Microsoft’s Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL: what do the critics think?

Lumia-640-blue

At last, the highly-anticipated Lumia 640 has hit the high streets and online stores. Lumia’s latest addition to its portfolio will soon be joined by the Lumia 640 XL, due to be available by the end of April.

So how are the latest Lumia handsets bearing up to the scrutinising eye of the tech press?

Lumia 640

According to Wired, Microsoft is expecting ‘big things’ from the latest ‘hero’ in its budget stable phone. In a hands-on review, Wired – notoriously not easy to impress – seemed pretty bowled over by the 640.

Claiming the 640 to be a pretty decent mid-range phone with matching mid-range specification, for Wired, what lifts the 640 out of the conundrums of the ordinary, is the fact owners get a free year’s subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Personal. This means you can have Office apps on the phone as well as an additional PC or tablet.

So asides getting the main Office apps plus Publisher, Access and Outlook, you’ll get 1TB of online storage and 12 month’s free Skype calls, a package normally worth £60  year – a nice little extra for sure.

Okay, so we all love extras, but what about the real guts of the phone?

Wired are pleased to see that the new Lumia’s screen size has been increased from 4.5 inches to 5 inches, and with an HD 1,280×720 pixels, the resolution has improved too.

The Wired reviewer is also quick to point out that the 640 runs of Windows Phone 8.1, which is “slick and functional” and requires “less grunt from the processor to deliver a quick and smooth performance.”

The voice recognition is pretty good too. The ‘Cortana’ assistant genuinely helpful, says Wired.

On the downside, the processor could be a bit more powerful, concludes Wired, but for £120, it’s a general thumbs up from techies that are not easily awe-struck.

‘The world won’t change’

In a quick play around with the 640, Tech Radar admitted that with the same design language as its predecessor, the Lumia 635, the world won’t change with the 640.

Despite its predictable design, the new handset’s bonus is, according to Tech Radar, its removable back panel, which means the SIM card and microSD slots are hidden but could prove tiresome to remove if you’re using them regularly.

On the upside, during a play through of the apps, the 640 looked beautiful and was “one of the brightest Windows Phone handset” the reviewer had ever used.

For selfie-lovers, the device’s front facing camera should be able to cope.

In its review of the Lumia 640, PC Advisor concentrated on the camera and admitted that despite taking trial shots in difficult conditions, the camera did a pretty good job.

However, PC Advisor’s net verdict isn’t too inspiring as despite being nice looking and relatively cheap, there’s no need to get excited in terms of spec, as the 640 offers little more than what’s already on offer in a crowded Lumia market.

Lumia 640 XL

So what about the yet-to-be-released 640 XL, the 640’s bigger and beefier version, what’s the word on the street so far?

According to Recombu, despite the handset’s thickness, it doesn’t come across as bulky and is in fact quite the opposite. Its matte finish is accompanied with a pillowed back for extra grip and comfort.

With vivid colours, good visibility in bright sunlight and respectable viewing angles, the XL’s display “packs a wonderful punch”, claims Recombu.

Lumia-640-xl

Retailing from £219, the XL’s affordable price is one of its plus points according to the Tech Radar review. Other ‘pros’ include its large battery, bright screen and the fact it feels good to hold. On the downside, it’s only available on Windows Phone 8.1 – for now – and is 1080p on a 5.7 inch screen.

For more information visit Microsoft.

Microsoft Lumia 535 heralds the end of the Nokia phone era

Lumia535_Marketing_6Devices_01-resized

We can’t say we’ve been blown away by Nokia’s travails in the Smartphone market, largely because of the abundance of very capable competitors, but few could question their impact on the mobile industry in general. For many, a Nokia was their first phone, and if it wasn’t it would be the second or third. Cheap, reliable, solidly built – Nokia were the most popular phones around. It was a sad day when Microsoft finally announced it would be removing the old branding for good, then, and the device with the unenviable job of heralding the dawn of a new era is the Lumia 535.

