New phones pack slower CPUs, less memory, but still offer rich Windows Phone experience

So what does a budget Windows Phone look like?  Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and its partners answered that this week, unveiling [blog] new budget Windows Phone models.  The models -- coming soon to market -- are (presumably) built on an updated version of Windows Phone 7.5 ("Mango"), not the forthcoming "Tango" as some sources had claimed.

Microsoft feels its approach on the budget end, while a bit tardy, is a bit more thought out than its rivals -- particularly Google Inc. (GOOG) and its Android partners' efforts.  Windows Phone Vice President Terry Myerson writes:

Our engineering team did the work to optimize how Windows Phone runs on lower-cost hardware, bringing the high-end smartphone experience to more affordable devices, while still running nearly all of the applications available in the Windows Phone Marketplace. Windows Phone 7.5 now enables our partners to deliver phones using a lower cost processor (the Qualcomm 7x27a “system on a chip”) and reduced memory (256MB on-board memory)—while still delivering the buttery-smooth Windows Phone experience.

Not all platforms can make this claim about lower-cost models. People who have opted for other low-cost or “free” smartphones have found out the hard way that some of those smartphones won’t run all their apps or do everything they want. On Android, it’s not a given that your lower-cost phone can do what the phone in the commercial can. With Windows Phone, we’ve done the engineering so that nearly all of the current apps will just work on these new phones. Those apps that do need more power are flagged in the Marketplace so if you have one of these new phones with less memory you won’t unknowingly download an app that won’t run well.

Finnish phonemaker Nokia Oyj.'s (HEL:NOK1V) budget offering is the fourth in its Lumia series, the Lumia 610.  ZTE Corp. (SHE:000063), a Chinese phonemaker, also pitched in a design, dubbed the ZTE Orbit.  The specs are seen below:
Budget Windows Phones
The price point of the Lumia 610 is a bit surprising -- significantly higher than the $150 USD steal that early rumors were pointing to.  The phone is about $75, or roughly a quarter cheaper than the Lumia 700's off-contract price ($315 USD).  Still, one has to wonder whether Nokia was wise to pack so much NAND (8 GB) in, rather than skimp on the internal memory in lieu of a more favorable price point.

As for the ZTE Orbit announcement, the big disappointment is that ZTE hasn't announced a price yet, at all.  The phone will be judged largely on merits of its price -- so the verdict is still out on that one.

A final note -- some sources are still claiming the ZTE Orbit is running Tango.  It is unclear whether these reports are misinformed, or if Microsoft hasn't officially mentioned something that the blogs know.  Which is the case will be seen in coming weeks.  But as seen with the Lumia 610 price rumors, misinformation abounds in the rumor-driven blogosphere.

Sources: Microsoft, Nokia, ZTE

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