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Microsoft Lumia 650 review: Sleek looks, low price

Update: Shortly after this review was published, the Lumia 650 received a software update which has improved the overall experience and eliminated some of the issues experienced during the review period. You can find out more in the software section of the review.

The Quick take

The Lumia 650 is a step forward in terms of design refinements, but it doesn't leap so far ahead on the inside as some might hope compared to its predecessor. This phone is very much an incremental iteration.

If you want a well put together phone, for £160 the Lumia 650 is certainly attractive. While the software still has many quirks (or bugs, depending on your outlook), and while there's nothing to knock your socks off aside from the outward style, it's a solid phone at a solid price.

Pros

  • Great-looking display
  • Design and construction is superb
  • Solid camera
  • Slim and almost unnaturally light

Cons

  • Can chug from time to time, especially in games
  • Far too much bezel on the front
  • Windows 10 Mobile still 'quirky'

Lumia 650 specifications

CategorySpecification
Operating SystemWindows 10 Mobile
Display5-inches
HD (1280x720) AMOLED, ClearBlack
Rear Camera8MP
f/2.2 aperture
720p Video Recording
Front Camera5MP
Still image capture
Video call
Video recording
ProcessorsQualcomm Snapdragon 212
Quad-core
1.3GHz
Memory & StorageRAM: 1GB
Internal storage: 16GB (expandable up to 200GB)
NetworkGSM Bands: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz
LTE Bands: Band 1, Band 3, Band 7, Band 8, Band 20
Wi-Fi: IEE 802.11 b/g/n
SensorsAccelerometer
Ambient light sensor
Proximity sensor
LocationA-GLONASS
A-GPS
Cellular
Wi-Fi network positioning
Dimensions6.9 x 142 x 70.9 mm
PortsMicro-USB
Battery2000 mAh
OtherNFC
Bluetooth 4.1

Lumia 650 hands on

Lumia 650 hardware

The Lumia 650 is gorgeous. There's nothing too radical about the design, literally all it took is a metal frame, but it works. It's easily the best looking Lumia in the current lineup. What's more remarkable, and also confusing, is that Microsoft went down this road with a cheap phone and not its all singing, all dancing flagship products.

This is how the Lumia 950 should have looked.

The rear of the phone is still plastic, and still removable, with the battery cover coming away from between the metal frame to reveal the important parts beneath. NanoSIM, microSD card slot and a removable 2000mAh battery. Unlike on the older Lumia 830, the removable panel is incredibly thin. It's very pliable, and houses the phone's NFC contacts.

When attached to the phone, the rear is completely flat, save for a slight hump where you find the camera. The Lumia 640 didn't have a camera hump, but the 650 is very much slimmer. And that's why we have one now. The phone is so slim that it was unavoidable.

What Microsoft has avoided in the Lumia 650 is any unsightly antenna lines breaking up that sleek metal frame. How? There are plastic inserts that surround both the charging port and the headphone jack. I think I prefer this, frankly, and there's a little added protection when you're poking around trying to plug in a microUSB cable in the dark. I've scratched many a metal phone in the past by dragging a charging cable around looking for its home.

This is how the Lumia 950 should have looked

One thing that's also worth highlighting early on is the choice of colors. The days of bright colored Lumia phones still seems to be a thing of the past, and the 650 comes in a predictable, perhaps boring even, black or white. I think the black one looks a lot better, mostly because the white one has a white front. A white rear with a black front would have been so much better.

But let's also consider Microsoft's apparent target audience for the Lumia 650. It's being touted as the business phone, the commodity item to be bought up by corporate IT departments. Those kind of customers aren't going to be impressed by a bright green phone. So maybe it makes a little sense. Maybe.

But the combination of the matte finish on the rear, dull metal frame and the black front on the one I have here makes for a very sleek, elegant even, smartphone.

Inside things are mostly good, too. You shouldn't expect a whole lot for a phone at this price point but we do at least get 16GB of internal storage this year. If you're making a cheap phone, 16GB should still be the baseline. There's no excuse for an 8GB smartphone. It's paired with 1GB of RAM which still seems to be fine for most purposes when using Windows 10 Mobile.

The processor choice has garnered a bit of negativity from the hardcore community, with a Snapdragon 212 being very much towards the lower end. But it's one of Qualcomm's newest quad-core chips for cheap phones and most of the time it does just fine. If you're thinking automatically this is a step down from the Lumia 640 because 2 is less than 4 (as in Snapdragon 400), then stop right there.

