(Pocket-lint) - The Nokia Lumia 530 is the latest Windows Phone device tasked with blazing a path into your pocket without costing a bomb. Its goal, quite simply, is to bring the advantages of modern devices to more people.
It replaces the earlier Lumia 520, a model that was well received in 2013, but enters a market that's changed rapidly in the last year thanks to more competition hoping to win this battle of hearts and pounds. Has the Lumia 530 lost its edge?
The sub-£100 price of the Nokia Lumia 530 makes it difficult to ignore, but the performance makes it difficult to fully recommend.
Priced as it is, the Lumia 530 is one of the cheapest smartphones around and it has plenty to offer. If you're looking for something to keep you in touch, plus some apps and connectivity thrown in too, then it may be well suited.
But there are two areas that are likely to annoy those who opt for this Lumia: the display and the camera. A low resolution panel, buttons occupying the screen space and no auto-brightness controls limit the user experience, while the fixed focus camera, lack of flash and overall quality mean this Lumia lacks the camera prowess of those devices higher up the range.
Another issue the Lumia has is not of its own doing, it's down to the competition. With the Motorola Moto E offering a stronger display and performance for the same price in an Android operating system experience, as one example, you might well be tempted to look past this particular Lumia.
Overall the Nokia Lumia 530 is cute, well designed and cheap, but not without its problems.
Nokia Lumia 530
Like any number of previous Lumia devices, the Lumia 530 is well built. There was a time when a cheap handset meant it was going to be nasty - but that doesn't apply to the 530. It has a plastic construction with a removable polycarbonate back, giving easy access to the battery and card slots within.
It isn't the slimmest of devices, measuring 119.7 x 62.3 x 11.7mm and weighing 129g, but there's something fun and lovable about the 530's compact cuteness. That's aided by the soft curves and brightly coloured shells, meaning this phone has plenty of appeal in the hand.
A choice of coloured covers, including flip shells (which sadly don't close properly), give the Lumia 530 the sort of appeal that smartphone first timers might be looking for, and that's the market that Microsoft (the company that bought Nokia Lumia) wants to capture here: those looking for all those smartphone benefits, but at pocket money prices. You can get it on a £7.50 a month contract, for example.
The Lumia 530 is perhaps not as visually exciting as the 520, which had contrasting black buttons. In the 530 these buttons now they match the colour of the bodywork which looks rather plain. The loss of the dedicated camera button is something we keenly feel too, as it makes accessing the camera a little longer.
But that said, there's little to complain about from a design point of view. The 530 is comfortable to grip, a convenient size to throw in a pocket and there's ample grip from its finish. It's survived a few drops too - it's broken apart into three separate parts (body, back, battery) as Nokias of old always did, but hasn't ever suffered functionally as a result.
If there's one area we didn't get on with - and one which dominates the Lumia 530 experience - it's the display. The 4-inch screen has a 854 x 480 (244ppi) resolution which is a little low, even at this price point, but by moving the button controls into the display area it squeezes that available space even more.
Once you have controls and the keyboard up, half the display is gone and things are a little on the small size. Those with larger fingers might struggle to tap out messages with any speed, although Windows Phone 8.1's new swipe keyboard takes away some of that pain.
That's not really our complaint with the 530 however, as it's something you adapt to, but the screen's lack of an ambient light sensor, combined with a surface that likes to hold onto fingerprints means you'll often find yourself peering into a gloomy image on those brighter days.
That's not something that matters indoors, and thanks to Windows Phone evolution you can swipe down in version 8.1 and hit the brightness toggle to lift the levels, but in the weeks we've been using the 530 the display has been our biggest bugbear.
Hardware and performance
As a budget smartphone the Lumia 530 houses a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor, clocked at 1.2GHz and backed by 512MB of RAM. It's a loadout that wouldn't really work on a modern Android device, but Windows Phone just about gets away with it.
It's a little slow to respond at times and won't win any prizes for speed, but the Lumia 530 is all about balancing functionality and price. Some of that comes down to slowness in the Windows Phone operating system - the animations certainly don't help - but the limited power is the main reason.
