Windows 10, which will unify Microsoft’s desktop and smartphone operating systems, is set to roll out later this year. So any big flagship phones are going to have to wait until then. In the meantime, Microsoft hopes to tide us over with two new budget smartphones: Meet the Lumia 640 and 640 XL.
Perhaps the company was so eager to give the public something—anything—that it couldn’t help leaking these phones a bit early—or someone in its press office simply goofed, which is far more likely. Either way, Microsoft officially introduced two new mid-tier smartphones Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
As far as budget handsets go, this duo looks perfectly respectable. To help sweeten the pot, the company’s also throwing in a one-year subscription to Office 365, which normally costs $99.99.
But make no mistake—these are phones are snacks, not the main course. They’re meant to keep our appetites whetted until Microsoft’s ready to unveil its big new flagship, probably this fall, when the final release of Windows launches. In the mean time, we have a set of low-cost devices to ponder.
For anyone who wants a Windows mobile device without dropping a small fortune, these seem like pretty good options.
Not Bad For Cute, Cheap Phones
Users waiting for a high-end Windows mobile device may have to stifle some yawns here, but people in need of an affordable Windows phone or phablet just got some decent choices at attractive prices.
The devices run on the same internals, with both sporting a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 chip and 1GB of memory, and they both feature 1080p displays. The major difference is rather obvious—size. The 640 offers a 5-inch screen, while the 640 XL phablet is, naturally, extra large with a 5.7-inch display. Microsoft will make single- and dual-SIM models available, likely to appeal to an international crowd accustomed to swapping out SIMs to work with various cellular networks.
The XL version also comes with a beefier camera capable of shooting 13-megapixel photos. The smaller device comes with an 8 megapixel shooter. In both cases, the camera functions work well, particularly for users who like easy-to-use manual controls set in a dial-type interface.
If you consider price to be a feature, then that’s where these phones shine: Off-contract, the 640 will cost $159 (3G) and $179 (LTE) full retail; the 640 XL will sell for $209 (3G) and $239 (LTE).
Who Should—And Shouldn’t—Buy The New Lumias
Thanks to its rounded corners and unapologetically plastic exterior, the 5.7-inch Lumia 640 XL actually felt pretty good to hold—which really says something, because I have small hands. The XL felt large, yes, but not massive.
The smaller Lumia 640 also comes with a plastic shell, though it’s a bit glossier. Somehow, Microsoft managed to pull this off in a way that reads more “fun” than “cheap,” which works visually. Too bad it doesn’t make for a very pleasant tactile feel.
Performance on both phones seemed pretty swift. Moving between apps and home screens moved quickly and fluidly, and apps launched without hiccups or delays. Of course, I could only play with it for a few moments; that could change over time and with heavy use. But at least the initial impressions seemed positive.
Both Lumias will launch in April with Windows Phone 8.1 (and Cortana) on board. More importantly, they’ll ship Windows 10-ready, which means they won’t be left out of the loop when the next major software upgrade finally comes out.
Ultimately, the 640 phones should please budget shoppers—but anyone else looking for a Windows gadget should hold out. Microsoft very likely has a sexier, more advanced device on tap within the year.
Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite