Microsoft has had a strange year. It seems like yesterday, but it’s been more than a year since the company formally acquired Nokia’s Devices & Services division. What with the way the wind seems to be blowing and the way they are waiting for Windows 10 to launch a new flagship – their first since the acquisition, and the first in more than a year – quite a few things have changed since that time.
From a unique OS vibe to a platform intent on giving its services for use on all platforms, there’s been a complete U-turn in direction.
One might make the point that since they have a Plan B, the upcoming Windows 10 could fail and Microsoft would shrug and move on.
Is that correct? No idea. We do know this, though: that they can’t close the shop just yet, they can’t stop releasing new phones, they have to be here, they have to be in this field for the long haul. Even with 3% market share (10% in countries like India) globally, they have to compete.
Which is why we’re seeing budget phone after budget phone releases, with the occasional mid-range phone or two. They have to fill in the gap, cater for the markets where there are some chances.
In this case, with devices like the Lumia 640 XL.
The successor to the Nokia Lumia 1320, this phone can do well in certain markets. The US? Nope. The EU? Maybe some degree of success. But the real chances are in Asia, and Microsoft lost no time in launching it in India. The price tag is INR 15,000 with the major feature being a mid-range Windows Phone having a 5.7-inch display and a capable camera.
That INR 15,000 price tag places it in the mid-range category, with tough competition from the Android world with devices like the Xiaomi Mi 4i, the Asus Zenfone 2, the Huawei Honor 6, and from budget phones like the Yu Yureka, the Redmi Note and the Lenovo A7000.
Can this Lumia stand out in such a crowded market? The answer to that is found in the full preview below.
Lumia 640 XL: our impressions
So here are the impressions of the major aspects of this device:
It’s OK. Sure, the dimensions may not look too impressive. In comparison with its Android competitors it’s on par with the Redmi Note and the Yu Yureka, but is noticeably bigger than the Lenovo A7000, which is also INR 6000 cheaper.
Next to the Zenfone 2, there’s no contest.
More work to do there for sure, but material choice is another thing entirely. It’s solid matte plastic, way better than the plastic Samsung uses on mid-range phones and also the kind found on the Redmi Note. Overall, we find typical Microsoft/Nokia build quality with no flex or creaks and good ergonomics. With the move to on-screen buttons though, the bezels should be smaller.
On one hand, a 5.7-inch HD panel – smaller than the 6-inch display of the Lumia 1320 – is good enough since it results in easy readability. However, pixel density takes a big hit. With phones like the Xiaomi Mi 4i showing FHD screens are possible even in the mid-range, the resolution is underwhelming. With 259 PPI, so is the pixel density and the pixels are visible.
The other characteristics of the display – the brightness, contrast and viewing angles – are good enough, and there’s a colour adjustment tool, making it possible to tweak the colours to your liking.
Unfortunately we don’t have the statistics for sRGB colour accuracy and colour temperature, but if you have a well-trained eye you can calibrate the display.
For sunlight viewing full ClearBlack Display polarisers are present, resulting in good legibility.
Storage and RAM
There’s only 8GB of internal storage, which is on the lower side in 2015 even for a mid-range phone. There’s a microSD card slot, which helps, but it’s no excuse for lower internal storage.
Windows Phone has excellent support for microSD storage these days, an order of magnitude better than Android, so it’s not as bad as one would think, but it’s not good either, since just to use the phone without worrying about storage, you’ll have to buy the microSD card.
The RAM is 1GB, the minimum one would expect at this price point, even though Androids at this price point are racing ahead with 2GB.
Does that make a difference? Yes, it does in multitasking. And even though Windows Phone is more efficient with RAM compared to Android, there’s no substitute to more of it. So you only get more of that dreaded “Resuming…” screen.
If there’s one thing which can be defined as the standout feature here, it’s the rear camera.
On paper at least, no corners have been cut, with a 13MP 1/3″ BSI sensor (with 1.1 micron pixels), f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lens, and support for Rich Capture and Dynamic Flash, two acclaimed features with the new version of the Lumia Camera app, LC5, included with the device, a first for non-PureView branded phones.
Image quality is great, particularly for daylight and macros, and the camera shoots usable images even in low-light without OIS. We can’t wait to compare it with Android competitors such as the Xiaomi Mi 4i and the Asus Zenfone 2.
The front facing camera is also taken care of with a 5MP sensor with f/2.4 lens. Surely better than the 0.3MP camera Microsoft shipped with the Lumia 830.
