As much as Windows Phone competes in the high end, the low-end is where the real action is at, and Archos's new 40 Cesium Windows Phone is the latest entrant to challenge Nokia's Lumia 530. And it does so at the same $99/€79.99 price point as Nokia's latest entry-level Windows Phone, while possibly bringing a bit more to the table. At IFA 2014 we had the opportunity to go hands on and see just what Archos has in store for Windows Phone.
For the most part the Archos 40 Cesium and Nokia Lumia 530 are evenly matched. Both are powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor, both have 4GB of storage and microSD expansion, and both sport 512MB of RAM. They also have an HSPA radio, 4-inch display, and 5MP rear camera in common. Performance in our brief time with the phone was quick and responsive, about what we'd expect from the hardware. It's not mind-blowing fast, but it's more than enough to run Windows Phone 8.1 adequately.
Even the resolution of those displays is relatively close, with the 40 Cesium having a 480x800 display, while the Lumia 530's is 480x854 to accommodate the virtual Windows buttons at the bottom. That does mean that while the Archos has a 15:9 display, the Nokia's is a bit narrower, taller (16:9, to be precise) and slightly more pixel-dense. Neither display is particularly impressive, and while Archos isn't clear on what type of display is in the 40 Cesium, it seems to be about on par with the TN TFT panel in the Lumia 530 and its underwhelming blacks and contrast management.
But matching specs isn't the only trick up Archos's sleeve. The 40 Cesium is more than 1mm thinner than the Lumia 530, sports a similar 5-megapixel camera, and throws in a flash for that camera and front-facing VGA-resolution camera for good measure. Granted, VGA isn't anything to write home about, but a front-facing camera is something you won't find on the Lumia 530. The 40 Cesium's battery also clocks in at substantially more powerful, with 1950mAh on tap — more than 36% more than the Lumia 530. With basically the same internals, we'd expect a substantial increase in battery life, though there's no guarantee of that.
When it comes to the hardware itself, this is where Nokia stands tall over the Archos. The solid polycarbonate construction of the Lumia 530 is, well, solid. That's not to say that the Archos is bad, but when you hold the two, the Archos feels more like a phone at that price point, while the Nokia feels more substantial. The 40 Cesium's back cover is removable, and it'll come with all three colors (black, storm blue, and yellow lightning) included.
Is the Archos 40 Cesium the most impressive Windows Phone ever? Nope, not even close. But it's not supposed to be. It's a decent little phone at a decent little price tag, and not much more. There's nothing wrong with that, and we can see Archos bringing a bit of a fight to Nokia with the 40 Cesium. If anything, Archos is a master at playing the low-end game.
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Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.