I had really high hopes for Microsoft’s Windows 10 phone line. It made sense that after a year of taking an effective hiatus off the Smartphone market, the firm would come out with a portfolio of devices that would justify their taking such a long break from the market. Especially after putting out devices like the 640 and 540, it looked like Microsoft at least understood the smartphone market. I was wrong.
I bought the Lumia 950 XL as soon as it was released and reviewed it shortly after. It was a promising device, but one that was plagued with too many bugs and glitches for me to use. Poor battery life, and a meh design. After my review I did check in on the 950 XL of an acquaintance at the Surface Book Launch in London, but nothing had changed, the device was still glitch, randomly rebooted when taking photos and froze of its own accord. I can understand why Microsoft isn’t advertising these as hard as they could, there’s nothing to be proud of here. Just a botched device that has hints of something better.
The Lumia 550 – reviewed here – was a less promising device. It took the Lumia 550’s design, its colours, cameras and exchanged them for a cheaper, blander, weaker version. The only improvement here was the SOC, and with Windows 10 Mobile being as heavy as it is, there’s not much there.
The 550 hasn’t changed much from when I reviewed it still features the bugs and design issues it had then. Microsoft’s Anniversary update hasn’t rolled out to it yet, so it still has polish and performance issues. The vast majority of Anniversary improvements aren’t aimed at the low-end in any case, so I don’t have much hope for it. When compared to other low-end Android phones, there’s no point in getting this. Windows 10 Mobile isn’t good enough on low-end devices to off-set the app compromise, and the 550 doesn’t even look good.
The Lumia 650 was the last Windows 10 phone to be released by Microsoft, and the last one that I tried. It was reviewed here by our Mehedi Hassan who viewed it as a good attempt. I’m not so sure I agree.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Lumia 650 until I owned one, and I’m not crazy enough to claim that it can stand up to flagship calibre devices any time of the day, it can’t. However, I still went out of my way to pick one up. I needed a new phone for testing Redstone builds, it had to be a Windows phone (clearly), and the 950 or 550s couldn’t cut it. After going hands on with it at MWC, I picked one up from my carrier, and I’ve been using it as my main phone for over a month,
I’m going to start talking about performance, because the Lumia 650’s biggest weakness is its SOC, the Snapdragon 210 v 2 marketed as the Snapdragon 212. The 212 is roughly as powerful as the Snapdragon 400 if we’re talking about the CPU clock speed. It has 4 A7 cores clocked at 1.3 gHz, faster than the 1.2ghz quad A7 in the Snapdragon 400, at least on paper. Why are we talking about the Snapdragon 400 again? Microsoft Mobile’s 630 and 640 are the direct predecessors of the Lumia 650, they are both powered by the Snapdragon 400 and 1 GB of RAM. When upgrading a smartphone, aside from providing updates to the design, manufacturers are expected to either update the internals of the hardware either by bumping them to a more powerful processor (4xx to 6xx) or simply modernizing the insides of said device (4xx to 41x). So when Microsoft chose to “downgrade” the internals of the Lumia 640 when creating the 650, it came as a bit of a surprise. Some will justify the changes as a cost-cutting measure or something similar, but I have never been especially interested in the bottom line of a company, especially when a firm cripples the user experience of a device to save a few cents here and there. The Lumia 650 would have been something equivalent to a Lumia 735 in terms of overall quality if it had a stronger processor, sadly that it was not to be.
In terms of design, the 650’s design leaves a strong visual first impression. But design is more than looks, it extends to the feel of the smartphone, how it handles in your hand, how it fits in your pocket. Like every Windows 10 Lumia excluding the 550, it feels pretty great. Picking it up, if feels almost like air. It is so light and insubstantial that it makes the Lumia 830 look and feel like a brick in comparison. However, the 650 still feels manages to feel cheap, as in really cheap. Picking up a Lumia 650 and shaking it, you can hear things jiggling around inside of it. This isn’t limited to my unit, I’ve picked up different Lumia 650s in different countries and experienced this jiggle. The back of the 650 also feels like cheap tacky plastic. It flexes and bends to the touch and generally doesn’t feel solid to hold.
In making this device, Microsoft picked one aspect of a premium feel – metal – and overlooked the other elements of it. To go back to my Lumia 830 comparison earlier, the 830 may feel like a brick in comparison, but it has more character in design than any of the Lumia recently released. What Microsoft fails to realise is that it’s not metal good, plastic bad or vice versa, it’s how you use it that matters. The polycarbonate of the Lumia 650 doesn’t feel as solid as that of the 640 that preceded it, which knocked it down a notch in my book.
The display of the 650 however is pretty good for what you’re getting. It has 5 inch 720 p HD screen which may not sound impressive in the age of QHD screens, but is still pretty good. The oled makes sure the blacks are deep and that the screen has excellent contrast. It really is a pleasure to look at and is one of my favourite parts of the device.
However, I have been noting several graphical glitches with the phone. I’ve kept the same start screen on my Windows phone and typically restore it to a new device when I get one. On the 650, if I scroll to the bottom or top as fast as I can, the start screen has to “catch up” for a second, showing a blank space for a second or two. I attribute this to the GPU being weaker than typical in mid rangers and a consequence of the SD 212. Sure specs don’t “matter” up to a certain point, but the right specs can help eliminate minor discomfort like the above.
The Lumia 650 is a surprising phone in many ways. Unlike the previous 6xx series, it is not colourful, it is not completely polycarbonate and it does not have the internals of a midrange device. It’s more of a successor to the 535 in design philosophy and overall specs balance than it is to the 640. It makes sense if and only if you look at it in that context. The Lumia 640 and 640 XL had the same specs as the 640 for the most part, the exception being a stronger battery, better performing processors and solid designs.
Overall, Microsoft’s new Lumia line is disappointing. Instead of build up the solid phone base they had in the previous years, they threw it all away and put out uninspired handsets that pale compared to their predecessors. As the Microsoft Lumia line is the flagship Windows Phone line, the collapse of Lumia has meant the collapse of Windows Phone globally. Sure it can be theorised that Microsoft has some grand master plan to turn it around, but this is the same Microsoft that claimed to have “premium” devices for the fans and then put out uninspired creaky phones. In some countries like Japan you are able to get premium of good specced Windows phones with decent designs, in the rest of the world, it is just Lumia. After using Microsoft’s latest Lumias, I can only conclude that Lumia is dead and Microsoft wants to burn the whole thing to the ground and reset.