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Lumia 550 Review: Windows 10 Mobile on the cheap


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Tetley

Tetley

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 Lumia 550 Review: Windows 10 Mobile on the cheap

 

You probably missed it, but alongside the announcement of the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL was another Lumia, this one being the first low-end Windows 10 Mobile device. The Lumia 550, as Microsoft calls it, was announced in literally a blink of an eye, being if you did blink you probably missed the announcement altogether. Don’t worry though, the low-end handset is now shipping for $139, and as always we’ve got you covered with a review. Welcome to our review of the Microsoft Lumia 550.

 
I’ve been using the Lumia 550 on and off for a few weeks now, with one week using it as my only driver, so I’ve had plenty of time to experience the handset and get a good idea of how good or bad the device is, as well as how the software performs on low-end hardware compared to higher-end hardware like the Lumia 640 or 950. Let’s start by talking about the device aesthetics.
 
The Device
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Unlike other low-end Lumia handsets, this device is actually rather beautiful. It’s a pretty industrial design, but if that’s your kind of design then you’ll really like the look and feel of this handset. The white model comes with a glossy, plastic back plate, which looks great pretty much all of the time. The black version comes with a matte plastic back plate, which I understand is very prone to fingerprints. The front of the device is black on both models and is one hell of a fingerprint magnet all round. Seriously, once your greasy fingers touch that display, you’ll spend forever trying to clean them pesky finger marks away.
 
Speaking of the screen, let’s talk a little more about that display. Microsoft has thrown in a very impressive screen for a device like the Lumia 550. It features a resolution of 1280×720 at 4.7 inches meaning it has a PPI of 315, making text and images look super clear and crisp on the display. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using the screen on the 550, and I would actually go so far to say this is one of the best screens ever on a low-end Lumia. It just looks great for the price you pay. Colors are bright, and viewing angles are not bad at all.
 
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Some of that 4.7 inch screen is taken up by the on-screen navigation controls however, but Microsoft allows you to swipe away those controls at any time if you want to take advantage of all 4.7 inches. This is great when watching movies or playing a game, as it allows you to utilise all the screen has to offer.
 
Since the screen is rather small, holding the device and using it with one hand is super easy. Windows 10 Mobile includes a very convenient one-handed mode too so even if you are struggling to reach the very top corners of the screen with one hand, you can simply activate one-handed mode by holding the Start button, which will bring down content on the screen for you to reach. Pretty nifty.
 
Some of that 4.7 inch screen is taken up by the on-screen navigation controls however, but Microsoft allows you to swipe away those controls at any time if you want to take advantage of all 4.7 inches. This is great when watching movies or playing a game, as it allows you to utilise all the screen has to offer.
 
Since the screen is rather small, holding the device and using it with one hand is super easy. Windows 10 Mobile includes a very convenient one-handed mode too so even if you are struggling to reach the very top corners of the screen with one hand, you can simply activate one-handed mode by holding the Start button, which will bring down content on the screen for you to reach. Pretty nifty.
 
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The Lumia 550s industrial design does mean it’s a little sharp around the edges. There’s considerably less curvy-ness going on with this Lumia compared to other low-end Lumia’s released in the past, but again, if you’re a fan of that industrial, modern look, you’re going to enjoy holding this device very much.
 
On the left of the device, you’ll find volume up, volume down and a power button. There is no dedicated camera button on this device, but that’s the case with most low end Lumia devices these days. On the top you’ll find a 3.5mm audio jack and at the bottom you’ll find a standard MicroUSB cable for charging.
 
Removing the plastic housing will reveal a removable battery which we’ll talk more about in just a minute, an expandable MicroSD card slot up to 128GB and a Nano-SIM slot. The Nano-SIM slot was somewhat of a surprise to me, as low-end Lumia’s usually pack a MicroSIM card slot. Either way, my nano-SIM worked just fine and I was even able to access 4G internet (also known as LTE) so speeds were great.
 
Since the device packs 8GB of internal memory, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of that expandable storage slot, as you’ll likely use up all 8GB pretty quickly, especially if you’re a media junky. With Windows 10 Mobile, you can assign certain media types to either the internal storage or MicroSD card, so for example I can have my music and movies stored on the SD card and my apps stored internally for that extra performance boost. Very nice and very customizable.
 
Performance and Battery
 
Considering the Lumia 550 is a low-end device, you probably won’t be surprised to hear it only sports a Snapdragon 210 with 1GB of RAM. Surprisingly, however, Windows 10 Mobile isn’t awful to use! Microsoft has optimized Windows 10 Mobile on the Lumia 550 very well, being that the operating system feels fast when browsing and doing light-weight tasks.
 
Of course, it does slow down. Using lots of apps, I did frequently run into the “loading…” problem a lot of low-end Windows Phones suffer from, but that’s only because the operating system is putting sleeping and waking apps up to reserve memory for the app you are actually using. This device is great for light-weight multitasking, but if you plan on doing any serious multitasking or loading up semi-heavy apps, you’re going to notice a performance hit.
 
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Because of these low-specifications however, the Lumia 550 lasts quite a while. With a 2100mAh removable battery, I was able to get through the entire day using the device quite heavily just fine. I take the phone off charge when I wake up around 8AM, and it’s not back on a charger until I’m getting into bed in the evening around 11PM. I was frequently able to last the whole day without the battery dropping below 10%, which is awesome.
 
