Are cheap Windows Phones too cheap?

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Bargain hunting? Looking for that perfect deal holiday deal? Need a nice stocking stuffer? Well, how about you head on down to your local Microsoft store and pick up a brand new off contract $59 smartphone?

Yes, it’s a smart phone. Yes, seriously. Totally. Yep, apps and everything. I’m not yanking your chain and I’m not even sure you’re wearing one and even if you were, I’m not so sure I would yank it, or anything else, thank you.

Yes, this sounds like a silly conversation, but it’ also a realistic one – even the chain part. Have you ever heard the expression, “perception is reality”? Well, that applies to all manner of items that you buy, including smartphones, or at least it can.

Scooters?!?!

Scooters?!?!

When you go to a grocery store, you’ll see about 100 different boxes of cereal for sale. A quick look at some of the price tags will show you that at least half of those boxes of cereal are about a dollar, or 33% cheaper than their counterparts.  There are reasons for this, but most often you’re looking at a name brand, and a rough estimate copy. Basically you’re getting the same cereal, but at a reduced price, which should be a no-brainer for anyone. But there are those, like my kids for example, that will not eat Lucky Charms unless that stupid leprechaun is on the box.

The reason for this is a perceived deficiency. The cereal may not taste any different, but to consumers, it is different. It’s lessened. It’s just not as good. This is evidenced by the fact that the name brands are still in business. If generic was perceived by the general populace as being just as good as the name brand, then Tony the Tiger is in serious doo-doo. So, where am I going with this?

lumia-520Well, Windows phones are cheap. Like, almost insanely cheap. The perception that can follow is that Windows phones have a perceived deficiency. If they’re cheaper, they must be lower quality, right? You know and I know that this is simply not the case. Windows Phones are less expensive for a number of reasons. One of the most notable reasons is because, by their very nature, Windows Phones can run on lesser specifications. Lesser specifications = lower price = same great user experience = generic cereal = bag of yum.

Back in the webOS days, the TouchPad was announced as an iPad competitor. The TouchPad was inferior to the iPad in just about every way, with the exception of the operating system itself (if I do say so myself). There were arguments at the time that said that the TouchPad should be cheaper than the iPad. But detractors of that theory pointed to the perceived quality of the item. If it’s priced the same as the iPad, that means it’s just as good as the iPad, right? That didn’t work out so well for HP and the TouchPad was dropped by $100 almost immediately.

Windows Phone user! Boo-yah!

Windows Phone user! Boo-yah!

But it’s by this same logic that a $60 Windows Phone can be shunned like a tap dancing penguin, not because it’s a cheap Windows Phone, but because it’s a cheap phone. Extremely low prices can also be a turn off by those who have been burned by jumping onto the $60 Android tablet train around Christmas time. You might recall my recommendation of never buying a tablet below $150. There is a reason for that. They suck. They suck hard and they suck bad. It’s a natural parallel the think that if a super cheap tablet is crap, a super cheap phone must be too. That would certainly not be the case. But we’re not talking about reality here; we’re talking about perception of reality.

We’re also talking about two different operating systems here as well. One OS is renowned for its ability to run on any hardware is barely a hiccup in performance. The other is trying hard to gain that reputation, especially with it’s new version but I’m not so sure it’s there yet. Again though, we’re not talking about you and me and people in the know. We’re talking about Joe Blow consumer.

Trust me, I’m not advocating that Nokia immediately tack on an extra one on the left side of the price tag. I don’t want Nokia Lumia 520’s to be suddenly $160, because it’s not worth that. But the perception can be that since the phone is so inexpensive it must be cheap. It does give folks a chance to try out Windows Phone 8 with minimal investment, if they can get over any potential aversion they might have to a cheap phone. I’m all for having a super-cheap Windows Phone to fall back on if anything should happen to my 920. I’m actually considering picking one up for my wife so she can move past Windows Phone 7.8 and sit at the big girl table. Personally, I think she’ll enjoy the experience and never realize she is holding a phone that costs the same as a tank of gas. Perception is reality.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!