Then we got to Mobile World Congress. Microsoft had taken over the space once inhabited by Nokia and used it to deliver a keynote very early on the first morning of the show. Among the Windows 10 talk was the introduction of the Lumia 640 and the Lumia 640 XL.
Both another step up on the ladder from those that came before, and taking it up to around half-dozen smartphones to carry the Microsoft logo. The Lumia 640 has big shoes to fill, coming in as a replacement for the very popular Lumia 630/635. Does it do a good job?
That's what we're here to find out.
What you'll like:
- Great value for money.
- A free year of Office 365
- Lumia Camera 5.
- Fantastic display complete with Glance Screen.
- Good battery life
What you won't like:
- Internal storage is pretty low
- No wireless charging
With hardware that's largely on par with the more expensive Lumia 830, the Lumia 640 is an absolute steal. What it gives is the very best of Windows Phone at a very affordable price point. The camera, while not a patch on the PureView shooters in the higher end phones, is excellent for a phone in this segment of the market. And it ticks pretty much all the boxes: Glance Screen, HD display, removable battery, microSD card slot and the very latest version of Windows Phone. The Lumia 640 XL may be more tempting for those into larger screens and more impressive cameras, but for the average consumer, the Lumia 640 is all the Windows Phone they could need. Solid, all round performance and a very tempting asking price.
What makes it tick
- Windows Phone 8.1 with Lumia Denim
- Windows 10 Ready
- Colors: Glossy cyan, orange, and white, as well as matte black
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 (MSM8926), 1.2 GHz quad-core processor
- 5" HD (1280x720, 16:9) IPS LCD, 294 PPI, Glance screen, Corning Gorilla Glass 3, Sunlight readability enhancements
- 1GB RAM
- 8 GB internal mass memory + up to 128 GB Micro SD & 30GB free OneDrive cloud storage
- Rear camera: 8 MP AF (3280x2464), f/2.2, 28 mm, 1080p @ 30 fps video (continuous autofocus), Flash: LED, Lumia Camera 5.0 (with Dynamic Flash, HDR)
- Front camera: HD 1 MP wide angle, f/2.4, 720p video
- Connectivity: BT 4.0, microUSB2.0, Micro SIM, A-GPS+GLONASS, BeiDou, DLNA, Screen cloning with Miracast, WLAN 802.11 b/g/n/
- Sensors: Accelerometer, Magnetometer, Proximity, Ambient Light Sensor
- Battery: 2500 mAh (BV-T5C) removable battery
- Weight: 145 g
- Size: 141.3 x 72.2 x 8.85 mm
Safe, yet solid
The hardware and design
One thing the Lumia 640 does not do is introduce anything new to the line up when you look solely at the hardware. The design is iterative, the internals reused in combination with other devices in the range. For example, while the likes of Blu and Kazam are launching a new Windows Phone with a Snapdragon 410 CPU, the Lumia 640 stays in a more familiar realm of the Snapdragon 400. Just like the Lumia 830. And the Lumia 730.
You can look at that in different ways. On the one hand, performance should be identical to the more expensive Lumia 830. And, on the whole, that does seem to be the case. The CPU and RAM are the same, the display size and resolution likewise.
For a mid-range device, the hardware is strong
That's one of the strong points of the Lumia 640. For a mid-range device, the hardware is strong. The internals are capable, and the display is great to look at. Vivid, bright colors, deep blacks and sharp text. At 5-inches, 720p resolution is perfectly acceptable in 2015.
I said the design was iterative, too, and it is. If you hold the Lumia 640 next to the Lumia 630/635, there's a definite family resemblance. Not that there's anything wrong with the design, the 635 was a fantastic phone. But the 640 just feels like the 635. Only bigger.
As before, though, you do get a removable back in a variety of colors, including the triumphant return of cyan. The colors are a glossy finish and finished off with black accents on the power and volume buttons on the side. A small touch, but something that does set off the appearance just a little.
Other things to note:
- The battery is a decent size at 2500mAh. Bigger than the removable battery on the Lumia 830. More on that later.
- You'll need a microSIM for this phone.
- Under the back cover, you'll also find a microSD card slot that's SDXC compatible. So you can throw in a 128GB memory card if you wish. Or one of those fancy 200GB ones when they're on sale if you're feeling really flush.
