Hands-on with the unreleased Microsoft Lumia 650 XL

Like many of you, I always thought the Lumia 650 was a great little phone. It was definitely the best looking Lumia to come out of Microsoft, with a relatively premium exterior that was let down by its low-end specifications. It would've been much better suited as a mid-ranger with slightly upped internal specs.

The main problem that I personally had with the Lumia 650 was that it was on the smaller side of the smartphone spectrum. It was a 5-inch 720p OLED screen, which thanks to the OLED technology, made for a beautiful display at that size. But in a market where, at the time, phone screens were pushing 5.5 to 5.7 inches with higher resolutions, 5 inches was just too small.

It turns out, Microsoft knew this and was working on a Lumia 650 XL. Codenamed Honjo, this device was specced almost identically to the Lumia 650 that was released, but with one key difference: it was bigger. Instead of rocking a 5.0 720p OLED display, the Lumia 650 XL featured a 5.5-inch 720p LCD instead. I got my hands on an early prototype device, so let's go hands-on.

Lumia 650 XL specifications

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Operating SystemWindows 10 Mobile
Display5.5-inchesHD (1280x720) LCD
Rear Camera8MPf/2.2 aperture720p Video Recording
Front Camera5MPStill image captureVideo callVideo recording
ProcessorsQualcomm Snapdragon 212Quad-core1.3GHz
Memory & StorageRAM: 1GBInternal storage: 16GB (expandable up to 200GB)
Battery2300 mAh

Lumia 650 XL design and hardware

Much like the Lumia 650, the Lumia 650 XL features a glass front, with an aluminum frame and a removable plastic back cover. If you liked the look and feel of the Lumia 650, you'd also love the look of the Lumia 650 XL. It looks, in essence, identical to the Lumia 650, except bigger. There are a few minor differences worthy of note when it comes to the hardware, however.

The first notable change between the Lumia 650 and the Lumia 650 XL is positioning of the headphone jack and Micro-USB charging port. They're flipped and centered on both ends. The Micro-USB charging port is oddly located in the top middle of the device, and the headphone jack is at the bottom middle. Perhaps this was a temporary internal design choice during the prototyping phase; we'll never know.

Under the removable back cover, the Lumia 650 XL also doesn't have a removable battery. The area where the battery would be removable is covered with a thin metal sheet, which is a shame. And the final change worthy of note is that the speaker is rear-firing instead of front-facing. The Lumia 650 had a nice front-facing speaker at the bottom below the screen, but the Lumia 650 XL switches that out for one located on the back.

The display is not as good as the one found on the Lumia 650. It's not OLED, which is a real bummer. One of the greatest things about the Lumia 650 was its OLED display, which looked great for a device that costs less than $300. The Lumia 650 XL featured a bog standard, rather awful LCD with less than stellar viewing angles and muted, dull colors.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't opt to increase the resolution with the increase in display size, meaning the display itself doesn't look as crisp as it did on the Lumia 650. It's still okay, with text that looks good enough, but because this display is an LCD instead of OLED, the whole display experience just isn't as nice.

The aluminum frame is arguably the best thing about the design of the Lumia 650 and subsequently the Lumia 650 XL. Buttons are clicky and feel good. Holding the phone in your hand just feels nice, as the unit is nice and light yet still features that metal frame that so many higher-end devices rock. It's a real nice looking phone. The camera on our unit doesn't work, unfortunately, but I believe it would've been the same set of sensors as found on the Lumia 650, so nothing special.

Worth noting however is that our prototype appears to have a front-facing LED flash. Weird.

Lumia 650 XL size

The Lumia 650 XL is comparable in size to the Lumia 950 XL, which isn't so bad. Admittedly, the Lumia 650 XL doesn't do as good a job at the screen-to-body ratio that you find on the 950 XL. Since both the 950 XL and 650 XL are comparable in overall size, the smaller 5.5-inch screen on the 650 XL leaves for a much bigger chin at the bottom of the front of the device.

This is made worse by the fact that the 650 XL uses on-screen navigation instead of dedicated capacitive buttons. So there's a lot of wasted space on the 650 XL, which isn't good for those with small hands. I guess that's what the smaller Lumia 650 exists, for those that would've struggled using the bigger version.

Microsoft did a much better job at utilizing the screen to body ratio real estate on the Lumia 950 XL, which crams a 5.7-inch display into what is essentially the size of a Lumia 650 XL. Still, if screen to body ratios aren't an issue to you, the Lumia 650 XL would've been more than fine. The bezels on the device definitely would've seem dated, even in 2016.

Nothing special

I don't know about you, but there was just something special about the Lumia 650 that was released. It was a charming little device, with a surprisingly nice design and build quality, relatively low-price, and way better than deserved display. While the Lumia 650 XL has a bigger display and bigger battery, it just doesn't feel special.

I think it's the less-than-stellar display that's making this phone unspecial. The best thing about the Lumia 650 was arguably its display, and that magic is gone on the Lumia 650 XL. I imagine the choice to go for an LCD on the larger one was a cost-cutting measure, as OLED screens are somewhat more expensive the bigger they are.

But because of this cost-cutting measure, the Lumia 650 XL has no charm. It doesn't have a standout feature that would've put it above the rest at the time. If the Lumia 650 and Lumia 650 XL had launched together, the smaller one would've had a better screen and overall better experience than the larger one. It would've made no sense.

So perhaps that's why Microsoft opted not to release a Lumia 650 XL. It had already done a great job with the Lumia 650 that was released, and an XL was likely unable to improve upon that at the time, while also keeping prices low-enough for the market that Microsoft was targetting. In a way, I'm glad the Lumia 650 XL was never released, because while a bigger display, bundled with that excellent 650 build quality is nice, the lack of OLED just ruins the best thing about the Lumia 650.

Alas, the Lumia 650 XL is just another device in a long list of Microsoft hardware to never see the light of day. What are your thoughts on this unreleased handset? Let us know in the comments!

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads