Microsoft Lumia 640 XL: Big In So Many Ways

My decision to add the Lumia 640 XL to my smartphone collection was driven by necessity rather than desire (for a change) and having picked this mid-range phone to sit amongst my collection of premium handsets I have to say that it has proved to be a very successful and competent handset.

First some background. Having updated my Lumia 930 to Windows 10 Mobile I discovered that it was suffering from the bad microphones bug that appears to affect a significant proportion of 930 users. Of the four mics that make up the sophisticated audio recording sub-system tow of mine weren’t functional - unfortunately the two mics which are used during video recording in Windows 10 Mobile. The problem had been masked previously because Windows Phone 8.1 handles audio recording differently.

Unable to continue with a phone that wouldn’t record video but also having been greatly enthused by my exposure to Windows 10 Mobile I needed something else to fill the gap. At this point my Lumia 735, bought specifically to use as a Windows 10 Mobile test device should be getting called into service. However earlier in the year my wife managed to smash the screen of her own 735, meaning that I’d given her my test device.

After some debate, I decided that the Lumia 640 XL was probably going to fit my needs well enough - at NZ$339 unlocked it was less than half the price of the newer 950 and far more capable than either of the other launch phones. There was also a degree of hesitation in going all in with my first choice phone - a Lumia 950 XL - because of the lukewarm message Microsoft had been putting out about its vision for Windows on phones.

The 640 XL I picked up went straight onto Windows 10 Mobile. There was an intermediate step when in installed an enabling Windows Phone 8.1 update, but within an hour of purchase I had a 640 XL running Windows 10 Mobile. I couldn’t actually use it though, I hadn’t noticed that the 640 uses a micro SIM, whilst the 930 has a nano SIM and I had to wait to pick up an adapter to use my SIM in the new phone.

First impressions are good. The 640 XL packs a great screen - very bright indeed and with good deep blacks (as close to AMOLED as I’ve seen an LCD screen come). The resolution of 720p doesn’t actually impact the phone, even compared side bv side with the Galaxy S6 and its QuadHD screen. Partially that’s because Windows 10 Mobile has an interface that masks the lower pixel count and partially its because the extra pixels aren’t really visible (and here I refer you to the Retina display argument, which suggests 300ppi is about as much as the eye can resolve at smartphone using distances).

As I wrote earlier after a few days with the phone, battery life is exceptional. After a few charge cycles have been through the battery the endurance has settled down to two full days and change. I can take the 640 XL off charge on a Friday night and run through to Monday morning without any problems. The relatively mid-range CPU and the lower resolution screen, together with the larger battery made possible by the bigger body all contribute to this achievement.

In the hand the 640 XL is excellent. The (removable) back cover may be plastic but it’s texture and solidity add up to a tactile experience that betters many more expensive handsets. Its not excessively wide or deep, which means for those of use with bigger hands its possible to use with one hand. Realistically though you’ll be two-handing this device for most tasks.

That removable back cover hides a micro SD card slot - I added a 64Gb card for next to nothing (well NZ$14 anyway) and Windows 10 Mobile’s ability to offload (almost) everything to the card means the built in 8GB of storage won’t be a problem.

That extra storage will be required to hold images from the surprisingly capable 13mp rear camera. Its not a Pureview unit, so no OIS, but it does sport Zeiss optics and produces a remarkably good image in good light and manages to be impressively capable in low light too. Microsoft’s Auto HDR helps in this respect too, taking images with and without the flash and allowing you to select just how much flash is applied to the image after its been taken. Living Images are here too, although there’s no slow motion video or panorama mode - yet.

The most impressive thing has been how quickly Microsoft has been pushing out updates to Windows 10 Mobile, little niggles or missing functionality gets fixed on a regular basis. Having just received the most recent update from Microsoft the news that the next update has reached the Preview release stage has me expectant for new goodies. So those missing camera add-ons don’t worry me as I’m sure they’ll arrive in a release soon.

The rate of update is impressive in another way. For those phones that receive Windows 10 Mobile Microsoft has delivered an Apple-like update experience. Meanwhile neither of my Android phones (Galaxy S6 or Xperia Z3C) has seen a hint of Android 6 Marshmallow even though Google is previewing the next, version 7 release.

The Lumia 640 XL is a mid-range handset which is coming to the end of its shelf-life. Microsoft has just reduced its price and it is a massive bargain at the current figure. Its a shame that Microsoft hasn’t seen fit to add a replacement of this phone in its Windows 10 Mobile range - especially as this is the sort of price point where Microsoft reigns supreme over Android competitors and Apple hasn’t even begun to consider competing.

If you’re looking for something to try Windows 10 Mobile on, are updating a handset that isn’t in line for the upgrade or are after a mid-range handset that outperforms its price tag, the 640 XL is a phone that you should definitely look into.


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