Updated: July 15, 2016
Long story short, a friend of mine - yes, I do have friends - lent me his Lumia 640 for a few days, so I could sample of its goods and give you an honest overview of what the phone can do. More importantly, what Windows Phone 10 can do.
My previous experiences with touch-blessed Windows have been polar. Bi-polar. On the desktop, Windows 8 was horrible, but it kicked ass on my Lumia 520 and Lumia 535. Then, again, on the desktop, Windows 10 is just okay, nothing more, nothing less. To make it all ever so slightly confusing, despite its touch nature, it sure did not blow me away on the HP Stream tablet, and I actually reverted to Windows 8. So let's see what gives on a phone. Is WP10 any good? After me.
Lumia 640 at a glance
I won't do the whole new product thingie, because a) if you've seen one Lumia, you've pretty much seen them all, which is good b) more importantly, this is not a brand new device, and so, it comes with some small battle scars from its original owner. Just kidding. I would never have someone who does not share the same level of ultra-deep, fanatical meticulousness when it comes to hardware as a friend. But you get the drift.
The phone feels light and robust, and is more reminiscent of the 535 line than the older and smaller 520. It does not have any hardware buttons, instead, there's a software menu, which you can roll up or down, if you want. This is a waste of screen space, because the bottom border could have been narrower then. Still, you can make the menu go away, and that gives you some of the screen equity back. I'm wondering what's the reasoning for this kind of design. Must be cost.
Speaking of screens, Lumia 640 LTE comes with five inches of it, 1280x720px resolution, 294ppi density, and 16 millions of true colors, like that Cindy Lauper song or something. Spec wise, you also get a 1200MHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage expandable via micro-SD to 128GB, and sensors all over the price. Really, the list is too long and boring for an article. The battery packs 2500 mAh of electron juice.
While the screen is limited to just 720p, you can still record video at 1080p 30fps, there's digital 4x zoom, and the images come out at a very reasonable 8MP, which means diddly squat in terms of quality, right. The front camera is a measly 0.9MP wide-lens device, but it can also record video at 720p.
The phone originally came with WP8, but my friend had it upgraded for free. Like me, he wanted to see what the new operating system does, and if it brings any improvements to the world of touch. Anyhow, enough boring stuff. Let's test this thing.
Same same but different
If you've used Windows Phone before, Lumia 640 won't be a stranger. You still get the aesthetically and functionality superior tiled interface, with simple, clean colors. If you feel like adding drama and confusion to your home screen, you can enliven tiles, get them to spin and display information, and replace the background with an image. I went for a more serene look, which you see here.
I do have to admit I'm not fond of the multi-app tile groups, especially when they change, and do not come with well-defined borders. I mean, if you're going for a square OCD look, then you go all the way. Then, there's too much gray. And some of the menus and options are a little overcrowded. Seems to be the price of maturity.
Network connectivity was good, albeit only to the 2.4GHz Wireless. No 5GHz here. I did not test Bluetooth, simply because I forgot, and now it's too late, compadres. There were no signal quality issues, not with the phone - I put in my own SIM briefly and then took it out and continued testing mostly without any phone network defined - nor with the Wi-Fi. Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar!
Well, there was one problem - the phone seemed to reconnect to Wi-Fi on its own, even though I'd switch it off. So I'm wondering what gives, and what kind of setting governs this. But hey, if I set it to be off, then it'd better stay that way. Get it?
Well, you get a lot. And then not. Technically speaking, the Windows Store is years behind Android and iOS, and this seems to resonate hard with the plebes. But then, if you think about it, there's only maybe 20-30 really important apps or program you'd ever need in your day to day life.
The popular stuff is there, and you get some extra cream in the form of various Lumia software and the bombastic HERE suite. However, some of these extras seem to have been created in the age of hope, and have since been discontinued. This does not bode well for Microsoft, and does not inspire confidence. If you can chuck the emotions away, there's nothing really amiss with the simple, solid and practical repertoire of programs for Windows Phone. Even less relevant for someone like me.