- No camera hump on the back. Can't say it's something we've missed, but unlike it's big brother, the Lumia 640 XL, this one will sit flat on a table.
- Double tap to wake is here, alive and well.
So, the hardware is dependable, solid, well designed if a little predictable at this point.
But Cyan is back!
Latest and greatest!
The software - Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 on board
Despite the recent 'rollout' as part of the Windows 10 preview for phones, the Lumia 640 is one of the first phones that at present officially has Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 loaded up. While a lot of what's important in Update 2 is under the hood, there are also a few forward facing features we can see.
One of the more lauded features included is the 'remote kill switch' as it's so often called, now required by law in the U.S. It no doubt played a big part in Update 2 even existing. But elsewhere the Settings app has had an organizational refresh, there are some mild visual tweaks and a few handy little features that are going to be useful to some.
Since Update 2 applies more to Windows Phone as a platform than just the Lumia 640, check out the links below where we've already broken some of it down.
Update 2 is the very latest version of Windows Phone 8.1. While it's a minor upgrade overall, it does bring some important features with it, including the so-called 'remote kill switch.' Find out everything right here.
Some nice surprises
The software - everything else
Aside from Update 2, it's pretty much business as usual on the Lumia 640. It comes with Lumia Denim firmware and all the goodness that brings which also includes the Lumia Camera 5 application.
Before the launch of the Lumia 640 and 640 XL, Lumia Camera 5 had been exclusive to Microsoft's higher end, PureView camera phones. It's both a surprise and a delight to see it on what's certainly classed as a mid-range device, one without PureView, and even without Zeiss optics.
We'll look at the camera app in more detail further on.
Otherwise, there are a couple of pre-loaded items, one of which is the Fitbit app. Microsoft and Fitbit have a pretty good relationship these days, but the Lumia 640 isn't one of the phones offered with a free Fitbit Flex, so the app is pretty superfluous if you don't already have a band. But you can delete it if you don't want it, so that's OK.
Worth highlighting on its own, the Lumia 640 along with the 640 XL marks the first time Microsoft has given away a free one-year subscription to Office 365 with one of its smartphones.
Such an offer has been commonplace on small Windows 8.1 tablets for some time now. It's perhaps less useful on a phone, especially given the current state of Office on Windows Phone. But since you get bundled Skype calls, 1TB of OneDrive storage and access to the Office desktop apps as part of it, it's nothing to turn your nose up at.
The links below will guide you through what it is you're getting, and how you go about getting it.
Something for everyone
Connectivity - Dual SIM, LTE or not
While it's easy to focus on the camera, or the display, or any other number of features, one of the most important for the Lumia 640 is its connectivity. Dual SIM phones aren't uncommon from Microsoft. But how about Dual-SIM LTE?
In fact, dual-SIM phones that support two LTE SIM cards aren't that common anywhere right now. For Microsoft to include on a phone that's as affordable as the Lumia 640 is a very big deal.
But not everyone wants that. And not everyone wants or can get LTE support. As such the Lumia 640 comes in variants with or without both of these options. We've got the LTE UKCV here with single-SIM. And it's the same story with the larger Lumia 640 XL, as well.
Aside from the choice, performance is as good as you get on any Lumia smartphone. We've had no issues locking onto and maintaining an LTE connection.
The rear camera
Something everyone cares about in 2015 when buying a smartphone. We always say the best camera you have is the one you have with you at the time. And as such, smartphone cameras are ever improving, even at the lower price points.
That can be said of the Lumia 640.
On paper, the hardware in the rear camera is decidedly mid-range and wholly unremarkable. There's an 8MP unit with no PureView, no Zeiss. But there's also no hump, as such, more a small ridge as was found on its predecessor. But, unlike its predecessor, we do at least have an LED flash this time around.
But if anything, the Lumia 640 is living proof that a good camera experience can be had without spending a lot of money. And part of that is down to Lumia Camera 5, the standard, pre-loaded camera application.
Until now, Microsoft has reserved Lumia Camera 5 for its very best camera phones. The likes of the Lumia 930, Lumia 1520 and Lumia 830 (in certain regions) all have it, but those are all PureView. The Lumia 640 is just, well, a regular old phone camera.
