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Friday
Apr082016

First Look: Microsoft Lumia 650

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

The Lumia 650 is the latest Windows Phone smartphone you've never heard of. Aimed at the mid-range and specifically to enterprise users, it is the thinnest Windows Phone device ever shipped and also one of the few new ways you can check out where Windows 10 on mobile is at today.

Fitting in between the high-end Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL and the dinky Lumia 550, the Lumia 650 is a thin, extremely light smartphone that's built around a bright 5-inch OLED display featuring a 1280 x 720 resolution (297 pixels per inch) which is very good for reading text, looking at images and even watching videos.

The Lumia 650 has a chamfered metal frame. This gives it some grip and a more premium look and feel than all the other modern Lumias in the market. A wafer thin plastic backplate can be peeled off behind to expose a 2,000 mAh removable battery, dual SIM cards and a microSD card slot which will take up to 200GB cards for expansion.

Even with the battery installed, the Lumia 650 feels like a demo or dummy phone. It's 122 g after all and light enough that you hardly feel it in your shirt or jeans pocket. Microsoft has done a good job in creating a mid-range smartphone that doesn't look or feel cheap and the combination of just-the right size and weight make it ideal for one handed use in most conditions.

Mid-range specs continue on with the processor which is a quad core  Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 processor clocked at 1.3GHz and 1GB of RAM. An 8 megapixel rear camera offers some of the functionality of older Nokia PureView cameras but with none of the impressive photography capabilities that we've seen in the past which may not be a big deal for the intended enterprise user but will likely dissapoint most consumers.

Disappointment is actually a recurring theme with the Lumia 650's software. Windows 10 on mobile has some layers of spit and polish over the older Windows 8.1 and Denim versions which older Lumia devices run but there are also a lot of rough edges and older Windows Phone apps may not even work or be compatible with this version. It definitely feels like you're caught in the middle of a transition that's failed to complete.

The tile-based interface is still attractive and intuitive and I believe it is a platform that should continue to exist and be developed to help differentiate the mobile market.

One of the biggest features that Windows 10 offers mobile users is Continuum, which is sadly missing in the Lumia 650  because of the type of processor used and likely the lack of USB Type-C connectivity.

Continuum, which can 'mirror' universal apps running on a phone to work on a full sized monitor, keyboard and mouse is one of the key, is one of the more interesting features of the costlier Windows Phones and would have been a great addition to the Lumia 650's feature set.

Windows 10 on Windows Phone is a mixed bag. The built on apps like Outlook, Office 365 work well, Cortana doesn't seem to work in Canada for some reason, which is tragic given it has such potential on the desktop and could really make an impact for mobile users.

For third party apps, the Facebook suite of apps is well represented, with newer versions coming soon. Instagram is no longer available on Beta so you have to use apps like 6Tag and pay for the privelege of posting photos and video. The Amazon Kindle app is still the holdout from Windows Mobile 7!

Netflix works quite nicely on the Lumia 650 and WhatsApp and Viber work as expected even if some features are lacking. After that, it all goes downhill pretty quickly.

I wanted to catch up on the Arrow TV show and when I fired up the Edge browser I was told by CTV's website that I couldn't watch video on a mobile browser and that I had to download an app (Android or iOS Only).

Still, I managed to do quite well with the Lumia 650 as my only smartphone for a number of days. The apps I missed the most were my Canary home security app as well as various Google apps which aren't available on Windows (seriously Google, not even Hangouts!?). It became apparent to me how behind Windows 10 on Mobile is right now. No car infotainment component, no Internet of Things component and no mobile payments. At least there's a health and smartwatch angle with Microsoft Band 2, and I will write more about that once I've put in some time reviewing the Microsoft Band 2.

In many ways, the Lumia 650 feels like a small step forward specially in term of design, great battery life and reliability for mail, calendar and some messaging.

The lack of apps, plus Microsoft's reluctance to commit to Lumia or Windows Mobile (nary a mention during the Build 2016 developer conference...) extinguishes any hope or confidence that this is a platform or hardware to invest any time or money in.

This is really unfortunate because the Lumia 650 is a decent bit of kit priced right at CAD $200 for an unlocked Dual-SIM model with 16GB of storage. It doesn't feel too sluggish (except when loading apps for the first time) and it works great as a phone.

The smart dual-SIM functionality means you can carry two SIM cards and easily switch between both for voice calls or data as required. It is an alternative to carrying two phones (i.e. a work phone and a personal phone).

Microsoft's Lumia 650 is available exclusively from Microsoft online and in their retail stores.

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