Microsoft Lumia 640 XL review: the latest Windows Phone phablet

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The Microsoft Lumia 640 XL is now available on AT&T in the States and we’ve got one of them to test out. As is the theme with Microsoft and their Windows Phones since shutting down Nokia, this is a budget friendly device that won’t let you show off any ground-breaking incredible new features like Nokia used to do with the likes of the Lumia 1020 or Lumia 1520 from 2013.  The Lumia 640 XL is, however, quite a nice phone especially if you’re into the giant-screen phablet style devices.  The Lumia 640 XL is only a bit smaller than the Lumia 1520 with its 5.7″ screen versus the 1520’s 6″ screen.  Yes, Microsoft is working on Windows 10 Mobile which is supposed to be released this year, but given the current state of that software, you might be better off with Windows Phone 8.1 for a while. Still, the Lumia 640 XL will be one of the first phones to be upgradeable to Windows 10 Mobile whenever that becomes available.

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Specs · Hardware · Software · Camera · Performance · Battery Life · Call/Network · Pricing/Availability · Conclusion

Specs

Like the Lumia 640, the Lumia 640 XL has a Quad-core 1.2Ghz Snapdragon 400 SoC processor with an Adreno 305 GPU, 1Gb of RAM and 8 GB of internal storage. About half of that is taken up by the operating system, bundled apps, and your synced email accounts data. That’s not a lot of room for very many 3rd party apps, music, pictures, and videos, so thankfully a Micro SD slot is under the battery cover. You can add up to 128 GB of storage that way and what’s excellent about Windows Phone 8.1 is that you can now move or install apps to the SD card.

The phone’s size is a quite large 157.9 mm x 81.5 mm x 9 mm and the weight is 171g. The screen is a large 5.7 inch Gorilla Glass 3 ClearBlack IPS LCD panel with a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution which translates to 259 pixels per inch. It’s got an ambient light sensor, accelerometer, proximity sensor, magnetometer, NFC, and SensorCore for excersize tracking. The 13 megapixel backside illuminated camera on the back has auto-focus, Zeiss optics and an LED flash, but no optical image stabilization, while the front facing camera is a wide angle 5.0 megapixels. It’s all powered by a sizable 3000 mAh battery.

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Those are some pretty decent specs for smartphones in this price range. The big things your getting over the regular Lumia 640 is the much larger screen, NFC, and the much better front and rear-facing cameras.

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Hardware

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The Lumia 640 XL is by all means a two-handed phone. You’re not going to be able to grab this out of your pocket while jogging, and easily access the notifications center or reply to an email. As a phablet, you really need to stop what you’re doing, hold it in one hand and poke the buttons with your other hand. This white version is a matte finish which nicely avoids smudges and fingerprints, but could probably also attract dirt a bit more than other colors would. Still the backing feels sturdy enough that it would survive scratches and drops pretty easily. The 720 x 1280 pixel screen has less pixel density than its regular Lumia 640 cousin, but the larger dimensions are easier on the eyes.

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The left side is clean, flat, and plastic.  The flat edges are helpful in getting a good amount of surface area for your fingers to grip the phone though.

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On the right side there’s a power button and an up/down volume control. The buttons are easy to find with your fingers and they’ve got great tactile feedback, but they certainly don’t have a premium feel. They’re just simple plastic buttons. A dedicated camera button is missing, which is extremely unfortunate. To launch the camera, you’ll have to pin its tile to your start screen, or add the camera quick action to the Action Center. Unfortunately, the action center’s top-edge screen gesture is very poorly placed at the top of the screen which is exacerbated significantly on such a large screen. Compared to the Lumia 640 here, you can see how much larger the 640 XL is. They’re about the same thickness as well, though the 640 XL has a bit of a protrusion around the camera lens.

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On the top is the 3.5mm headset jack and it sticks out a bit over the rounded edges of the battery cover. It seems like there’s room in the thickness of the phone for it to not stick out so much though.

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The front facing camera on the Lumia 640 XL brings back the large 5 megapixel camera from the Lumia 735. Sure the image quality isn’t incredible, but it’s a lot better than most front-facing cameras have been in the past.

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The Lumia 640 XL thankfully includes Glance Mode. Glance Mode shows some phone information and the time on your screen in a low-power state when it’s in sleep mode so that you can quickly see some important stuff without turning the whole phone on.  Unfortunately, this is the lite version of the Glance Mode software which only shows the clock and notification icons. It does not show any detailed status information, the date, or background lock-screen app data.

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On the bottom is the Micro USB charging port. The edges seem to be very squarely cut, which indicates its budget-friendly nature.

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Thankfully, the battery cover is removable as is the battery. The battery is a BV-T4B model with 3000mAh capacity. Spare BV-T4B batteries should be pretty easy to find in the $30 USD price range.

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Underneath the battery cover you’ll find the SIM slot, a MicroSD card slot and the battery. Some versions of the Lumia 640 XL include two SIM slots for dual-phone service activations. There are also some connectors for wireless charging, but no wireless charging enabled battery covers exist. Instead you can manually add a wireless charging receiver if you’re up to it.

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Removing the battery cover is a bit difficult and when I did it one time, the plastic near the volume button bent so much it stayed bent as seen above. Replacement battery covers are about $25 and are available in orange, blue, black, and white.

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Software

The Nokia Lumia 640 XL ships with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 as well as Nokia’s “Denim” firmware. You can read more about the operating system in our Windows Phone 8.1 review as well as our Windows Phone 8.0 review, but there are a few new things in the version of the operating system on the Lumia 640 XL that we weren’t able to test in our original review. For example, there’s a new feature where you can double tap a blank area of the bottom toolbar between the back, start, and search keys and that will put the phone into sleep mode. Combine that with the double-tap to wake feature and you don’t really need the power button anymore. The settings are also organized differently and there’s a search field for quickly finding the setting you want to change. Bluetooth keyboards and Miracast display wireless connectivity are also now supported.

