Announced in early March, Microsoft’s latest phablet, the Lumia 640 XL, is now available in the United States from AT&T. This handset offers a few important advantages over its smaller Lumia 640 sibling, including what appears to be a superior camera. As a result, this is the first Lumia I’ve been truly excited about in several months.
As a recap, Microsoft announced the Lumia 640 and 640 XL at Mobile World Congress, and while I wasn’t immediately all that impressed by two more mid-level Lumias, I quickly realized that both were in fact quite nice devices and that the Lumia 640 XL was particularly interesting. Thanks to recently revealed pricing and availability info for AT&T, I’m also happy to see that it’s reasonably priced: you can pick up the 640 XL off-contract for $250.
So what is this thing?
Put simply, the Lumia 640 XL is a bigger version of the Lumia 640, which my recent testing suggests is a fine mid-level handset and a nice step up from the usual low-end Lumias we’ve been seeing for much of the past year. There are a few things I don’t like—the paltry 8 GB of internal storage, for starters—and some things that look very promising, like the camera.
Here’s how the core specs break down.
Processor. 1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400, which is pure middle of the market.
RAM. 1 GB
Storage. 8 GB, which is an admitted rough spot. You can expand this with a microSD card up to 128 GB, however.
Screen. The 640 XL comes with a 5.7-inch 720p (1280 x 720) ClearBlack IPS LCD display with sunlight readability enhancements. This compares to the 5-inch display on the normal 640, which features the same resolution. You’d think the bigger screen would look worse, but I find the size-to-pixel ratio to be quite pleasing.
Camera. This is the big deal, assuming it plays out in actual use. Where the 640 has a pedestrian 8 MP rear camera, the 640 XL sports a 13 MP unit with ZEISS optics, LED flash and backside-illuminated image sensor, dynamic flash and rich capture capabilities (from Lumia Denim). Microsoft doesn’t actually use the phrase “PureView” here, but I have my hopes up. (The front-facing camera is a 5 MP wide-angle “selfie” unit that is suddenly very common on Lumias.)
Sensors: Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, and Magnetometer, with support for SensorCore.
So specs are useful. But the Lumia 640 XL, like its smaller sibling, has that special something. It arrives in a non-descript—some might say “down market”—AT&T box but once you pull it out of that humble conveyance, you’ll find that there’s something special going on here. It’s just plastic, yes, but the 640 XL feels nice in the hand, and quite solid. It doesn’t flex at all, like the 535 does.
The screen, too, is gorgeous. Here, Windows Phone’s ability to nicely scale its display really helps, and while many will complain about the relatively low-resolution, I think the Lumia 640 XL does pretty well for itself. Text is sharp, graphics look terrific, and the screen is quite readable in direct sunlight. (Something that is certainly not true of the Lumia 1520 I’ve been using recently.)
If you’re looking for complaints, the relatively slow processor doesn’t inspire confidence, and when switching between portrait and landscape view in apps like MSN News, there is a bit of performance and screen-redraw lag. That 8 GB of internal storage is worrisome, though I’ve added a 64 GB SD card to mine and will see how it fares. And since this is AT&T, wireless charging isn’t available.
Like all new Lumias, the 640 XL does not include a hardware camera button (the Lumia 830 was the last one that did), which is a shame. And it uses a software-based navigation bar (Back, Start and Search) buttons, which some don’t like. (I actually prefer it, since it almost eliminates the classic Windows Phone problem of accidentally tapping the Search button all the time.)
Size-wise, the 640 XL is just a bit smaller than the Lumia 1520, which features a 6-inch 1080p screen. And it has a boxier body, though I do like how it feels (and think the 1520 has a bit of a “soap” problem in that it seems to slip out of my hands a lot).
My early camera comparisons are promising. I brought the Lumia 640 XL out into the yard with the 1520 and iPhone 6 Plus, and took some pictures of flowers, trees, and a football. The 640 XL photos are excellent, even when fully zoomed, and for the most part on on-par with those from the 1520. Granted, these are outdoor shots on a sunny day—ideal conditions for digital photography—but most smart phone cameras fall apart when you look closely enough at the photos. The XL has not.
Here’s an example.