Hardware design and build quality
The Lumia 530 takes after Nokia’s design language, which basically consists of colorful polycarbonate construction, button-less front design and hardware keys on one side. A stark difference from higher-end Lumias, the 530 utilizes softkeys rather than front capacitive keys for “back” “start” and “search”. To the right side are the volume rocker and power/sleep button, but there is no dedicated camera button. The 3.5 mm audio port is located at the top, while a microUSB port for sync and charging can be found at the bottom.
The Lumia 530’s back plate is removable, which means users can change to different covers, which come in green, orange, black and white. As with virtually all devices in the Lumia range, the body and back plate come in a durable polycarbonate construction. You won’t find any painted surfaces here that are prone to fading and scratching. In short, the Lumia 530 is as durable as you would expect any Nokia device to be.
Underneath the battery are slots for two micro SIM cards and a microSD slot. Dual SIM is a popular feature in emerging markets, as it lets users switch across different networks or accounts in a jiffy. This can be useful for carrying both your personal and business numbers in one phone, using different networks to address dead spots, or even sharing of the mobile device itself (as can sometimes be the practice in under-developed communities).
The device is a bit thick to hold, however — it reminds me of the iPhone 3GS, but thicker and stubbier. This does make the Lumia easier to grip, although somehow the lack of heft makes it a bit unbalanced and easy to slip or fall from your hand. And even with a four-inch screen, it does seem paltry in comparison many entry-level devices in the market, like the Moto E (4.3-inch). Nokia cut some costs with the screen, too, which suffers from poor contrast and viewing angles (more on this later), making the 530 decidedly a capable, but not an excellent phone.
Software and user interface
The Lumia 530 ships with Windows Phone 8.1, particuarly the “Cyan” update. Smartphone users familiar with Microsoft’s Live Tile interface will be comfortable with the same use of tiles on the Start screen. By default, Start offers you four full columns of tiles (or two columns of 2×2 tiles), but this can be increased to six tiles across, reducing tile sizes to accommodate more information.
As with most Windows Phone devices across the spec and price range, the Lumia 530 runs Windows Phone 8.1 smoothly with nary a hiccup. If you’re already well integrated into Microsoft’s cloud ecosystem, you will feel right at home with the Lumia 530. Your Microsoft account (Outlook.com, for example) serves as your passport to services like OneDrive (which includes photo backup), Office, OneNote and so forth.
Having switched across various phones and platforms for purposes of review, I’ve experienced having to reset phones and re-install apps every so often. What’s great with Windows Phone is that you can easily restore your apps, settings and even sync SMS messages across devices that you use. This makes upgrading or switching devices easier than with other platforms, in which you will have to re-configure accounts and re-install apps from their respective app stores.
One thing I like with Windows Phone is the bundled Word Flow keyboard. Sure, it may not have the extended feature set that competitors like Swype have, but Word Flow is reliable and fast. Once you’ve grown used to swipe keyboards, you will find it difficult to go back to tapping.
In terms of benchmarks, we got an Antutu score of 11,510, which places it in the same league as the Moto E and even the mid-range Lumia 630. With this score, the Lumia 530 is lacking in terms of raw performance. However, in real-world tests, the 530 rarely hiccups, except when doing processor- and GPU-intensive tasks like editing photos and saving videos.
There is a small lag when launching applications, compared with flagship devices like the Lumia 930. The relatively slow processor is not really a deal-breaker, however. For example, launching apps like Skype and Viber take 1 to 1.5 seconds longer than on the flagship Lumia 930. Built-in apps like the SMS interface and telephone app open just as fast.
It’s the Lumia Camera that’s a bit disappointing, though. The app itself takes 5-6 seconds to launch. The image quality is sub-par for a 2014 device. Since the device does not have a built-in LED flash, night time photography is practically impossible and even some indoor shots are difficult to pull off without adequate lighting. The lack of front-facing camera does not help. Microsoft is clearly banking on its devices being popular among both the selfie-taking crowd and businesspeople who teleconference via Skype. The 530 is not for them.
User experience and power
The saving grace for the Lumia 530 is that, being an entry-level device, the device does not lag, freeze or delay just when you’re doing mission-critical stuff (such as calling, texting or chatting), like many no-name Android devices chug by with low-priced processors and power-hungry hardware setups. Being an entry-level device, however, it is expected that Nokia has cut on some features in order to save money. Primary among these is the screen. The Lumia 530 lacks the ClearBlack technology used across most of the Lumia range. Without ClearBlack, the 530’s display seems washed-out, with the backlighting evident even in on-screen blacks.
In fact, the screen is one of the worst Lumia screens I have experienced so far, with inadequate viewing angles. Also, good luck using the phone in direct sunlight. Firstly, without an ambient light sensor, you will have to manually adjust brightness depending on the situation (a convenient shortcut can be included in the quick actions bar atop the notifications). However, this screen is decidedly not meant for outdoor usage, as even at the highest brightness, you will find yourself shading the device with your free hand to make the screen legible.