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Of course, AT&T adds a bunch of their own branded apps.  All of them are simple to uninstall if you don’t use them (tap and hold the icon in the apps list and choose uninstall), but some of them may be useful. You’ve got the AT&T Address Book, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Locker, AT&T Mark the Spot, AT&T Navigator, Device Help, Keeper, Mobile TV, myAT&T, Amazon App, and YPmobile as bundled apps from AT&T.

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Camera

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The 13 megapixel camera on the back of the Lumia 640 XL is pretty good for a phone in this price range. It supports Lumia Camera 5 with live images and rich capture. Rich capture can be very useful. Instead of just some canned HDR mode, rich capture does a similar thing by taking 2 or 3 photos (maybe one with the flash on) and merging them. However, you can choose “edit rich capture” after the fact and change the way the images were merged. That means you can actually change the lighting conditions of your photo after you’ve already taken it. It’s extremely cool. Also unlike other HDR modes, a compressed source file with the original JPGs is available in the phone’s memory.

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In the above 100% crop sample we can see how the Lumia 640’s 8 megapixel image compares to the Lumia 640 XL’s 13 megapixel image.  The 640 XL has a wider angle view lens, so you get a bigger field of view from the same location. That’s why the 100% crop sample above makes the flow look the same size. Imagine the 640 XL with a larger area around the flower.  In examining the details, both cameras have very comparable image quality.  The 640 may have a bit more contrast, but overall they’re very close.

Take a look at the full resolution camera samples below. The first one uses the 5 megapixel front facing camera which is not bad at all compared to most other front-facing cameras on smartphones.  The next 6 samples are well-lit outdoor shots and the Lumia 640 XL does really well with those. It’s not as good as the Lumia 1020, Lumia 1520 or Lumia 930, but they’re quite acceptable.  The second to last one is a low-light photo with flash while the last one is a low-light no-flash photo. The LED flash is clearly not very good at lighting up a room. It’s probably only going to be even remotely useful at about arm’s length. Disabling the flash in a low light situation is probably just going to give you a black image. The camera software doesn’t do anything to push the ISO sensitivity or brighten the photo.

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Performance

The Lumia 640 XL scored 240.71 in WPBench, compared to 245.07 on the Lumia 640, 218.14 on the Lumia 630, 169.25 on the Lumia 521, 234.73 on Lumia 928 or 232.11 for the Lumia 925. The Lumia 640 is a little faster, but still the 640 XL’s WPBench score is quite good. In real life, of course, it’s very fast and responsive like most Windows Phones have been for many years now.

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Battery Life

In WP Bench’s battery life test under constant CPU stress, the Lumia 640 XL lasted for about 4 hours 45 minutes. The Lumia 640 lasted 3 hours 57 minutes. In real life, that should last you about 1.5 days, but thankfully you can get a spare BV-T4B 3000mAh battery for about $30 to carry in your wallet and pop it in when your primary battery dies.

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Call Quality/Network Performance

Voice calls sound about average on the Lumia 640 XL. The speaker phone mode doesn’t seem to be as loud as the older Lumia 520. As for the LTE performance, we got around 23.52 Mbps download and 10.18 Mbps upload, which is pretty great.

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Pros

  • + SensorCore, pedometer, NFC, Miracast support
  • + Decent 13 megapixel camera with Rich Capture features
  • + 5 megapixel front facing camera
  • + Large screen
  • + Removable battery
  • + Replaceable battery covers with multiple color options

Cons

  • Lite version of Glance Mode doesn’t show as much info
  • Too large for one-handed usage
  • Only 8Gb of internal storage (you really need to buy a MicroSD card)
  • No wireless charging covers available
  • Battery cover can get bent out of shape too easily

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Pricing and Availability

The Lumia 640 XL is $249.99 from AT&T with out a contract. With a contract, it’s only $0.99. Or you can pay for it in monthly installments of $8.34.  It’s a lot more expensive than the Lumia 635 which is $99 off-contract on AT&T (sometimes closer to $49), but the feature set reflects that difference in quality to some degree. An even better deal is the regular Lumia 640 on AT&T which is only $79 with no contract.

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Conclusion

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The Lumia 640 XL has a great set of features for its $249 price tag. It’s disappointing that the battery cover could get bent out of shape so easily though, and it’s also disappointing that there is no Qi wireless charging capable battery cover available at this time. You’ll also want to get a MicroSD card since it only has 8Gb of storage.  Personally, if you’re in the market for a Windows Phone 8.1 phablet, the Lumia 1520 can still be found new for less than $300. (See our review of the Lumia 1520.)  That phone has a better camera, better glance mode, wireless charging options, more storage, better flash, RAW support, and much higher processing speed.  On the other hand, the Lumia 640 XL will be one of the first phones to get the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade though it doesn’t have the hardware to take advantage of the crazy new Continuum feature that will let you plug in a large screen monitor and use universal apps like they were in a Windows 10 desktop. If you want a Windows Phone that’s new and inexpensive and will be one of the first to be upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile, the regular Lumia 640 is a better deal for $79 on AT&T.  I’d say the Lumia 640 XL should be priced at under $200 to really be competitive, but if you can’t be bothered to search for an old Lumia 1520 on the internet and would rather walk into a local Microsoft or AT&T store and pick up the latest Windows Phone phablet, then the Lumia 640 XL should do just fine.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!