Big phones are a big deal, but they also come with big price tags. Not necessarily so, as Microsoft finds a way to cut under $500 with a 5.7 inch Windows-powered phablet.
The latest Lumia to join the growing Windows lineup is a big one, as Microsoft embraces big displays for people not on big budgets.
This handset is the Lumia 640XL, the slightly bigger version of Lumia 640, because while that handset (which we’ll review shortly) boasts a 5 inch display with some similar innards for a $299 price point, the 640XL caters for people who like a little more in terms of features and phone size.
For starters, there’s a 5.7 inch display found on the Lumia 640XL running the high resolution 1280×720 display and protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3, a difference of 0.7 inches compared to its 640 sibling.
Under this, the Lumia 640XL shares very similar components to its sibling, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz, 1GB RAM, and 8GB storage. MicroSD support can be found here, meaning you can upgrade how much space you have available with a small memory card.
Connections are pretty much par for the course these days, at least for a mid-range phone, with 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, GPS with A-GPS, and Near-Field Communication (NFC) along for the ride.
Also found here is 4G LTE, providing high-speed connectivity across each of the major Australian mobile networks.
Cameras are also here, as they tend to be with a modern smartphone, providing a 13 megapixel rear camera with flash and autofocus, as well as a front-facing 5 megapixel camera, and these two features are one of the primary differences between the 640XL and the regular 640, with the smaller phone relying on an 8 megapixel rear camera and 1 megapixel front-facing camera.
Windows Phone 8.1 runs on the handset out of the box, and for a change in phones with this operating system, you’ll actually find less buttons than normal, with only a volume rocker and a power button on the right edge.
The remaining regular Windows buttons for back, home (Start menu), and search are now part of the software and appear only when the phone is loaded and at the bottom.
Ports, however, are pretty much identical to what Windows Phones have supported for years, with a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a microUSB charge and data transfer port at the bottom.
Both the microSD and microSIM slots are located on the under-side of the phone, once you remove the back and take out the battery, which is removable and is rated for 3000mAh.
Even though Android dominates the phone market with the most installs, and iOS takes second place, Microsoft and what remains of Nokia gives that third place a good thwack with an abundance of devices.
Indeed, there are so many Windows-based phones that we see, it’s hard to remember that this is generally from one company, the brand formerly known as Nokia that was bought out by Microsoft, the creator of the Windows operating system.
The Lumia 640XL is another device that joins the growing Windows Phone lineup, and provides the sub-$500 mid-range mark with something new to play with, and something made for larger hands with not-so-necessarily-large wallets.
Pick up the handset and you’ll find a fairly large block of a phone in your hand, a plastic shell with a noticeable edge that’s comfortable to hold, if not a little wide.
Width shouldn’t be a surprise, mind you, as this phone sports a 5.7 inch screen, bigger than that of the iPhone 6 Plus, but with a lower resolution, sporting 1280×720 and essentially meaning you have 258 pixels per inch to look at.
That’s not going to pose a threat to the Apple Retina grade setting of 326 pixels per inch, nor does it hold a candle to the 400-534 Android devices tend to feature, but it’ll be good enough for most, provided you’re not holding a close to six inch phone to your eyes and reading in that way.
It’s also not the same plastic Windows Phones have been known for, or at least not the Nokia ones, which make up the much of the history for recent Microsoft-based phones.
There’s no heavy hockey puck compressed plastic, not like before, with a plastic casing surrounding the phone, and while it’s obviously a plastic phone, the plastic was matte on our black Lumia 640XL and easy to grip, not glossy like you might come to expect.
Get to using the phone, however, and you’ll find an experience pretty much bang on with every other Windows Phone out there, providing you two main menus, the start screen filled with lots of live tiles of your choosing, as well as an app menu system you can quickly navigate around by pressing the letter of the app you’re trying to get to.
First things first, there’s the screen, and while it’s not an expensive phone, Microsoft has brought in a decent screen, providing fine colours generally head on, and a hint of wash out mostly on the darker colours — grey, for example — when you shift to the angles.
It’s not as easy to notice on photos, but you may see a glimmer here and there, especially since Windows Phone is a fairly contrasty operating system, which means some of the darker elements might end up almost blinking at you from angles.
Interestingly, the phone is very reminiscent of another Lumia, but not one that was released under the Microsoft name, but rather the Nokia one.
