Microsoft has made a habit of releasing affordable smartphones that we can’t help but admire. The Lumia 640 XL is the latest in that long line of budget-friendly devices I have no issue in recommending. It’s a solid device that won’t cost the earth.
The design is immediately familiar to anyone who’s used, or even seen, a Lumia device before. The front is a perfectly flat piece of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and the rear a removable plastic shell. This is the matte finish white shell, which is both attractive and comfortable to hold, but there are more colorful and glossy options for those who want them.
Apart from the contrasting, simple black Microsoft logo on the back, there’s a 13MP Carl Zeiss camera, the LED flash and a small pill-shaped speaker hole. The edges around the device are almost entirely flat, except for the small raised hump where the 3.5mm jack sits on the top edge. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a fan of nice buttons on phones, and I’ve been impressed by both the placement and clickability of the Lumia 640 XL’s volume and power keys. They give just the right amount of feedback, and that’s pretty impressive considering they are built into the case, not the phone itself. And they aren’t easily confused, meaning you shouldn’t find yourself pressing the volume rocker when trying to switch off the device.
At 9mm thick, the 640 XL isn't the thinnest phablet in the world. But to put it in context with another similarly-sized device, it’s only 0.5mm thicker than a Galaxy Note 4, so it’s easily manageable although at 158mm tall, it’s hardly a one-handed device. Saying that, it’s respectably light, and weighs less than Samsung’s metal phablet.
As an overall package, it’s good-looking, understated and it feels well made. Although I couldn’t possibly lie and tell you it’s incredibly premium-feeling, I’ve had phones which cost more and feel much cheaper.
To save on cost, Microsoft opted not to go with a 1080p display on the 640 XL, and I can’t help but feel that wasn’t the right choice. Instead we have a 5.7-inch, 720 x 1280 ClearBlack LCD panel with a pixel density of just 259ppi.
Now I have to say, the large display isn’t terrible. Far from it. It has a lot of contrast, which isn’t usual for an LCD display. Blacks almost look completely black, like an AMOLED panel. This extra contrast gives the illusion of sharpness when gaming or watching videos, so the experience of using it is actually rather good. Colors are vivid too, when looking at them head on.
It’s when you look at text that you notice the issues. Edges are a little fuzzy, and you can distinguish individual pixels when looking at the screen closer than arm's length. Still, the size and life from the screen easily make up for that.
One area of the Lumia 640 XL that really surprised me was the camera. I was expecting the Carl Zeiss branding to amount to nothing, but boy was I wrong. The rear sensor packs in 13 megapixels and doesn’t just produce sharp images, but great color too.
On a sunny day, the balance of tones and colors is truly impressive. Blues, greens and reds all came through brilliantly, leaving me with an image I wasn’t even tempted to edit afterwards. And this was all in auto mode, not selecting any manual controls or presets.
The one criticism I have is that the camera wasn’t quick enough for my liking. There was noticeable delay when trying to snap an action shot, but for still photographs, it’s one of the best sensors I’ve used on any phone.
As with many Lumias, the video quality leaves a lot to be desired. Almost the opposite of still photography, there’s too much contrast and not enough saturation in the video footage.
Performance and Battery Life
Being a phablet, the 640 XL has a huge battery. In fact, it’s 3,000mAh. It might not be quite as large as the Note 4, but, with the Windows Phone operating system being much more efficient, I didn’t struggle to get to the end of a day once. In fact, sometimes I was pushing on two days on a full charge.
It’s loaded with a Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz, which didn’t really struggle at all with Windows Phone 8.1. And since it’s running Lumia Denim, you get all the latest software features available to the public. Web browsing is fast and smooth, as are transitions between apps and screens. Scrolling is generally stutter-free too.
I wasn’t blown away by its speed, but there’s an element of effortlessness and fluidity that I couldn’t help but enjoy. It sometimes took a little while longer than I’d like to load games or apps, but generally it was a pleasant experience.
There are several versions of the Lumia 640 XL, including LTE and dual SIM models, and the price varies depending on which you go for. The XL is currently unavailable in the U.S., but in the U.K. it sells for around £200. That’s £30 less than a Lumia 830, and slightly more than a Lumia 735.
For that kind of money, it’s hard to criticize the 640 XL. It’s an affordable and attractive device with a great camera, great battery, solid build quality and a huge screen. What’s not to love?