This element remains rock solid, with the awesome HERE Maps and Drive. You can download maps, and then use the phone in an offline mode, or online with live traffic updates. Beats anything else on the market. As simple as that. But, there's a catch.
Lo and behold, HERE Maps and Drive will no longer be available for Windows 10, starting on June 30, 2016. Likewise, for Windows 8, no new maps and features will be developed and released, even though the product will continue to exist and run. At a first glance, this is a big problem, because one of the key selling features of the Windows Phone is its superior offline navigation.
A death knoll for the Windows Store ecosystem? But wait. Not all is lost. There is a new application called Windows Maps, which replaces the HERE pair on WP10. In fact, it is based on the HERE software, and even reports as such. It also works quite well, and the maps downloaded through the HERE apps are also available here. So no biggie.
However, the question of what happens to WP8 users still remains. Are they going to be forced to use abandoned, outdated products in a push to get them to upgrade to the new version? What if they can't? What if their phone does not support the promised free upgrade? Or they can't buy a new phone? Or just don't want to?
Well, the answer is Microsoft Maps, which is a free application for WP8. It also integrates with HERE Maps, and seems to work quite well. But then, if you want to do a proper voice navigation, it redirects back to HERE Drive. Plus it uses imperial units rather than metric, and I wasn't able to find an easy way to change the settings. All this sounds a little bit wonky and disappointing. To be investigated.
If the reality is that Microsoft is abandoning WP8 users when it comes to offline maps, simply because they want to get more profit on WP10, and they are changing and killing supported applications before the operating system gets the boot, then I might decide not to buy Windows Phone as my next smartphone, just out of pure spite. In a way, it will be a stupid move on my behalf, because I have no intention of using Android or iPhone, so I'd need to compromise, but then, I do not not wish to condone this kind of stupidity.
I don't have a full answer to this dilemma yet. Yes, the solution is simple - get a WP10 phone, for as long as Microsoft keeps developing and selling them, but this seems a tiny bit dubious at this point, because once the apps start getting pulled off the shelf, the death is near. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. Or perhaps buy one of the new Nokias, for 'tis coming back, which will definitely feature HERE software, and since the app is now also available on Android, then we know the answer. Nokia forevar. Indeed.
Speaking of Windows Maps, yes, the app works beautifully. It's HERE software rebranded, so there's really no sweat. The two components have been combined under a single umbrella. HERE Transit has been bundled in there, too.
Meh. All AI assistants suck. They have the IQ of a drunk gerbil, and they are pretty much useless. You will probably play with the functionality for about 17 minutes, then realize you have a life, and then go about your normal business. Oh, once you turned Cortana on, you will struggle finding the right buttons to turn it off. More about this later.
Again, the paradox of Windows, which we've seen in action so many times before. Products that naturally suck on desktop look perfectly fine on mobile. Wrong form factor and wrong usability cases, that's all. To wit, Edge is an okay browser on small touch devices, a horrible idea for large, non-touch screens.
However, it still suffers from a mild case of lobotomy. Like, why would I care about the Bing image of the day? Is this some kind of an inspirational, promotional nonsense? Then, the news. Oh, the news. Why do you have to keep catering this moronity? Can't you let people choose their own content?
This seems to be an interesting concept. However, from what little I was able to discern, the mobile office platform is not nearly as interesting as its desktop counterpart. But you probably won't be doing any serious officing on a phone anyway. Still, it is nice to see the product available, even though I'm not 100% how it should be used to its full and most efficient extent.
This one is a curious beast. I have no idea what people normally do on their phones, and how they consume film and music and such. If you're only purchasing stuff from the official store, you probably won't have any problems. If you load your own stuff, you might.
WP10 complained about WebM - in fact, it wouldn't let me copy these files onto the device, and I used Ubuntu for this little exercise, Gosh O'Blimey. Then, MP4 worked fine, but I didn't have audio for some reason. MP3 was cushty. It also plays nicely when you lock the screen. Fewer errors than what I had with Lumia 520 originally.
The annoying thing about video landscape is that the Windows menu, should you choose to show it, appears in the portrait mode, either on the left or right side of the screen, depends how you're holding your phone. What. That is not how it's meant to be.
