Battling at the low end: Nokia Lumia 520/530 versus Motorola Moto E

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Traditionally, the price barrier for smartphones was £100. Even Nokia's lowest end Symbian handsets only strayed a little way below this, yet with feature phones all but dying out in many countries, there's now a battle on to provide a 'first smartphone' for a buyer at as far below £100 as can be managed. There have been numerous ultra-budget Android handsets at rock bottom prices, but with legendarily poor performance and specs. So let's take something modern, like the Moto E, and see how it compares against the latest Windows Phone budget launch. And, for the sake of interest and further comment, against the older, existing Lumia 520.

NB. We KNOW that it's hard to view table-based articles like these on Windows Phones. We're working on a solution.


Head to head then. As usual, I pick out winning categories in green, for interest sake - though don't take these too seriously. And note that many categories simply don't HAVE a winner, either because the differences are subjective or because the devices are roughly equal overall:

Nokia Lumia 520 Nokia Lumia 530 Motorola Moto E
  Lumia 530 Moto E
Date launched April 2013  July 2014  November 2013 
Cheapest price on pay-as-you-go in the UK, as at July 2014 £70 Estimated £70 (yet to be seen on retail)  £80 
Dimensions 120 x 65 x 10mm 120 x 62 x 12mm 125 x 65 x 12mm 
Form factor, weight Plastic, replaceable backs, 124g Plastic, replaceable backs, 129g Plastic, replaceable backs, 142g 
Operating system, interface Windows Phone 8.0, about to get 8.1 over the air update  Windows Phone 8.1 Android 4.4.2 
Display  4.0" LCD, WVGA resolution  4.0" LCD, WVGA+ resolution 4.3" LCD, qHD resolution, Gorilla Glass 3
Connectivity Quad band GSM, Quad band 3G, Bluetooth 4, Wi-fi b/g/n  Quad band GSM, Quad band 3G, Bluetooth 4, Wi-fi b/g/n Quad band GSM, Quad band 3G, Bluetooth 4, Wi-fi b/g/n
Processor, performance 1.0GHz Snapdragon S4  1.2GHz Snapdragon 200, 512MB RAM 1.2GHz Snapdragon 200, 1GB RAM
Capacity 8GB plus microSD up to 64GB  4GB plus microSD up to 128GB 4GB, plus microSD up to 32GB
Imaging  5MP autofocus, 720p video capture  Fixed focus, 5MP, WVGA video capture 5MP autofocus, WVGA video capture 
Music and Multimedia Mono speaker,  3.5mm headphones Mono speaker,  3.5mm headphones Mono speaker,  3.5mm headphones 
Gaming  As right, ditto-->  Some decent games for Windows Phone 8, though not all run on the 512MB RAM devices like this. Still, plenty for the casual user. A bigger games catalog to choose from. Almost all Android games will run. 
Navigation  As right, ditto-->  Nokia's HERE Maps/Drive suite is unrivalled, with the offline routing and maps. Plus good public transport advice. Google Navigation is very comprehensive, but aside from time-limited caching of small areas, struggles mightily when out of data coverage.
Battery, life  As right, ditto-->  Replaceable 1430mAh battery Sealed 1980mAh
Applications and ecosystem  As right, ditto-->  Windows Phone now has just about every mainstream app and service covered, with great strides in the last six months. Niche/boutique apps are sometimes an issue if you're being picky. Also anything to do with Google services! Android's Play Store is very fully stocked, second only to the iPhone Store for depth. Everything mainstream is here, plus some boutique/niche apps. 
Upgrades and future The 520 will get Lumia Cyan in the next few days/weeks, but it's not 100% certain that 8.1 Update 1 will follow.   Lumia Cyan is on board, and the 530 should also get the next update to Windows Phone 8.1, though unlikely after that, in 2015. It's not certain whether this will get Android 5.0 next year. 4.4 is pretty smooth though. 

It's somewhat telling that last year's 52x model, the 520, outguns the new 530 overall. The latter is certainly not an upgrade from the former. The 530 is simply the new budget model with the latest chipsets - any canny buyer will do their research. 

The match-up with the Moto E, the best budget handset in the Android world, is pretty exact in terms of specs, so ultimately it all comes down to application and ecosystem requirements. Interestingly, the year old 520 even arguably outguns the 2014 Moto E, in terms of raw functionality, showing what a bargain it is/was.

And anyone remember when the Lumia 620, with mugh higher specs (though smaller screen), was down near the £100 mark? Bargain of the century, etc. Even today, it's easy to find the 4.7"-screened, LTE, FFC-equipped Lumia 625 at £100 on pay-as-you-go in the UK, which I'd argue is much better value than any of the three handsets above.

Comments? If you had to advise a teenager or other smartphone beginner on a first smartphone to buy on a budget of £100 max, which way would you go?