The phone lags too much playing casual, less intensive games

Most of the time there is nothing to complain about. I'm not going to say it's perfect, because it isn't, and it does chug a bit from time to time. Inside Out Thought Bubbles (don't judge) isn't exactly a graphical extravaganza, but the Lumia 650 lags way too much while playing it. General every day tasks are handled just fine, and you get the trademark smoothness in most parts of the operating system. The internal hardware does struggle at times though when things get more demanding.

Equally, this phone costs £160, so if you were expecting to crush some Overkill 3 on it and have a good time, then you're not looking in the right place.

There are also cameras on this phone, two of them to be precise. And they're not bad. You've got 8MP round the back and 5MP round the front. We'll cover the camera in more depth a little further along.

Lumia 650

And finally, the display. As with Microsoft's other, new, cheap phone, the Lumia 550, the display is 'only' 1280x720 resolution. It's a little bigger than that on the 550 at 5 inches, but no less impressive to see on a cheap phone. It's got great colors, decent blacks and text is sharp enough to read without seeing fuzzy edges. It's also much less reflective than that found on the 550, with a much more pleasurable viewing experience overall.

It's a credit to Microsoft you get a great screen even at the low-end

You have to compromise somewhere when making a phone that meets this price point, but the display is the thing you spend the most time with. It continues to be a credit to Microsoft that even at the lower end you're getting a great screen to glue your eyes to.

The point I find myself at is one which has been said before of Microsoft's cheaper smartphones. The hardware to price ratio is extremely compelling. Most of the major boxes are ticked, and while performance does stutter and drop off at times, for the most part its business as usual.

Only this time, business as usual has a much better wrapper. The bright plastic of old has gone, and in has come a new, sleek, sophisticated look for the lower end. And I like it a lot.

Lumia 650

Windows 10 Mobile on the Lumia 650

Update: Shortly after this review was published the .164 operating system update was pushed to the Lumia 650 that seems to resolve the issues mentioned below. The hotspot feature seems to work as intended now, while crashes and freezes as a whole are now virtually gone. We felt it necessary to provide a brief update given how close the software came out to the review since it makes a good difference to the overall feel of the phone. It doesn't however, eliminate issues discussed in the hardware section, as sometimes you just need horsepower. The original text follows.

When I reviewed the Lumia 550 and came to the point in the tale where I had to talk software, things took a turn. The out of the box experience on that phone was pretty appalling. By any standards, the first hours and days were not a happy time.

So you'd forgive me for being a little cautious going into the Lumia 650. Once again, we're not dealing with a pre-release review model here, this is the real deal. A proper retail product, bought from a proper retail store.

Which means I get to see exactly what anyone reading this review would see upon buying the phone.

The good news is that things were much less painful, as I'd expect them to be at this point. Numerous updates have rolled out since I reviewed the 550, and Windows 10 Mobile is at least becoming less buggy with each one. There was still an OS update to install on the 650 after first setup, not to mention every single pre-installed app needed updating, too. Including the Store, and sadly updating a large volume of apps at once still seems to be a struggle.

The Lumia 650 has been my best experience so far with Windows 10 Mobile

But once into using it, the Lumia 650 has been my best overall experience of Windows 10 Mobile yet on any device.

There are still bugs, random times when things just freeze up completely and when trying to select photos the phone doesn't seem to have a clue what you're actually tapping on and gives a completely different picture. I would love for all the annoying quirks to have been ironed out by now, but I'm almost resigned to accepting it at this point. The worst bug I experienced personally was while trying to use the phone as a hotspot while out at Mobile World Congress. Most of the time I had to reboot the phone to establish a successful connection.

But, it's still the best overall experience I've had yet. Having used the Lumia 950 and 550 recently, too, I'm still comfortable in saying this about the Lumia 650.

Microsoft still has work to do, though. Its own apps frequently slow up on the 650, especially the Xbox app, and the Store remains something that needs a serious boost of adrenaline.

But when you're not fighting the remaining bugs, it's a smooth, mostly snappy experience. Consistent performance across all devices has been a Windows Phone trademark for a long time, and it's the same now we're up to Windows 10. The Lumia 950 will be faster, because horsepower, but the general experience on the much cheaper 650 is by no means a second class citizen by comparison.

Lumia 650

Lumia 650 camera

Last year's Lumia 640 surprised us in having a camera that performed better than the price attached to the phone would have suggested. So then, reason enough to be cautiously optimistic for the 2016 release.

Around the back there's an 8MP shooter, and flipping around to the front you're capturing your glorious selfies at 5MP. The front camera actually stands out a fair bit when you're looking at the phone.

But here's the thing: Even folks buying a cheap phone nowadays want, and can get good cameras. And Microsoft, thankfully, seems to have delivered.