Time spent with the Lumia 650

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I’ve spent about three weeks with the Microsoft Lumia 650 now, and I have to say, for a platform that is “dead”, (haha) all I can feel is disappointment. Not disappointment in the phone (it’s great) but disappointment in the overall shunning of this superb blossoming platform, Windows 10 mobile.

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Cricket Wireless (owned by AT&T) is selling the Lumia 650 for $119.99 with a new activation. A bargain if you ask me, as this phone has so much to offer at this very attractive price point. But it is the only carrier selling this phone, and that’s a shame. Because apart from expensive devices like the iPhone or the Samsung S7, if customers happen to be on a budget, they are shepherded into buying a mid-range Android device. Not that there’s anything wrong with Android per se; the LG K8 or the Samsung J3 are two examples of the $150 range (off-contract) phones that are very reasonable. But both run Android of course, and so consumers are almost locked into buying Android. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the OS, except that consumers now have ZERO choice of operating system when it comes to a budget handset.

 

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Personally I can use Android and I don’t mind it, but I prefer Windows Phone and Windows 10 mobile. So if I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to afford top-end phones, and I wasn’t a Cricket customer, then I would be almost obligated to use Android. And I think that’s disappointing. The tech-media have been relentless in their assailment on Windows 10 mobile, and the sad part is, most of it has been unfounded, unfair, and unresearched. But as those tech-hacks have typed away on their laptops, you know (you can almost guarantee it) that the phone sitting next to their cup of coffee is not going to be a Lumia. Therefore, I feel that tech writers are already biased against Windows phones, and as a result, their posts are not going to show Windows 10 mobile in a positive light. Which then influences consumers and carriers and that leads to zero choice in the budget section of the market. Kudos to Pocketnow, though. Those guys do a great job of reporting what Windows phones can do, and in a neutral, honest way.

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Now if other carriers such as Verizon and T-Mobile had not been so blinkered and had stocked and actively sold the Lumia 650, with the caveat that certain apps are not available (which is still not a deal-breaker for a lot of people, no matter what you might read) then there could be a whole slew of Windows-using mobile owners who would be as happy as I am with the devices and the platform.

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Right now, the Lumia 650 will do absolutely everything I need a smartphone to do. Recently, I’ve had to utilize the excellent Office Lens app to scan a mountain of documents, and it has performed that task without a hitch. I can use all of my social networks without any problems, it’s just that people will immediately jump on me when I list the ones I use and yell at me that Windows still does not have a Snapchat app, or Periscope or Facebook Live. Yet, it seems to matter to them none that I would not use them even if I had them. I’ve used them on Android and they do not interest me; nevermind the fact that for a long time I avoided Instagram because I didn’t think I could handle a third social network! Now that I’ve been using 6Tag happily for years, I am still of that mindset of keeping things to a sensible minimum. Three’s enough to keep up with! (There’s also Flickr, but that’s less of a social platform, but still…)

Apps aside, the Lumia 650 brings with it all of the goodies that come with Windows 10 mobile. The Live Tiles are, as ever, almost indispensable for quickly seeing if you have anything that needs interaction. The notifications in Action Centre are even more interactive and useful in the more recent builds, and compared with various Android devices, I prefer the Windows (previously Nokia) Camera app and all of its settings, although I will concede that’s most likely due to my familiarity with the interface as I’ve been using it ever since the Lumia 1020 was launched three years ago.

 

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I hold the Lumia 650 and think, wow, this is such a lovely device. The metal band around the edge really sets it off nicely. The weight and size are perfect for those looking for a “phone-sized phone”. The internals (I won’t go into boring specs) work absolutely fine and apart from a tiny bit of lag when running multiple apps, I never ran into anything that made me think, Uh oh, this thing is way under-specified. It’s a really satisfying experience, made even sweeter when you think about how much you paid for it.