Of course, if you really push the device you will run out of battery before the days end, but for those who use their devices a normal amount, you’ll get through an entire day with ease.
 
Overall, the device isn’t blazing fast, but that’s to be expected. Instead, it’s good enough for the price you pay. You’ll get by just fine doing light to medium tasks, but if you plan on playing any games or using CPU intensive apps, you’ll definitely notice a performance hit. The 1GB RAM helps with multitasking, but again if you start going crazy with the amount of apps you have open and switching between, you’ll again notice a performance hit.
 
As a phone
 
I used the Lumia 550 for two weeks as my main phone. That means I used it with my actual SIM card, replacing my Lumia 950 XL. I must say, I was overly impressed with the Lumia 550 pretty much all of the time. One of the first things you notice is the rather crisp display, text looks clear, and although blacks aren’t super pure, they’re definitely not bad.
 
Upon loading up the device for the first time, I loaded up my Microsoft Account and synced all my Cortana data. Everything Cortana knows about me was available instantly, as were my contacts, text messages and browser settings. I did notice a lack of a “Hey Cortana” option however, likely because the low-spec’d CPU. I did have to update all of the built-in apps, as the Lumia 550 ships with build 10586 of Windows 10. This build is technically final, however, the apps that are pre-installed have been updated since that build shipped, meaning the store will have around 40-ish updates ready for you to install.
 
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Admittedly, the updates did take a while, and then there was an OS update I needed to install via the Settings app. This update took around 20 minutes to install, on top of the app updates that I had just installed previously, which was around another 30 minute process. But, once the update process was done, I was finally ready to install my apps.
 
The app gap is still somewhat of a problem with Windows 10 Mobile, however Microsoft is trying to combat this with their Universal App Platform, which essentially allows app developers to build apps for one common platform, that platform being Windows 10. It’s early days, but it looks like their strategy could be working, with the likes of Facebook coming forward announcing new Windows 10 specific apps for Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram. We even recently saw the BB8 Droid App arrive on Windows 10 Mobile, something that would have never happened in the past.
 
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As I’m sure you’ve already read on the internet, Windows 10 Mobile isn’t exactly the most stable of operating systems on the market right now. Unfortunately, the Lumia 550 is also hit pretty hard with a few software bugs which Microsoft says they are fixing. None of these bugs are specific to the Lumia 550 however, all of them are just general OS bugs that Microsoft is yet to iron out.
 
A frequent issue I ran into was with the Start Screen disappearing. Sometimes I’d open an app, but the app wouldn’t launch, and instead all my Start tiles would disappear. They’d come back soon after, but that moment of “what just happened?” is a little more frequent than I had hoped it would be. None of the bugs are showstoppers by any means, but they are there.
 
Since the Lumia 550 is a phone, we probably should talk about call quality. I found there was no issues with recipients hearing me or I hearing them, calls were clear and relatively loud. I did have to crank up the volume in some areas, usually when out and about in a crowded place. Once turning the volume up though, I could hear everything just fine so no complains here.
 
Signal strength is for the most part pretty respectable, however my office is relatively sound proofed. When I’m inside my office I only get around 1-2 bars, 3 on a good day. This is a common problem with most phones I use however, even on my Lumia 950 XL. So this is not a downfall by any means, but something you should probably take note of.
 
Listening to music and video via the built-in speaker was a subpar experience. Audio was tinny and unclear when turned up to the max. I found myself plugging in some headphones when going to do any real listening on the 550. It is very loud though, so you definitely won’t be missing any text messages or phone calls.
 
Camera
 
The camera on the Lumia 550 is nothing special, but that’s okay considering the price you pay. It’s not bad, but it isn’t amazing either. It features a rear-facing 5PM autofocus lens with an LED flash, and a front-facing camera of 2MP. The front facing camera actually isn’t too shabby for selfies, teenagers will be glad to hear.
 
The rear facing camera is good enough for day-time shots, and you do have that LED flash for those relatively darker situations. You won’t be taking any professional looking photos with this camera however, and you definitely won’t be taking any in a dark environment. Video quality is 720p for the rear camera and 480p for the front camera, both at 30fps.
 
I’m no camera expert, so I’ll let you decide for yourself whether the Lumia 550 features a good enough camera for you.
 
Night shot without flash:
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Night shot with flash:
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Day time shots:
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Final Thoughts
The Lumia 550 is a great starter device if you’re just dipping your toes in with the Windows 10 Mobile platform. This device exists mainly for that purpose, to allow people an easy, cheap way to try out Windows 10 Mobile. If you ignore the buggy state of the operating system, and the not-so-frequent reminder that this is in fact a low-end device, you’ll definitely enjoy your time with the 550.
 
But remember what you are paying for, this isn’t a high-end smartphone, heck I doubt you can even call it a mid-ranger. It’s a low-end handset, meaning you should be expecting low-end features and finish. You will be surprised by the great screen and rather impressive (and sexy, in white at least) build quality, but apart from that the rest of the package is pretty much what you should be expecting from a sub $140 device.
 
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time using the Lumia 550 and recommend it to anyone who is just getting started with Windows 10 Mobile or just wants a secondary device to mess with.
 
 

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