Although all the fuss in the past few weeks has been over the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, it's undoubtedly true that the sub-£100 smartphone market has never looked better, with handsets costing a fifth of flagship devices opening up a world of apps (oh what a magical world) to uninitiated feature phone users.
Sauntering into this market is the latest budget-conscious handset from Microsoft and Nokia: the Lumia 530. Actually, ‘limboing’ would probably be the more appropriate verb as the 530 will be available from UK shelves for just £60 - hoping to replicate the success of its similarly-priced predecessor (and best-selling Windows Phone to date) the Lumia 520.
The 530 is instantly recognizable as a Lumia thanks to its neon-coloured polycarbonate case. Although it’s a bit chunky and toy-like in the hand, the curved back is comfortable and despite its lightness (just 129 grams) it feels sturdy too. You definitely feel like you could bounce it off the floor a few times without doing too much harm (although, obviously, don’t).
Unfortunately what that eye-popping case does best is show just how poor the 4-inch screen is by comparison. The colours are dull, the viewing angles are poor and although with a resolution of 854 x 480 Nokia can technically say its ‘better’ than the 840 x 480 screen on the 520, those extra pixels are only there to accommodate the move of the back, home and menu buttons to the screen.
The screen is so bad that if you pick the wrong accent colour for your menus (one of the nicer touches of the Windows Phone OS ironically) then you might even struggle to read text messages. It’s probably not a deal-breaker for first time smartphone users or shoppers on a budget, but it’s a shame to be lumped with a permanently-smudgy screen – especially when the rest of the phone feels and works well across the board.
In terms of innards there’s a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 512MB of RAM that do the job fine. You can swish back and forth between menus with no trouble, games (for the most) play fine and although if you make any unexpected jumps (say from the lock screen to a music player) you can expect a few seconds loading time, it’s not a terrible ask at the price.
There’s just a single rear-facing 5 megapixel camera which is fine for the occasional snap, but will never serve as the camera you use on your holidays. There’s no flash either which means no night-shots at all, plus you can’t use it as a flashlight in a moment of need (let’s face it – this has been one of the most genuinely useful things about smartphones in recent years).
So what makes the 530 stand out from the budget market? Why settle for a slightly shabby screen when you could go for something with a better display (the Moto E) or faster internet (the 4G-ready Kestrel from EE). Well, surprisingly, the answer might be Windows Phone 8.1.
As ever, there’s not much to tempt over a committed iOS or Android user but for a first-time smartphone customer there’s a lot of good features, including a capable maps app (with turn-by-turn directions for driving), a very neat looking calendar and arguably the best free music streaming app on any mobile platform: MixRadio.
(For those who’ve not come across MixRadio, this offers ad-free playlists from different genres and charts that can be downloaded for offline use and customized to your tastes. It’s not the same as having your personal music library - you can’t browse discographies for example and can only skip six tracks per hour without subscribing - but it’s perfect for commutes or background music – and very much underrated simply because of the platform).
Windows Phone is still far from perfect of course, and is often confusing to navigate (all those undifferentiated text options in an endless queue) and the home screen needs a bit of customizing before it really works, but if you’re not platform-agnostic then it’s certainly worth a look see. As for the 530 itself – well, that screen really does undermine a lot of the positives but for £60 I can’t see many complaining about it.