Microsoft Lumia 640 vs Lumia 650 comparison: is it worth the upgrade? [Update]

A few weeks ago, Microsoft introduced the Lumia 650 via press release. It was a quiet introduction, leading many to believe that Microsoft didn't have faith in the device. After all, if they were really excited about it, wouldn't they have announced it at Mobile World Congress just a week later?

Another criticism of the device is that the chipset is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 212, which is the firm's low end chipset. The Lumia 63x series and the 640 both used Snapdragon 400.

Then there was the fact that Microsoft labeled the Lumia 650 as a business device; however, it doesn't support Continuum or Windows Hello.

These criticisms led many to ask if the Microsoft Lumia 650 is worth an upgrade from last year's Lumia 640 at all. Let's take a look at what the two devices have to offer and try to settle that question.

Specs

Lumia 640 Lumia 650
CPU 1.2 GHz quad core Snapdragon 400 1.3 GHz quad core Snapdragon 212
GPU Adreno 305 Adreno 304
Display 5", 720p, 294 ppi, IPS LCD, ClearBlack 5", 720p, 297 ppi, AMOLED, ClearBlack
Body 141.3 x 72.2 x 8.8 mm, 145 g 142 x 70.9 x 6.9 mm, 122 g
Camera 8 MP, 3264x2448, 0.9 MP front 8 MP, 3264x2448, 5 MP front
Video 1080p - 30 fps, Front 720p - 30 fps 720p - 30 fps, Front 720p - 30 fps
Aperture f/2.2 f/2.2
Sensor size 1/4" 1/4"
Storage 8 GB, expandable to 128 GB 16 GB, expandable to 200 GB
RAM 1 GB 1 GB
Battery 2500 mAh 2000 mAh

If you're not into "tech talk", I'd recommend skipping over this part, as well as the section about benchmarks.

Snapdragon 200 vs 210 vs 212 vs 400 vs 410

Snapdragon 200 and 400 were very similar chipsets. They were both 1.2 GHz quad core ARM Cortex-A7. The benefit to the Snapdragon 400 was LTE support, a better GPU (Adreno 305 vs Adreno 302), and other, more minor features such as 1080p video recording.

Now we have Qualcomm's new generation of chipsets, which include Snapdragon 210 and 212 on the low end and 410 on the lower mid tier. Snapdragon 410 is a huge upgrade from the 400 at four ARM Cortex-A53 ´╗┐cores, making it less similar to the Snapdragon 2xx series and more similar to the Snapdragon 6xx series.

Snapdragon 210 and 212 are still both four cores of ARM Cortex-A7; however, the 210 is clocked at 1.1 GHz and the 212 is clocked at 1.3 GHz. Snapdragon 212 (also known as 210v2) is the same chipset as 210 but with a better clock speed. Benefits over last generation's Snapdragon 200 include LTE support, 1080p video playback, and a better GPU (Andreno 304 vs Adreno 302). Sound familiar?

In short, both having similar architectures, Snapdragon 212 is a slightly better CPU than Snapdragon 400; meanwhile, Snapdragon 400 carries a slightly better GPU. Since it's safe to assume that the two SoCs (system on a chip) are roughly the same in terms of features and performance, it's odd to see that the Lumia 6xx series hasn't received a bump in SoC performance since the Lumia 63x series was introduced with Snapdragon 400.

NOTE: This section deals with the chipsets used in Lumias. Qualcomm does make other models of most of the chips I mentioned, but we're discussing the models that were used in Lumias. For example, there are some Snapdragon 400 SoCs that use Adreno 306; however, the model used in Lumias features the Adreno 305.

Display and body

While the Lumia 6xx series hasn't received a bump in performance in the last two generations now, Microsoft has focused on feature upgrades. One of those is a 5" HD AMOLED display that we see in the Lumia 650.

In fact, the Lumia 650 is the first time that we've seen AMOLED at all in the Lumia 600 series, which is pretty exciting. The Lumia 640 was the first to introduce an HD display for the series, although it's an IPS LCD, which does use ClearBlack technology.

AMOLED vs LCD

There are pros and cons to AMOLED and LCD. The big difference between the two is that with an AMOLED display, some pixels can be turned off, allowing for true black colors. AMOLEDs also tend to have more vibrant colors.

While AMOLED displays almost always look better than a comparable LCD and are usually reserved for higher end devices, they do have drawbacks. For example, while an LCD is entirely backlit, they do tend to have greater longevity, not being as susceptible to burn-in.

Then there's ClearBlack. ClearBlack is a technology that was originally developed by Nokia to "reduce reflections on the screen and improve visual image quality, especially outdoors". While there are also AMOLED ClearBlack displays, the technology is used on LCDs to come closer to delivering that true black that you would get from an AMOLED.

AMOLED also uses less battery when the display is mostly black, such as when Glance is being used. Glance was introduced to the Lumia 6xx series in the 640, so both devices have the feature.

The body

No one can deny that the Lumia 650 is an absolutely stunning phone. It has the metal frame that fans wanted from the flagship Lumia 950, along with a matte polycarbonate back cover.

The white model of the Lumia 650 also has a white front, an aesthetic feature not found in a single Lumia since the Nokia Lumia 710. The 650 also comes in at just 6.9 mm thin and 122 grams, making it the same width as an iPhone 6 and seven grams lighter.

The Lumia 640, on the other hand, is a basic design for budget Lumias. Since the 640 was one of the last Lumias to come in a colorful selection, it shares a design with the Lumia 635. The black model is the only one that's matte, making that model strikingly similar to the Lumia 550.

