- Crisp, colourful screen
- Slim and light metallic design
- Windows consistency
- No Continuum
- Limited performance
- Camera struggles against rivals
Lumia 650 review: We’ve spent a full week with this new mid-range Microsoft Lumia phone, aimed at consumers but with business users also in mind. But how does this affordable Windows 10 phone stack up against rival mobiles and does it really have universal appeal? Here’s our in-depth Lumia 650 review, covering the display, battery life, performance and more.
The Lumia 650 is Microsoft’s first mid-range Windows 10 mobile of 2016, following the flagship Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL phones and the Lumia 550 budget blower which launched just before Christmas. Packing a 5-inch HD screen and 8-megapixel camera as well as a £150 SIM-free price tag, the Lumia 650 sits squarely in the middle of the new Windows 10 family.
Read next: Lumia 650 vs Moto G vs Wileyfox Swift
One of the few criticisms levelled at the Lumia 950’s hardware was the plasticky frame, which felt rather cheap considering the high cost. Thankfully Microsoft has changed things up for the Lumia 650 and concentrated more on the details of the design, down to precise angles.
The Lumia 650 is the first ‘affordable’ Microsoft mobile to feature metallic edging, stretching around almost the entire circumference of the phone. That brushed aluminium adds a touch of class to the design and helps the Lumia to feel reassuringly rugged. It’s comfortable to clutch too thanks to the rounded corners and slim-and-light build, while the soft-touch rear means the phone is less likely to slip out of your hand when you get a bit sweaty.
You can prise off that back plating to access the removable battery as well as microSD and Nano SIM card slots, something you don’t see on too many smartphones these days. And when you’re done, the back snaps neatly back into place and holds firm.
Read next: Lumia 650 vs Lumia 550
One-handed use isn’t particularly easy despite that slender, feather-light body. The bezel beneath the screen is on the chunky side, so stretching your thumb to reach the top segment of the display is rather fiddly unless you use a second hand. Thankfully you can pull everything down into the bottom half of the screen using the Windows key, which is particularly handy for accessing your notifications, although this does mess with the functionality of some apps.
Screen and media
The Lumia 650 packs a marginally bigger screen than the Lumia 550, at 5-inches compared with 4.7-inches. You get the same 720p resolution, making the Lumia 650 a direct match with the Moto G in terms of size and sharpness, and after a full week of use I’m just as happy with the Lumia’s IPS LCD panel.
Contrast levels are strong while colours are pleasingly warm, leaping right off the screen. Image quality doesn’t fade as you tilt the phone away from you and although this isn’t a Full HD screen, high-def movies still look great.
The front-facing speaker, positioned beneath the screen, packs plenty of power for a mobile blaster. I’d still use headphones to enjoy music, but it more than does the job for kicking back with a Youtube video or a quick bit of Netflix.
And if you plan on taking loads of photos or carrying around a massive media collection, that microSD memory card slot is going to come in very handy. The 16GB of built-in storage fills up fast, making expansion essential.
Features and Windows 10 experience
Windows 10 is of course the OS of choice, so you get the usual array of basic Windows features, including the Cortana voice assistant and Glance Screen (to check for notifications without powering up the phone). A handful of apps come pre-installed and you can grab more from the Microsoft Store. I really like the consistent look and feel between the mobile and desktop Windows OS and anyone who’s loyal to the Microsoft brand will appreciate the ability to quickly switch between devices, with super-quick file syncing over the cloud.
However, some Windows 10 features found on the flagship Lumias are very notable by their absence here. For a start, there’s no Windows Hello for unlocking the handset with your eyes. Admittedly this feature is still in beta and has its limitations, with low-light performance proving iffy at best. But it was nice to have the option to bypass PIN entry while keeping your privates secure. Here’s hoping it comes to the Lumia 650 in a future update.
There’s also no Continuum here, most likely a result of the Lumia 650’s basic performance. This is a massive shame as the phone is being marketed at business users as well as everyday consumers, and the option to travel without a bulky laptop is very enticing. Microsoft is reportedly working on ways to bring Continuum to lower-end devices, but it sounds like Continuum is going to be premium-only for a while.
Read next: What is Continuum?
Read next: How to convert your phone into a PC
Still, it’s encouraging that the Microsoft Store is much better stocked these days, with popular services such as Netflix, iPlayer, Spotify, Instagram and Napster all supported with apps. Many of these apps aren’t as nicely designed as their Android or iOS versions, but the majority are fully-featured and stable.
As for connectivity, you get the same built-in antenna as the Lumia 950, designed to improve signal while also cutting battery drain. We had no trouble making calls, with perfect clarity and no drop-outs around the outskirts of London. The Lumia 650 also packs dual mics, which make it easier to use as a speakerphone during a conference call. Sadly there’s no 5GHz WiFi support, so you’re stuck with olde-worlde networking.
Performance and battery life
The Lumia 650 packs the same Snapdragon 212 processor as its cheaper sibling, the Lumia 550, which is surprising to say the least. After all, last year’s Lumia 640 ran with the more powerful Snapdragon 400 chipset for the same cost, while most Android rivals at this price point (or cheaper) sport more up-to-date tech.
Of course, Windows tends to run well even on budget blowers so performance isn’t terrible by any means, but you’ll still notice occasional little stutters when flicking through menus or loading up apps. Try zooming into a photo and you’ll be hanging around a couple of seconds while the image refreshes. You’ll also get dropped frames when playing games like Minion Rush, although the latest games are at least still playable.
Battery life is about average for a five-inch phone. We regularly made it through a full day on a single charge, even with plenty of play time, with the screen on auto-brightness. If you try streaming movies non-stop, this drops to between seven and eight hours, which is a better-than-average result.
Charging the phone back up to full takes just under two hours, as long as you’re connected to the mains.
The Lumia 650 packs an 8-megapixel snapper and all-new 5-megapixel front-facing camera and you can read my full Lumia 650 camera review for photo and video samples.
The Lumia 650 finally introduces some premium design elements into Microsoft’s mid-range offerings and has a few positive elements that will appeal to the average consumer, including a strong screen for the £150 price point.
However, the limited performance and lack of killer features such as Continuum make it difficult to recommend as a business device, especially as the competition from the Android market is very strong. For less money you can grab a Moto G, Wileyfox Swift or Vodafone Prime Ultra, which offer excellent features and dependable performance. And if you’re dead set on Windows, you can still pick up last year’s brilliant Lumia 640 LTE for under £100.
You can bag yourself a Lumia 650 from February 18th here in the UK.