By Adam Z. Lein | June 5, 2013 4:15 AM
I know, I know, comparing the top-of-the-line Android phone with the bottom-of-the-barrel Windows Phone is crazy talk. However, recently we saw Ben Rudolph’s video showing how much gear you could get for the price of an off-contract Samsung Galaxy S4; including the new inexpensive Nokia Lumia 521 Windows Phone of course. Ben paid $750 for the off-contract AT&T version of the Galaxy S 4 from Best Buy but the T-Mobile version is only $629. He showed how you could get a Nokia Lumia 521 straight up with no contract subsidy for only $150 and then use the rest of that $600 to buy some accessories like headphones, an SD card, unlimited music downloads, and a whole new touch screen laptop computer. Ben didn’t get into very many of the other reasons you might want a Lumia 521 instead of a Samsung Galaxy S 4, so I thought it would be fun to look at a few other aspects that potential smartphone buyers might consider.
Of course, the price is the big deal about the Lumia 521. $150 is nothing in the smartphone phone world with no contract. That’s cheaper than an iPod Touch and like Ben points out, you can use that extra cash to buy plenty of other stuff. You’ll see a number of user reviews in the T-Mobile site from Android users who simply wanted to try Windows Phone 8, bought the cheap Lumia 521, and turned out loving the device.
2. Build Quality
Nokia is known for the best build quality when it comes to cell phones and the Lumia 521 is no exception even though it’s a low-cost device. Samsung on the other hand is known for using cheap plastic components and making fairly fragile smartphones by comparison. The Galaxy S 4 has a pretty high breakabilty score according to Apple Insider’s tests.
3. Free Offline Music
Since the Lumia 521 is from Nokia, you get to install the free Nokia Music app which allows you to download playlists either based on your own listing of artists or pre-made by Nokia. So that’s essentially unlimited free music on your phone that you can listen to at any time without the need for an internet connection. This is one of my favorite features of Nokia Windows Phones and Samsung doesn’t offer anything comparable without paying an extra monthly fee.
4. Offline Navigation
Yes the Galaxy S4 also has offline navigation in Google Maps, but it’s not as nicely implemented as Nokia’s HERE Drive. With Google Maps you can only download small areas of offline maps whereas with the Nokia Lumia 521 you can download full states or countries and not have to worry about losing a data connection while driving somewhere. Many have suggested that Nokia’s Navteq map data is better than Google’s in certain areas as well (although Google’s map data is better in certain areas, too.)
5. Better One-Handed Usability
The Galaxy S4′s screen is an excessive 5″ diagonal size. That’s very difficult to navigate with your thumb while holding the phone in one hand. The Lumia 521 has a more-comfortable 4″ screen but its operating system is also designed for better one-handed use. On Windows Phone, a vertically scrolling start screen and app list means you can pan the list a few items at a time until the one you want is right under your thumb so you don’t have to reach for it. Plus, most apps have their functions accessible from the bottom of the screen so you don’t have to stretch your finger to reach buttons at the top. With the Galaxy S4′s version of Android, important functions are arranged all over the place. Sometimes you have to go all the way to the top of the screen to do something, sometimes you have to go all the way to the bottom. A normal thumb can’t easily reach across a 5″ screen without changing the phone’s holding position or using a second hand. Furthermore, the app list and home screens are designed to only show full pages at a time. That means you have to re-ingest each page after flipping (unless you’ve memorized you app tray layout) and stretch to reach the items at the top.
6. Better Ergonomics
The Lumia 521 is not designed to be a particularly thin phone and that’s a good thing. Thin phones are more difficult to hold because generally that means less surface area is in contact with your hand. There is such a thing as too thin and the Lumia 521 has a very comfortable shape to it.
There have been numerous reports of excessive lag in the Samsung Galaxy S 4 software (1)(2)(3) and I’ve experienced it myself. While the Lumia 521 is going to be slower than other more expensive Windows Phones when it comes to launching certain apps, it still tends to maintain a high degree of responsiveness and reliability in most aspects of the user interface.
The Lumia 521 lacks a lot of the complex and gimmicky features of the Galaxy S4 and some people might see that as a good thing. There are only a few things to learn when it comes to Windows Phone; the Start screen has tiles that act as little windows to whatever types of content you want to pin there, the app list is a swipe to the left, the ellipses icon brings up a menu of more features, and the back button goes back. On Android, you’ll have to learn about the notifications drop down (which also has widgets), the home screens which can have all sorts of widgets or apps or folders arranged in a potentially chaotic manner, the app tray which has a pile of all of your apps and widgets, the back button which sometimes closes apps or doesn’t do anything at all (on the home screen), and menu buttons that often vary greatly in their locations/appearance.
On the other hand
On the other hand there are a lot of things that the Galaxy S4 does have over the Lumia 521. Things like a 1080p resolution screen, quad-core processor, more storage, a wealth of Android apps, infrared remote capabilities, 13 megapixel camera, hands-free gesture recognition (sometimes), etc. So be sure to mention all of those things in the comments below.
If you could only have one smartphone, is it worth all of the extra money to get a Galaxy S4, or could you live with a Lumia 521 and more cash to pay your bills?