Microsoft Lumia 550 vs Lumia 650 comparison: budget showdown

Microsoft's line of Lumias seems to be shrinking by the day. The Lumia 750 and 850 have long been canceled. And we've known for about a year that there will be no successor to the legendary Lumia 1020.

Since Windows 10 Mobile was announced, Microsoft has released two flagship phones - the Lumia 950 and 950 XL - and two budget phones - the Lumia 550 and Lumia 650.

It's pretty clear that the Lumia 650 is the better device of the two. Let's get that right out of the way now. That's generally how the Lumia numbering scheme works.

The real question is how much better. The Lumia 550 costs $139 and the Lumia 650 costs $199. Is the 650 worth the extra $60? I aim to find out.

Specs

Lumia 550 Lumia 650
CPU 1.1 GHz quad core Snapdragon 210 1.3 GHz quad core Snapdragon 212
GPU Adeno 304 Adreno 304
Display 4.7", 720p, 315 ppi, IPS LCD 5", 720p, 295 ppi, AMOLED, ClearBlack
Body 136.1 x 67.8 x 9.9 mm, 141.9 g 142 x 70.9 x 6.9 mm, 122 g
Camera 5 MP, 2 MP front 8 MP, 5 MP front
Video 720p - 30 fps, Front 720p - 30 fps 720p - 30 fps, Front 720p - 30 fps
Aperture f/2.4, Front f/2.8 f/2.2, Front f/2.2
Sensor size 1/4" 1/4"
Storage 8 GB, expandable to 200 GB 16 GB, expandable to 200 GB
RAM 1 GB 1 GB
Battery 2100 mAh 2000 mAh
Price $139 $199

*Pricing is based on the price of a Lumia 550 from a Microsoft Store in the United States. Lumia 650 pricing is based on the USD pricing that Microsoft announced when they said it would only be coming to select European markets.

Snapdragon 210 vs Snapdragon 212

Snapdragon 212, also known as Snapdragon 210v2, is exactly the same as Snapdragon 210 in specs with the exception of the clock speed. Snapdragon 212 is 1.3 GHz per core and Snapdragon 210 is 1.1 GHz per core.

They are both four cores of ARM Cortex-A7, support LTE, Adreno 304 GPU, and 1080p video playback.

My suspicion is that while it doesn't show through specs, Snapdragon 212 has some other under the hood improvements. We'll talk about this more in benchmarks, but there is much more of a difference between these two chipsets than can be explained by 0.2 GHz of clock speed.

Also, we see from comparisons such as the one between the Lumia 550 and Lumia 640 that the Snapdragon 400 smokes the Snapdragon 210. When we saw the comparison between the Lumia 640 and 650, the results were completely different.

Display and body

Both the display and body are major points that differentiate the two devices.

The Lumia 550 is fairly standard. It features the same design that we've seen from the Lumia 640. The 720p IPS LCD is the same as well, albeit a bit smaller, resulting in a higher pixel density.

The Lumia 650 is frankly stunning. The design of the device is all new. It shares design elements with other Lumias only in that it has a metal frame and a polycarbonate back.

The display is equally stunning. The 650 features a 720p AMOLED screen. It has a lower pixel density than the Lumia 550 but it is much more pleasant to look at.

LCD vs AMOLED

LCD and AMOLED are very different display technologies and they both have their pros and cons.

With AMOLED, pixels can be turned off, allowing for true blacks. LCDs are entirely backlit, which is why if you took both of these devices into a room and shut off the lights with the Glance screen on, you'd be able to tell that all of the pixels on the Lumia 550 are lit, but not on the 650.

AMOLED also tends to have more vibrant colors; however, the diodes in an AMOLED decay over time, creating burn-in. In my experience, this isn't an issue, but if you hang on to devices for longer than the normal two years and you use them more frequently than normal, it's something to think about. Typically, I only see burn-in from AMOLED devices that used to be display units in retail stores since they were on all the time.

Rear camera

In many ways, the Lumia 550's camera is a downgrade from the Lumia 540 (as well as the Lumia 535). It went from 8 MP, 1/4" sensor, and f/2.2 aperture to 5 MP, 1/4" sensor, and f/2.4. The front camera went from 5 MP to 2 MP.

The only way that the camera is an upgrade is in video recording, which is 720p at 30 fps where the Lumia 540 was 480p 30 fps. Here's a recap of the Lumia 5xx series cameras.

Lumia 510 Lumia 505 Lumia 520 Lumia 530 Lumia 535 Lumia 540 Lumia 550
Camera 5 MP 8 MP 5 MP 5 MP 5 MP 8 MP 5 MP
Focus Auto Auto Auto Fixed Auto Auto Auto
Aperture f/2.4 f/2.8 f/2.4 f/2.4 f/2.4 f/2.2 f/2.4
Video 480p 480p 720p 480p 480p 480p 720p
Flash No No No No LED LED LED
Front No No No No 5 MP 5 MP 2 MP

I wanted to leave that there just to show how awkward the camera history of the 5xx series is. There are upgrades and downgrades all over the place.