You can load subtitles - and here's another visual bug, the subtitles overlay obscures the time stamp ever so non-OCD-like. On an unrelated topic, since this seems to be a popular feature, you can cast the playback on to other devices. Maybe. I didn't test this with my smart TV or any of my newer laptops.
Buy music and such
Managing content is very easy, including your own. Hook up your phone via USB, let the music and video categories refresh, and that's it. Just compare this to my ordeal with the iPhone, where it took me roughly six months to fail copying even a single music file. Then if you're interested, you can spend money buying stuff online. I haven't explored this too much, but the flamboyance effect is much less than with, say Samsung S5. In other words, Microsoft is not trying to pimp up payware content on you. After a disco of color and sensation with other mobile platforms, you might feel underwhelmed.
Seems to work fine, overall. I was able to take decent pictures even into the sun, and the software responded quickly enough to my touch. It won't blow your mind, but it works reasonably well. I think, compared to iPhone, it handles glare better, and the color resolution is more refined, but the Apple gadget has a higher sharpness.
Managing settings has taken a slight turn for the worse in WP10, compared to WP8. The previous operating system was just simpler, less cluttered. There are way too many options, the flow can be confusing, and if you search for some of the tools and features, you might not find them.
Security & privacy
I mentioned the privacy part earlier. But you can really fine tune and tweak it as you feel like. Plus, there's the option to encrypt your filesystem, so even if someone does gain access, they won't be able to tamper with the data. Speaking of data, you can automatically backup your stuff to OneDrive, and use the find-my-phone feature.
Much like the desktop, you have a lot of privacy options at your disposal, and you can either let your phone do whatever it needs or wants, or you can disable its access if you're not comfortable with the whole online thingie. However, the ability to tweak your privacy is there, it's just tedious. You've seen some screenshots regarding privacy earlier on, so no reason to repeat myself, right.
Again, my friend purposefully skipped a big phone update, so I could be the one to test the functionality. Truth to be told, there's nothing special to report. No drama. The phone took a while eating bytes and thinking, and then it was updated. End of story.
Performance & stability
Really neat. Fast, lithe. No errors, no bugs. Nothing was crashing or hanging. I have to hard boot the iPhone once every two weeks when its touch stops responding and I am unable to unlock the screen. I never had any issues with Lumia. Same here. This is a highly polished product, and it works well. The performance is good. But ... if you compare to Windows Phone 8 - aha! - then it is maybe half a blink slower. Maybe. Either way, you won't get frustrated with how it does its stuff. Smooth operator.
Pretty decent, I must admit. If you're aggressive, you'll get about two days worth of power before you need to charge again. It is difficult to compare to my Lumia 520, which offers roughly 25-30% more, then again, it has fewer sensors, and it's a much simpler device overall. Again, nothing to fault here. Decent.
Lumia 640 LTE with Windows Phone 10 is a pretty decent device. It's not the prettiest, and it does not have the humble awesomeness of my Lumia 520, but it is a natural progression of a very solid, classy line of smartphones. Strange how useless this whole Windows touch is on the desktop, and yet it makes so much sense on the phone. Clean, simple, elegant lines. Spartan design, OCD, whatever. Just great. I'm angry when it comes to maps and navigation, but let's see how this evolves.
The functionality is pretty good. You have both the popular and practical stuff available, the menus and the settings come with enough detail and drama to keep you occupied without feeling inferior to Android and iOS users, the security and privacy aspects are pretty decent, and the phone is fast and responsive. If you're not into hype and sensory overload, then Lumia 640 LTE is a good mid-range compromise. You'll get a phone that does all the basics well, plus offline maps, plus an understated approach to consumerism. This is how it really should be. Says the Linux guy who owns Microsoft shares and who things retardation reached its peak with Windows 8 on the desktop as well as its brilliance apex on the mobile. Go figure. Grade wise, something like 8.5/10. Definitely worth trying, and WP10 is okay after all. Better than on the desktop, for sure. Off you go, my birdies.