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Lumia 640 XL LTE review: Big-screen features for a small-screen price

Microsoft Lumia 640 XL LTE offers 4G speeds, a 5.7-inch screen and a great rear camera at a surprisingly low cost.

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Nic Healey
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Nic Healey

Senior Editor / Australia

Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.

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8 min read

If you're after a budget smartphone, then the biggest compromise you'll probably have to make is on the camera -- it's just not cost-effective to get the required lens in a cheaper phone. Luckily, Microsoft has found a way to put a quality camera in its newest big-screen phone without sticking on a big price mark-up.

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7.6

Lumia 640 XL LTE

The Good

The Microsoft Lumia 640 XL LTE has a bright 5.7-inch screen, works on LTE networks, and has an impressive rear camera and long-lasting battery life.

The Bad

The 720p resolution makes for a lower pixel density than you may want. The processor is a little under-specced for power-users, and the plastic casing can't match the premium feel of some phones.

The Bottom Line

It's no flagship, but the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL LTE offers a solid big-screen experience at a budget price point that's hard to beat.

Microsoft Devices' Lumia 640 XL LTE is the souped-up version of the company's 5-inch Lumia 640. The XL ups the screen size to 5.7-inches and adds 4G connectivity, while popping a significantly bigger 13-megapixel camera on the rear, a 5-megapixel one on the front and a 3,000mAh battery inside. Even better, it does all this while maintaining a respectably low price: just $240, £219 in the UK and AU$399 in Australia.

My colleague Andrew Hoyle was quite effusive about the smaller Lumia 640 , calling it "everything you'd hope for from a budget phone." But, bearing in mind the XL has the exact same processor, storage and RAM as the smaller model, are these additions worth the extra cost?

A quick note: there are a couple of different variants of the Lumia 640 XL available, including a dual-SIM model and one without the LTE offering. The model reviewed here is a version with a single SIM slot and an LTE 4G modem.

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Nic Healey/CNET

Design

  • 157.9 x 81.5 x 9mm (6.22 x 3.21 x 0.35 inches)
  • 171g (6.3 oz.)

In an ocean of black handsets, the Lumia 640 XL stands out like some sort of exotic fish. Yes, you can still get it in black or white, but the blue -- wait, make that "cyan" -- review unit that I had in the office was actually quite refreshing.

Even better, the casing on the 640 XL is a matte finish, unlike the gloss on its smaller sibling. I've never been a fan of a piano-finish as they seem designed purely to collect fingerprints, so the XL gets extra points just for that.

The case, like much of the Lumia range, simply pops off to allow access to the SIM and MicroSD slots, so it can be replaced or even swapped back and forth as your mood takes you.

Compared to all-metal designs like the HTC One M9 or the glass backs of the Xperia Z3 and Galaxy S6, the Lumia does feel a little plastic and toylike, but it's actually a solidly made device. It feels good to use, and the matte casing adds a small amount of texture for less chance of slippage.

Dave Cheng/CNET

The 640 XL measures 157.9 x 81.5 x 9mm (6.22 x 3.21 x 0.35 inches) and tips the scales at 171g (6.3 oz.). That makes it about 5g lighter and slightly larger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which has the same screen size.

So while it doesn't match the premium feel of those flagships, it's not really trying to -- and it also isn't matching their premium prices either. For the cost of one 32GB Galaxy S6 Edge, you can get nearly three Lumia 640 XLs.

The XL also features something that some phones are lacking these days: a microSD slot. Like the 5-inch 640, you'll be needing to make use of it. The XL has the same rather basic 8GB of internal storage.

Display

  • 5.7-inch IPS screen
  • 1,280 x 720 pixels
  • 259 pixels per square inch

The 5.7-inch IPS screen on the XL might be bigger than the base 640, but it has the exact same resolution of 1,280x720 pixels. This means the XL actually has a lower pixel density than its smaller cousin -- 259ppi versus 294ppi. (For some more context, the 1,440x2,560-pixel Galaxy S6 has around 577 ppi.)

Depending on how good your eyesight is, this might be a sticking point. As a nearsighted glasses-wearer, I didn't see any problem with the XL. Yes, it's noticeably not as crisp as some of the super-high-res displays out there, but I was very content watching streaming video from the Windows Phone Netflix app and had no issue with Web browsing or viewing photos.

The Lumia 640 XL LTE vs. the 5-inch 640. Dave Cheng/CNET

The colours are rich and bright, and the phone has good contrast, which is arguably a little more important in a smartphone display. According to Microsoft, the 640 XL also has "sunlight readability enhancements," and they're certainly working. On a glare-heavy Sydney autumn day, the XL was easy to read while trooping around outdoors.

Software and performance

  • Windows Phone using the Denim Update
  • 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor
  • 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage
  • MicroSD slot supports up to 128GB

The 640 XL is running the same version of Windows Phone 8.1 as the 5-inch 640, with all the same benefits and disadvantages. It's also packing the exact same processor and memory, a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 and 1GB of RAM. You can read the performance section of the Lumia 640 review for a full rundown.

Essentially, the XL offers a smooth experience when it comes to basic use and, while that processor isn't going to set any speed records, the only time it's noticeably slow is when the phone is a booting up. It takes around 25 seconds from pressing the power button to when you can start using your Lumia.

