Hands on with Microsoft's new Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL

In recent months - and in various parts of the world - Microsoft's low-end smartphone range has expanded to include an astonishing array of devices: Lumias 520, 525, 530, 532, 535, 630, 635, 636 and 638 (although not all of these devices are on sale in every single market). It's hard to imagine anyone out there believing that Microsoft hasn't done enough to cover its bases at the most affordable end of the market, but today, the company unveiled two more additions to its low-end line-up.

Microsoft's new Lumia 640 and 640 XL will be among the most affordable devices on the market when they go on sale, but despite their small price tags, they're among the largest handsets available. Indeed, the 'standard' 640 will be large enough for many buyers with its 5-inch display, but its 'XL' sibling bumps the screen size up to a gigantic 5.7-inches.

Even so, both handsets disguise their enormity well. Both are comfortably light to hold, and neither one feels at all 'bulky'. The matte cover options are far more flattering to the devices, to my eyes at least; personally, I have a genuine loathing for the glossy finish available on Microsoft's low-end handsets. The difference in quality is like night and day as far as I'm concerned, and the same goes for the company's Lumia 535 too: the matte shells feel utterly expensive and look lovely, the glossy shells feel cheap and look cheap. Bleugh.

Of course, your opinion may vary - and if it does, you'll be pleased to hear that there will be a range of color options available for both the 640 and 640 XL, including various matte and glossy choices.

The display quality on both handsets is, frankly, pretty damned nice at this price point, and the HD (1280x720px) resolution is an enormous improvement over the WVGA res offered by the smaller (and slightly older) Lumia 63x series. At 5-inches, the Lumia 640 has the same screen size and resolution as the much pricier Lumia 830 - but even without a side-by-side comparison, it's not hard to realise that the 640's display isn't quite as good.

The display on the Lumia 640 XL doesn't really suffer as you might expect from having the same resolution stretched to a larger screen size; indeed, the 5.7-inch display of the XL still looks like it belongs on a far more expensive device.

The huge size of the XL surprisingly doesn't make it quite as unwieldy as you might expect. Indeed, I asked a female Microsoft representative, with smaller hands than mine, to hold the device with one hand, while reaching over to tap a tile on the opposite edge of the display with the same hand. She had no trouble doing so at all, and I found the device similarly easy to handle.

Both handsets are surprisingly slim too - indeed, they're noticeably slimmer than my Lumia 930, for example. Ultra-thin bodywork isn't necessarily a top priority for the buyers that Microsoft is targeting with the affordable Lumia 640 and 640 XL - but it's still nice to know that neither device is unnecessarily chunky.

With such brief hands-on time, it's not really possible to make a fair or representative judgment of either handset's performance. I can tell you that neither device felt especially sluggish or lethargic in its performance while navigating through menus and pre-installed apps - but these observations are fairly meaningless in the broader context of living with the device for more than five minutes. We'll have to wait until we have time to more thoroughly test the new handsets before we can offer a fairer and more detailed assessment of their capabilities.

One observation that is worth sharing, however, is that the Lumia 640 and 640 XL both come with the very latest version of Microsoft's OS onboard: Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 (GDR2), details of which were first revealed a couple of weeks ago.

The handsets also come with the most recent Lumia Denim firmware onboard.

It's also worth noting that the Lumia 640 features a redesigned Settings menu - which is a bit of a surprise, given that we've already seen a substantially redesigned Settings center in the Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones.

Whether or not Microsoft was right to launch another pair of low-end handsets will no doubt be discussed at length in the coming days and weeks. But here they are, and soon they'll be available to buy around the world - we have no doubt that buyers with the modest budgets will welcome a broader range of choices on which to spend their cash.

And given that these new options managed to make a pretty positive impression in such a brief time - apart from those ghastly glossy shells, anyway - they may eventually prove to be money well spent.

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