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Hands-on with the Lumia 530: Microsoft's cheapest Windows Phone ever

The Lumia 520 was one of the most popular devices ever to run Windows Phone. Can its successor follow in its footsteps?

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

It is a truth universally acknowledged much of to the popularity of its lower end device, . Released in early 2013, the 520 now has a successor in the form of the Lumia 530. Is it a worthy one?

Like the 520, the 530's chief selling point looks likely to be its price: it's the cheapest Lumia to date, costing around £60 or €80 – markedly cheaper than the 520, which debuted at £120.

The 530 is pretty much the same size as its predecessor. While there's a couple of millimetres shaved off the dimensions, both come with a four-inch display. And both have almost exactly the same resolution, the 530's marginally better at 480 x 854 pixels. However, while the 520 was IPS LCD, the 530 is LCD alone.

The sacrifices Microsoft has made to keep that alluring price tag are found elsewhere: the 530 has 4GB of storage, compared to the 8GB found on the 520. Of that 4GB, around 1GB was free on the device we used. If you need to expand it, the microSD slot will take you up to 128GB, double the 64GB optionable with the 520.

RAM too is the same at 512MB, though the chipset has been upgraded from a dual-core 1Ghz Qualcomm's MSM8227, to a quad-core 1.2Ghz Snapdragon 200, making it a decently zippy device. It doesn't struggle with Windows Phone 8.1, and from a quick sample, it copes fine with games that should require 1GB of memory.

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2 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

However, despite coming from the same line, it makes little sense to compare the 530 to the 520, as it's unlikely to be where much of its user base will come from. Because of the similarities in specs between the two devices, shifting from one to the other would be less of an upgrade, more of a sidegrade. Instead, this device is likely to be aimed at smartphone users looking for an affordable first handset.

The camera too is the same as the 530, and it shows. While Nokia's device unit, acquired earlier this year, was renowned for having great cameras on its handsets, the lower-end phones don't lead the market on photography in the same way as their lower-end counterparts.

The 530 has no front facing camera — so no easy selfies or videocalling — but you'd expect that for the price. Its rear-facing camera suffers from issues as the 630 – the images can appear fuzzy and washed out. The camera software on the device can help remedy that to a degree, but for point-and-shooters, the results are unsatisfying.  

That said, the sensor on the 530 is parallel to many higher priced budget phones. While a low-grade camera is understandable given the bargain basement price of the 530, given Nokia's heritage, I'd hoped for more — it would be good to see Microsoft showing how cameras on phones can be done on the low end, as Nokia did on the high end.

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3 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

The display compounds the niggles with the camera too – it's fairly low resolution, so fuzzy snaps can appear even fuzzier on screen. The absence of ClearBlack is also felt, while a white background looks more like a very faint grey. The screen seems glary in strong sunlight, and fingerprints having a tendency to be more visible on the 530 than on other phones.

The resolution also means that Microsoft's inclusion of Office software is a tad optimistic – scrolling through long pages of text isn't a great experience on the 530, so anything but a cursory check of a Word document or spreadsheet isn't going to be an option here.

The display itself also has a faintly grainy texture to the touch, though it's something that ceases to be apparent after a little use. It's also not the best when it comes to responsiveness — you often find yourself making the same swipe or pinch to zoom gesture several times before the phone would catch on.

Again, it's a £60 phone, so no surprise that the 530 display shouldn't match up to, say, an iPhone 6's, but it feels like too many corners have been cut here.

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4 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

Despite its budget price tag, the handset is light and pleasingly robust.

The 530 moves away from the sharper lines of the 530 towards the new design language seen on more recent Lumias — rounded edges are in, as is neon colouring. If you prefer a less retina-threatening hue, there are flip covers from Nokia though, at £15, buying one means adding 25 percent to the price of the handset. 

In terms of visible hardware features, on the right of the device is the power button and volume rocker; the headphone jack, speaker, and microUSB port are found on the top, back, and bottom of the device respectively.

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5 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

While Microsoft is gradually removing Nokia branding from devices and replacing it with its own, for now the device has a strange mixture of both.

The front and rear of the device have Nokia printed on them, but the sticker under the battery says 'Microsoft Devices'. When you boot it up, first you see the Nokia logo, then Microsoft's Windows mark.

More puzzlement is found with maps. Wwhile Nokia's Here unit gets a look-in in the form of its Drive+ navigation app, but the Here Maps app is nowhere to be found, replaced with a Microsoft equivalent, Bing apps.

However, despite their different parentage, both apps have much in common: neither worked when we tried them, only displaying a 'you are here' circle and no street level maps. Thanks to the amount of storage the 530 has, handy features like downloading maps for offline use were borked too, unless you have a microSD card to hand.

According to Microsoft, the decision to include Bing maps rather than Here Maps was due to the amount of memory the latter consumes, you'd have to download it and save it to the memory card. To fix the issues of street level mapping disappearing, "we would suggest expanding storage with an SD card and enabling your OneDrive account, checking for phone updates, and finally making sure that you have downloaded the apps for that country", Microsoft said.

But wait, wasn't getting around the having to download the app the reason Microsoft didn't include the (much superior) Here in the first place? No, we didn't get it either.

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6 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

Talking of welcome additions, the 530 has a removable battery, and due to its low specs, it does tend to last a respectable amount of time — several days between charges for modest, but not parsimonious, use. 

That battery conservation is aided by a lack of 4G, as the 530 is 3G and GSM only.

There's another nod to the cost-conscious in the form of dual SIM slots — it's nice to see devices bearing those making it to the UK, as so often they're considered to be the preserve of emerging markets. For those who do like to swap out either SIMs or batteries, there's good news on the accessibility front. Despite no obvious way in, the back cover is easy enough to pop off, even for those without long nails.

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7 of 7 Jo Best/ZDNet

Microsoft has managed to cram a smartphone experience into a respectably priced handset. Naturally, that will involve some tradeoffs. Some, like the suboptimal camera, are perhaps forgiveable; others, like the terrible screen, really aren't.

Nokia's (now Microsoft's) naming conventions mean the larger the number, the higher tier the device. For example, a handset with a number in the 700s is more lower-end than a device with a number in the 900s. Microsoft's naming conventions lead us to think of the 530 as the 520's successor and that is where some of the disappointment with the 530 comes in.

For typical upgrades — from the 920 to the 930, for example — specs generally improve. Between the 520 and the 530, they haven't, and it's the price that's been improved instead. We can't help wondering if Microsoft would have been better establishing a new, cheaper device line for the 530 — say, calling it the 430 instead — while also releasing alongside that a true successor to the 530 with the better specs that customers would expect.

Whether the 530 merits your attention will come down largely to a question of how cost conscious you are. In its current price bracket, there's not much else out there to touch it.

However, you're prepared to add another £20 and are Windows Phone inclined, it's worth considering  for the screen improvement alone. And, if you can stump up another £40, there's a far greater array of decent options out there, including the

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