Microsoft Lumia 650: This is not the ‘Surface Phone’ you are looking for

Microsoft announced a new smartphone today that doesn't quite have the luster we've been expecting.

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Microsoft announced a new Lumia 650 phone today, a mid-range model running Windows 10. It’s more affordable than the Lumia 950 and 950 XL I reviewed recently, running only $199, but it’s missing a few key features. Most importantly, it is not the Surface phone we really want.

First, the big news on this new model is that it does not offer biometrics like Microsoft Hello to make it more secure when you login to a computer. And, it doesn’t offer Continuum, which means this is not a pocket computer you can connect to an HDTV, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and use it as a laptop replacement when you visit the Dallas office.

In other words, the biggest news is what is missing from the phone.

Yet, it’s definitely a looker. Ever since Microsoft started making smartphones and trimming down Nokia to a state where that iconic brand barely exists, their smartphones have taken on a svelte look that reminds me of recent HTC models. The 650 uses a metal design (it is made with an anodized aluminum frame) that’s eye-catching and might even make it last longer than a cheap budget phone. It has a 5-inch screen and is .27-inches thin, so it’s nice and portable.

There’s a 5MP front facing camera and an 8MP rear camera. The 650 comes in a matte black or a matte white. It doesn’t exactly scream “innovation” but it might fit nicely into your Windows 10 deployment strategy, especially since the phone packs the Office productivity suite and OneDrive for storage. The best feature of the 950 XL was Continuum, so it’s an obvious detriment here.

I’m one of the folks who do think Microsoft will make a Surface Phone, and this is not what I had in mind. It’s not just a question of features and specs; it’s one of branding. A Surface Phone would be billed as an adjunct to your tablet, a device that adds more capability. For example, Microsoft could make something similar to the Continuity feature in Mac OS X. With maybe one flick, you would not just make the phone a hotspot, but you’d make it available to the Surface Pro. Not to steal how OS X works, but there’s no reason Microsoft couldn’t make the phone some sort of second-screen for the tablet, showing real-time info on OneDrive files you’ve created.

More importantly, it would match the look. You’d walk into a Microsoft store and could walk out with a phone and tablet that look like they belong together, with similar peripherals, cases, chargers, apps, and packaging. Why is that a plus? For Microsoft-centric companies, it means you could hand a new employee a tablet/laptop hybrid and a phone that go together. Right now, the Lumia branding doesn’t quite match the Surface branding; they seem like distant cousins.

And, there’s one more thing. A Surface Phone would use a simple and easy-to-remember name but have high-end features. We’re talking the fastest processor of any smartphone, the best screen, the best accessories -- something that matches the luster of the Surface tablets that have proven to be successful for Microsoft, even if the iPad is still selling way more units. Something the NFL uses. Something that gives them some headway in the enterprise and finally leads to some useful touch apps.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’m curious about your view, so post in comments.

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