Since I've been reviewing the Lumia 550 for the last couple weeks, I found myself often confusing the two devices. The only way to tell them apart is to look at the back, where the 550 has a Microsoft logo and the 640 spells out the firm's name.

Rear camera

As far as I can tell, the rear cameras on these two devices are identical in hardware. They're both 8 MP, have 1/4" sensors with f/2.2 apertures, and a single LED flash.

There is, however, a bit of a software difference. Depending on who you talk to, it might make all of the difference in the world.

While both devices support Rich Capture (introduced to the 6xx series in the 640), there's quite a difference between how a Windows 10 Mobile device handles Rich Capture and how a Windows Phone 8.1 device upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile handles Rich Capture.

Windows Phone 8.1 devices that have been upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile allow the user to turn Rich Capture on and off. Windows 10 Mobile devices only allow the user to toggle between off and auto. Allowing the user to force the feature is what some refer to as "true Rich Capture".

Rich Capture is a feature that allows the user to adjust the exposure of an image after it's been taken. For example, when you take a picture with the flash, the foreground is very bright while the background is very dark. Without the flash, the whole image is too dim. Rich Capture allows the user to choose the image with the flash, without it, or anywhere in between.

Let's take a look at some camera samples from each device.

Lumia 640 Lumia 650

As we can see, the cameras are not the same. Since the hardware seems to be the same, it's likely that the difference is due to the devices' different firmware. After all, Lumia 640 can record 1080p video while Lumia 650 can only record 720p. We already discussed the difference in how Rich Capture is handled. It would be fair to assume that these devices have different firmware.

NOTE: Juha Alakarhu, Director of Imaging Technology Development at Microsoft, has stated on record that "true Rich Capture" will return in a future update.

Front camera

I often tell people that the biggest myth in smart phone cameras is that megapixels matter. After all, even if you have a 4K display, that's 8.3 MP. Anything more than that needs to be scaled down. If you take your photos at 4:3, that number goes down to 6.2 MP. Sure, there's more to the story, but the only real advantage to a higher resolution is the ability to crop the photo without losing quality.

Front cameras are another story because those tend to have lower resolutions. In other words, there's a big difference between the 0.9 MP front camera in the Lumia 640 and the 5 MP sensor in the 650.

Lumia 640 Lumia 650

As we can see, the Lumia 650 provides much better quality, as well as a larger field of view.

Benchmarks

There's a disclaimer that I've used ever since the first review I wrote that included benchmarks: I hate them. Benchmarks rarely provide any insight into real world performance of a device. They should be taken with a grain of salt; however, people want to see them. I suppose it's because it's the best way to write down the performance of a device in numerical terms and put it side by side with another.

First up is AnTuTu Benchmark v6. This app is currently on its fourth beta build, but the Universal Windows version of the popular benchmarking app aims to do something that the former app has never done: bring its features to a parity with iOS and Android.

Lumia 640 Lumia 650

It's not surprising to see that the overall scores are similar. What does seem to be surprising is that the graphics performance seems to be better on the Lumia 650. Lumia 640 uses Adreno 305 and Lumia 650 uses Adreno 304, a difference between a core speed of 450 MHz and 400 MHz, respectively.

That being said, that brings us to GFXBench. GFXBench for Windows Phone is still at version 3, so it no longer has a feature parity with Android and iOS.

The GFXBench results are more similar to what we were expecting to see. Interesting to see such different results from both of them. It should be noted, however, that GFXBench 3 is now a fairly old app. The first test states that it's based on DirectX 9.1.

Final thoughts

Remember the Nokia Lumia 520? Of course you do. In its time, it provided a tremendous value for its price. That's why it's still the most popular Windows phone in the world. It didn't have a front camera, a flash on the rear camera, had a 480p display, and not much else. Still, it had a decent back-camera that recorded HD video and ran well on Windows Phone 8.

Boy, have budget phones come a long way. Every time a new Lumia 6xx ships, I'm frankly amazed. The Lumia 6xx line continues to go toe to toe with Motorola's Moto G line.

When Microsoft announced the Lumia 640 last year, they brought the 6xx series to a new level, adding a front camera, jacking up the rear, an HD display, Rich Capture, and Glance.

The Lumia 650 takes it a step further with a beautiful body, a thin and light design, an AMOLED display, and a jacked up front camera.

If I'm being completely honest, the Lumia 650 doesn't feel like a successor to the Lumia 640. It feels much too premium for that. The devices feels more like a successor to the Lumia 830, the so-called "affordable flagship".

The difference is that the Lumia 650 isn't overpriced like the Lumia 830 was, costing $449 from AT&T and $499 at launch, despite the low end Snapdragon 400 chipset. Speaking of price, that brings us back to our discussion, choosing between the Lumia 640 and the Lumia 650.

If you're in the United States, you can grab the AT&T model of the Lumia 640 for $29 without a contract or any other type of subsidies. It's hard to justify that any device is worth $170 more than that; however, there are limitations to that $29 price tag.

The $29 Lumia 640 is locked to AT&T, but it's easy to get it unlocked, assuming you're a former AT&T customer or you have a buddy who is an AT&T customer. Even if you're not in the United States, the Lumia 640 sits at a much more reasonable sounding price compared to the 650.

Conclusion

Nevertheless, the Lumia 650 is a fine step forward for the Lumia 6xx line. Microsoft is continuing to step up their game in the budget market. I look forward to continuing to spend more time with the device. So far, it feels like the Lumia 650 is the "affordable flagship" that the firm promised at the Nokia Lumia 830 launch.

Update: In the article, I stated that the Lumia 640 introduced Glance to the Lumia 6xx series. This was incorrect. Glance was introduced in the Lumia 620, but not included in Lumia 630/635.

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