Finding the best cheap smartphone is an important quest. Whether you are buying a smartphone as a gift for a child or older relative, or need a cheap phone yourself, it's important to get it right. There are plenty of terrible cheap smartphones. Fortunately, the Lumia 535 and theMotorola Moto E do not fall into that category. Each is a high-calibre, super cheap smartphone, offering full smartphone capabilities at a surprisingly affordable price.
The easiest place to start comparing two budget smartphones is to look at their prices. Neither the Moto E nor the Lumia 535 disappoints, in this regard (although only the Moto E is widely available right now).
In any store you will need to pay only £89 inc VAT to get your hands on a Moto E, unlocked and without a contract. That's an amazingly low price for a full-spec smartphone. You can get it even lower than this too – just £79 on O2 PAYG. If we could give it 11 for value, we would.
The Lumia 535 is expected to arrive in the UK in the first quarter of 2015, though there has been some chatter about an end of November release in "key markets" so it could arrive sooner than that if the UK is considered a key market.
There's no official UK price yet, but the single-SIM version of the Lumia 535 is expected to cost €110, before VAT, which we expect to be £99 inc VAT.
So if you are looking to buy a cheap smartphone for this Christmas, it has to be the Moto E. As we will outline below it really is outstanding for the price. But hang around for the Lumia and you won't be disappointed. (See also: The UK's 44 best Android smartphones of 2014.)
Lumia 535 vs Moto E: Design and build
The Moto E also fits neatly into the hand and is easy to use one handed. It looks like the Moto G, with a curved rear cover and an edge-to-edge display with only a small amount of a bezel on either side. The look is simple and uncomplicated, and it is sometimes difficult to remember which way up the device goes because of its symmetrical shape. It's slightly odd that the ear piece at the top is smaller than the combined mic and speaker at the bottom.
Motorola has decided to offer both a black and white facia with the interchangeable shells other cases for the rear. The Moto Shell for the Moto E will come in nine different colours.
Although the rear cover does come off, you can't access the battery. You need to remove the rear cover only to insert or remove your SIM- or memory card. For just £89, the Moto E is well built and feels a fair bit more expensive than the price tag suggests it will.
The Lumia 535 is slightly the heavier of the two at 146 grams, but it is considerably slimmer at 8.8 millimeters versus the Moto E's 142 grams and 12.3 millimeters. The surface size of the Microsoft device is 140.2 millimeters by 72.4 millimeters compared to 124.8 millimeters by 64.8 millimeters for the Moto E.
The Lumia 535 also comes in a range of bright colours – orange, green, blue – plus neutrals including black, white and grey. These colours can be swapped after purchase thanks to a removeable back. Like the Lumia 530, the 535 has a rounded design.
The weight of both products highlights the compromises vendors have to make when they develop low-cost phones. For example, the G3 from LG Electronics has a 5.5-inch screen and weighs 149 grams. But generally we find that anything below 150 grams is perfectly manageable. Indeed, there is little to separate these products in terms of design and build. Neither is an absolutely premium device, but both are well built and offer solid functional design and bright and cheery livery. (See also: What's the fastest smartphone 2014?)
Lumia 535 vs Moto E: Specification
Both the Lumia 535 and the Moto E are powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200 processor, which is Qualcomm's entry-level processor. The Lumia 535 has 8GB of integrated storage, while buyers of the Moto E have to make do with 4GB. In this day and age, the latter isn't enough, but there is the option to extend the storage capacity on the Moto E with a 32GB microSD card. The storage on the Lumia 535 can also be expanded, but with a bigger 128GB microSD card. That is a big win for the Lumia 535. In terms of connectivity both phones offer 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and A-GPS. (For more on this, see: Spec showdown: Lumia 535 edges Moto E with more storage.)
These handsets both have 1GB of RAM, which looks after performance and the Moto E's performance is generally very good. You do get the occasional sign of lag, but most of the time the Moto E is smooth and can switch between apps quickly. Part of the performance is down to the fact Motorola keeps things as simple as possible on the software front with stock Android. When customised Android can be laggy, but not in this instance.
Web browsing is quite jerky and the phone takes a couple of seconds to zoom in when you double tap. Moving on to graphics and the Moto E surprised us with 11fps in the T-Rex GFXBench test which is just shy of the far more expensive Huawei Ascend P7 and the same result as the Moto G. In the extremely demanding Manhattan test, the Moto E managed to match last year's flagship HTC One with 5fps.
We haven't been able to test the Lumia 535 yet. But our experience of similarly specced Windows Phones tells us that you really shouldn't be too worried about performance. This does mean that we can't in all fairness pick a winner here. Expect both the Lumia 535 and the Moto E to be solid performers, but opt for the Lumia 535 if storage is your thing.
Lumia 535 vs Moto E: Display
Part of the reason why the phones don't need a more powerful processor is because neither has a high-resolution screen - by late 2014 standards, anyway. Both the Moto E and the Lumia 535 have screens with the same resolution: 960 by 540 pixels. The Lumia 535 has a 5in screen, which with that resolution equates to a reasonable pixel density of 220ppi.