Naturally it’s a Windows 8.1 smartphone and as the first branded by Microsoft, one that the company will hope can help kick-start an assault on Android and iOS. What’s interesting here is that it hasn’t gone for a powerhouse game-changer – in fact quite the opposite. Intended to tap the sub-£100 market it has perhaps quite sensibly focused on building numbers and tapping developing markets to increase interest in the mobile OS.

The 535 has a 5” IPS display with 960×540 resolution and 220ppi that’s coated in Gorilla Glass 3, a  Qualcomm Snapdragon 200, 1GB of RAM and 8GBb of internal storage with microSD expansion. Like many recent phones it also caters for the “selfie” generation with a 5MP camera on the front and back, though there’s no support for 4G. As expected it’ll be available in a wide range of colours, so our first thoughts are that it’ll be a bit of a hit with the youngsters.

There are no full reviews yet but various sources have gone hands-on. Let’s see if there’s enough about it to have a decent go at its target market.

TrustedReviews laments the passing of Nokia (as do we all) but points out that while the new 535 is steeped in Nokia heritage, is still a significant upgrade over the uninspiring Lumia 530. Reasons include the display, with IPS and decent overall performance marking it as “an improvement over the ugly TN-based LCD screen of the Lumia 530.”  Other immediate improvements include the camera, with a front-facer that has a wide-angle lens for “group selfies”, and a noticeable upgrade in terms of focusing speed and performance compared to the 530.

This doesn’t apply everywhere though – “the Lumia 535 uses the same quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor as the 530. This sounds good, but we weren’t impressed by its performance in the 530 and it’s arguably less powerful than the dual-core processor found in the ageing Nokia Lumia 520.”

Forbes discusses Microsoft’s strategy in this market, and defends its stance to make its first branded model a relatively low powered device. “This isn’t an afterthought from Microsoft, nor is it a lacklustre attempt to crack a market it doesn’t properly understand like other manufacturers. This is Microsoft’s mobile phone business plan – its entire strategy. The 535 is the flagship of budget smartphones and its price tag of $130 is supposed to cement Microsoft’s dominance in this area.” It goes on to describe the 535 as a “slightly better than average” budget device that retains a strong identity with the Lumia range with familiar brightly covered plastic and rounded edges. Not exactly an aesthetic triumph, but factors such as expandable storage and a removable battery are important features for developing markets that prioritise functionality over form.

It also discusses Microsoft’s “five great integrated Microsoft experiences”. These would be Skype, Office, 15GB of free OneDrive cloud storage, Cortana and Outlook – an attempt to one-up the competition and establish a more box-ready device

“This is Microsoft’s main gambit – access to its other services. Where cheap Android phones might leave the user in the wilderness in terms of updates and apps that provide a connected experience, Windows Phone users will have these out of the box.”

Lumia535_Marketing_02-resized

We’ll conclude with CNet’s wrap-up of the 535, which it generally liked while acknowledging that there’s nothing particularly outstanding about it, which at the price point is probably to be expected.

“The Microsoft Lumia 535 isn’t exactly a standout device, which is surprising, as I was hoping Microsoft would use its first phone to show off what it can do. Instead, you get more of the same, though this is no bad thing.”

The Lumia 535 and Lumia 535 Dual SIM will begin rolling out to key markets in November, and will be available in bright green, bright orange, white, dark grey, cyan and black. Pricing for Lumia 535 and Lumia 535 Dual SIM will vary by market and operator, but is estimated to be around 110 EUR before taxes and subsidies.

Nokia Lumia 735 – the selfie smartphone

Lumia-735-hero1-resized

Microsoft is getting bedded in with its new Nokia acquisition and one of the more interesting devices to come off the production line recently is the Lumia 735 – a smartphone with a rather unusual USP.