The Lumia 650, on the other hand, has the same rear camera that the Lumia 640 had, although from our comparison, we saw that they produce different results. One difference is that the video quality is a downgrade, from 1080p 30 fps to 720p 30 fps.

For fun, here's the history of the Lumia 6xx cameras:

Lumia 610 Lumia 620 Lumia 630 Lumia 640 Lumia 640 XL Lumia 650
Camera 5 MP 5 MP 5 MP 8 MP 13 MP 8 MP
Aperture f/2.2 f/2.4 f/2.4 f/2.2 f/2 f/2.2
Video 480p 720p 720p 1080p 1080p 720p
Flash LED LED No LED LED LED
Front No 0.3 MP No 0.9 MP 5 MP 5 MP

Let's look at some samples.

Lumia 550 Lumia 650

For any review where I focus on the camera, I try to take all types of photos in all types of lighting. While there's a couple dozen photos here, all you really need is the first one. The sunset photo taken with the Lumia 650 is drastically better than the one taken with the Lumia 550.

Front camera

As I mentioned earlier, the camera on the Lumia 550 is a downgrade from the Lumia 540. If the Lumia 550 had the 540's rear camera, it should have been about the same as the 650. The front camera is even more of a downgrade.

The Lumia 550 packs a 2 MP front camera that records 720p video. If it had the 5 MP sensor that was in the 540, that would be comparable as well.

The 5 MP sensor in the Lumia 650 has an f/2.2 aperture, just like the rear. The 2 MP sensor in the 550 is f/2.8, which is much smaller.

Lumia 550 Lumia 650

As we can see, the results are the same as with the rear camera. The Lumia 650 wins again.

Benchmarks

My usual disclaimer: I'm not a fan of benchmarks. They rarely provide any insight into real world performance. I always provide them because I know that there are those that want to see them.

First up is the old AnTuTu Benchmark app. Most people shoot down these results as it's an old beta from 2012, and obviously the results aren't comparable to its iOS and Android sister apps, but it works for comparing Windows phones.

Lumia 550 Lumia 650

We can see here that the Snapdragon 212 in the Lumia 650 smokes the Snapdragon 210 in the Lumia 550. It's a bit surprising when the only difference between the two chipsets should be 0.2 GHz of clock speed.

Next up is AnTuTu v6. Still a beta, it aims to bring AnTuTu benchmarks on Windows phones on par with AnTuTu benchmarks on Android and iOS.

The numbers are different, but the results are the same. Lumia 650 smokes the Lumia 550.

Next up is GFXBench, an app renowned for GPU testing. Sadly, GFXBench for Windows is getting a bit long in the tooth. It's still on version 3, where Android and iOS both offer versions 3.1 and 4.

The GFXBench tests are interesting because both chipsets have the exact same GPU, which is the Adreno 304. I truly believe that there must have been something wrong with Snapdragon 210 that forced Qualcomm to make a v2.

Final thoughts

Specs. I am so sick and tired of hearing about specs.

I'll admit, when the Lumia 650 rumors started swirling that it would use Snapdragon 212, I was skeptical. After all, has there ever been a really good Snapdragon 2xx device? I was just as skeptical when the good folks at Lumia US handed me the device.

But that wasn't the case. As it turns out, the Lumia 650 is a brilliant phone. It's extremely pleasant to use and it is so much more than I expected it to be.

In my comparison with the Lumia 640, as well as in my second impressions, I tried to communicate that, but sure enough, everyone is too caught up in the specs.

I will now share with you some wisdom that I've learned over the years: specs don't matter. What good does it do for you to know what chipset a phone uses? What good is it to study benchmarks so you can try to prove a phone is better?

The fact is that user experience is what matters. What matters is that this is a snappy phone. I mean it, it's pretty fast. What matters is that it's thin and light, making it comfortable to carry. What matters is that it has a great camera.

For $199, I don't know what else I could ask for. I know that others would respond with, "well, I'd ask for a Snapdragon 617". Still, if you didn't know that Snapdragon 212 was under the hood, you would probably guess that it's a Snapdragon 617.

Conclusion

It seems to me that over the last few years, Microsoft has been focusing on the Lumia 6xx line to really "wow" people, to set the bar for what a budget mid-range can be. They did it last year with the Lumia 640 and they did it again.

At the start of this, we set out to discuss if the Lumia 650 is worth $60 more than the Lumia 550. The answer is, absolutely.

Normally, when someone asks me which phone is better between two, I ask them what's important to them. But in this case the Lumia 650 is better in every single way.

Throughout this comparison, we saw that the Lumia 650 has a better design, display, rear camera, front camera, and it's faster. They both have Glance and they both have Rich Capture.

There is only one thing that might be important to you that would make the Lumia 550 a better fit : and that is $60.

Update: an earlier version of this article stated that both chipsets support 1080p video playback and capture. Snapdragon 210/212 only supports 720p video capture.

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