The Lumia Camera app has always been more capable than many equivalent stock apps on competing platforms, offering a level of manual control not found everywhere. Lumia Camera 5 adds the highly-praised Rich Capture feature to help you take more exciting photos.
The rear camera is surprisingly good at capturing detail
At the same time, if you're spending this sort of money on a smartphone you should always remember to keep expectations in line with that. But that said, you probably won't be disappointed with the Lumia 640.
The rear camera is surprisingly good at capturing detail though, at times, everything set to auto can lead to some issues with white balance. But at least you can change this on the fly in the app.
Chalk the rear camera up as a surprisingly impressive shooter. It gives us a good feeling when the mid-range is as capable as this.
Lumia Camera 5 isn't the only Lumia Camera app in town. There's actually three, and each one applies to a different phone in the lineup and has different features depending on the hardware? Confused much?
The front camera
Unlike the Lumia 630 that came before it, the Lumia 640 packs a front-facing camera. It's nothing particularly special. It is a 1MP unit that will take those selfie shots and let you video call your friends and family.
If you want to go landscape, go right
The biggest issue with the front-facing camera is its position. It's way over there on the left-hand side. No issues if you use it in portrait, but if you happen to want to use it in landscape and you tilt the phone left, you're in Dell XPS 13 country.
And by that, we mean it's suddenly very low down and will give a great view up your nose. A minor irritation, but still something to remember. If you want to go landscape, go right.
The Lumia 640 also does a fairly decent job at recording videos, too. The rear camera will shoot at 1080p at a continuous 30fps with auto-focus. The auto-focus does its job, but it is quite aggressive as it refocuses when you're moving the camera around. You won't be shooting any blockbusters on it, but for capturing those casual clips and stuff to share with social media it does pretty well.
The front facing camera steps down to 720p resolution. It's better than we first expected, and for the sort of thing you'd want to use a front-facing camera for, it should be ample for most.
And as you'll see in the video clip below, the microphone performs strongly. Even outdoors with a little wind noise it picks up your voice really well.
It can go all day (and maybe all night)
During our initial hands-on and impressions, we noted that the battery in the Lumia 640 is actually larger than that in the more expensive Lumia 830. There's not a whole lot in it, but it's a healthy 2500mAh, compared to the 2200mAh in the 830.
And it's removable.
What that translates to is a real-world scenario of comfortable all day battery life on what we'd class as regular usage. Without any lengthy gaming sessions or watching videos for too long, getting through the day and even well into the evening doesn't take too much doing.
Ramp up on the more intensive tasks, and it'll naturally go down. But even with the most intensive use we didn't need to hunt for a charger before the end of the working day.
But even so, since you can swap it out, even the most power hungry of smartphone users won't be left scouring for a wall outlet or having to carry an external battery pack.
The one thing we do miss though is wireless charging. If you're coming to the Lumia 640 from any of the previous low-to-mid range Windows Phones, it's possible it's not a problem.
But, the Lumia 640 is an enticing buy to folks who've been on phones like the 820, 920 in a past life. Folks who enjoyed the convenience of just popping it on the charger at their desk throughout the day. You won't miss it if you never had it.
Counting the coppers
Pricing and availability
The Lumia 640 is on sale now in a number of markets across Europe and Asia. The RRP from Microsoft is around £170 though that varies from market to market.
What is important to mention is that the Microsoft Store is probably the most expensive place you'll find one to buy. Third-party retailers and carriers are already offering substantial discounts, so definitely check with your local offerings first.
At some point, it should be making its way to the U.S., but at the time of writing there is no confirmed launch window.
The bottom line
The Lumia 640 is a great phone. We could leave it at that and be done with it. There are some things we're not so happy with, like the lack of wireless charging, but all told this is a real gem in Microsoft's lineup.
Eventually, the higher end will move further away, and any replacement for the Lumia 830 won't (likely) be as closely matched on the hardware to the Lumia 640. But the here and now is where we are at, and that means a sub-£170 phone with very little criticism.
Yes, compromises always need to be made to reach a price point, that's just the nature of the business. But the Lumia 640 offers probably the best compromise of any phone in its price range. A good camera, excellent battery life, solid software performance and all without stealing your wallet.
Pound for pound, this might just be the best value-for-money Windows Phone there is right now. And that's a pretty mighty achievement. It also leaves us even more excited for what might yet come in the higher reaches of the smartphone spectrum.
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