Microsoft Lumia 650 review: A smartphone that might have been great

Price when reviewed

Microsoft took its precious time over Windows 10 Mobile, but now, only a month or so after it first appeared on the screens of the Lumias 950 and 950 XL, we already have the next instalment in the series: the Microsoft Lumia 650. It’s a very different phone, though, to the first pair. Where those two phones targeted consumers looking to spend high-end handset money, the Microsoft Lumia 650 is a budget device through-and-through.

Microsoft Lumia 650 review: A smartphone that might have been great

Not that you’d know it by simply looking at it, though, because Microsoft has done a stand-up job on the design. In fact, you could argue the Lumia 650 is a better-looking device than either the 950 and the 950 XL, which says as much about the cheap design of those devices as it does about the good looks of the 650.

Nonetheless, the Microsoft Lumia is an uncommonly handsome device for one so cheap. Its gunmetal grey aluminium frame and exposed chamfered edges (machined at an angle of 38.5 degrees to maximise the gleam) cut a business-class dash, and its slim lines and understated detailing break with budget phone conventions.

If you don’t get on with the bright colours and plastic feel of the third-generation Motorola Moto G, this phone is the perfect antidote. Even though the back is made from thin, matte-black plastic, there’s a bonus: it can be removed to give access to a removable battery and microSD card slot beneath.

Microsoft Lumia 650 review: Specifications and performance

A close look around the edges of the Lumia 650 reveals more than just pretty machining. Along the bottom edge, you’ll find not a next-generation USB Type-C socket like on the first two Windows 10 Mobile handsets, but a bog-standard micro-USB socket.

Why is this important? Because it means the Microsoft Lumia 650 does not support Windows 10 Mobile’s marquee feature, Continuum. You can’t plug it into the Microsoft DisplayDock and use it as a desktop PC as you can with the 950 and 950 XL.

There’s also no iris recognition or fingerprint reader, either, but these aren’t the biggest of the disappointments. The major let-down is that the Lumia 650 is powered by a lowly Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 – a quad-core SoC running at 1.3GHz – and it has a meagre 1GB of RAM. Those are the sorts of specs I’d expect to see on an ultra-budget smartphone costing under £100, not a phone expecting to compete with the likes of the Moto G and Honor 5X.

At first, you probably won’t notice. Menus scroll up and down smoothly enough, even moderately data-heavy web pages do the same, but as soon as you load up something more demanding – a game or the Maps app, for example – the Lumia 650 starts to stutter and slow down. In the benchmarks, its scores lag significantly behind the majority of rival phones at a similar price.

And it isn’t helped by Windows 10 Mobile’s many bugs, which the Lumia 650’s slowness throw into stark relief. Zoom into a photo in the Photos app and you’ll see irritating glitching as you pinch in and out, fire up navigation in the Maps app and it disappears from the multitasking menu, seemingly at random. The included voice memo app won’t run in the background – it pauses when you switch to another app – so you can’t take notes while recording audio. I could go on.

Battery life is better, outlasting the Moto G 3rd generation in our video rundown test by a handful of minutes. It lasted 11hrs 36mins to the Motorola’s 11hrs 12mins, which translates to around a day of moderate use. It still isn’t anything special, though.

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