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The camera is great. It’s no Lumia 1020 or Lumia 950, but again, for this amount of money, it really does well in its section of the market. It’s an 8MP, f2.2, autofocus affair with a 1/4” sensor. So no PureView oversampling or Carl Zeiss optics here, but a solid-enough unit that takes decent shots. Interestingly, OIS is missing from this Lumia, but again, if you’re after stunning low-light shots, then you need to stump up the extra dosh and get yourself a more-than-capable Lumia 950/XL. That said, the low-light shots I have been taking with it are more than satisfactory for sharing between friends and family or on social networks. Not really Flickr Pro territory here, but then for $120 you wouldn’t be really, would you? The one LED flash is a bit on the paltry side of things, but again, it gets the job done if you need to grab a quick photo of relatives in a restaurant to send to other relatives (who, rather unexpectedly, didn’t get the invite). Photos, as usual, can be automatically saved in your OneDrive account, so that should the worst happen and your shiny Lumia 650 gets crushed under the wheels of an errant tractor as you tried to shoot some wheat or barley close-up, your photos should all be safe in the cloud. Nice to see Rich HDR remain on this phone though; I managed to get a better shot of the street using HDR than without. Getting a decent close-up shot is very possible too, and thanks in part to the continued inclusion of manual focus, as on previous Lumias. I love being able to focus manually, not that the phone’s own autofocus capabilities are inadequate, I just like having that manual control.

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No HDR
No HDR
Rich HDR used (and almost maxed out using the slider)
Rich HDR used (and almost maxed out using the slider)

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Cropped to show close-up detail
Cropped to show close-up detail

 

With this mid-range Lumia, there’s no Qi wireless charging, but there is an SDcard slot, along with other features that have bypassed previous “budget” Lumias: a proximity sensor and accelerometer. However there’s no ambient light sensor so you have to stick with the preselected brightness levels 25%, 50, 75% or 100%. To be honest, I’m one of those people who sticks to 75% even on phones that do have ambient light sensors, because I don’t like phone screens dimming and brightening on their own; I find it quite distracting.

Inside powering the Lumia 650 is a 2000mAh battery that manages to last most of the day with moderate use. I did run into a few days when I was reaching for the charging cable around dinner time but they were days of heavy Twittering and Facebooking so that’s fair. The flagship Androids I’ve been using recently seem to also need a perk up in the evening when they’ve been used a lot during the day.

One area where I would say, OK, this device wasn’t $350, is the screen. At 720p, it produces a pixel density of 297 PPI, and perhaps my eyes have just been spoiled with the likes of the Lumia 950 with its 564 PPI, but I did notice some pixelly artefacts from time to time, especially when reading text on websites. But it’s acceptable, not terrible. I think we are at that kind of level with smartphones now when perhaps 720p on a 5-inch screen isn’t quite enough. It’s not something everyone would be picky about, and some users wouldn’t even think twice about it, but as someone who has been using phones such as the LG G5, Samsung S7 and S7 Edge, BlackBerry Priv and Lumias 950 and 950 XL, all with phenomenally sharp screens, it takes a little patience to deal with a 720p screen. Wow, I’m being so fussy! Haha

To sum up, the Lumia 650 is a gem, and one that I really wish was available elsewhere here in the States. Cricket Wireless is a superb choice for those wishing to save a few bucks while at the same time experiencing excellent service across the country. Their plans are very competitive and provide excellent value for money. Currently I am on a less expensive plan as I won’t be in the country for part of my month’s plan, and switching to a less expensive plan was a cinch online. When I get back from my vacation I’ll up it back to the $50/month plan and go back to enjoying a hefty slice of 5GB LTE data. I highly recommended them. And because Cricket runs on the AT&T network, I’m hardly ever without service, whether I’m in New York City, or a small town in Alabama. It’s a consistently excellent level of service.

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Of course we have to thank our friends over at Cricket and AT&T for sending us the Lumia 650 for review. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed giving it a run for its money, and at just $120, it was easy to see how much bang you get for your buck. A slim, lightweight, sexy phone on a superb inexpensive network. What more could one want?

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