Microsoft Treads Water at MWC 2015 with the Lumia 640 and 640 XL


As expected, Microsoft announced its latest smart phones, the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL, at its Mobile World Congress press conference this morning. Unfortunately, there were no major surprises during the event—let alone any other new phones, which was a bit surprising—though Microsoft did again confirm that there would be no more flagship Lumias until Windows 10 was ready. So let’s look at the 640 and 640 XL: are they more of the same or something that is potentially special?

If you look just at the specs, your eyes may glaze over. Here we see components picked from the competent and affordable middle of market parts basket, just as expected. A quad-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. 1 GB of RAM. 8 GB of storage. Non-PureView cameras. 720p displays, one a phablet (the XL), one not. These are real-world minimums for a reasonable real-world Windows Phone experience. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Lumia 640
Lumia 640

If you’re shooting for the glass half full end of the spectrum—and God love you for being that positive so far into the Windows Phone slow-motion death spiral—you might argue that the sum of the parts is greater than those parts in isolation. That these phones achieve for the middle of the market what a Lumia 535 does for the low-end, perhaps: provide a tremendous value for the price and, more important to the ecosystem, a step up from the bottom of the barrel that Microsoft and its partners have/had been targeting.

That’s a bit of a stretch.

In truth, these new handsets contain no real surprises at all and they do nothing to make Windows Phone more desirable for real users when compared to the competition.

As mid-market devices the 640 and 640 XL feature bigger 5- and 5.7 inch screens, which is apparently what much of the world now wants. They have HD screens instead of the aging 800 x 480 displays we see on truly low-end devices or the odd 960 x 640 display on the 535. They have more sensors, which is actually important, like those for ambient light and proximity. They have a full 1 GB of RAM, which I’d argue should be the minimum, and not something to applaud.

But those cameras … are you kidding me? The Lumia 830 at least has a real PureView camera. How is it that the 640 XL, at least, does not? We’ll see how well Lumia Camera—with its Rich Capture, I’m told, but not Motion Capture—works on such a device. Certainly, the performance can only be so good on such a middling processor.

Lumia 640 XL
Lumia 640 XL

Microsoft did of course get some things right.

The naming is finally starting to make sense. Lumia 640 is a name that correctly positions that device between the 535 and 730/735. And Lumia 640 XL is a much better way to express that “this is the same device as the 640 but with a bigger screen.” Simple. Smart.

The Lumia 640 and 640 XL will include a free year of Office 365 Personal. I mean, duh. But here’s a thought, Microsoft: how about including an in-box way to upgrade your existing Office 365 Home subscription with another year if you have such a thing already? You can’t have two Office 365 subscriptions on one Microsoft account, which is dumb, and my trick for upgrading and stacking Office 365 Personal to Home won’t work if you already have a Home subscription. It’s time to start thinking this stuff through, guys.

The Lumia 640 and 640 XL will apparently be sold all over the world, which is important, though to be fair this has been more common with lower-end devices. And if you live in the US, you won’t be shut out this time: Both devices will be sold via multiple carriers. (Regardless of availability, it’s time to stop carrier exclusives on the truly interesting Windows Phones.)

Finally, the pricing seems reasonable. We don’t have official US pricing yet, but the subsidized price for the Lumia 640 is about US$185 (LTE version) while the bigger 640 XL hits at about US$240 (ditto). Oddly, the XL is arriving first, later this month, while the Lumia 640 will start shipping to customers in April.

Ultimately, what we have at Mobile World Congress is the entirely mobile world sans Apple showing up in Barcelona to show off their most impressive new flagship smart phones and other products. And what Microsoft shows up with is two mid-range budget handsets, six months after it shipped two other mid-range budget handsets (the 730/735 and 830). In other words, Microsoft just brought a couple of knives to a gun fight, and if we’re being honest with ourselves, that fight actually ended months—maybe years—ago.

I want to be excited about Windows Phone—as you know I still very much love Windows Phone—but I don’t see anything here to get excited about. We’re in a holding pattern until Windows 10 ships, and it’s not like Windows Phone can afford that ongoing delay.

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