It’s a 4G phone with a 4.7” (720×1280) OLED display and 2.25D curved glass, which helps it to achieve a clear 180 degree viewing angle and supposedly good sunlight readability so those around you can enjoy whatever you’re doing on your smartphone at the time. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad core processor at 1.2GHz, 8GB of storage (with 15GB OneDrive included, alongside a microSD slot) should be enough for most, and it features wireless charging via an optional shell. If you’re interested it’s also the first smartphone in the UK to go on sale with Windows Phone 8.1 and a beta version of Cortana – Microsoft’s “personal assistant” that goes by the codeword of “Lumia Denim” for some reason.

But the big seller from Microsoft’s point of view is the camera, and not the one you might expect. A full HD 5MP front-facer promises “unbeatable selfies” by touting a wide angle lens that captures more of the scene around you and a Lumia Selfie app that helps you get more from your portraits. And as if to hammer home the point even further the regular camera is just 6.7MP, so the front snapper is truly the star of the show.

Is there a market for a phone that seems so squarely oriented around this rather strange selfie obsession? Read on for the lowdown.

TechRadar goes hands-on with what it calls a “cheap and cheerful” handset but isn’t too impressed with the build:

It’s obvious that the 735 has taken its design cues from the Nokia 800. However here the plasticky build feels a bit cheap, though not overly tacky, while it’s both lighter and thinner than its inspiration.”

It also comments that despite leading with camera technology, there’s no dedicated shutter button, which for selfies in particular does seem like an oversight. When it comes to a market for the phone, it quite astutely points out that with a wide range of colours and reasonable price point Microsoft could find a bit of a market with younger users, though “if you’re not so face-focused, you’re probably better off coughing up a bit more for Microsoft’s other ‘affordable’ phone of IFA, the Lumia 830.”

PCPro is quite impressed by the design though, explaining how a smooth, matte plastic back panel and comfortable curves produces a “simple, but tasteful design, once again showcasing Nokia’s talent for endowing budget devices with premium looks.” As well as crediting the wide-angle for group shots on the front-facing camera there’s a bit more information on the Selfie app here, which “adds a series of beautifying options such as a slimming option and the ability to make your eyes appear bigger and teeth whiter.”

Even the selfie-obsessed need a phone with more going on than a fancy camera though. Knowyourmobile takes some time to focus elsewhere and is quite impressed by the display, which uses Nokia’s ClearBlack technology for improved contrast and deeper colours, resulting in a screen where “image quality is fairly high, with a sharp, colourful picture, viewing angles are also fairly wide”. General performance is also snappy and responsive, which is largely down to well optimised software that brings a number of enhancements:

“It introduces a proper drop-down quick settings and notifications menu, and the app drawer is now sorted alphabetically with quick access tabs. Customisation has improved with the ability to set a picture wallpaper behind the transparent tiles on the Start screen, and you can add an additional row of Live Tiles if you wish.”

735-hero3-resized

You can expect the Lumia 735 to be available from all the usual retailers from 2nd October in a range of colours including bright orange, bright green and stylish neutrals such as dark grey and white. There’s no UK price confirmed, but it will start at €219 ex VAT in Europe. As to how it translates to the UK market, we’ll have to wait and see.

Microsoft’s Lumia 530: the cheapest top-of-the-line smartphone

Microsoft announced today there will be UK availability for its new Lumia 530 smartphone. While you may be thinking “oh another Lumia, what’s new?” This one could really be a gamechanger – this is reputed to be a premium smartphone with Windows 8.1 features at the knock-off price of as little as £60.

So what’s the catch? Looking at bare bone specs, it appears there is no catch. It runs Microsoft’s handheld operating system known as Windows 8.1, granting access to the expected Lumia experience, including the latest apps and newest Windows functionality.

The phone will feature a 4” LCD display – while not particularly high quality, it is acceptable when you consider the phone’s pricing.  In addition, the battery life is less than stellar – if left on standby, the phone’s battery will last up to 22 hours – not an ideal choice for a long camping trip, but not too bad for the day-to-day, with up to 13 hours battery life when heavily used. The device sports a 5 Megapixel camera, with no front-facing camera options. The phone will be available in a number of colours as you’d expect from a Lumia, such as bright orange, green and grey.

