Microsoft is back with an updated version of the Lumia 635? Can this budget smart phone deliver irresistible value for money where its predecessor failed?
Since taking over Nokia, Microsoft has embarked on a strategy of releasing competitively-priced smartphones packed with features in an attempt to break the iOS/Android stranglehold. The Lumia 640 is the newest addition to the jam-packed range of Lumia budget handsets.
The 640 sits on top of the Lumia 6 range, which is Microsoft’s mid-tier above the cheaper Lumia 4 series. Besides the £100-ish price, there is little to make the 640 stand out on paper unless you’re a die-hard fan of the Windows Phone operating system. Costing only £109.99 from most retailers, it comes in cheaper than the Moto G and the LG Spirit 4G (see Page 28).
So what has Microsoft done to bring in the 640 at such a cheap price? Is this a Windows Phone that has what it takes to stand out from the crowd?
With their familiar polycarbonate shells and bright colour options, the Lumia line carries an iconic design theme throughout the range, which helps to give a very recognisable style.
Unfortunately, this also makes them pretty difficult to tell apart. At first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any difference between this and the Lumia 630/635. The design aesthetic is almost entirely identical, with everything in the same place as its predecessors.
Look a little deeper and you will notice the 645 is slightly thinner and there have been subtle dimension changes to accommodate for the larger 5-inch screen.
The speaker is in the same awkward spot, making the phone difficult to hold in landscape mode without blocking the speaker vent and smothering the sound.
The obvious change is the disappearance of the Nokia moniker replaced with Microsoft to reflect the final completion of Nokia’s demise.
Our review model was the black version with a matte finish.
There are plenty of other bright colour options available. Lumia phones have been released in a mix of matte and gloss variants. Choose glossy if you like a case covered in fingerprints and slippery to grip.
The Lumia 640 is also available in gloss versions and I wouldn’t suggest you pick one up for the above reasons. The matte version felt snug in my hand and attracted zero fingerprints during use.
The camera on the Lumia 640 is of terrific quality for a £109 smartphone. At 8 megapixels, it manages to match other mid-tier phones, which cost significantly more. As is typical with lower-end Lumia phones, there is no dedicated shutter button for taking pictures and quick-launching the camera application. The Lumia camera app gives full manual control over settings such as shutter speed and ISO, which allows for plenty of tweaking if you’re a budding photographer wanting to take control over your shots.
I was surprised at how good the low-light performance is and how little noise crept into the images. There is some clever post-processing going on under the hood to achieve these results. This is no doubt the result of Microsoft acquiring Nokia’s ingenious “PureView” technology, which gives high resolution for a lower pixel count. The only problem is a lack of built-in image stabilisation, which means you’ll need to keep your hands pretty steady to ensure those night shots remain sharp.
The 1-megapixel front camera is also surprisingly decent. It is slightly noisy but is perfect for video calls such as Skype. It’s actually nice to see a front camera that chooses to keep the noise in favour of a sharper picture, rather than resorting to aggressive reduction algorithms that completely ruin the resulting image.
The Lumia 640 has a big 5-inch panel with a 1280×720 HD resolution. It’s amazing that little more than two
years ago, 720 HD panels were still a flagship feature.
There is a pixel density rating of 294ppi, which is slightly under the 300ppi printing standard. In reality, it makes little difference.
The screen looks very clear with sharp text and little pixilation. Viewing angles are very good thanks to an IPS display, though there is a subtle colour deviation at extreme angles.
You get the proprietary ClearBlack built into the panel. This is a technology previously developed by Nokia to enhance dark contrast and colours.
Using three special layers within the panel, it helps to increase sunlight readability and colour reproduction by reflecting unwanted light away from your face. This fancy polarisation filter works pretty well in practice, reducing reflections outside in sunny conditions. Even under the brightest sunlight, you will still able to see what’s on the screen.
Microsoft has equipped the 640 with a quad-core 1.2GHZ Snapdragon 400 processor. This is quite old by today’s standards and is the same chip that featured in the 2013 Moto G, a device hailed by many as the best budget handset money could buy.
Aimed at lower mid-level users, it won’t set the world alight but it’s still a capable workhorse. This is partly thanks to the Windows Phone operating system, which for its shortcomings is incredibly well optimised for use with this chip.
Applications opened very fast with only a slight delay and gaming performance was impressive. Playing Asphalt 8: Airborne was a mostly smooth experience, with a near-consistent frame-rate.
There was a few stuttering issues, which seemed to be related to the accompanying audio track but the problem was only occasional. Whether there was some background issues I don’t know, but it was a noticeable distraction in some places.
The phone also comes equipped with 1GB ram, an essential addition for any Windows Phone device hoping to make the jump to Windows 10 Mobile. Although 512MB handsets will be supported, Microsoft has stated that full features won’t be available to those with less than the 1GB minimum.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 is a huge leap in bringing the Windows Phone operating system up-to-spec with the Android and iOS competition. Features such as independent volume controls and a dedicated notification centre are now finally available, which help to complement the unique live tile experience.
The OS also has its own dedicated voice assistant Cortana, which sits somewhere between Google Now and Siri in functionality. While Google may have the edge on sheer data, Cortana has the ability to set appointments and reminders much like a secretary or personal assistant. It also has a home page, which acts as a hub for all your news, appointment information and locations, handy if you need to check your schedule at a glance.
You’ll also get a year’s free subscription to Office 365 worth £59.99, which gives you Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, plus 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage.
Unfortunately, the operating system is still struggling to attract third party applications, with a woeful selection currently available. The good news is there are viable alternatives within the store which offer much better experiences than the neglected official apps.
The Lumia 640 has one of the best batteries at this price point. At 2500mAh, it almost matches flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S6, which narrowly wins at 2550mAh (and so it should, as it costs hundreds of pounds more). For all that juice, you can be confident that will the 640 will easily last you a day of heavy usage. Basic tasks such as browsing the web, checking emails and listening to music will only sip a few per cent per hour from the battery.
With average usage, the device manages to hit the elusive two-day target, which is excellent for a phone of this price.
If you’re used to having to charge your phone every night, you’ll certainly appreciate the staying power of the 640’s battery.
As a bonus, the battery is removable. So you can pack a spare one for the next camping holiday and never be out of touch.
Microsoft has managed a very impressive feat with the Lumia 640. They’ve successfully fixed all the shortcomings which tainted the original 635 and managed to keep it within the same price bracket.
There’s little to be disappointed about it apart from the uninspiring design and slightly old processor. Still, Windows Phone is so well optimised that even the latter is only a minor inconvenience.
It’s incredible what Microsoft has crammed into such a cheap smartphone. They’ve nailed all the major points with a great camera, excellent battery and an adequate processor for the well-optimised Windows Phone OS. The problem is the Windows Phone struggles to convince the sceptics. If you purchase this device, you really are getting a lot for the money.