There really has never been a better time to shop for a smartphone on a budget. In the past, cheaper phones always came with significant drawbacks. A lack of power might have meant that certain tasks were out of reach, particularly productivity tasks. Or small low-quality screens meant that we would use these cheaper phones as little as possible.
This is not true of smartphones today, even a phone as cheap to own as the Lumia 532. Depending on where you shop for it, you should find the 532 for between $80 and $120, and it is remarkable how much phone you get for the money.
Despite costing one-tenth of the price of an iPhone 6, the Lumia 532 is capable of most of the same things. Out of the box, Microsoft includes all of the basics: calls, messages, email, web browsing, music and video playback, etc. You can plug in your favourite headphones, and download popular apps like Spotify, Instagram and many others on the most popular lists for iOS and Android.
Beyond the basics, Microsoft also include its best productivity tools. Office documents can be created and edited on the phone, and OneNote is a robust note-taking app, on par with Evernote in many respects. Microsoft’s voice-controlled assistant Cortana is also part of the pre-installed package. Though still in Alpha stage of development (i.e.: a work in progress), Cortana is still a lot of fun to play around with.
What’s most impressive is that the Lumia 532 has enough grunt to comfortably run these heavy duty tools. And not just work tools, but lots of fun apps too. Media streaming services Spotify and Netflix both worked well for us during our review. Netflix will downscale the quality of the stream to its lowest setting on the Lumia 532, but this matches the resolution of the screen anyway.
We also downloaded a number of fast-paced games from the Windows Phone Store, and had no problems playing any of them. We thought the speed of Mirror’s Edge might overwhelm the processing prowess of the Lumia 532, but it performed admirably.
The major drawback is staring you in the face as you use the Lumia 532. As is the case with the majority of phones in this price range, the 4-inch display is low-resolution and is difficult to see clearly if viewed from shallow angles off-centre.
Calling this a drawback is a little unfair when you take the phone’s price into consideration. The 4-inch screen size is large enough for most activities; certainly enough for calling, messaging and light email. We found it was a bit restrictive when we played fast-moving games with the 532, so gamers might need to find a bigger budget for a phone with a larger screen.
The phone’s camera works, but that’s about as much praise as we’re willing to offer. Microsoft opts for a 5-megapixel image sensor in this handset, with a fixed focus lens system, so there is no zooming and very little tweaking available. Basically, you turn the camera on and what you see is what you get.
Battery life isn’t a strong point, either. We managed to get a business day out of each charge during our review period, but not much more. A typical business day for us includes about 2 to 3 hours of screen time, so low to moderate use only.
Microsoft packs the Lumia 532 with way more goodies than you’d expect in a phone at this price, but impedes our use of them somewhat with a low-quality screen and average battery life. Still, it is hard to complain too fiercely when you might only pay $100 to own this colourful Windows Phone.
It is also much more pleasant to use than an Android phone in this price range, thanks mostly to the efficiency of the Windows Phone platform.