The phone will contain the lightning-fast 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, which delivers a super-fast, lag-free user experience of your favourite apps, gaming and internet browsing”. The phone will also support Microsoft’s Windows services like Skype and Office.

One key criticism that many harbour regarding Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store is the lack of many apps that can be found on both Android and iOS stores – this continues here, but many more apps are now being ported across to the Windows Store. Lumia-specific apps are also available, such as Creative Studio and Glam Me, which, according to Microsoft, “helps people take quality voice-guided selfies with the 5MP rear camera.” So if you’re the selfie lover who’s strapped for cash, this phone could be the ideal option.

Conor Pierce, VP of Microsoft Devices for the UK and Ireland commented on the announcement of the 530 saying “With high-end apps, features and exceptional build quality at an amazing price, the Lumia 530 sets a new benchmark for affordable smartphones”. While of course Conor’s not likely to talk the phone down at all, he’s demonstrating how keen Microsoft are to show off the Lumia 530’s scarily low price.

The Lumia 530 will go on sale on 4th September with a quoted price of £60, available a number of retailers like EE, Vodafone, and O2.

Microsoft’s latest Lumia (the 930) comes to the UK

lumia-930-smartphone

Microsoft’s popular smartphone range will be receiving a new addition in mid-July this year with the release of the Lumia 930 smartphone. Microsoft’s latest smartphone will be releasing in the UK with the latest 8.1 software and “the best of Microsoft and Lumia services” the Lumia 930 is promising to “deliver an unrivalled user experience”. Upon its release, featuring a lightweight but high resolution 5” Full HD OLED Screen with 1920×1080 screen resolution – similar to that you might find on a desktop computer, you can expect a sharp image delivery from this smartphone.

Microsoft also supports the smartphone’s claim to be one of the best in terms of entertainment and image delivery, stating “the crystal clear 5-inch OLED display lets you watch in full HD and your favourite shows, movies or video clips are viewable in any light conditions as the device uses PureBlack screen technology.” Having a screen that’s too dark to view properly in certain conditions has always been a personal gripe of mine so if this is improved in the Lumia, that is a definite plus.

The smartphone aims to provide “the ultimate in video and imaging smartphone capability” with a 20 Mega-pixel camera, capable of taking photos in its native 1920×1080 resolution. For dedicated mobile photographers the phone also features imaging apps such as Nokia Camera in addition to Zeiss optics will allow users to create high-quality, stunning photos in seconds. Microsoft also claims the phone’s camera will “capture HD video like never before” including directional audio and built-in support for 5:1 surround sound – both capture and playback.

Conor Pierce, VP of Microsoft Devices for the UK and Ireland, was quick to support the new smartphone’s imaging and video capabilities: delivering cutting-edge technology to create an unrivalled video and imaging smartphone experience that are instantly shareable.”

Microsoft claims the phone will provide plenty to do for its users, and promises to include “A rich suite of differentiating applications and services”. Such features include Microsoft Enterprise feature pack, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, Nokia Camera, and HERE Maps and Drive+. All this functionality will be contained within “a beautifully crafted design featuring metallic details and vibrant new colours”.

The high-res screen is handy for maps.
The high-res screen is handy for maps.

The phone also promises to keep user data safe using Microsoft’s own OneDrive cloud service, storing photos, videos and documents synced with the online cloud for free, allowing data to be carried across to other Windows Phones, PC’s, tablets, and Xbox consoles among other systems.

Microsoft is quick to assure potential customers that their new smartphone is strong in terms of its battery life – an important aspect in a phone that claims to boast a great deal of entertainment and creative capability. The Company stated: “Equipped with a high capacity 2420 mAh battery and built-in wireless charging, there is little need to worry about running out of battery”. The phone also includes a wireless battery charger.

Microsoft of course had plenty of positive things to state about the smartphone, but what do the net’s reviewers think of their new chief smartphone?

PC Advisor saw the phone largely in a positive light, stating that the phone’s performance and battery life impressed thoroughly: “Performance is great. Windows Phone 8 zips along on lesser phones, and on the Lumia 930 it runs like a dream… the 930 always feels responsive, whether switching between apps or quitting and returning to the home screen.

