Windows Mobile: Revisiting the Lumia 640
Back in March the Lumia 640 was released and it created a bit of a buzz in the Windows Phone user community because it represented the first value midrange phone released under the Microsoft brand since its acquisition of the Nokia devices business.
I reviewed the 640 for Petri back in April, which you can read here, and I stick by what I wrote there. But with a new flagship from Microsoft on the horizon, and a new budget phone in the Lumia 550, it’s time to take another look at the Lumia 640.
Microsoft released the Lumia 640 in March 2015 and it was meant to capture our imaginations as a budget-friendly midrange handset. While the 640 quickly gained a slice of the Windows Phone market pie, six months later it hasn’t made any significant gains. And unlike in the US, it’s not uncommon to see Windows Phone in the wild in Europe, but I’ve rarely come across another 640 owner.
So has there been something holding the 640 back? The general uncertainty surrounding the future of Windows Phone, the wait for Windows 10 Mobile, and the promise of new flagships have all led the market to stagnate. But despite the current conditions, there are also some issues with the 640 that prevent me from giving it full marks.
Lumia 520 versus 640
The easiest way for me to evaluate whether the 640 has been a success for me personally is to think back to the Lumia 520 experience, which was how I entered the Windows Phone world as a test to see what all the fuss was about. And the 520 wasn’t the bestselling Lumia without a reason. I soon ditched Android and later upgraded to the 640, but there have been two problems with the 640 that can’t be overlooked, depending on how you use your phone that is.
The 640 has both front and rear cameras, although the resolution of the front camera is so low that it’s only really useful for video calling. The rear 8MP camera takes dull but acceptable photos in moderate sunlight, has serious white balance issues in bright sunlight, and in any kind of low light condition you might as well forget about it. In short, the rear camera on the 640 takes completely forgettable pictures.
On the other hand, the 520 lacks a front camera completely, which is no great loss, and the 5MP rear camera takes significantly better pictures that need less post-processing to make them look good. Plus, the dedicated camera button means you’re less likely to miss that crucial moment.
The real Achilles’ heel of the 640 though is poor screen sensitivity. Where I might have been the first person in history to write a 600-word article on the 520, the thought of repeating this feat on the 640 is enough to make me run for the hills.
Just the task of entering a PIN on the 640 can take a couple of attempts, and while you’d think giving the screen a firm thump might resolve this issue, you’d be wrong. You have to get the pressure just right, too little or too much isn’t going to cut it. And once you move to the edges of the display, the problem becomes even worse. The Word Flow keyboard is easy to use on the 520, but that’s all gone in the 640, where you’d be better off taking the phone with both hands any using your thumbs to type.
Recommending the Lumia 640
Despite the shortcomings I’ve outlined above, I’d still recommend the Lumia 640 as a good entry-level option for casual phone users, i.e. those that don’t have critical work to do on a regular basis. Also there’s the promise of an upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile, either late this year or early next, which will help futureproof the phone and provide access to the Microsoft Office Universal Apps, along with other improvements in almost every area.
A New Line-Up of Windows Phones
While I haven’t used the 640 XL, if the camera is as average and touch sensitivity as poor as the 640, I’d say you’d better avoid it if you intend to use the device for getting work done. That leaves Windows Phone enthusiasts in a dilemma, because although the 950 and 950 XL flagships will be released at the end of this month, and a new budget option in the 550 coming soon after, at the time of writing there’s no alternative handset in the line-up at a similar price to the 640.
There is however potentially a rumored Lumia 650 around the corner, codenamed Saana, which could fill the midrange gap if it can make up for the 640’s shortcomings. But there’s been no official word as yet, as assumedly Microsoft don’t want to put you off splashing out on a 950 by dangling a carrot of an affordable midrange handset.