The Moto E's screen is smaller, and at 4.3in this means a pixel density of 256ppi. Five inches is about as far a qHD screen can be stretched and still get a good result. The smaller 4.3in display will likely have fractionally better looking detail, but less screen real estate. Both displays are colourful and vibrant, so you take your pick. (See also: Lumia 520 vs Motorola Moto E comparison review.)
Lumia 535 vs Moto E: Camera
The Lumia 535 sports two 5Mp cameras, one on the front and one on the back. The front-facing camera is designed for selfies, with a wide-angle lens. The rear camera offers an LED flash. Video is limited to 848x480 for both cameras, so quality is expected to be very poor. It's an odd decision to limit video capabilities like this when 5Mp is plenty for 1080p video.
Switch over to the Moto E and there's no front facing camera but at the rear is a 5Mp camera. The Moto E takes reasonable photos and videos but only in good conditions and even then, they're nothing special.
It's impressive that the phone has an HDR mode – which is on auto by default. There's also a panorama mode but little else to mention of in the basic camera app which takes a photo when you touch the screen. However, you can switch on a mode which gives you a bracket which can be dragged around the screen to choose the focus point.
The Moto E wins this round with a 1,980 mAh battery, but the Lumia 535 is not far behind at 1,905 mAh. Given the relatively similar displays, that makes it a narrow victory for the Moto E. (See also: Moto G2 (2014) vs Moto E comparison review.)
Lumia 535 vs Moto E: Software
The Lumia 535's OS and software can be a bit of an acquired taste for users of Android and iOS, although it is probably the best platform for beginners. The Windows Phone 8 platform is a complete change to what iOS and Android offer the mobile world. Windows Phone 8 presents you with two screens to control your smartphone with; first is a tiled Modern UI interface, which looks pretty cool, the second is an alphabetical list of all the phones apps/programs.
Previous experiments have shown the majority of smartphone users having difficulty navigating their way around a Window Phone 8 device, compared to the Android and iOS smartphones they are used to. That said, once you get you head around the layout, using a Windows Phone 8 device isn't an issue at all. And indeedm once onboard Windows Phone users tend to love Windows Phone.
Perhaps the most significant in terms of software here is that the Windows Phone 8 app store is lagging behind Android, and this can be an issue for smartphone consumers. It's worth bearing in mind that all the mainstream apps – Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Skype – are available on WP8. These days it is hard to make the argument that Windows Phone lacks important apps and, like Android, it offers multiple ways to source and purchase music, movies and books. Moreover, Windows Phone is locked down in much the same way as is iOS (the iPhone platform). That means that you don't get to customise as much, but you do get the peace of mind of knowing that everything that makes it on to your phone has been approved by Microsoft.
Motorola prides itself on giving uses the latest software, so it's no surprise that the Moto E comes pre-loaded with 4.4 KitKat and is expected to get Android M. It's also important to note that Motorola is guaranteeing an upgrade to the next major version of Android for the Moto E. Motorola's T&Cs state "The device will receive at least one software update to bring it up to date with the current KitKat 4.4.3 operating system."
Motorola keeps things simple on the software front with a plain version of KitKat. As usual it does include some of its own software but the firm doesn't go over the top. This is great and keeps things nice and simple for users, providing a sort of blank canvas.
The Moto E comes with existing Motorola apps such as Motorola Migrate, Motorola Assist, the firm's camera software and an FM radio app.
A new app, which will be exclusive on the Moto E initially, is Motorola Alert. This can let people know you've arrived safely somewhere, you can use it to help meet a friend and there's an emergency mode for, well, emergencies. It could be handy for some users but isn't exactly a deal breaker for us.
There is a lot to like about both Android KitKat and Windows Phone 8. Both are stable and feature rich, offering access to a world of media, apps and business tools. You may be more familiar with Android, but Windows Phone is worth a punt. Android has more apps, but Windows Phone is more secure. Android offers more customisation, Windows Phone is simpler to use, and may be more secure. And for those who care about such things, Microsoft isn't harvesting data about you to sell to advertisers. Neither is Google Android, but everything you do on any Google product is used to build a complete picture of you in order to better target advertising. It is probably impossible to avoid, almost certainly harmless, and likely to be replicated by Microsoft at some stage. But there you go.
Right now there is only one choice: that of the Moto E. But come the new year when the Lumia 535 is in town you will have a tough choice. It is likely that the Lumia 535 will cost a little more. But it has better storage and camera, and a bigger (if not sharper) screen. These are both great cheap phones - your choice will likely depend on your preference of Windows Phone or Android. But even as an Android user I'd say that when the Lumia 535 is available it will likely be the better deal. Just. (See also: Moto E price, specs, release date, features.)
Right now there is only one choice: that of the Moto E. But come the new year when the Lumia 535 is in town you will have a tough choice. It is likely that the Lumia 535 will cost a little more. But it has better storage and camera, and a bigger (if not sharper) screen. These are both great cheap phones - your choice will likely depend on your preference of Windows Phone or Android. But even as an Android user I'd say that when the Lumia 535 is available it will likely be the better deal. Just.