Swimming in a sea of low-end Lumias—witness the just-announced 540 DS as the latest in a long string of me-too handsets—it’s easy to forget that there are other Windows Phone device makers out there. And one in particular, BLU, is forging ahead with new handsets that are visually distinct and, better still, offer more compelling hardware than most recent Lumias.
Case in point: The Win HD LTE, BLU’s follow-up to last year’s very affordable Win HD. As the name suggests, the Win HD LTE adds support for the LTE networks that are so common in the United States and other established markets. But the advantages don’t stop there.
Let’s start on the inside. As you may recall from Microsoft Announces the Lumia 540 Dual-SIM, the latest Lumia ships with a low-end Snapdragon 200 processor. Not so with the Win HD LTE: This unit ships with a more powerful 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, which features an Adreno 306 GPU. This is both a step up, and a generation newer, than the Snapdragon 200, and it provides superior performance and improved battery life.
That LTE support is GSM-based, meaning it’s compatible with the wireless networks in most of the world, but here in the US that means AT&T (my carrier) and T-Mobile, plus carriers like Metro PCS, Cricket Wireless, Simple Mobile, Net 10 and others. In my own experience, HSPA+ is just fine, but LTE is clearly a need/want for many, and the Win HD LTE has it. And the Win HD LTE—like the Lumia 540—comes with dual-SIM support.
Looking at the remaining specs, the Win HED LTE breaks down like so.
OS. Windows Phone 8.1.1.
RAM. 1 GB.
Storage. 8 GB onboard with microSD up to 32 GB.
Display. 5-inch 720p HD (1280 x 720) IPS LCD.
Main camera. 8 MP auto focus with LED flash.
Front-facing camera. 2 MP.
Sensors. Accelerometer, proximity, gravity, compass.
Size. 145 x 72 x 8.2 mm.
Weight. 146 g, or a tad lighter than the Lumia 540.
Battery. Non-removable 2500 mAh.
Colors. Gray, white, orange, yellow.
So it’s roughly comparable with the Lumia 540 across the board. But there is one other big difference beyond the better processor with the resulting better performance: The Win HD LTE is available now, and it’s available in the United States. And you can pick it up right now from the Microsoft Store for $200 in unlocked form.
I’ve had the Win HD LTE for about a week and the build quality of this device is solid enough but not overly impressive, with a plastic back but nice metal front-pieces. The review unit comes in a shockingly bright yellow color which you’ll either love or hate—the more conservative should consider the medium gray version instead—and BLU provided a nice color-matched rubbery case too.
The screen is bright and responsive, and doesn’t suffer from the weird “touch lag” or overall dullness that still dogs the low-end Lumia 535.
But there are some weird bits, including the non-removable battery despite the fact that the device’s back is removable (for access to the SIM and microSD slots). And the front-facing Back, Start and Search buttons, while capacitive, lack vibration, so there’s no feedback when you press them.
There’s no camera button—hell, there’s no camera button on new Lumias either—which I miss. But the camera is speedy and can rattle off shots in rapid succession. That said, this is no Lumia and the resulting shots are of what I’d call “good” quality, compared to “very good” for devices like the Lumia 735 or 830, or “superior” for the Lumia 930/Icon, 1520 or 1020 (or iPhone 6 Plus).
What we have here, basically, is something that Microsoft has been ignoring since last fall: A mid-range Windows Phone handset that rises above the pack, performance-wise, from the low-end Lumias that Microsoft has focused on recently. Compared to the closest Lumia I can find here in the US, the Lumia 830, the Win HD LTE offers a slightly better processor and dual SIM capabilities, but falls behind in storage (16 GB vs. 8) and in camera quality. The 830 also comes with the Lumia apps I find so desirable.
But the Lumia 830 is still expensive. An unlocked version is $420 at AT&T Wireless, for example. And while you can get an international unlocked version of the Lumia 830 for under $300 at Amazon.com, those versions are HSPA+ only, with no LTE. At $200 unlocked, the Win HD LTE is a bargain, especially when you consider that it works with LTE.
If you’re near a Microsoft retail store, my advice is to check this one out in person. You may be surprised by the value here.