Microsoft’s new budget Lumias are all about the services

Microsoft has unveiled a couple new handsets, the Lumia 640 and 640 XL, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The phones themselves are pretty low-priced for their decent specifications, but what’s particularly interesting about them is the degree to which they’re delivery devices for Microsoft’s services.

Both the 5-inch Lumia 640 and the 5.7-inch Lumia 640 XL, which cost from €139 ($155) and €189 respectively, come bundled with the [company]Microsoft[/company] Office apps and a year’s subscription to Office 365 that can be used across the phone itself as well as one PC or Mac and one tablet. That includes a terabyte of OneDrive storage and 60 Skype World minutes per month.

Bearing in mind that the same bundle of services usually costs €69/$69 per year, that’s a pretty sweet deal, and it may tempt quite a few budget phone buyers into using Microsoft’s subscription services.

What’s more, Microsoft also announced a “Universal Foldable Keyboard” – a fairly thin Bluetooth affair – that will work with not only Windows devices but also iOS and Android devices. Microsoft has been putting out some decent Office apps for those rival platforms of late, and the keyboard is just one more way for it to keep users of almost any device thinking of the Microsoft brand and heading for its services.

Sure, the company didn’t unveil any new flagships on Monday – these will probably appear closer to the release of Windows 10 – but it did demonstrate how its mobile hardware and software strategies are coming together nicely as the Nokia handsets acquisition shrinks in the rear view mirror.

Here are the specs for those new Lumias, by the way: The 640 and 640 XL are both based on a 1.2 quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and a gig of RAM. The XL has a 3,000mAh battery as opposed to the smaller phone’s 2,500mAh affair, and a beefier camera too at 13 megapixels versus eight megapixels. Both devices have a dual-SIM option.

The 640 will cost €139 for the 3G version and €159 4G version, and will ship in April. The 640 XL will cost €189 for the 3G version and €219 for the 4G version, and will appear first in March.

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You can try out a beta version of Windows 10 on your phone now

It’s here: Windows 10 for phones is ready for the public to preview. Microsoft announced that it was pushing the beta OS to intrepid testers through its Windows Insider program on Thursday.

To download the new technical preview, you’ll need to grab it through the Windows Insider app after signing up for the Windows Insider preview program. You’ll also need an eligible Windows Phone. Once you’re signed up, you’ll receive new builds as over-the-air updates. Here’s the full list from Microsoft:

  • Lumia 630
  • Lumia 635
  • Lumia 636
  • Lumia 638
  • Lumia 730
  • Lumia 830

You might notice that this list of devices does not include many of the high-end devices that run Windows Phone, including the 900 series and HTC’s One M8 with Windows Phone.

Update 2:30 ET: Good luck if you’re trying to install the update. Many power users and Microsoft journalists are furiously complaining on Twitter that even devices that are supported may not be able to pull down the update, as well as various other installation issues. If you’re having trouble getting the update to show up, try reinstalling the Windows Insider app. Our own Kevin Tofel has successfully installed the preview on a Lumia 830, but he reports that it’s a slow process.

However, a French language page briefly listed HTC’s Windows Phones as among the devices can grab the preview, so availability might differ by country in the future.

The Technical Preview is a close cousin to the version of Windows 10 for phones that Microsoft previewed at its big consumer-oriented summit last month. Bigger changes expected for Windows 10 on mobile devices include a revamped notification center that syncs with desktops running Windows 10, Skype integration with the its text messaging app and Microsoft’s new Spartan browser, although some of Microsoft’s promised features (like the new browser) might not be available in this build. There should also be a host of subtle interface tweaks that should improve the user experience. Here’s a Microsoft blog post about what to look for in the technical preview.

The Windows 10 technical preview for desktops has been available through Windows Insider since last fall.

Keep in mind that you probably shouldn’t install this on your main phone. It’s a very early beta version and there’s sure to be bugs. So get your spare Lumias out and charged — Microsoft appreciates your willingness to test its pre-release software:

Qualcomm confirms a Microsoft Lumia flagship phone is on the way

Qualcomm is feeling the heat regarding its latest flagship mobile chip, the Snapdragon 810. The chip reportedly has thermal issues, and Samsung is apparently dropping it for its own processors, which led to a bad week for Qualcomm’s stock price. The company put out a press release on Monday saying the chip remains in many manufacturers’ plans, and includes a confirmation that the Snapdragon 810 will be used in a Microsoft Lumia device, which would make it the flagship device that Windows Phone users have been clamoring for for nearly a year.

The press release includes a quote from Juha Kokkonen, whose LinkedIn profile says he’s the vice president in charge of high-end phones at Microsoft Devices. It reads:

We look forward to continuing this relationship to deliver best in class Lumia smartphones, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processors, and offer an unprecedented combination of processing power, rich multimedia, high-performance graphics and wireless connectivity for our customers.

The rest of the press release goes into the Snapdragon 810’s features on top of improved processing performance, including the new Adreno 430 GPU, high-definition audio support, and the ability to smoothly record 4K video.

