Can you get a decent smartphone for $50? For this one I picked up the Microsoft Lumia 635 along with the second generation Moto E. At this price you shouldn’t expect a crazy unboxing but you do get what you need out of the box, the Lumia has a MicroUSB power adapter, some paperwork and the battery. Move over to the Moto E and it’s the same story, you have a power adapter and plenty of manuals for you to never read.
Lumia 635 vs Moto E 2nd Generation
The Lumia has a removable back but it’s a little tricky to take off, it’s essentially the entire shell. Inside you’ll find the SIM slot and your MicroSD expansion on top of being able to install the removable battery. The Moto E uses a swappable bezel which is a lot easier to remove. There’s no swappable battery but you do have slots for a SIM and MicroSD.
For $50 you shouldn’t expect crazy build quality but there’s not a lot to complain about. The Lumia 635 actually looks a lot like the iPhone 5c which isn’t a bad thing, it’s rocking a glossy plastic shell which might be a fingerprint magnet but it feels pretty decent. There’s a surprising sense of quality, everything is nice and tight and it’s noticeably thinner than the Moto E. The E is no slouch though with a curved back that fits nicely in the hand, it’s a little pudgy but the ridged bezel gives you a solid grip. Personally I prefer the brighter colors and thinner build of the Lumia but neither phone really feels its’ price.
Get to the screens and it’s a slightly different story. Both have 4.5 inch screens and here the Moto E has the edge with a higher res 960p display compared to 854 on the Lumia. The E edges out the Lumia in brightness and color as well but in real use they’re totally fine, compared to a flagship things look a little rough but I’ve seen far worse screens on budget devices.
The Moto E has a front speaker where the Lumia has a rear speaker and they’re not bad at all. The 635 gets surprisingly loud although with such a tiny opening for the speaker it’s a little too easy to accidentally block your music.
One of the biggest differences is in software, the Lumia runs Windows Phone where the Moto E uses Android. While Windows Phone hasn’t progressed as quickly as iOS and Android it still has a lot going for it. Even on fairly low end hardware it’s downright snappy, things like Live Tiles are unique and features like multitasking and notifications have come a long way. The biggest downside are apps, you’ll find the basics like Twitter, Instagram and Spotify but generally the quality can’t match Android. Most apps aren’t updated as often and a lot just aren’t here at all, the biggest of which being Google apps. There are workarounds but unless you’re deep in Microsoft’s ecosystem the app selection is going to be a problem.
On the flip side the Moto E runs Android 5.1 where app support is definitely not an issue. Motorola takes a light touch to Android, giving you a near stock build with a few useful additions like Active Display to show notifications. If you’ve ever used an Android phone you should be right at home, something simple like having an official YouTube app makes a big difference.
The Moto E also has slightly better specs with a newer quad core Snapdragon 410 vs 400 and double the memory but to be fair Windows Phone seems to be perfectly happy to run on the lower specs. Each phone has 8 gigabytes of storage but once everything is setup you’re looking at roughly 3 gigs left, for anything besides the most basic use you’ll definitely want to pick up a MicroSD card.
Both phones are rocking 5 megapixel cameras and this is one of the biggest places where the budget is noticeable. You can pull off a decent shot with each camera but you’ll want to have plenty of light, with such tiny sensors color and dynamic range just can’t hold up to higher end smartphones. Video is the same story, they both max out at 720p which is fine for a quick clip to share but won’t be useful for much else.
There are some cool features like a double twist to open the camera on the Moto E and the surprisingly solid Lumia Camera app which is so much better than the Motorola Camera app. One thing the Moto G does have going for it though is a front facing camera, it might not be a great one but it at least exists.
As much as I like the Lumia the biggest issue is app support. If you can live with Windows Phone it’s hard to argue with the 635 but for most people the Moto E is a safer bet. Regardless of which way you go though it’s incredibly impressive at just how good $50 smartphones can be.