Competition among low-price smartphones has gotten more intense, as Microsoft and Samsung Electronics hope to devices based on Android a run for their money with, respectively, the Lumia 532 and the Z1.
The two smartphones were launched on Wednesday. Samsung's Z1 is based on the oft-delayed Tizen OS, has a US$92 price without a contract and will first go on sale in India. The Lumia 532 costs about the same and will get a wider distribution when it goes on sale next month.
Here is a spec comparison:
The Samsung Z1 is powered by a dual-core processor from Chinese manufacturer Spreadtrum. The Lumia 532 is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor, which was Qualcomm's entry-level processor last year. There's nothing wrong with using the Qualcomm processor, but with a superior successor on the way it seems like a less than ideal choice. Smartphones based on the Snapdragon 210 are expected to have LTE and fast charging functionality, which are both useful additions.
Both smartphones have 4-inch, 480x800-pixel screens, which in the era of big screens seems small. But to get the price tag below US$100, smartphone vendors have to make some compromises in order to make money.
In addition to the screen, the camera is where the difference between sub-$100 smartphones and their more expensive competitors becomes most apparent. The Lumia 532 has the edge here, with a 5-megapixel rear camera and a not very selfie-friendly VGA front camera. Buyers of the Z1 will have to make do with the same resolution on the front camera and a 3.1-megapixel rear camera.
Size and weight
The Z1 is slightly lighter and thinner at 112 grams and 9.7 millimeters compared to the Lumia 532, at 136 grams and 11.6 millimeters. The surface size of the Samsung device is 120.4 millimeters by 63.2 millimeters compared to 118.9 millimeters by 65.5 millimeters for the Microsoft smartphone.
Storage and RAM
When it comes to storage, the Lumia 532 once again comes out on top, with 8GB of internal memory and 1GB of RAM. Here, buyers of the Z1 will have to make do with 4GB of integrated storage and 768MB of RAM. The Z1's storage can be expanded by up to 64GB using a microSD card, while the Lumia can handle larger, 128GB cards.
This round is close to a draw, with a 1,560 mAh battery capacity on the Lumia 532 and 1,500 on the Z1.
If you had asked me a year ago, I wouldn't have bet on Samsung pushing Tizen as hard as the company is now doing. However, Samsung now seems hell-bent on building an ecosystem that includes TVs, smartwatches and smartphones, giving it some leverage against Google. But, on paper, the Z1 isn't a very good start; the company has simply been too stringy with the smartphone's specifications. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would buy it instead of a similarly priced, but more capable, Android-based smartphone.
Microsoft's strategy to save Windows Phone with a growing number of affordable products makes sense because the low-end segment is growing faster than other parts of the smartphone market. On Wednesday, it also launched the Lumia 435, which is even cheaper than the Lumia 532, at about $80 without a contract. Microsoft also sells the Lumia 535, which has a 5-inch screen and two 5-megapixel cameras. Despite its growing portfolio, there is little doubt Microsoft and Windows Phone will also struggle to compete with Android. The availability of apps has improved, but is still an Achilles heel.
I still hope that Samsung and Microsoft are successful, because more competition can only be a good thing for consumers. But if I were in the market for a dirt-cheap smartphone I'd hold off for a couple of months to see what, for example, Motorola has in store for the successor to its Moto E.
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