Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Microsoft 640 XL review

Thanks to my good friend Richard in England I have a renewed interest in Windows 10 Mobile which is Microsoft's current Smartphone platform.

This is the first part of a two part review where I'm going to try and sell you on the 640 XL hardware.  I leave a detailed discussion of the Windows 10 Mobile (W10M) platform to part 2

So Why
My audience here is anybody who really cares about Smartphones, about the technology, the apps, the possibilities.  In so doing I exclude

- Mere end users, who have no tolerance for something that does not work immediately
- Anybody with a closed mind to the Windows 10 Mobile platform because they know a priori that it's going to fail, bound to be no good, faulty by definition  (choose your put down)

So then, if you are an IT guru, a technical specialist, who fancies a hands on with a detailed mobile platform I'll try and sell you on acquisition of a 640XL to really experience windows 10 mobile first hand, and not just from a YouTube video or web page

Model Confusion

There are several different models of the 640 range


640 XL

3G or LTE: 

There is a cheaper non LTE (4G) version that only has 3G networking.  This is the model that I purchased.  Though I passionately wanted the LTE version it was 230 CHF and I got the 640 XL for 'only' 160 CHF i.e. 30% cheaper and I could not justify the higher price - sorry.

I would definitely choose the 640XL over the 640  because the camera on this model is absolutely superb and on the 640 the best it will be is just average.

Reduced Cellular Speed

The Cellular download speed is limited to a rather pathetic 8Mbps, down from the 80Mbps we have available here in Lausanne Switzerland  (best speed I've had from my old Google Nexus 5 on Android 6). So yes, not having the LTE model really hurts.

Note: Either model has 2 SIM slots but only the first one will do 3G (or LTE on the other model).  The second SIM is limited to 2G, so beware.

Switching to UK

My Initial settings were US English on the phone, with UK English Region specified and Timezone of Switzerland.   With this set Cortana was disabled and going to the Mobile App store on the phone   (because the Web Store said I had to) meant that no BBC applications were listed.

Eventually I switched to

UK Keyboard

UK Region
Manual Timezone  (CET)

This was not a simple reboot but almost a 're-install'.  After the switch apps were seen to be re-downloaded and then magically Cortana worked and the BBC iPlayer Radio was both visible in the store and available to download and run.

What is in the Box

2 SIM slots, a Micro SD card slot and a back that simply clips off, without tools, in about 10 seconds.  How bloody excellent is that.

Oh, and of course a removable battery.  Superbly practical design. I really like!

Initial Setups
 This took a really long time because the first time it seemed to download most of the OS then updates.  Then when I really switched to UK everything this happened for a second time.  All in all it was about 4 hours of thumb twiddling and waiting!

Insider Program
To get Windows 10 Mobile and not the Windows 8 that the phone is shipped with you simply need to install the Windows Insider application and then signup

So you install the application and then select the fast insider track meaning you get the update builds first

So in this way I got the .36 build well before Christmas day 2015.

Of course you are on Beta software so sometimes things just don't work and you should feed this back to Microsoft for fixing.  Use the Windows Feedback application etc.

Yes it is thereSome things that are present, just in case you are skeptical

+ Headphone Jack
+ Bluetooth 4 Low Energy
- Wifi only has 2.4 GHz not 5Ghz networking
+ Huge 5.7" 1280x720 pixel screen is reasonable
+ Fast(ish) Charging at 1A using supplied Adapter
+ No hardware button bottom of screen (less to go wrong)
+ Plastic back includes buttons for volume and power on i.e. this improves phone integrity since it's sealed from water ingress at these points.  All buttons on right side
- No dedicated camera button
+ Obviously contains GPS and other sensors including electronics to detect steps (Microsoft Health app) without draining CPU, so no need for separate wrist step counter if you carry this phone
+ When plugged into a Windows PC the Internal memory and SD card (if installed) shows up as Disk Drives.
+ Usual features like DataSim hotspot and Torch

Oh and the Photos
As a keen photographer who subscribes to the line that the best camera that you own is the one that you have with you.  So, I don't always carry around my full frame camera and so the Smartphone carries the burden of daily photography.

The really excellent news is that the 13MP Zeiss optics coupled with the Lumia Camera  now called Microsoft Camera application really shines.  So even if the rest of the product is a dud  (wait for the forthcoming W10M appraisal) you'll have a phone and decent Camera.  All for only 160 CHF  (about 160 USD or 110 GBP) in my case.

Excellent photographs  (for a Smartphone) in all kinds of lighting conditions. Of course photos contain full EXIF information including GPS  (conveniently fast switchable off for privacy from quick settings).

Small word about the Software
Although Windows 10 Mobile is officially released, and the only software available for Microsoft smartphones like the 950 or 950XL it is still very much a work in progress

The longer I wait for the W10M review there will be a chance to comment on new applications like Garmin Connect  (to sync Garmin smartwatches and fitness trackers) and for established apps like Spotify to actually improve and actually work.

In Summary
For those who are actually spending their own money and don't have 600 USD / 600 CHF to shell out on a top of the line 950 phone from Microsoft  (that word is, will be obsolete by about May of 2016 by the way), then the 640 XL represents a really sensible choice

- Experience Windows 10 Mobile (the good and the bad)
- Excellent 13 MP camera and app with manual controls
- 2 SIM capability, SD slot, removable battery and snap on cover
- Cost as low as 160 CHF  (110 GBP)