I’ll admit it, I’m not a great journalist. I wasn’t able to divorce myself from my biases, so when the review unit arrived, I didn’t expect to like it very much. In fact: I wanted it to be bad. I wanted to say that Android and iOS reign supreme, that the status quo remains unchanged and that the 640XL was just another unremarkable, unimpressive Windows phone. I am, however, a good enough journalist to tell you what I actually found: something really rather special.
So what is the Lumia 640XL? Well, Microsoft now makes phones. It used to be Nokia but it’s now just Microsoft. The phones don’t have Android or iOS (the Apple one), they have Windows on them. It’s not full blown desktop class Windows but it’s not half bad. It has a much smaller app store, but that might well change as more people switch to the platform (or it might prevent people from switching and not grow…). The handset itself is big, really big: it’s got a 5.7″ screen and is around the same size as an iPhone 6S Plus (if slightly thicker). It has an HD screen (but not full HD or 2K), a decent processor and enough RAM. But here’s the important part – this phone is on Amazon right now for £160. It’s less on the rest of the internet. This is a cheap phone but it has the looks, size and capability of something significantly more expensive.
To put its price in context, the iPhone 6s Plus is more than triple at £619. The Galaxy S6 is around £500. Now I understand that the phones I’ve just listed are top-end flagships, but I’m putting them there to make a point: are they £300 better than this? That’s something that’s going to vary based on your preferences and needs, but for the vast majority of phone users, it’s definitely worth thinking about. Anyway, to the review!
How it feels in the hand
The phone’s casing is made of molded plastic. If the fact it’s not metal puts you off, remember how many tons of steel you could buy with all the money you’ve saved. Remember also that Apple sold a plastic iPhone for around £400. In fact, it’s not a ridiculous comparison – this feels an awful lot like an iPhone 5C. In fact, it looks like an iPhone 5C. On steroids. It actually feels pretty decent – it’s solid. I dropped it once or twice (sorry Microsoft) but there’s no scratches, marks or dings (thanks Microsoft). The plastic is slightly slippy but the thing is so large that you’ve always got something to grip onto. A word of caution about the size though: if you have small or even medium sized hands, this is a two handed device. You’re not going to pocket this in those skintight jeans you definitely should not have purchased. This won’t fit inconspicuously into anywhere. But the flipside of that is that the screen is enormous and the battery is incredulous (more on that later). This isn’t the slimmest phone in the world either, but again, battery life (more on that later, I promise). Long story short: it feels good in the hand. It isn’t particularly heavy (turns out that plastic wasn’t such a bad idea) and it doesn’t pick up finger marks all over the place. Solid.
To get to this price, some cuts had to be made. This has a front and back camera, but neither of them are blow-the-doors-off-drop-dead-awesome. The thing is though: that’s OK. What did you expect? The cost difference between this and even the cheapest iPhone is the price of an actual DSLR and lens. The cameras work. They are functional. They are easy to use and the shots are passable and occasionally not half bad. You get 13MP, a flash, a 5MP wide angle front camera – what more do you want? See below for sample pics:
This phone is killing the battery game. I wish more manufacturers did this. It’s 9mm thick, which means they had space to squeeze in a 3000mAh battery. That’s bigger than an iPhone, it’s bigger than most Samsungs – in fact, it’s just big. Beyond the sub-1cm region, I don’t care how thick or thin the phone is. But I do care about the battery. So please, Apple, Samsung, HTC – do the decent thing, stop trying to make wafer phones, and just give me a decent battery. This phone has a big battery and a frugal processor: all of which means 2 days usage without charging is not off the cards. Another good thing: if you turn it off, and turn it back on again (not standby, a full power down) it uses no battery. Zero. Nada. And that is how it should be. If you want a phone with more stamina than a marathon runner, you’re golden with this thing.
It’s got Windows and soon will have Windows 10 (the newly released version). It’s decent. It’s really fast, all the time. The onboard software is more than usable. The app store has all the essentials. It will seem a little in-your-face, particularly if you’re moving over from iOS. But it’s not a steep learning curve: you’ll get it in 5 minutes. And when you do, you’ll be happy. Once again, bear in mind that if you want iOS you can buy this, an iPad Mini and still have cash left over before you can get an iPhone. This phone, particularly after some time with it, left me feeling satisfied. It’s a happy (not-so) little phone.
Do you want a new phone? Does money matter to you? This is worth considering. I won’t pretend it’s the ultimate power phone. It’s not. It’s good, but not great. It’s Sainsburys – better than Lidl, but still no Waitrose. It’s cheap and it works. It does all the things you’d expect a smartphone to. And beyond that, it’s a reminder than Microsoft’s staging a comeback. And after their major announcements last week, I expect the tech industry will be going through a little turmoil. Bring it on.
Screen: 5.7”, HD
Processor: Snapdragon 400
Size: H*W*D – 157.9*81.5*9mm
Image credits: images from phone: author, images of phone: Microsoft
Thanks to Microsoft for sending us a review unit