Microsoft Lumia smartphones hit the midrange hard, in fact they often do the low end nicely too. With the Lumia 640 XL you get a big screen phone and a set of quite good cameras for 99 cents on contract or $249 full retail. The phone is available worldwide, and here in the US AT&T just added it to their lineup. For those who don't follow closely, Lumia Windows phones are now branded as Microsoft rather than Nokia products. Nothing has changed in terms of design aesthetics, camera tech or software (you still get Lumia Camera, Mix Radio and other compelling apps), rather Microsoft has jettisoned the Nokia name post-acquisition.
Design and Build Quality
This isn't a sexy phone like the 6" Nokia Lumia 1520--to be fair the 1520 was a much more expensive phone. Overseas you can get the 640 XL in the usual playful Lumia colors including Cyan, but AT&T offers just black and white. I'm sure you can find colorful back covers on eBay, if you'd like to jazz things up. The back cover is removable as is the battery. Under that cover you'll find a micro SIM card slot and microSD card slot. The surprisingly loud and full speaker fires from the rear.
The look is typical Lumia low to midrange, with a rubbery plastic back, clean lines and a solid feel in the hand. The phone's headphone jack is up top, the micro USB connector is at the bottom and a volume rocker and power button are on the right side. There's a raised ring or hump around the rear camera, but surprisingly it doesn't make the phone wobble when placed on a table. The raised plastic ensures that the lens cover doesn't touch the table.
The Lumia 640 XL has a 5.7" display with outdoor visibility enhancements and Gorilla Glass 3. This is a $249 phone, so don't expect whopping high resolution, in fact we're looking at 1280 x 720 here, for a not wildly impressive 259 PPI. Still, the display's colors and contrast are good and unless you have eagle-eyed vision, you probably won't see individual pixels or jaggies (Microsoft's attention to typography helps too). Simply put, the display actually looks pretty good, and it's not grainy or budget looking. When the phone is asleep it can display the time and selected notifications (faint white text and icons on a black background). I love this Lumia feature, and there's a night mode so it won't be overly bright in the night.
Horsepower and Performance
The budget element kicks in again for the processor, and the 640 XL runs on the aging 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core CPU with Adreno 305 graphics (we do wonder why Microsoft didn't go with it's current replacement, the Snapdragon 410). That processor has graced many midrange Android and Windows Phones. Since Windows Phone 8.1, much like iOS, is a highly optimized OS that runs well without flagship CPUs, the phone feels responsive. Demanding 3D games like Modern Combat 5 (demoed in our video review) don't have fantastic frame rates, though they're still quite playable. The phone runs Windows Phone 8.1 update 2 with Lumia Denim, and it will get the upgrade to Windows 10 for phones. It has 1 gig of RAM and just 8 gigs of internal storage. Thankfully there's a microSD card slot under the back cover so you can extend storage.
Deals and Shopping:
Microsoft Lumia 640 XL Video Review
The Lumia 640 XL is the supersized version of the Lumia 640, and it also boasts camera improvements. The front camera moves up to 5MP resolution, and it can shoot 1080p video, which results in sharper Skype video chats. It's a wide-angle lens that's perfect for group selfies, but it will distort facial features given that wide angle (noses grow, hairlines recede).
The rear 13MP camera has a Zeiss lens, BSI sensor, HDR and it too can shoot 1080p video @30 fps. It won't beat the pants off the Lumia Icon, LG G4 or Samsung Galaxy S6 cameras, but for the price, it's a solid camera with plenty of software features like Lumia Lenses and the capable Lumia 5 camera app. There are other goodies like the background defocus app, though I find that one a bit heavy handed-- backgrounds are excessively blurred, which looks artificial. Still, it's better than nothing since camera phones lack shallow depth of field for pleasing bokeh. The camera handles low light well, and in harsh outdoor lighting it suffers from some blown out highlights, but nothing out of the ordinary for camera phones lacking flagship imaging hardware. 1080p video is detailed and sometimes a bit over-sharpened, and audio recording quality is impressive.
Big phones have space for large batteries, thus the Lumia 640 XL has an ample 3,000 mAh battery that's removable should you wish to swap in a spare. Given the relatively low resolution and midrange CPU, battery life is simply stellar for a big phone. We couldn't kill it in a full day of use, and it generally lasted two days on a charge. Of course, if you play Real Racing 3 or Modern Combat 5 for hours, you'll drain the battery sooner--we're talking average use that includes email, web, taking photos, social networking, a few calls and streaming a 30 minute video. The AT&T model with the stock back does not support wireless charging.
The Microsoft Lumia 640 XL is a very likeable and solid phone at a reasonable price. If you're in the market for a big screen phone on a budget and are a fan of Windows Phone or are hankering to try that OS, it's a great introduction to the platform. Though the resolution won't win a specs war, the display is pleasingly sharp, bright and colorful, and the size is fantastic for watching movies and viewing photos. Both cameras are quite good for the price and we really enjoy Lumia imaging software. Call quality is good and data speeds are par for the course on AT&T's 4G LTE network.