We review the best cheap phones often here at T3 – and I think the Realme C35 looks like one of 2022's contenders for the budget Android phone crown. It wraps together an attractive design with an eye-catching colour choice, a high-resolution main camera, and while its specification isn't at the uppermost tier by any means, it's got the goods to be a capable contender.
I've been using the Realme C35 as a secondary device for a number of weeks to see whether it's strong enough to keep the likes of Motorola's Moto G31 at bay when it comes to considering an outright Android purchase. Generally speaking I've been impressed, although there's always some caveats when it comes to budget buys. So should you buy the C35? Here's what I make of it...
Realme C35: Price and availability
The Realme C35 is available right now in the UK, priced at £149 for the 64GB model, or £169 for the 128GB model. I'd suggest plumping for the extra storage option, as operating systems and apps can quickly eat up space and affect overall operability.
Outside of the UK you'll find the same larger storage model in Europe priced at €199. But one of the main areas for sales is in India, where the same model costs Rs11,999. A relative bargain, whichever currency you're working in.
Realme C35: Design and Display
Available in Glowing Green (pictured), or Glowing Black (not pictured, but I can't imagine how it 'glows', really), it's clear from the off that the Realme C35's design is about capturing your attention. It's a pretty fetching green colour, and I'm particularly glad that Realme has dialled back the branding to a friendly level – some earlier handsets have been littered with slogans and giant logos that, well, I'm not sure anyone truly wants. This, however, this is pretty smart – but rather plasticky, so don't get lured into thinking it's in any way premium.
There's a camera enclosure to the upper corner of the rear, which protrudes a little, but not by a wild amount. Yes, it causes a bit of 'desk wobble' when the phone is laid on its back, but it's not a disaster like I've found with some higher-end phones with absolutely-frickin'-massive camera arrangements. Not that the C35 has much of an excuse: it's quite a thick phone, at 8.1mm, plus the display is flat which accentuates this somewhat, so I'm surprised the cameras couldn't be designed flush with the body.
Unusually for an Android device, Realme separates the power button from the volume up/down switches on the respective right and left sides of the device (when facing the screen). I still find this rather strange, as it's to no real benefit, not that it's a total deal-breaker to purchase potential, just that so few other makers opt for this arrangement. The power button is also where the fingerprint scanner lives, which I've found works proficiently enough.
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And so on to the display. Just because the Realme C35 is affordable doesn't mean it's scrimped in every department. This LCD panel, which is 6.6-inches across the diagonal, is of ample scale, and certainly brighter than I've seen on many budget phones over the years (Realme quotes 600 nits). That said, in the want to preserve battery life, the auto-brightness does kick in and dim the screen down a bit much some of the time. Also I've noticed fingerprints being a bit of a pain on this screen, it's just less resistive to natural oils than other devices that I also use frequently.
Elsewhere the screen is really well specified: even the resolution is more than plentiful (at 1080 x 2408 pixels). It's only the refresh rate that's not going to rival step-up devices, as it's limited to 60Hz (not the 90Hz or 120Hz smoother potential of some competitors). Oh, and if you don't like teardrop notches then tough luck: there's no separated punch-hole version here for the front-facing camera, but I don't mind either way.
Realme C35: Performance and battery
It's what's under the Realme C35's skin where it dials things down a bit. The processor is a Unisoc Tiger T616, which might cause you to go "what, no Qualcomm?". But, honestly, it's not the end of the world: the C35 still functions just fine, so I've had no problems navigating between apps, software screens and even games.
I've even been playing Lemmings from time to time and it's posed no animation issues, no stuttering or the like. No, the C35 is not going to be a PUBG Mobile champion device, but that's a given on this kind of hardware. But if you don't care about that kind of thing then you'll be fine for playing casual play games. And it's well beyond what you'll get from a Nokia 3.4, for example.
As mentioned earlier, the C35 is reasonably thick, which will partly be down to the 5,000mAh battery on board. That's a decent capacity, though, especially with a processor that doesn't cause the device's body to turn into a miniature furnace. It keeps cool, and lasts for a pretty cool amount of time too – I've been getting well over a day of 'normal' use, so 16 hours plus, no problems.
Recharging is via an 18W charger, which isn't especially fast by today's standards. It was taking me over an hour to get a full charge back in the phone. Hardly a problem, but it just shows where the C35 sits in Realme's range – especially as the brand was first to announce 150W DartCharge.
Realme C35: Cameras
When it comes to cheap phones the cameras are typically a compromise. The Realme C35 does things at least a little differently though: it combines one pretty decent main camera with, well, what I can only call two throwaway lenses. But that's pretty typical of many budget devices – latching on a batch of less useful optics to up the number count.
I'll get the bad news out of the way first: the 2-megapixel macro and 0.3-megapixel are of real limited use, as the macro quality is low-res, blurry to the edges, and you need a bit of guesswork to get the focus right (as its all about distance, i.e. it's manual). I've also found that I can get far better close-up images without turning the 'Macro' setting on within the app and just using the normal camera instead!
The depth sensor? I've never seen much use for these, as the kind of portraits aren't ever that convincing given the 'fluffy' blurred edges around subjects' faces. If you want it, though, there is a 'Portrait' setting to make some use of this lens, so it's not entirely useless.
But – yes, there's a but! – stick with the main camera and things are really rather good. The camera app is slick in operation, lag is limited (I often didn't even know I'd taken a picture, it's that speedy), and best of all the resulting images from that sensor – which uses four 'pixels' to render one in the final image, at 12.5MP rather than 50MP – are clean and clear.
There's automatic high dynamic range (HDR) to offset the shadows and highlights and various in-app editing after the fact if you want to make tweaks to your shots. That means backlighting isn't an issue, with a simple click-to-focus/expose on the screen handling a multitude of subjects with ease.
So while there's no wide-angle, no optical zoom, and no real bells and whistles as part of the C35's camera make-up, that's no surprise. But focus on that main optic and, at this price point, it's a strong performer for the money. It even does fairly well in dim lighting situations, such as when I was on the London Underground, which adds another string to this budget phone's bow.
Realme C35 review: Verdict
If you're looking for a budget buy then the Realme C35 is mighty impressive Android handset considering its price point, delivering a strong main camera, reasonable performance considering the cost, and an eye-catching design that doesn't go over-the-top with its focus on logos and branding. Don't expect miracles for your money, but there's little else out there that'll compete at this price point.
Realme C35: Also Consider
We've got a variety of cheap phones to check out in our dedicated feature, but the most obvious direct competitor at this Realme's price point is the Moto G31. We prefer the Moto's software setup overall, while its MediaTek processor is arguably a little more capable too. Certainly a sensible alternative to consider, but not one to write-off Realme's attempts either.
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