As someone who's been reviewing Windows-based phones for a few years now, I will say that the Windows App Store has vastly improved from its days of resembling a Wild West town, with searches for apps either offering tumbleweeds blowing in the wind or an assortment of unsavoury options that didn't quite look right. In fact, as soon as Jawbone gets the app for its Up fitness band over, I could be sold on making a full switch from Android.

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Diagnostic LTE tests in San Francisco using Speedtest.net. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Over on the LTE side of things, the XL definitely delivers. It's a category 4 device -- that's a theoretical top download speed of 150Mbps. You don't get those speeds, of course, but testing around the Sydney central business district and Inner West suburbs, I saw a top speed of 56Mbps down and an average of between 25 and 30Mbps. Upload was, as usual, lower, but averaged out to a respectable 12Mbps. Yes, the Category 6 phones that offer carrier aggregation will leave the XL in the dust, but it's not too long ago that the idea of 4G phone at this price point would have been a pipe dream.

In San Francisco on AT&T's network, download speeds typically ranged from 8Mbps down to 17Mbps down, but spiked at 33Mbps down, as tested on the Speedtest.net diagnostic app. Uplink speeds spanned 4.5 to 10.3 Mbps. These are respectable, but not quite as fast as we've seen on other high-end phones. That said, LTE speeds vary dramatically by time of day and exact location, so your speed situation could be very different depending on where you live.

Camera

  • 13-megapixel rear camera
  • Zeiss optics
  • 5-megapixel front camera

The XL improves on the 640 in both rear and front cameras. The front jumps from an underwhelming 0.9-megapixel to 5, which is going to keep you happy for both selfies and Skype calls.

But it's the 13-megapixel snapper on the rear -- complete with German-made Zeiss optics -- that's the most marked improvement. That's letting you take 4,128x3,096 resolution photos (far, far better than the screen can display) and 1080p Full-HD video -- also at a higher res than the screen can display.

It's all done with the Lumia Camera software, which has great autofocus features for anyone who just likes to take a happy snap every now and then but also lets you manually adjust ISO, white balance, shutter speed, brightness and focus if you're photographically minded and feel like playing around.

Taking the XL out for a spin, even an inexperienced photographer like me was able to get some pleasing shots.

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Despite the overcast day, the newish Central Park shopping centre -- with its iconic external greenery -- comes out well, with solid detail and nice colours.

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The obligatory food shot: while the avocado doesn't pop, it wasn't a particularly ripe avocado. Again, the detail is great with the poorly cleaned table surface clearly visible. (I'm never eating here again.)

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The two shots here show the difference between the regular mode and Rich Capture, which automatically scans the scene and adds HDR and flash settings as required. The Rich Capture is the bottom photo, where the ANZAC War Memorial is clearly brighter and cleaner.

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Again in rich capture mode, the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park looks great both in a Minotaur-slaying close-up and a more general shot of its Grecophile glory.

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For indoor shots, the top image shows a photo taken with the flash -- it's a little washed out and harsh. The bottom shot is a little warmer, while still having lots of detail.

Overall, the camera XL is more than enough for the average smartphone snapper, and could even impress a more experienced photographer. It's borderline overkill if all you're after is some social media shots, but at the price, who's complaining?

Battery life

As I said before, the XL packs in a 3,000mAh battery, up from the 2,500mAh in the basic 640. It makes quite a difference too -- whereas 2.5 hours of video streaming on the 5-inch version saw the battery drop to 56 percent, the XL was at a resolute 72 percent after the same test.

For our regular battery test the 640 XL managed a solid 11 hours and 56 minutes -- that smaller processor and lower-res screen definitely help it last.

Given the low energy demands of the processor and the 720p screen, I'm confident that the battery will satisfy all but the most power-hungry users. Certainly, during the testing period, I was quite impressed with the battery life during general usage, definitely when compared to some of the top-end flagship phones on the market.

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Dave Cheng/CNET

Call quality

We tested the Lumia 640 XL in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Volume sounded strong and the caller's voice was close and intimate, not faraway. A persistent white noise sizzled in the background throughout the duration of calls, but it didn't overly distract from the conversation. The same applies to a heightened sibilance that made my testing partner sound slightly distorted.

Since call quality is a mix of network performance and hardware design, just keep in mind that you may have a different experience in your area.

Conclusion

It may cost a little more than its smaller cousin, but the Lumia 640 XL adds enough new features to be well worth the asking price. While the sticking points for power-users might be the lower-end processor and the (relatively) low-resolution screen, the majority of users aren't going to find these much of an issue.

That leaves you with a big phone sporting a rather good camera and offering 4G speeds with an all-day battery -- and doing so on a budget price.

Luckily for you, other smartphones can claim the same and even more. For instance, for the about the same price, Alcatel's OneTouch Idol 3 has a higher, 1,080p HD resolution on a slightly smaller screen (5.5-inches). It also totes a 13-megapixel camera on the back, and gives you an 8-megapixel shooter on the front. Android lovers will find 5.0 Lollipop on this Idol 3, plus a few other handy hardware and software bonuses.

If you're after a low-cost smartphone and like what Windows Phone OS has to offer, then the Lumia 640 XL is a great option.

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7.6

Lumia 640 XL LTE

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Camera 8Battery 7
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