The Nokia Lumia 530 belongs to the ilk of smartphones that dives for the lowest cost it can, and celebrates it. Prospective buyers of this phone are driven by price and not performance; the Lumia 530's specs are just enough to fulfill basic functionality like social communications and entertainment.
Its HSPA+ "4G" speeds are a step above slower 3G speeds (more on this later), but will feel slow for those in LTE markets. Meanwhile, the fixed focus photography on the flashless 5-megapixel camera keeps you from getting close-up, and the 4-inch screen makes precision typing a challenge. On the other hand, a quad-core processor does its best to keep things rattling along, and the up-to-date Windows Phone 8.1 operating system gives you the best of Cortana's digital assistant.
In the US, the Lumia 530 costs $50 from Cricket, $80 from T-Mobile, and $70 on T-Mobile's service when you buy through Microsoft or Best Buy stores. In the UK, Microsoft sells the phone SIM-free for £90, and in Australia you're looking at about AU$150.
The Lumia 530 isn't my top choice for budget phone by far (I recommend theor Android-based Motorola Moto G instead), but those who require a dirt-cheap handset can -- along with all phones in this price range -- access the world through the OS and I-think-I-can hardware.
Design and build
Short and pleasantly squat, the 4-inch Lumia 530 is shaped for comfort. Its rounded edges and curved backing are designed to fit in your hand, and with such a small build compared to the 5-inch phones and above (4.7 by 2.5 by 0.5 inches, or 120 by 62 by 11.7mm), it's remarkably maneuverable. At 4.6 ounces or 129 grams, it feels appropriately weighty and substantial in the hand.
Unfortunately, the slick matte backing of my review unit kept it slipping and sliding from my grasp, even from my lap. To Nokia's credit (or Microsoft's, since the latter now owns the former), the 530 only sustained a small ding in the plastic shoulder from an accidental 5-foot tumble. Bodily sturdiness continues to be a Lumia hallmark. While I reviewed it in white and cyan, the 530 also comes in orange and green. Oh yes, and don't forget the requisite black.
After handling larger phones for so long, a 4-inch LCD screen feels Lilliputian, even though there's a substantial bezel. The 854x480-pixel resolution with a pixel density of 245 ppi is predictably low for the cost, but on par with other phones in the price point. On-screen colors are a little dim and images come across pixilated and grainy to the naked eye, especially as you zoom in. Although you'll be able to read articles fine, it's evident that lettering isn't as crisp as it could be.
The 530's display understandably lacks the ClearBlack filter applied to higher-end Nokia phones, and it makes a difference with legibility outdoors in strong sunlight. As with other phones of this type, the screen fades away. You'll also notice high reflectance and more restricted viewing angles on this model than on midrange Lumias or other phones.
Interestingly, navigation takes place with on-screen controls; the phone's only buttons are the volume rocker and power/lock button on the 530's right spine. The Lumia has a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a Micro-USB port on the bottom. A single 5-megapixel camera lens sits centered in the upper quarter on the back. Below the back cover are the SIM card slot (or dual-SIM slots in some markets) and the microSD card holder, which can dramatically increase your total storage space.
Prying off the back cover takes some work, especially the first few times. My tip is to hold the phone away from you and curl your fingernails around the rim where the backplate meets the face. Push with your thumb right under the camera lens while pulling back. Don't worry about losing your nails; the grip loosens over time.
OS and apps
Even with more modest hardware appointments, the Windows Phone 8.1 OS means that the Lumia 530 gets the platform's best addition since its birth: Cortana. The virtual assistant is fairly accurate for a range of search terms and systemwide tasks, like placing calls and taking notes.
Microsoft's cross-platform apps, like Microsoft Office and Outlook, join Nokia apps, such as MixRadio and Nokia Care. There's a built-in FM radio as well, and a battery saver. You'll also be able to turn on Kid's Corner in the settings and back up content (like photos and video) to the cloud.
While there is Bluetooth 4.0, the Lumia 530 doesn't have NFC, another cost-cutting measure.