Picking the best Windows Phone at the end of 2014

Published by at

Maybe it's just me that argues inside my head... with (ahem) myself, as to which is the best Windows Phone. At least, with my AAWP hat on... Will the question of the 'best Windows Phone', at least at the end of 2014, come down to 'best Lumia'? Enter the debate zone...

It's also worth noting that I'm not including value for money here - not that this is especially irrelevant since there aren't any really high priced Windows Phones right now - even the Lumia 1520 is a modest draw on the wallet. The table below, and this article, is all about looking at the compromises, pros and cons that help decide which is the all-round best Windows Phone.

On the desk in front of me, I have the Lumia 1020 (which needs little introduction in these parts), 1520 (review) and 830 (review), which is a pretty good start. Add to these the Lumia 930, which I've reviewed in depth here, and the HTC One M8 for Windows, which I reviewed in its Android form, so I'm pretty confident of what to expect, as and when it actually arrives in Europe. Plus, being charitable, given it's only available in one place in the world, the newish Samsung ATIV SE, for which I'll have to go both specs and my experience with my day to day Android phone, the Galaxy S4, which is a sister device in many ways. We've got ourselves an interesting ball game.

830, 1520, 1020

My approach here - and at this point I have to apologise to anyone viewing this feature ON a Windows Phone - is unashamedly table-based, something which is handled very poorly in the combination of AAWP and Internet Explorer on a phone. Instead, anyone doing such a thing should switch over to a laptop, tablet or even a large screened Android phone, in order to see the whole table. Sorry about that, but hopefully the result is worth it. If you really must view the table on your phone right now, tap here!

In a tweak of my usual comparisons in tabular form. I've marked devices in each aspect with 'red' for especially poor and 'green' for especially good, to get a visual sense for how they're doing. And no arguments on my ratings, please - they're unashamedly subjective!

Devices: Samsung ATIV SE Lumia 1020 Lumia 1520 Lumia 930 Lumia 830 HTC One M8
Announced  April 2014  July 2013  October 2013 April 2014 September 2014  August 2014
Current price, SIM-free VERY limited availability, $600 circa £300 (shop around!) circa £400 (shop around) £375 £280 Limited availability, $699
Screen size, tech  5" AMOLED, 1080p pentile 4.5" AMOLED, 768p pentile  6" LCD, 1080p RGB 5" AMOLED, 1080p pentile  5" LCD, 720p RGB  5" LCD, 1080p RGB
Glance screen  No Yes, full  Yes, with backlight low  No Yes, with backlight low  No, though DotView case adds some features 
Materials All plastic  All plastic  All plastic  Aluminium and plastic  Aluminium and plastic Aluminium unibody
Processor, speed, RAM  Snapdragon 800, 2.3GHz, 2GB RAM  Snapdragon S4, 1.5GHz, 2GB RAM Snapdragon 800, 2.2GHz, 2GB RAM Snapdragon 800, 2.2GHz, 2GB RAM  Snapdragon 400, 1.2GHz, 1GB RAM  Snapdragon 801, 2.3GHz, 2GB RAM
Storage 16GB, plus microSD 32 or 64GB 32GB plus microSD 32GB 16GB plus microSD 32GB, plus microSD
Stills camera  13MP, 1/3" 41MP, 1/1.5" oversampling sensor, OIS, Xenon flash  20MP, 1/2.5" oversampling sensor, OIS
20MP, 1/2.5" oversampling sensor, OIS  10MP, 1/3.4", OIS  4MP, 1/3" 
Video camera 1080p 1080p, stereo Rich Recording, OIS 1080p, stereo Rich Recording, 4K with Lumia Denim imminently, OIS 1080p, stereo Rich Recording, 4K with Lumia Denim imminently, OIS 1080p, stereo Rich Recording, OIS 1080p, stereo recording
Charging options  microUSB  microUSB  microUSB or Qi  microUSB or Qi microUSB or Qi microUSB 
Battery capacity, life 2600 mAh, removeable 2000mAh, sealed  3400mAh, sealed 2420mAh, sealed  2200mAh, removeable 2600mAh, sealed
Speaker  Back, moderate volume, moderate quality  Bottom, loud, high quality Back, loud, high quality  Back, loud, high quality  Back, loud, moderate quality  Twin stereo, loud, front-mounted, high-fidelity 
Advanced comms Dual band 4G Pentaband 4G, NFC  Up to hexaband 4G, NFC  Pentaband 4G, NFC
Pentaband 4G, NFC  Up to septaband 4G, NFC 

As a rough metric - and I mean very rough(!) - counting green as +1 and red as -1 gives us a marginal win for the Lumia 1520, with +5. And, unbelievably, the exact same score (+3) for all the other smartphones apart from the elusive ATIV SE (on 0). The overall equality shows visually why I've been having such a hard time in my head trying to work out a 'winner'. Yes, the 1520 looks to be the standout, but you can't recommend such a huge 'phablet' to all your friends and family.

The Lumia 1020, 830, 930 and HTC One M8 all come out equal second then, but you can probably discount the latter as being unavailable yet for most people across the world. Of the three Lumias, the 830 possibly has to be dropped first because of the lower RAM - despite Windows Phone's efficiencies, with Windows 10 incoming, I can see RAM being critical to really smooth running. Leaving the 1020 and 930, of which the nod has to be given to the 930 because of the faster and newer chipset, plus higher resolution screen. It's true that there's no Glance screen, but that's the only big black spot for this device.

In order then, of the handsets considered, it all resolves down to:

  1. Nokia Lumia 1520
  2. Nokia Lumia 930
  3. Nokia Lumia 1020
  4. Nokia Lumia 830
  5. HTC One M8 for Windows
  6. Samsung ATIV SE

Which, depending on your point of view, may or may not be controversial! Discounting the phablet-sized 1520, you could even say the winner is the more normal-sized 930:

Lumia 930

It's absolutely true that I've been prejudiced against the Lumia 930 because of the lack of 'Glance' (always on clock, etc.), but if we lay that aside then the 930 comes through (just) to be the Windows Phone that you'd recommend to people in your life.

Of course, the real story of Windows Phone is not about which is 'best', but which is best value, with devices like the 520, 530 and 630 (and maybe 735) eating up the sales charts. Which leads me into a follow-up article, looking at which Windows Phone is best value in the 'other' half of the product ranges. I'll bring this to you shortly!