The 930’s battery lasts pretty well. Unless you’re hammering it by watching YouTube or playing games at maximum brightness, there’s enough juice to get you through a whole day, and probably half of the next, too.”

CNET isn’t quite as pleased with the phone’s battery life, stating that it “doesn’t impress” but is very much impressed with the phone’s camera functionality.

Microsoft is offering the phone “all from only £33 per month on contract”. However, should you wish to acquire the handset SIM-free, the phone will set you back around £435 – not a bad price for Microsoft’s flagship smartphone, but around similar cost to Samsung’s S5 now that it has been around a while.

 

Review round up: Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet

nokia-lumia-2520

With Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia all but signed and sealed, it’ll be interesting to see what the merger of these two tech giants can bring to the ever-changing handheld market. Whether the Nokia Lumia 2520, the Finnish company’s first (and quite possibly last) tablet, gets swept under the carpet in favour of the Surface or embraced as part of a more diverse portfolio really depends on how precious Microsoft is about its own baby, and, of course, whether Nokia can show that it has something worth looking at.

With a 10.1” full HD display, quad-core, 4G connectivity, Windows RT 8.1, an impressive 11-hour battery life and 6.7MP/2MB rear/front cameras, along with a choice of four colours, Nokia is going all out with a high-end entry from the off, so let’s see how it fares.

We’ll kick off with The Independent, who lays its stall out early by claiming that “This, Microsoft, is how to make a tablet”. Lauding the aesthetics of the 2520 and calling it “…a triumph of design and beauty, making Microsoft’s own Surface look clumsy and heavy”, Nokia’s tablet is praised for its simplicity, a neat selection of Nokia’s own built-in apps and fast and responsive touchscreen, though what could turn out to be a predictable disadvantage is the limited (albeit growing) selection of additional apps available.

nokia-lumia-2520-tabletmode

T3 is similarly complimentary about the design, claiming that it represents a mix of the elegance of the iPad Air, the bargain price of the Tesco Hudl and the PC-replacement nature of the Surface 2. It also praises the display, stating that “It looks great, not least because alongside excellent resolution of 218ppi it has Nokia’s Clear Black Display technology which makes the screen more easily readable in bright light” and “Movies look super sharp, with a rich colour palette and wide viewing angles.” Both overall performance and the impressive camera get a mention, and T3 concludes by saying that “This is one of the best tablets yet built, thanks to Nokia’s swish and tactile design that fits the hand splendidly”.

Pocket Lint likes the performance, battery life, display and viewing angles, and again praises the design over Microsoft’s Surface, though does note that the Surface has a kick-stand, more USB ports and a slightly better price. These are minor points, however, as it goes on to say that “…the Lumia 2520 is probably the best thing on the market for people looking to buy a tablet that doubles as a laptop.”

Phone Arena is slightly less dismissive of Microsoft’s own brand, claiming that the choice between the two “is a tough one to call.” The slightly more expensive 2520 appears to win out overall though, with the extra cost “…justified in the way that it’s sporting one attractive design, produces better results with its camera, and that it’s preloaded with various Nokia-branded apps that deepens the experience out of the box.”

nokia-lumia-2520-range

Finally, TIME magazine says that the Lumia 2520 is “the tablet Nokia was born to build” and offers similar praise for the design and overall performance. Holding it back, however, is that “…it doesn’t trump the iPad and can’t compete with its abundance of apps”, while musing over its future in the light of the Microsoft acquisition. Sadly, with Nokia’s previous head of design Marko Artishaari declining to join Microsoft, it may be the case that the 2520 is seen as too much of a threat, with no immediate means to replicate its aesthetic merits. But as what could be a final hurrah for a company that has been so influential in the mobile phone marketplace, it’s nice to see that the Lumia 2520 ticks a lot of boxes.

The Nokia Lumia 2520 is priced at £399 with 32GB of storage, a SIM card slot for 4G and is exclusive to John Lewis.