The budget end of the phone market is dominated by a slew of Android phones, most of which have near-identical black or grey designs and the same outdated software that slogs through even the basics.
The Microsoft Lumia 640 is a bit different however. It's running Windows Phone software, made up of big, colourful tiles that will come as a refreshing change to anyone that's become a little jaded with Android. It has a great 5-inch display, 4G LTE connectivity and an 8-megapixel camera. That's all wrapped up in plastic shells that are swappable and come in a range of vibrant colours.
You can buy the phone SIM-free directly from Microsoft in the UK for £120, or get it for free on a range of contracts starting at only £13.50 a month. The phone will be coming to the US, although it's currently listed as "coming soon" on Microsoft's site and prices aren't yet known. In Australia it's available outright and will cost you AU$299.
The Nokia name may have gone from the phone, but its design is still unmistakably a Lumia. It has the same one-piece back panel seen on almost all of the recent Lumia phones, which bends round to meet the screen at the front. It has more angular edges than the rounded, but it's no less comfortable to hold.
The stiff plastic helps make it feel sturdy and well-built, and the interchangeable covers let you swap the colours to match your mood or your outfit. It also allows you to pop on a fresh panel when your existing one starts to look a bit battered and worn -- something you can't do with most phones. The bright colours and plastic body gives the phone a fun, child-like appearance, which helps it stand out from usually black and grey midrange Android phones.
It measures 141mm long, 72mm wide and is 8.8mm thick (that's roughly 5.5 by 2.75 by 0.34 inches). It's quite a big phone, but it's possible to type messages with just one hand -- although you'll likely need two hands if you're writing more than a sentence. The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top, the Micro-USB power port on the bottom and the Micro-SIM and microSD card slots are found beneath the plastic back panel.
You'll want to make use of that microSD card slot, as the phone only comes with 8GB of onboard storage. Using the Storage Sense app, you can select an external SD card as the default place to store apps, photos and videos however, so make sure you pick up a 32GB card (they're incredibly cheap these days) if you plan on taking a lot of photos or playing games.
The 5-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, resulting in a density of 294 pixels per inch. While that doesn't compare well to the full HD (and higher) flagship phones, it's perfectly adequate on a phone of this price. It's also more than enough to give the Windows Phone tiles a crisp edge and make even small text on Web pages look perfectly readable.
Colours are rich, as well, and there's a decent level of contrast which helps make dramatic movies on Netflix -- such as the awesome snowboarding movie "Art of Flight" -- look particularly luscious. The sheer size of the display provides a more immersive feel, too. It's bright enough to counter the overhead lights in the CNET UK office, although it may not fare as well in the bright summer sunshine.
Windows Phone software and processor performance
The 640 runs the latest version of, which is codenamed Denim. It's made up of the same scrolling list of colourful tiles that show live information, and that you can resize and rearrange to make the interface to your liking. The latest version of the OS brings much-needed updates like a pull-down panel showing incoming notifications and settings like the screen brightness and Wi-Fi.
Windows Phone is easy to use and actually quite fun, which is a nice alternative to the often clunky and bloated Android interfaces found on budget mobiles. The ability to make important tools such as the phone dialer and text messages appear as big tiles right on the front of the phone also means it's a good option for anyone who's nervous about taking their first steps into the smartphone world.
The understocked app store has always been a downside of Lumia phones, and that continues with the 640. While you can get most of the big names now, including WhatsApp, Netflix, Spotify and Instagram, Windows Phone almost always receives new apps much later than iOS or Android if it gets them at all. What's more, some popular apps like, for example, are developed by third parties with a quality level that doesn't quite compare to other mobile operating systems. If you love browsing the new upcoming apps on an iPhone and are always keen to try the latest indie games when your friends do, Windows Phone won't suit.
It's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 dual-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz, backed up by 1GB of RAM. That may not sound impressive on paper, but it's more than enough to make swiping around those colourful tiles swift and free of lag. Menus open without delay, editing photos in Adobe PhotoShop Express was tackled without incident, and even demanding games like Asphalt 8 played fairly smoothly.