- Solid user experience
- Rich camera experience
- Great battery life
- Laggy performance
- Limited app store
Microsoft’s Lumia 640 is already making its mark on the UK market, but now the bigger, beefier 640 XL is here. So how does it square up to the rest of phablet-kind?
Design: Deceptively appealing
In essence the 640 XL serves as the spiritual successor to last year’s Lumia 1320 and you can see the lineage. Beyond its phablet proportions you’ve got a removable polycarbonate back panel, available in the quintessential Lumia day-glow orange (other colours are available) with a matt finish.
It feels nice in the hand and despite its thickness, doesn’t come across as a bulky handset, in fact quite the opposite. As well as that matt finish, the back is pillowed to improve grip and comfort. There’s a single headphone jack that features a little bump, akin to the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and Note 4, a single loudspeaker grille and a single LED flash both next to the XL’s 13-megapixel main camera.
The volume rocker and power key protrude slightly on the right side and sit at a convenient height for easy operation. Overall the phone packs a clean, simple, considered aesthetic style that can be as brazen or reserved as you’d like based solely on your choice of back plate.
Screen: Punchy, pretty pixels
In recent years, screen quality has become an important component of the Lumia brand, even outside of its flagship tier handsets and the 720p HD IPS LCD on the 640 XL is a prime example of this fact.
Despite its affordable mid-range standing, the XL’s display packs a wonderful punch. Colours are vivid, visibility in bright sunlight is good and viewing angles are respectable too, ensuring the phone lends itself well to sharing media with friends.
At 5.7-inches 256 pixels per inch doesn’t sound great, but in practice you’d be hard pressed to find fault with the viewing experience. Photos and iconography look great and even small text (think non-mobile optimised websites) is legible, if a little taxing on the eyes.
The most obvious point of consideration here is with the physical size of the device. Most actions will require both hands; accessing the notifications panel, typing, swiping and accessing anything at the top of the screen, unless you’re blessed with exceptionally sizeable mitts.
OS: In the waiting line
We’re tantalisingly close to Microsoft’s promise of a free upgrade to Windows 10 for basically everything that features a screen and a processor. The Lumia 640 and 640 XL will both be among the first mobile devices to make the jump, but until then, we’re given the more familiar Windows Phone 8.1 operating system out the box.
As the 640 XL packs the latest available incarnation of the OS you get some of the freshest elements of the Windows Phone experience; like a UK-savvy Cortana voice assistant (still labelled as ‘in beta’), battery and data saving tools as well as the MSN apps suite covering everything from news to health, food and travel.
Microsoft’s out-the-box offering is impressively strong, with standout features like Skype integration, free offline mapping and free music streaming, however the Windows app store continues to lag behind the competition, falling short of the mark in terms of variety and quality, with big names available on rival platforms still notably absent.
Unifying the desktop and mobile experiences with Windows 10 may potentially change the landscape for the company’s mobile offerings and at the very least the promise of an offset keyboard will at least make one-handed typing significantly easier for both lefties and righties on the 640 XL.
Performance: Jitter, but no quitter
The most notable sticking point falls to the brains of the operation – a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip, backed up by 1GB of RAM. Whilst fitting for the XL’s mid-range standing, in general use we did notice that touch inputs sometimes took a second to catch up with our physical swipes and dropped frames almost always occurred when returning to the home screen. It’s by no means a deal-breaking quality, but we do wonder how an additional gigabyte of RAM could have helped with fluidity and responsiveness.
Being a phablet you can expect that capacious body to come complete with a sizeable battery and the 3000mAh cell employed by the 640 XL is no slouch. Users should receive up to two days of full use far more comfortably than many comparative handsets and like the back panel under which it sits the battery is replaceable.
Storage wise you’re limited to 8GB of inbuilt memory, but a concealed microSD slot will accommodate cards of up to 128GB on top. There’s also Microsoft’s own OneDrive integration which boasts 30GB of cloud storage, although with the promise of an Office 365 Personal launch deal, newcomers will get bumped up to a mighty 1TB of cloud space for a limited time (along with 60 international Skype minutes and the ability to add up to two additional devices on the same subscription).
Camera: Easy on the eyes
Mid-range handsets with impressively large sensors don’t always bode well – the HTC One Mini 2 packed a 13-megapixel snapper that doled out shots as if they’d been taken through a smeary glass window. Thankfully that isn’t the case with the 640 XL’s 13-megapixel rear camera.
Natural light produces the best results, handling high contrast environments well and offering good depth. Detail is appealing across the board provided you don’t zoom in by more than about 10 per cent and colour accuracy is on point too.
The phone’s low light capability was one of its most surprising qualities. A wide F2.0 aperture ensures good shots in dimly lit conditions with impressively low amounts of grain and noise. You can expect detail to take a hit, but nowhere near the point at which the photos become unusable.
The latest version of the Lumia Camera app features all the great manual control options we’ve come to know and love from the Windows Phone experience thus far, but adds in the company’s Rich Capture mode, which reacts similarly to a dynamic HDR option which you can manually control through means of a slider. Whilst we’d never set the effect to maximum, shots were greatly improved with restrained use of the mode, particularly when taken in less than stellar lighting environments.
Despite its humble processor, the XL can also offer up Full HD video recording, editing tools from the Lumia Moments app and there’s a solid 5-megapixel front-facer that enjoys some degree of manual control too.
Verdict: A big hitter with a small price tag
As phablets go, Microsoft’s Lumia 640 XL has quickly won us over. It’s an undeniably feature rich handset and despite being a little underpowered, delivers on the performance side too. It’s a well-balanced big-screened smartphone with a top-notch camera experience and to top it off a particularly impressive price tag.
There’s little around the 640 XL’s £219 SIM-free pricing that offers the benefits of a big screen, long battery life and rich user experience right now and the eventual update to Windows 10 should only help make better use of all that display real estate.
It’s not perfect, but it’s not far off - an ideal choice if you're in the market for an affordable phablet.
- 720p (1280x720)
- 171 grams
- Windows Phone 8.1
- 13-megapixel w/ single LED flash
- 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB. Expandable via microSD up to 128GB
- Cortana voice assistant, Rich capture, OneDrive cloud storage