Well, this is interesting. After informing the world that the recently released Lumia 635 was the follow-up to the best-selling Lumia 520, Microsoft Mobile/Nokia announced this morning that it would in fact release a Lumia 530 in the fall in the US, along with a Lumia 530 Dual-SIM model for international markets. My do they make a lot of different phones.
You'll need to be a semi-expert in Nokia Lumia models to understand what's happening here. Fortunately, I feel qualified to assume that role. I suspect some of you do as well.
But if not, here's what's happening.
Last year, Nokia released The Little Lumia That Could, the Lumia 520, and its cross-carrier sister, the Lumia 521. I described this product as my favorite tech device of 2013, and wrote lovingly about it several times, most notably in such articles as Lumia 520/521: Meet the New Normal and of course In Praise of the Nokia Lumia 520. Looking at the most recent Windows Phone usage stats, what we see is that the world has responded: Combined these two devices represent over half of all Windows Phones in use in the USA, and over one-third of all Windows Phones in use in the world. The 520 is so successful that Nokia, and now Microsoft, have completely altered their smart phone strategy and will now target this low-end of the market as the primary focus of Windows Phone.
But while the Lumia 520 has been a huge success, it's been a while. Nokia released an improved model, the Lumia 525, but that targeted China specifically, and while it was sold in other countries, it was never brought to the US. This spring, of course, we heard about new low-end devices that "benefitted" from Nokia's brief foray into Android phones; that is, these devices were designed to be used with both Windows Phone and Android, and featured soft buttons on the front instead of hardware buttons and lacked a camera button. The first two such models, the Lumia 635 and Lumia 630, are now available.
I'm in the process of reviewing the Lumia 635 right now—spoiler alert, it's a great low-end handset—but you can read my Nokia Lumia 635: First Impressions and Photos article for a quick catch-up. Short version: The Lumia 635 is a lot like the Lumia 520. It has an updated processor, a bigger screen, Sensor Core technology and of course Windows Phone 8.1. But it actually only meets the 520 in a few categories—512 MB of RAM, a lackluster camera, 800 x 480 resolution, and 8 GB of internal storage—while falling short in a few key areas, including that lack of a camera button.
But whatever. Not just because Nokia said so, the Lumia 635 was a fairly obvious follow-up to the Lumia 520/521 in the US, and at the very least the bigger screen would certainly be appreciated by most.
Case closed? Not exactly. Because now there is a Lumia 530 coming to the US and elsewhere too.
From what I can tell, the Lumia 530 is a more direct replacement for the 520 in that the screen size and overall form factors are nearly identical. That is, the 530 has a smaller screen that the 635, at 4-inches. Like the 520.
But beyond that, the 530 shares a lot with the 635, including the weird hybrid Android design decisions that we now think are a temporary blip, since Microsoft just killed Nokia's Android lineup. So the 530, like the 635, lacks a hardware camera button and has onscreen "soft buttons" for Back, Start and Search.
It has a removable polycarbonate back cover that looks like the one on the 635, where the available buttons are more integrated into the actual cover. It comes with a quad-core processor, just like the 635, which will help with games.
This all sounds good, for the most part. But a couple of additional downers.
The 530 still has only 512 MB of RAM, like the 635, but unlike the 525, which featured a more desirable 1 GB of RAM. It also inexplicably has only 4 GB of onboard storage, compared to 8 GB for the 520, 521, 525, and 635. That is inexcusable, regardless of microSD expandability, and both of these issues, and the camera button and soft buttons, are just cheap, cheap, cheap cost-cutting maneuvers.
How cheap? Well, they will let Microsoft/Nokia sell this device for about $100 on T-Mobile (and about $125 to $150 in Europe), which would of course make a difference. Yes, you get what you pay for. And yes, the $125-$150 Lumia 635 is a better device. But it's hard to deny that such pricing will open up this device to a much bigger swath of consumers. (And like the 520/521, prices should fall fast, to the $50 range in the US.)
My advice here is that readers of this site need to set their sights a bit higher than either the Lumia 635 or 530. But if you're looking for a second device, a phone for kids, or the like, the 635 seems like the better product. But I'll look closer to make sure that's the case.
The Lumia 530 will ship globally in August and on T-Mobile in US in the fall.