The group that was once Nokia's mobile division has gone through a great number of changes in the past few years. After declining sales of Symbian devices, the company decided to go all in with Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. In a very short time, Nokia became the number one vendor of Windows Phone smartphones in the world. Despite this, the move to Windows Phone failed to revitalize the company. In August of last year, Microsoft purchased Nokia's mobile devices business in a 7.2 billion dollar acquisition. Less than a month later, Microsoft launched the Nokia Lumia 830, and the Nokia Lumia 735. These were the last two Lumia smartphones that would be branded as Nokia devices. With Nokia's phone division absorbed into Microsoft, future Lumia devices would fall under the Microsoft brand.

Today's review focuses on the Microsoft Lumia 640. This phone was announced alongside the Lumia 640 XL at MWC in February, and it's one of the first new Lumia devices released under the Microsoft brand. At $129, the Lumia 640 occupies a fairly low price point as far as smartphones are concerned, and it serves as an entry model to the Lumia smartphone line. To give a quick idea of what that $129 gets you in terms of hardware, I've organized the Lumia 640's specifications in the chart below.

Microsoft Lumia 640
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
(MSM8926)
4x ARM Cortex A7 at 1.2 GHz
Adreno 305 at 450 MHz
Memory and Storage 1GB LPDDR3 RAM, 8GB NAND + MicroSDXC
Display 5.0" 1280x720 IPS LCD
Cellular Connectivity 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 UE Category 4 LTE)
Dimensions 141.3 x 72.2 x 8.8 mm, 145g
Cameras 8MP Rear Facing w/ 1.12 µm pixels, 1/4" CMOS size, F/2.2, 28mm (35mm effective)

0.9MP Front Facing, F/2.4, 30mm (35mm effective)
Battery 2500 mAh (9.5Wh)
Other Connectivity 802.11b/g/n + BT 4.0, GNSS, DLNA
Operating System Windows Phone 8.1 + Lumia Denim
SIM MicroSIM
Price $129 on Cricket Wireless

The Lumia 640's hardware is certainly above average in some areas. The first thing I noticed is that it ships with a 5" 1280x720 IPS display. This puts it significantly ahead of devices at the same price point which typically ship with qHD panels. 1280x720 devices show up closer to the $200 price bracket, and so the Lumia 640 is definitely ahead in this regard. The 1/4" 8MP camera is another spec that you wouldn't expect to see on a smartphone priced at around $100. While the camera sensor is hardly the only factor when it comes to final image quality, Lumia devices have traditionally had very good image processing, and so the Lumia 640's camera capabilities may end up far beyond those of the competition.

All the other specifications are fairly typical for a phone of this price. 8GB of NAND, 1GB of RAM, and 2.4GHz 802.11n WiFi are all you get at this price. There is one thing that disappoints me, and that's the SoC. Snapdragon 400 is fairly old by this point, and has been replaced by Snapdragon 410 for some time now. While the Moto E review showed that Snapdragon 410 isn't an enormous leap over Snapdragon 400, it certainly helps, and I wish Microsoft had used the Lumia 640 as an opportunity to start shipping ARMv8 devices.

Design

When the Lumia brand was originally introduced there were only two devices available. The first was the Lumia 710, and the second was the Lumia 800. I had always felt that the Lumia 710 was a fairly standard looking smartphone, but Lumia 800 had a unique type of industrial design. That design has since expanded with the introduction of models at different price points, and some of the physical characteristics that can be seen in the Lumia 640 are not the same as those in other Lumia devices like the Lumia 735.

In a change from the order I typically follow when discussing the design of phones, the first part of the Lumia 640 I want to examine is actually the back cover. It’s a very solid feeling blue glossy plastic shell, although I would much prefer a matte finish, as the glossy plastic on this cover is already covered in scratches and smudges. The back cover has the Microsoft logo in the middle and in the case of this review unit a Cricket Wireless logo on the bottom. Next to the Cricket logo is a small hole to allow sound to pass through from the speaker underneath. Above the Microsoft logo is the 8MP rear-facing camera, and to the left of that is the LED flash.

What I find notable about this back cover is that although it’s removable, it feels incredibly solid and holds onto the phone very tightly. To put things in perspective, I actually questioned whether or not the back cover was removable when I first received the phone. Because there was no visible SIM slot I had to go online and confirm to myself that Cricket Wireless is not a Verizon or Sprint sub-brand running on EvDO and that there had to be a SIM slot somewhere. Only after I did this was I confident enough to pry off the back cover from the top of the phone.

The left side of the Lumia 640 is completely bare, while the right side has both the power button and the volume rocker. I was actually surprised at how good the buttons felt. The last two phones I reviewed were the Moto E and the ZenFone 2, and they also had removable frames or shells with some of their buttons attached to them. Compared to them, the buttons on the Lumia 640 have a much nicer tactile response, and a longer travel distance.

