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Microsoft Lumia 950 & 950 XL review: A second chance for Windows Phone

By James Lu - 27 Jun 2016

Overview, Design & Features


Overview

There hasn't been a flagship Windows Mobile device in Singapore since the Lumia 930 way back in 2014. Back then, Lumia was still under Nokia, and the phone ran on Windows Phone 8. Flash forward nearly two years and today we have the Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL, two new flagship-level phones running on Microsoft's new Windows 10 Mobile platform with high resolution AMOLED displays, powerful front and rear cameras and an array of interesting features like retina scanning and Continuum, Microsoft's unique feature that turns your smartphone into a desktop PC (sort of).

These phones are probably Microsoft's last chance to lure people away from iOS and Android, so it's important that they showcase everything Windows 10 Mobile is capable of. While they aren't likely to be massive sellers, if Microsoft can at least get app developers to pay attention to what it's doing, it could be enough to get the idea started that Windows Phone has lasting potential.

Available since last month, both phones can be bought now on Microsoft's online store with the 950 going for S$898 and the 950 XL for S$998.

Do these phones offer enough to make you finally care about Windows on a phone? Let's find out in this review.

Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL compared
  Microsoft Lumia 950 Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
  Microsoft Lumia 950 Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
Operating system
  • Windows 10 Mobile
  • Windows 10 Mobile
Processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 (Dual-core 1.82 GHz Cortex-A57 & quad-core 1.44 GHz Cortex-A53)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 (Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57)
Built-in Memory
  • 3GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
Display
  • 5.2-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 x pixels (564 ppi) / AMOLED
  • 5.7-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 x pixels (515 ppi) / AMOLED
Camera
  • Rear: 20 MP, f/1.9, 26mm, Carl Zeiss optics, OIS, autofocus, triple-LED RGB flash
  • Front: 5 MP, f/2.4
  • Rear: 20 MP, f/1.9, 26mm, Carl Zeiss optics, OIS, autofocus, triple-LED RGB flash
  • Front: 5 MP, f/2.4
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, hotspot, Bluetooth v4.1, A2DP, NFC, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, USB v3.1 Type-C reversible connector
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, hotspot, Bluetooth v4.1, A2DP, NFC, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, USB v3.1 Type-C reversible connector
Storage Type
  • 32GB internal storage
  • MicroSD up to 256 GB
  • 32GB internal storage
  • MicroSD up to 256 GB
Battery
  • 3,000mAh (non-removable)
  • 3,340mAh (non-removable)
Dimensions
  • 145 x 73.2 x 8.2 mm
  • 151.9 x 78.4 x 8.1 mm
Weight
  • 150g
  • 165g

 

Design

When Nokia was making Lumia phones they had a strangely appealing quality. Despite being made mostly of polycarbonate plastic, the brightly colored devices didn't look or feel cheap at all. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Microsoft's Lumia devices. The removable one-piece plastic shell is a lot thinner and feels flimsy, and the matte finish smudges a lot easier than the older Lumia phones.

The bright colors are gone too. Your only options now are black or white, and other than a metal ring surrounding the rear camera  - larger on the 950, smaller on the 950 XL, which is weird because both phones have the same camera module - the blocky, rectangular phones have no real design characteristics to set them apart from the low- and mid-range phones Microsoft has been releasing for the past couple of years. These phones look a lot more like reference designs than a flagship you'd want to show off.

The phones aren't the thinnest or lightest of their size either, with the 5.2-inch 950 coming in at 145 x 73.2 x 8.25mm and weighing 150g, while the 5.7-inch 950 XL measures 151.9 x 78.4 x 8.1 mm and weighs 165g. They're not bricks, but they're certainly not sleek.

Whether you opt for black or white, the front of the phones are glossy black plastic with Gorilla Glass 3 covering the display. The bezels are quite thick on both phones, which again makes them look more like low- or mid-range devices.

Take off their plastic shell covers and you'll find a removable 3,000mAh battery on the 950 and a 3,340mAH battery on the 950 XL. There's also a nano-SIM slot and a microSD card slot back here. The microSD card can be accessed without removing the battery, but the same can't be said for the nano-SIM slot - you'll have to take the battery out to get to it.

The power button, volume rocker and camera shutter button can all be found on the right-side. Most phones with all the buttons on the same side have the power button above the volume rocker - after all, it's the button you hit the most, so putting it right under your thumb is logical. For some reason, Microsoft has opted to do it the other way round on the 950, and has put the volume rocker on top, with the power button beneath it.

Worse yet, the 950 XL has an even more bizarre layout where the power button is in the middle, flanked by two tiny volume buttons on the top and bottom, making it really easy to hit the wrong button.

There's no option to double tap the screen to wake the phone either, so you'll have to hit the awkwardly positioned power button every time you want to wake the phone up.

On the bottom of each phone, there's a USB 3.1 Type-C port.

 

Display & Audio

While the design of both phones leaves a lot to be desired, the displays are second to none. Microsoft is using Samsung's AMOLED QHD displays, with a 5.2-inch 2,560 x 1,440 (564ppi) pixels resolution display in the 950 and a 5.7-inch 2,560 x 1,440 (515ppi) pixels resolution display in the 950 XL. Both displays are top notch, with excellent brightness, wide viewing angles, deep contrast and accurate colors. 

If you prefer more vivid colors, similar to what Samsung displays normally show, you can adjust the color saturation and temperature in the Color Profile section of the Extras setting menu.  My only complaint is that the screens are really glossy and reflective, which can make it hard to see your screen under bright lights.

Audio on both devices comes from a single rear speaker positioned next to the camera module. Rear-firing speakers tend to be pretty bad as the sound is directed away from you and the 950 and 950 XL didn't do much to change that trend. Volume is adequate when you're facing the speaker (i.e. not looking at the screen) but is fairly muffled if you're watching video with the speaker facing away. It's also pretty thin without any bass to speak of.

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