There's only 4GB of internal storage too, which isn't much by modern standards, although you can expand this via microSD up to 128GB to store stacks of music, photos and more. You also get 15GB of free cloud storage from Microsoft OneDrive, with the option to have all your photos backed up there.
When it comes to connectivity the Lumia 530 can't achieve 4G speeds, it's 3G instead, while the usual trio of Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS are also on offer. That's just about all you'll need for pairing, internet and mapping.
Behind that removable rear the Lumia 530 houses a 1430mAh battery, and it can be switched for a spare if you have one. The capacity might sound a little on the low side, but with the hardware offered here it's not a problem: we found the Lumia 530 would easily make it though a day.
That's one of the advantages of avoiding the large-screen powerhouses that are offered elsewhere in the smartphone world. Instead the small displays and limited hardware of the 530 means a longer battery life. Of course, if you're constantly messaging an making calls then the battery will drain much faster. Making a lot of calls will cause the phone to heat up a little and that's matched with higher battery use.
There is a Battery Saver app, however, which we found useful. It not only allows you control the battery saving feature when your phone is running low on juice, but also details which apps are eating battery, with the option to restrict their use. You might find, for example, that something you installed but don't really use is just chugging away in the background and eating up your battery.
In addition to the screen limitations, another of the areas that has been squeezed to hit the right price point is the camera. Nokia smartphones are renowned for being quality in this department, but that's reserved for the higher-spec devices.
Note we say camera as there's nothing on the front of the Lumia 530, meaning no selfies, no video calling, no nothing.
This degu close to the lens is out of focus, while the background is in focus, a result of the fixed focus device
On the rear is a 5-megapixel fixed focus camera with no flash. By modern terms that's just about as basic as it gets. Being fixed focus it has a minimum focus distance of 60cm, so anything closer will be out of focus and you won't get those nice sharp focus effects you'll find on a higher-spec device.
In low light photos are very noisy with lots of mottling and the lack of flash doesn't help here. Even just indoors during the day, the Lumia 530 doesn't really acquit itself well. Typical daylight shots are average and given good light you'll get respectable results, but no one is going to be shouting about the camera performance like they might further up the Lumia ladder.
Given the price, some of that is to be expected, but if photography is high-up on your agenda then you'll probably at least want something with autofocus. Not so with the Lumia 530.
Video is also limited to 848 x 480 pixels, so it's not reaching those HD norms.
Sound and calling
The phone gets a little warm when making calls, although the size is comfortable to hold against the face. However, we found the screen would often remain on when in a call, so we'd have to press a button to shut it off when against our face. At times this also resulted in it taking a long time to end a call, having to get the screen to play nice. However, calls sound good enough and we had no complaints about the quality when making or receiving them.
There's a single speaker on the rear of the Lumia 530 for pushing out the audio. It offers more volume than it can sensibly handle, being a little shrill at higher volumes. We'd recommend you stick to your headphones, as with almost any smartphone device.
Windows Phone 8.1
One of the strong positives about the Nokia Lumia 530 is its Windows Phone 8.1 operating system. It arrives with software that offers most of the best from Microsoft and a collection of Lumia advantages.
Windows Phone 8.1 has moved Microsoft's mobile operating system into a much more competitive space and there's a lot of stuff here we like, both from the user interface and available apps point of view. The app gap is slowly closing, although a device at this level isn't best place to take advantage of everything on offer from the Microsoft Store.
However, we like the little touches. From Instagram's lockscreen wallpaper offering through to Windows Phone's data and battery apps to help you keep track of everything that's going on.
The ease of notifications is also welcomed, a great change over recent Windows Phone offerings, although we think that Nokia/Microsoft needs a second look at how it arranges its settings menu, as it now just feels like a random dump of incongruous options.
At a core level the Nokia Lumia 530 gives you that smartphone experience with social and online services working as they should, be that Twitter, BBC iPlayer or Uber. It's never going to stack up against devices that have a little more power, but at this bargain price you're still getting a lot.