Early last year, we saw the 1320, a 6 inch device that managed to bring the 1280×720 display to a large screen size, but without the equally large price tag you might expect out of something so large. Back then, we gave it four stars, and rated as one of the best budget phablets you could find, simply because it brought in decent enough performance, a big screen, and one of the best batteries you could find on the market, with over two days of life.
And here in the Lumia 640XL, it’s a very similar feeling, with aspects of the Lumia 640XL that remind us of the Lumia 1320. Indeed, there’s a modest bump in specs, but the screen, the performance, and the general feeling is that the phones are very, very close.
Case in point: the battery.
On Nokia’s first mid-range phablet, we found a battery life of over two days comfortably possible from its 3400mAh battery, which was and still is very, very impressive.
Here on the Lumia 640XL, it’s a very similar experience, and we found two days were easily achievable from our real-life test, consisting of making phone calls, sending texts, checking email, taking photos, surfing the web, social networking, and general use of the handset.
That same test generally lands us a day on other phones, and so two days on a $399 phone is pretty impressive, telling us that more or less, this is a continuation of what we found in the Lumia 1320, offering a big battery and no need to charge daily unless you throttle your phone with calls and photos and games, which we suspect people in the mid-range aren’t likely to do.
The screen also reminds us off the Lumia 1320, because again, we’re seeing a large phablet-esque display offering up the 1280×720 resolution.
In fact, if it weren’t for a slightly different screen size, we’d assume Microsoft had just plonked the same display from the Lumia 1320 on this one. We can’t, however, as the Lumia 640XL offers up a 5.7 inch display compared to the 6.0 inches of the 1320, so they’re different, but both offer similar viewing experience.
The processor is similar too, with an update from the dual-core Snapdragon 400 to a quad-core Snapdragon 400, just in case you weren’t clear on how similar, how close the two models were.
They also share omissions, however, with the same piddly 1GB RAM that doesn’t let a whole heap run in multi-tasking and occasionally lets a little bit of lag through. It’s minor, that said, but when you’re gesture typing or switching apps, it will occasionally rear its head.
The Lumia 640XL also offered up that same bugger all 8GB storage, with closer to 4GB waiting for you when you first turn the phone on. It’s not a lot, no, but there is a microSD card if you decide you want to fill it up a wee bit more.
And there’s still no Qi wireless charging, which neither models support, and if you want to charge you’ll have to go “old school” and plug in one of those microUSB charge cables.
There are also two things we noticed that separated the Lumia 640XL from its 1320 sibling, and they were all in the button department.
On the one hand, there’s one less physical buttons to work with, Microsoft deciding to skip out on the camera button that we so admired on the previous Lumia devices.
The soft buttons are gone too, those below the screen, replaced with on-screen virtual buttons, and while we have no problem with that — they’ve been on Android for ages, and the Windows Phone on-screen buttons even slide out when you don’t need them — sometimes they do get in the way, with some apps refusing to let you scroll down when you’re feeling in forms or trying to login.
It’s not a major issue, and most people probably won’t have a problem with this, because it’s probably one of the only major issues with the phone.
In fact, the camera is actually one of those nice improvements, much better than what we saw in the 1320 a year ago, with a full five megapixels up front — because everyone loves a selfie (to be sung!) — and a decent amount of 13 in the back.
There’s noise in low-light and the occasional oddly exposed image due to your focus point also often being the point where the Lumia camera derives its light balance from, but for the most part, the camera select here is decent, and Microsoft has still left the manual controls in case you like to fiddle with the camera more than just hitting the button and going away.
A “rich” mode is also included, and while that might suggest having more money than sense, it’s actually Microsoft’s term for HDR, and this actually provides what the app suggests: richer images, with more balanced colours, brightness, and contrast across the photo.
If you’re not shooting with the professional mode, you’ll likely want to leave this on, as it makes the photos look that much better, even if the colours are definitely more vivid with this option switched on.
We still haven’t really seen a high-end phone from Microsoft, as the company eases into its Nokia buy-out, a move that started with the budget phones, and has now hit the mid-range.
And that mid-range is actually a pretty great place to start if what you’re looking for is a phone offering battery life and decent value.
Windows still has a slight problem when it comes to the application ecosystem, and it’s still nowhere near as strong as Apple or Google Android, but provided you’re happy with a few games, Microsoft Office, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a few music apps, you’ll be fine.
Essentially, that’s what the Lumia 640XL is: an ideal tablet-sized 4G phone for people who don’t want to spend too much, but just want enough of a phone. And that’s really what the 640XL is. Recommended.