Hands on: Microsoft Lumia 640 and 640 XL

Microsoft's latest Lumias prove Windows Phone can hold its own

If you’re in need of a solid, mid-range phone and don’t care whether you’ve got the latest and the greatest processor, screen resolution, and all the shiny new features, phones like the Lumia 640 could be just what you need.

Microsoft sure makes a nice budget smartphone. Its latest Lumias, the 640 and 640 XL, are both attractive and reasonably powerful, even though their prices are fairly low.

The new Lumias look very similar to previous Nokia-branded models, and although neither is a true showstoppers, they sure are nice — and ready for Windows 10.

Nokia’s good looks with a Microsoft logo

Microsoft has stayed true to Nokia’s styling on every Lumia it’s introduced under its own brand name, and the 640s are no exception. Both come with brightly colorful case options that can be removed and swapped out at will. The casing is made of a nice, sturdy plastic that doesn’t feel as though it’s going to flex or break under a little stress. Seeing as that’s a common problem with mid-range, budget devices like these, that’s a good thing.

The Lumia 640 XL only comes in a matte finish, but you can get a variety of colors, including bright orange, neon green, white, cyan, and black. Meanwhile, the Lumia 640 is also offered in a two-toned, shiny plastic that comes in the above color options, but also a very sharp-looking cyan. The glossy plastic back on the smaller of the two Lumias looks like different shades of blue in different lighting conditions. The edges are also darker than the body by a shade or two.

In comparison with the petite Lumia 640 with its 5-inch screen, the Lumia 640 XL looks pretty darn big.

Of course, the cool, shiny two-toned effect comes with a major downside — It’s also a fingerprint magnet. If you’re the kind of person who obsesses over specs of dust and truly hates fingerprint smears, go with the matte version.

The only other real design difference between the two lies in their size. In comparison with the petite Lumia 640 with its 5-inch screen, the Lumia 640 XL looks pretty darn big. It has a 5.7-inch screen, and is exactly the same height as the iPhone 6 Plus.

Perhaps because the new Lumias are plastic, they are quite light and relatively thin for budget devices, though they’ve got that slightly chunky look of all the Nokia Lumias. However, this time around it’s Microsft’s branding on the devices. The former software giant turned device maker has its name on the front top of the device, as well as the back.

Overall, the Lumia 640 and 640 XL fit in very well with the existing Lumias based on looks alone. The neon colors aren’t for everyone, but there are always the classic black and white options, and that cyan color looks pretty sharp on the smaller 640.

Solid specs that’ll get the job done

Although the specs aren’t top-notch by any stretch of the imagination, Microsoft’s latest Lumias have decent, mid-range tech inside. A 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor powers both phones, which come with two different configurations: a 1GB RAM with 8GB storage configuration option and a 2GB RAM with 16GB storage option. Regardless of your choice, you’ll still get a MicroSD card slot in the Lumia 640 and 640 XL that will expand your memory by as much as 128GB.

Both of the Lumia 640s seemed to be fast and responsive when we used them briefly after the press conference. Pages loaded fast, animations were smooth, and everything appeared to be in working order. Plus, you get the full Office app suite and lots of OneDrive storage. Additionally, Microsoft has a promotion where you’ll get one year of Office 365 and 1TB of OneDrive storage with the purchase of either 640.

Microsoft Lumia 640
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

Nowadays, you don’t need the best processor on the market to have a powerful device. As such, mid-range phones like these look even more appealing. If you’re in need of a solid, mid-range phone and don’t care whether you’ve got the latest and the greatest processor, screen resolution, and all the shiny new features, phones like the Lumia 640 could be just what you need.

Although we can’t say whether the battery lasts as long as Microsoft claims it does, we do know that the batteries in both handsets are pretty sizable. The smaller Lumia 640 sports a 2,500mAh battery pack, and the larger phablet comes with a huge 3,000mAh battery onboard. Microsoft tells us they’ll last you through two days. After we’ve tested them in greater detail, we’ll let you know if the claim holds water.

A big difference in cameras

One of the things Lumia phones have almost always been good at is taking photos. Neither of Microsoft’s new Lumia 640s feature incredible cameras, but both should take decent photos, thanks to the Lumia 5.1 camera software onboard. You can control exposures, make adjustments to lighting and other effects, as well as create so-called “living pictures” that show your editing changes slowly from start to finish in a mini GIF-like format.

Nowadays, you don’t need the best processor on the market to have a powerful device.

Pictures taken with the smaller Lumia 640 will undeniably be of lesser quality, though. For some bizarre reason, the smaller of the two phones has much weaker cameras. The 640 has a measly 1-megapixel front-facing camera and a basic 8-megapixel back shooter. In a day and age when selfies are taken almost more often than normal shots, the weak front-facing camera is a real bummer.

The Lumia 640 XL makes up for the disappointment in spades, with its 5-megapixel front-facing camera and 13-megapixel back camera. This phone should manage to take some pretty incredible pictures and selfies that are sharper than most.

No Windows 10 yet, but it’s coming

Unfortunately, Windows 10 isn’t available for phones yet, so the Lumia 640 and 640 XL are still running Windows Phone 8.1 with the Lumia Denim update. The good news is that both are ready for the Windows 10 update to arrive. As soon as Microsoft pulls the trigger, these two devices will have all the new features. As it is, the devices both run Windows Phone 8.1 smoothly, and the Denim update brings it all together.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s Lumia 640 and 640 XL may not be the most high-end devices around, but they sure do look nice up close. We’ll need to test these handsets out more fully soon to let you know our final thoughts, but as it stands, Microsoft seems to have made two decent mid-range phones.

Highs:

  • Sturdy plastic design
  • Compatible with future Windows 10 update
  • Solid specs at a moderate price
  • Lumia 640 XL has a powerful camera

Lows:

  • Still running Windows Phone 8.1
  • Lumia 640 has weaker cameras
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