Performance and battery life
Reviewing the Snapdragon 400 phone is like reviewing any other Snapdragon 400 phone: we’ve had this chip in phones from all the way back to December 2013.
Microsoft still hasn’t moved on to Snapdragon 410, the successor with faster Cortex-A53 cores, and it suffers compared to Android competitors which cost thousands of rupees less.
The phone performs the same as the hundreds of Snapdragon 400 phones out there in the market, such as the Moto G (both generations), and the Nokia Lumia 730 and 830.
That is to say, for non-power users, UI stutters shouldn’t be an issue, but there will be delays in loading apps.
And you can forget about playable frame rates with decent graphics in the latest high-end games, although there aren’t a lot of high-end games in WP in the first place.
Next to Snapdragon 615, present in the Xiaomi Mi 4i and the Yu Yureka, there’s honestly no contest: the Adreno 405 GPU is four times faster than Adreno 305.
Whether you look at heavy CPU tasks or gaming performance, Snapdragon 400 shouldn’t be here anymore, even with Windows Phone’s smooth UI. And this isn’t an upgrade even from the Nokia Lumia 1320 of 2013. Overall, this is a major weak point of this phone.
There’s a 3000mAh removable battery, something which is sure to please power users. Coupled with the Battery Saver feature, a 720p screen and Snapdragon 400 – the battery life is quite good, although mileage will vary.
Windows Phone 8.1 with GDR2. The GDR2 update includes a new Settings app which is roughly a million times better than its cluttered predecessor. It also includes the capability to view and allow or deny app permissions in the settings app, as well as a few minor features.
We know Windows Phone has its fans, but as the months go by, it’s looking more dated. Take Internet Explorer: it doesn’t even start to compare with Chrome.
There’s a lack of feature parity. And then there’s the apps (and games) problem, not worth going in detail since all of us have read about it a million times and even experienced it.
Microsoft is aware of all these problems, and there’s still some optimism for WP fans. Windows 10 is coming this year, with hundreds of changes and a new UI (more in-line with Android and a move away from Metro/Modern UI).
It will have a better web browser (Microsoft Edge) and better in-built apps, and it will try to solve the app problem by making Android and iOS apps easily portable to Windows 10’s Universal App model.
Will all this work? Right now it’s an open question, and although many have written Windows 10 off, it’s difficult to say how well it will compare to Android M and iOS 9, both of which haven’t been announced yet.
Next to international phones from the global manufacturers, the Lumia 640 XL looks good. It’s INR 2000 more expensive than the Moto G 2014, with a bigger display and a better camera.
Samsung has few phones in this price range, all of them bogged down by TouchWiz and lacklustre cameras.
Same goes for others like Sony, HTC and LG: they have their mid-range phones, often coupled with inferior cameras. It’s a level playing field. And these phones also have 1GB of RAM, which normally leads to multitasking issues on Android.
Apple has no competitor in this price range, so if we stop there, the Lumia 640 XL is an excellent choice, better in most areas than the Lumia 730 and only slightly inferior to the Lumia 830.
But then we come to the phones which are not popular internationally, but which are still available in India. Case in point: phones from Xiaomi, Lenovo, Yu, Asus.
Next to phones like the Xiaomi Mi 4i, the Asus Zenfone 2, the Lumia 640 XL has a few strengths, but makes less of the value-for-money proposition.
It becomes even more apparent when you compare to Android budget phones like the Yu Yureka and the Lenovo A7000, both of them having better SoCs than the Lumia 640 XL.
So Microsoft faces a difficult choice. It’s difficult because matching them means going online-only, and this isn’t palatable for the company. You can’t compete on price with them, but even so, the Lumia 640 XL feels overpriced.
Lower the price substantially, update to Windows 10 and it becomes a deal. Next generation though, anything less than a Snapdragon 6xx won’t be appreciated.
Overall, it’s a good mid-range phone for WP users, but it’s hard to imagine most of the Android population moving to WP for a better camera, and even Android mid-range cameras are steadily getting better.
So many aspects of the phone are good, but Microsoft hasn’t got the formula entirely right. In the Indian market this phone can only do well with price cuts. Right now, we don’t recommend it unless you like Windows Phone and / or are excited about the prospect of using Windows 10.
The good: ClearBlack polarisers, good cameras, good ergonomics, and the battery life.
It shows Microsoft can be at least as good or bad as Nokia when it comes to finding the balance between cutting corners and providing a great user experience.
The bad: Performance isn’t good enough in 2015. Bezels are bigger than they should be. Low storage. No FHD display. Lack of 2GB of RAM. Finally, value-for-money, this isn’t.