A big display is great for screen-intensive work tasks, and Microsoft's Lumia 640 XL certainly delivers on that front. The Windows Phone device sports a huge, 5.7-inch display that's perfect for viewing documents or editing spreadsheets on the go. And starting at just $249 off-contract — that is, with no pricey two-year contract attached — the Lumia 640XL looks like a pretty decent option for phablet-seeking business users on a budget, despite its relatively lackluster battery life.
The Lumia 640 XL is a hulking plastic slab of a smartphone, yet somehow it still manages to look pretty classy. Its angular edges give it a smart, modern look, and the rounded corners felt comfortable in my palm. The device comes in both black and white, and both models have a sleek, professional appearance.
That's not to say that the phablet's ample dimensions won't be an issue for many users. In addition to a large display, the 640 XL has really thick bezels, particularly at the top and bottom of the display. That means most people will have trouble reaching the top of the screen when using the device with one hand. Of course, that big display has plenty of perks, giving you more space for screen-intensive productivity tasks, and making it easier to type accurately on the touch screen.
Measuring 6.21 x 3.20 x .35 inches and weighing 6.03 ounces, the Lumia 640 XL is even larger, thicker and heavier than premium phablets like Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 (6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33 inches), which also packs a 5.7-inch display. Among budget phones, the OnePlus One is also smaller and lighter (6.0 x 2.9 x 0.35 inches and 5.7 ounces), as is the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (6 x 2.9 x 0.29 inches and 4.9 ounces), though both those devices have smaller, 5.5-inch displays.
The Lumia 640 XL is named for its extra-large display, which is a good feature for business users. The large display provides tons of room for screen-intensive tasks such as managing your email inbox and editing spreadsheets on the go.
I just wish that the Windows Phone platform allowed for split-screen multitasking, to really take advantage of all that screen space. Many big-screen Android phones, as well as the iPhone 6 Plus, let you view two apps at once in a side-by-side view.
The 640 XL's display resolution is relatively modest, at 1,280 x 720 pixels, but that's typical for phones in this price range. Regardless, it's plenty sharp for everyday work tasks.
The display could be a bit brighter, though. It tops out at 329 nits of brightness, which is quite a bit lower than the smartphone average of 388 nits. That's fine for indoor use, but a brighter display would have been easier to view outdoors. Viewing angles are also a bit shallow; colors and tones start to wash out when the device is viewed from about a 30-degree angle.
Running on a 1.2-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM, the Lumia 640 XL provides adequate power for everyday tasks, but it's no speed demon. I saw decent performance during daily use, though I occasionally noticed a tiny bit of stuttering when I was quickly switching between apps, and sometimes had to wait a second or two for Web pages to load.
That was reflected in the Lumia 640 XL's performance on the Peacekeeper Web browser test, where it managed a low score of only 295. That's well below the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3, which scored 744, as well as the smartphone average of 882.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Lumia 640XL's big display is a bit of a battery hog. While we couldn't run our standard battery assessment — the evaluation is optimized for Android and iOS only — we still put the 640 XL to the test, with somewhat disappointing results. It ran for just 7 hours and 12 minutes when continuously video streaming via YouTube with the screen at medium brightness.
That's not terrible, but competing phones lasted longer in a battery test. Alcatel's Onetouch Idol 3 ran for 9 hours and 16 minutes, while the OnePlus One ran for an amazing 13 hours and 16 minutes.
The Windows Phone operating system isn't as well known as iOS or Android, but it's a solid mobile platform in its own right. Its app library might not be quite as extensive as what those platforms offer, and it lacks some popular apps like Snapchat and Feedly. But it has all the staples that business users need, such as a mobile version of Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It's telling, though, that the Android and iOS versions of those apps have deeper feature sets.
Windows Phone itself is a pretty slick operating system that sets itself apart from Android and iOS with a unique interface. Instead of showing static buttons to launch apps, the home screen is populated by Live Tiles that flip around, updating your home screen with new information in real time. For example, the calendar tile can show your next appointment, while the weather update shows a glimpse of the forecast, and the stocks app will show the latest stock market updates.
In other ways, Windows Phone just isn't as developed as competing operating systems. For example, I like that the lock screen shows how many unread messages and emails I have, but the latest version of Android does even better by also showing a preview of the messages themselves on its lock screen.
On the bright side, Microsoft's personal assistant app, called "Cortana," is about as good as Siri on the iPhone and Google Now on Android. Like those apps, Cortana makes it easier to perform basic actions like setting a reminder, adding an appointment to your calendar or silencing your phone during designated quiet hours — your company's morning meeting, for example.
Those actions, and many more, can be performed manually or via voice commands. But while more-premium Windows Phone devices are always listening for your voice, letting you issue voice commands just by saying, for example, "Hey, Siri," you'll have to tap a button to activate the voice-command prompt on the 640 XL. That's because the budget device runs on an older processor that isn't capable of passive listening.
So why choose Windows Phone over more popular options like Android or iOS? The simple answer is that Microsoft's mobile platform integrates better with the desktop Windows operating system out of the box. If you already work in the Windows environment at the office, that's a decent reason to choose a Windows Phone device.
In other words, the Lumia 640XL runs Windows services by default. Microsoft Outlook is the default email application, making it easy to sync your work email. Ditto for Microsoft Office, so all your documents, spreadsheets and presentations will be automatically synced to your smartphone for on-the-go sharing and editing. And if you use Microsoft's excellent note-taking application, OneNote, all your notes will be available on your phone.
It's important to note that virtually all of that data can also be synced through Android and iOS; Microsoft apps like OneNote, OneDrive and Outlook are also available for those platforms. But if you prefer to have things working right out of the box, Windows Phone is a good choice, since Microsoft's services come ready to use, with minimal tinkering.
Windows Phone 10
Windows 10, Microsoft's latest desktop operating system, is now available on desktop PCs, and it promises to bring big changes to Windows Phone devices later this year. That's because touch-optimized Windows 10 apps will also work on Windows Phone devices, greatly expanding the Windows Phone app library.
But that won't happen until a big update for the mobile OS (dubbed "Windows Phone 10") is released. Microsoft hasn't announced an exact launch date for Windows Phone 10, but users considering a Windows Phone device should keep in mind that the update is coming this year.
The bottom line
Windows Phone devices like the Lumia 640 XL are definitely a niche option, but this phone is still a surprisingly capable device at a good price, especially if you want a very large display. Competing budget phones like the OnePlus One and the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 offer longer battery life and slightly better performance at a similar price point, but with smaller displays.
Plus, the Windows Phone platform integrates well with Windows PCs right out of the box. Combined, those features make the Lumia 640 XL worth a look for those seeking a big-screen work phone at a low price.