when typing, the screen was often two to three keystrokes behind me, on some occasions more than seven.
This typically reduced what I was writing to an incomprehensible word-salad. Whether a software fault, a hardware fault with my device or a flaw common to the series, it was an annoying impediment to my daily use of the 340W.
Under the hood, keeping everything chugging along, is a quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor, backed up with 512MB of RAM. The 200, along with the 400, though manufactured by Qualcomm, is a beloved processor of Microsoft’s. With most current budget to mid-range Lumia devices running one of these chips, they have both been well optimised to Windows Phone.
On the flip-side, Windows Phone has consistently become more resource-intensive as Redmond has been adding new features in recent iterations. Overall, I found performance to be adequate. Although playing games such as Subway Surfers could result in the odd jumped-frame, everywhere else I found that moving through the OS and browsing online was a mostly pain-free experience, especially given the price point.
As for the RAM situation, well that is something else. Under Nokia, the Lumia line had a multitude of phones thrown into the market with 512MB of RAM, most of which proved to perform very well. As Microsoft’s intentions for its mobile OS have grown however, so have its RAM requirements. Indeed, every new Lumia, even the very lowly 435, comes bearing at least 1GB of RAM, in order to make the transition to Windows 10 Mobile as easy as possible for the hardware.
Although support for devices with lower RAM specifications is still strong in the ecosystem, given the enormous popularity of devices such as the Lumia 520, how long these devices will continue to be supported, given Microsoft’s new vision, is less clear.
With a 1500 mAh unit, battery performance on the 340W was adequate. Windows Phone still benefits from tight memory management, meaning that standby time on the whole was great. As for everyday use, it was adequate. That is to say that, once I had adjusted my expectations, I found that it performed normally.
This isn’t a phone designed for a great gaming experience, nor was it made for constantly watching movies. Users with either of these general use cases should look elsewhere. For the average light user, who maybe indulges in a few phone calls, some texting, sends a few emails and browses the internet for say half an hour per day, the 340W will easily last from morning to evening, and given that it has a removable battery, those who need a bit more juice can hot-swap.
When hot-swapping, the user will discover two unusual things. The first is the presence of two-SIM slots. That isn’t to say that dual-SIM phones are inherently unusual, rather it is the size of the slots, with both being ‘full’ SIM, as opposed to the Micro or Nano variety. For those with these cards, an adapter is required. This only goes to further cement the notion that this is a device for those moving from their feature phones, a first smartphone. Keeping the same size SIM slot as on these devices only makes the swap easier.
The second, rather irritating, find is the Micro-SD card slot. It isn’t the mere presence of the slot that is annoying however, rather the mechanism for locking the card into place. A little metal door is positioned over the card, ostensibly locking it into place and protecting its contents. Instead, the little door flies open with only the slightest provocation, sending any contained card flying (in my case, down the back of a sofa). Either a design oversight, or a manufacturing flaw, it was an unfortunate reality, and definitely something to consider.
Luckily, the rear-speakers were quite pleasant. Although prone to distorting bass at higher volumes, it nonetheless manages to produce a consistently pleasant sound, easy to hear above the drum of a shower, something some phones over twice the price struggle to achieve.
Also, although limited to HSDPA+ by default, in the Bath and Swindon area I found reception to be adequate, and data speeds to be acceptable, if not earth shattering. As might be expected for this price, the 340W comes with only 8GB of storage outside of the box, not all of which is available to the user. Given that this is a Windows Phone device, it isn’t too much of an issue however. With the option available to install apps straight to the Micro-SD card, most users should be satisfied.
Five megapixels, with autofocus and a LED flash. Although these spec may not wow, for the price point they are actually quite nice. It has commonly been the case for very cheap devices to come bearing cameras with less megapixels, fixed focus, and no flash. Even more commonly, these often come without front-facing cameras, a necessity for selfies and Skype.
As such, the Kazam Thunder 340W is well equipped in this department, and the results produced are largely reminiscent of other budget devices, that is to say: not good.
At the best of times, the 340W has a very limited dynamic range, and with no HDR ability, it is very difficult to compensate for different exposures. Detail produced is mushy and the edges of the frame are very soft. Colors also lack vibrancy, even at the best of times.
Despite the fact that the camera comes with autofocus, it was slow to achieve a lock, and even then it never seemed quite committed to the point chosen. As might be expected, the LED flash is also quite week.
And the less said about the selfie camera, the better; images, are at best…impressionistic.
Again it must be said, for the price point, this isn’t bad per se. No one interested in this device will be interested in it rivalling the likes of the Nokia Lumia 1020 for sheer performance, this is merely intended as a means by which to catch impromptu moments. And for the casual snapper, it fits this bill. Although it will not rival a point and shoot, it is certainly not the worst performer at the price point (*cough* Lumia 435 *cough*).
In my unboxing and first impressions of the Kazam Thunder 340W, I called it ‘middling’. That doesn’t mean bad, nor does it mean great; it is merely there. Judged on its own merits, it is a perfect device for a certain subset of person: the elderly, children and first time smartphone buyers.
However, when compared to the competition, the picture begins to change somewhat. At an OS level, although Windows Phone is still a very strong performer, Android phones are beginning to catch up in terms of build quality, and also come with a distinct advantage in the app situation.
With the Windows Phone ecosystem itself, another issue arises, the Lumia brand. For this price could be purchased the Lumia 630, 635 or 535, the 435 comes in at a little less, the 640 at a little more. Each offers a distinct advantage in power, camera performance or both when compared to the 340W, making a purchase even more difficult to justify.
It must be said, Kazam is well aware of this situation. Unable to compete at the same level financially, the company has opted to offer excellent customer service. The 340W comes with a 3 year warranty, and the first screen replacement comes free of charge. This does sweeten the deal a little.
This only further emphasizes my earlier point, this isn’t a device for the average user. For the accident prone, for children being given their first device, for older persons doing the same, as a back-up phone, this is a contender. Solidly built, very friendly and with the great customer service options, for this audience it is a winner.
Yet for the power-user, or those looking for the ultimate bang for their buck, this is not the holy grail. And yet, Kazam does not act as though this is the case. Ultimately that this device will sadly not receive Windows 10, and all the benefits thereof, is a nail in its coffin.
But for a certain subset, this will not matter, and should they take the time, they will certainly find charm in this silver plastic pebble.
If you have any questions regarding the device, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below.
We would like to thank Clove Technologies UK for supplying our review unit. If you would like to purchase a Kazam Thunder 340W, you can do so here.