At Microsoft’s consumer-focused Windows 10 summit in January, executives repeatedly mentioned that a “flagship” Windows Phone is on its way — after all, they’re the exact people who are dying for a fast and powerful Windows Phone as opposed to the less expensive Lumia devices for developing markets that Microsoft mainly released last year.

Since Windows Phones only run on Qualcomm processors, it’s not a huge surprise that the new flagship will be using Qualcomm’s most advanced chip. There’s still no time frame for the new flagship Lumia except that the device will come out around when Windows 10 is officially launched in late 2015. Still, if you’re holding onto a Lumia 1520 or a Lumia 930, it does look as if you’ll be able to upgrade to something faster and newer this year.

Microsoft launches two sub-$100 Lumia smartphones

Microsoft announced two new Lumia devices on Wednesday, but if you were hoping for a new high-end Windows Phone, you’ll need to keep waiting.

Both the Lumia 435 and the Lumia 532 will cost under $100 when they launch in February in Europe and Asia regions. The Lumia 435 will be the less expensive of the two: For 65 euros (US $77) it offers a 4-inch 800 x 480 screen, a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm chip, and a 2-Megapixel rear camera. It’s a 3G phone, and won’t be able to tap into speedy LTE networks.

Lumia 435

Lumia 435

The more expensive 79 euro (US $93) Lumia 532 comes in single and dual-SIM versions, and it’s slightly nicer. Like the Lumia 435, it’s a 4-inch 3G phone with a 800 x 480 display, but is powered by a higher-end quad-core 1.2GHz chip. Its camera takes 5MP photos, which isn’t great but it’s a huge step up from the 2MP shooter on the 435.

Those are close to the same specs on the existing Lumia 535, the first Lumia Windows Phone without Nokia branding, which has the same processor, RAM and camera and a better screen but costs $135.

Lumia 532

Lumia 532

As Microsoft’s been doing lately, it’s packing in some of its services for free with the purchase of one of these devices. Users who activate their camera backup will get 30GB of OneDrive storage. [company]Microsoft[/company] Office is also pre-installed on the handsets. The Lumia 532 will also be powerful enough to run Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant.

Although Windows Phone devotees in the United States and Europe would appreciate a new high-end Lumia, Microsoft seems to understand that the best hope for Windows Phone growth is from customers in emerging markets looking for their first, inexpensive smartphone. So if the Lumia 435 and Lumia 532 are successes, expect more cheap Lumia devices.

Report: Over half of the mobile devices activated Christmas week run iOS

The first thing many people do after receiving a new tablet or smartphone for Christmas is to immediately go to the app stores to download software and games. Based on those downloads, it looks like Apple had a big Christmas, according to app analytics firm Flurry, which looks at those downloads to determine which brands of smartphones and tablets were the most popular gifts.

According to Flurry’s data, 51.3 percent of mobile devices activated in the week leading up to and including Christmas were from Apple, compared to 17.7 percent from Samsung and 5.8 percent from Microsoft.

flurry christmas screenshot

Flurry provides analytics for more than 600,000 apps, so although its data isn’t quite as accurate as device activations reported by Google and Apple, it’s likely to be pretty close. Still — there’s the possibility the apps Flurry tracks are more likely to be downloaded by iOS users than Android users, for instance. It’s also important to keep in mind that although Flurry’s stats are global, December 25th is not an important gift-giving day in most parts of the world, so the data will be skewed towards Western markets.

The data suggested that large phones were significantly more popular this Christmas than in years past, most likely due to both the popularity of the iPhone 6 Plus and rising screen sizes. Last year, Flurry estimated that 4 percent of new devices had screens between 5.0 and 6.9 inches. This year, 13 percent of new devices activated on Christmas can be categorized as a “phablet,” with their growth largely coming at the expense of tablets.

The Flurry report also marks a good showing for Microsoft and its line of Lumia phones running Windows Phone, coming in third behind Apple and Samsung with 5.8 percent of total devices activated in the week leading up to Christmas. That’s significantly higher than the 2.7 percent worldwide shipment market share for Windows Phone estimated by International Data Corporation earlier this month.

Flurry estimated that app downloads are 2.5 times higher on Christmas than on an average day in December.

Microsoft Lumia is the newest smartphone phone brand

Microsoft just reported it sold 9.3 million Nokia Lumia sales over the last three months. New phones, however, will be branded as Microsoft Lumia devices. The company will still use the Nokia name it licensed for 10 years on entry-level devices.

A flipless Flipboard finally arrives on Windows Phones (as a placeholder)

Has it really been more than a year since Microsoft and Nokia said Flipboard would arrive on Windows Phone? Yes, it has: During the July 2013 Lumia 1020 launch event, it was said the Flipboard will “soon be available.” I guess “soon” is now because Flipboard is out of beta and in the Windows Phone store. Don’t expect to flip through stories though: You’ll be swiping the day away because the flip interface isn’t there, reports The Verge. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose? And what’s next: Flappy Birds that don’t flap? Anyway, if you’re been waiting for the app, it’s there for the taking…. and the swiping.

Update at 4:26pm: Flipboard tweeted that the app is just a placeholder and that a “more polished version” is coming soon.