Last October Microsoft announced their Band 2 Fitness tracker, two high end Lumia phones, the Surfacebook and Surface Pro 4 but you might have been forgiven for missing the announcement of the Lumia 550. This budget phone received around 20 seconds of time and faded into the background but as the cheapest way to get my hands on a new operating system – Windows 10 Mobile I was intrigued. At the moment there are not a lot of Windows 10 Mobile devices and one made by Microsoft was probably going to be better than the other cheap alternatives.
The handset is available on the Microsoft store for £99, unlocked but has also been available from several retailers such as Car Phone Warehouse for significantly less. The cheapest I was able to find was via 02 for and amazing £49.99.
There are two aspects to this the 550 – the physical phone and the OS.
The handset itself is a solid example of what we expected from Nokia then Microsoft’s Lumias. It feels comfortable to hold and looks classy without being too overstated. Microsoft have taken the decision to only produce it in black and white so it also could be described as somewhat boring and staid compared to its colorful predecessors. The three buttons – volume up/down and power – are on the right hand side of the phone with a 3.5mm jack on the top edge and microUSB on the base. Unlike older Lumia phones it does not have dedicated camera button.The back has a centralised single camera with a flash an embedded speaker and a silver Windows logo. The shell back of the phone comes off to reveal a removable battery, microSD card slot and nanoSim slot. This back is replaceable and there are a number of third party options that add different colors, styles and covers.
It’s connectivity is decent with 3g, HSPA+ and 4g built in covering all the UK’s major carriers, 2.4 gHz Wifi and A2DP Bluetooth. There is no NFC built in. The 550’s screen is smaller than the average at 4.7″ but with a small bezel it feels well proportioned. The screen has a PPI (Pixel Per Inch) of 315 which is less than the level required to be invisible to the average human eye (around 380) but very respectable. Internal storage is only 8Gb but the microSD card slot and Windows 10 Mobile’s ability to install apps there by default means that this is less of an issue than it might be.
In short it’s a nice budget handset. It might not be as high powered as many top of the range systems – the lack of NFC and Continuum are two major points against it – but it will satisfy most users.
So what about the software? Windows 10 Mobile is Microsoft’s most recent attempt at a mobile OS and it’s interesting because at it’s core it share’s an awful lot with the normal desktop PC Windows 10 that many of us are getting used to. To be clear this does not mean that you can run the programs that you can now on the PC but it means that there might be a chance that Windows phone’s traditional problem – lack of apps – might be overcome. Apps and programs written for the PC on the store can with a little developer tinkering run in a cut down version on the phone. This system is called Universal Apps and it’s something promising for the future but it’s yet to materialise in large numbers.
So how is Windows 10 Mobile? I’ve used the last few versions of Microsoft’s mobile OS’s and it is the first that is starting to feel ready. It resembles Windows 8 with a homescreen made up of interactive live tiles which works well on the small screen. The overall look has been tweaked to resemble Windows 10 on the desktop and at first sight it really looks like a small PC. Microsoft has traditionally had a problem with a UI that people are not used to on their mobile systems but the changes make it far more intuitive than you would expect for PC users.
Cortana is more deeply integrated and it is rapidly growing into a viable alternative to Google Now and has clearly surpassed Siri. She has clearer voice recognition than I’ve seen before and ties into your Windows 10 PC and Microsoft account with everything in there that you expect. This includes navigation (including offline maps), interactive answering of questions and web searches, opening apps, email, scheduling, weather, news and to-dos. All of these tie into Microsoft’s other offerings so if you’re a Microsoft cloud user you’ll be very happy.
Included in the box: 550 Handset, quick start guide, MicroUSB cable and wall charger. If you get your 550 via 02 note that the charger will be removed.
Paid Extras: Hidden costs, essential and highly recommended accessories
Microsoft is one of the four big pillars of the tech world. They started in the 1970s building compilers, but hit the big time in the early 80s when selected by IBM to write an operating system for the PC – MSDOS and later Windows. They have branched out into many tech areas, including wearables and following their acquisition of Nokia also produce multiple smartphones.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
Windows 10 Mobile has several versatility options built into it such as Hello to unlock by reading the Iris and Continum that lets you plug in an external monitor but the 550 does not support either.
The 550 follows the now standard smartphone slab design. The provided back is ABS plastic and not particularly grippy but it is removable and there are a number of third party options available (including a waterproofing case) which could change this if needed.
Windows 10 Mobile OS can support OTG USB connections but the 500 does not. It does support Bluetooth devices and I was able to get it running with a bluetooth keyboard or mouse although not both at once.
Environment & People
The Lumia 550 has no specific environmental certifications although Microsoft do claim that the device is 100% recyclable after use. As a company, Microsoft is working towards lessening their environmental impact and have a clear environmental policy – read more on Microsoft’s official site here.
The 550’s big selling point is the low cost for a solid product. It is available regularly on Amazon for £86 and I’ve seen special offers bring it down to around £50. If you are looking for a low cost entry into the Windows 10 smartphone market it is a clear choice. Compared to other ecosystems it also comes out very well being significantly cheaper to equivalently specced Android devices and undercutting iOS entirely.
Operating System: Windows 10 Mobile
Size: 138 x 68 x 10 mm
Item Weight: 141 grams without MicroSD or Sim
Micro SD: Yes, up to 200GB
Colour: Black or White
Shell: Plastic removable
Processor: Qualcomm MSM8909 Snapdragon 210 CPU Quad-core 1.1 GHz Cortex-A7
Camera: Front facing 5MP, Rear racing 2MP
Network: GSM, HSPA, LTE
Display: 4.7 Inches 720x 1280 at 315PPI
Connectivity: USB 2.0
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4 GHz) capable
Bluetooth: 4.1 A2DP
NFC (Near Field Communication): No
Battery: Li-Ion 2100 mAh battery
Warranty: Microsoft offer a 24 month warranty on the phone and six months on the battery, cables and chargers.
To get the most out of a Windows device you need to have a Microsoft account. Without this the phone is useable but you cannot access the store, update apps or do a number of other things.
The Microsoft Lumia 550 is a difficult device to assess. On one hand the hardware is solid and classy if uninspired and the price is certainly extremely reasonable. On the other Windows 10 Mobile as an OS is just not as ready as it’s competitors and several of the new features it does have either have not been realised or are just not supported in the hardware.
Cortana and Cortana’s integration into the OS has increased and that takes me to the biggest question for potential users of this phone. Are you a user of Microsoft’s cloud and software services and do you want Windows 10 on your phone? If you are then the 550 is a solid budget contender that will keep you very happy but if not it’s not going to be for you. Recommended for heavy Microsoft users on a budget or as a second phone for developers.
The review is based on the Black Lumia 550. This article was first published on 18th January 2016.