One key difference between the Lumia 640 and some of Microsoft’s other Lumia devices is that it has flat sides and rounded corners. This contrasts with the traditional appearance of Lumia devices, which are flat on the top and bottom, but rounded on the left and right sides. The shape of those edges also meant that there was no way to have rounded corners even though the corners of the black face plate were rounded, which I felt created a unique appearance that made Lumia devices more distinct. The more standard flat edges and rounded corners of the Lumia 640 just aren’t as unique, and I wish it was more like a traditional Lumia phone.

The top of the Lumia 640 has the 3.5mm audio jack, and the microUSB port is on the bottom. Something I noticed about my unit is that the actual port didn't line up perfectly with the hole that was cut in the plastic back shell of the phone. The hole was shifted slightly to the right, and the offset was just far enough to ensure that I could never get my charging cable to go in without jiggling the connector around until it found its way into the port. I assume that this is just a production mishap that is specific to my unit, but it's enough to cause a moment of frustration when trying to charge the phone or transfer files to it from a computer.

There’s not a whole lot to see on the front of the Lumia 640. It’s dominated by the 5” display, with only a handful of things positioned on the bezels around it. You may notice that you can see the touch array when light shines on the phone in a certain way. This is common on many phones, but it's a bit more noticable on the Lumia 640 than other devices. The bezel at the bottom of the display has a microphone to be used during calls, while the top has the front-facing camera and the earpiece speaker. Microsoft has seen fit to also put their logo on the top bezel, just in case you missed the logo right in the middle of the back cover.

My overall impression of the Lumia 640’s build quality and design is positive. While I’m not a fan of the glossy finish, the overall construction feels much more solid than any other phone at this price point that I’ve used.

System Performance
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  • testbug00 - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    Just one FYI, Glance has multiple modes, including "peek" where it only activates when it detects something moving over it (or leaving a space where it always is 'sensing' something (IE, a pocket)

    And, yeah. Windows Phone uses a lot of battery life to have Wifi on. Dunno why. Even without any MS account on it and no non-native apps it still eats 2-2.5% of battery on 920. Haven't tested on other WP devices.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    Nice phone for a good price, but it's positively huge with a 5 inch screen. Its disappointing that it's impossible to find a phone with decent specifications and a 3.5 inch screen. I can't imagine carrying this or any other phone that big around. I'd be tempted to tape a stick to it and use it as an oar. Reply
  • kyuu - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    As someone whose smartphone history is iPhone 4, Lumia 920, and now Lumia 1520, I can tell you that once you've used a bigger smartphone (1520 has a 6" screen), you cannot go back to the small ones. They feel like toys and browsing the internet or watching videos on them is intolerable. Reply
  • Daniel Egger - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    Get a 735 then. It's a very nice piece and noticeably smaller than the 640 plus it has an AMOLED display. It's a bit larger than my 820 which for me has about the perfect screen size but it's thinner and much lighter (especially since it has Qi built-in rather than needing a special cover which adds additional bulk and weight). Reply
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    Consider the Lumia 435 then. Internally it's not much different from the 640 if you can live with a few compromises. Reply
  • paulheu - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    Google does not just not make any apps for Windows Phone, it actively blocks anyone else from doing the same if at all possible. Hopefully with Windows 10 this will change due to the very nature of that OS . We'll see..

    The remarks on Glance probably come from not having the extension app loaded which allows for backgrounds and more options.
    Reply
  • Brandon Chester - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    The Glance Screen app doesn't show up in the store for all Windows Phones, Lumia 640 included. If you look at the list of Microsoft apps when browsing the store on the phone it's just not even there. Reply
  • MATHEOS - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    You definitely should have rating system! Reply
  • atata - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    I've had this phone for several months and it feels great after Lumia 525. I certainly don't see the battery drain mentioned in this review, but I don't use most of fancy mobile apps aside from Viber. Reply
  • lilmoe - Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - link

    "Microsoft's scroll speed cap also makes the entire operating system feel slow"

    This issue is so underrated, and I believe (even with your criticism) that you were very diplomatic in your complaint. This is BY FAR my biggest issue with Windows Phone and I've nagged Microsoft so many times on uservoice and the feedback app about the speed of scrolling and inertia settings (speed and feel of the "flick"). Not only does it feel slow, it's also not even close to being natural.

    iOS is slower than my liking too, but it feels more natural in a sense. I believe Samsung got the speed and the "flick" right with their devices, and Android followed after JellyBean. Microsoft needs to blatantly copy Android in that department, and screw what people say.
    Reply

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