Despite Windows Phone’s lagging market share, we’ve given some excellent marks to the platform’s budget-oriented Lumia devices in the past.
The Lumia 950 is the first phone equipped with Microsoft’s new Windows 10 Mobile OS, a pricey flagship that’s meant to show off the best of the Redmond company’s new approach to mobile.
Unfortunately though, there’s dramatic difference between what’s acceptable in a budget-conscious all-rounder and what you expect from a no-compromise, top-dollar luxury smartphone.
One of the key elements of the full version of Windows 10 is its ability to work across both traditional devices like PCs and laptops but also on tablets — and even to swap seamlessly between the two interfaces.
This unique feature is known as Continuum and it’s been pushed down to the new mobile version of Windows 10.
You’ll need a separately-purchased Microsoft Display Dock to make this work, but it will allow you to run your phone with PC-like interface complete with traditional taskbar and Start menu, with a mouse, keyboard and big screen monitor all plugged into the Dock.
Continuum also lets you use apps on your phone simultaneously, without interfering with the on-screen function of the PC interface.
On the downside, it really limits the potential for older, less-powerful Windows Phone devices to run the new Windows 10 for Mobile platform.
There is a reasonable selection of apps for Windows 10 Mobile devices — considering it is essentially a totally new platform — but the Windows app store has a mountain of catching up if it wants to be competitive against iOS and Android.
Fortunately, the startpage designers decided to integrate the customisable tiles concept form the popular #TileArt app, allowing you to be really creative so the main screen looks great — we actually prefer this tiled vision to both the Android and iOS homepage.
Also tagging along in the Windows 10 Mobile update is a trusty local version of Cortana — still our favourite virtual-assistant from the Siri, Cortana and Google Now trio — and, on this Lumia 950, a built-in iris scanner, serving as Microsoft’s alternative to fingerprint-sensor security.
Iris identity scanning is an interesting idea and it works better than we’d anticipated, but it does still feel like a beta technology, with a few practical wrinkles to be ironed out.
The Lumia 950 does a lot to please — the 1440p, highly colour-accurate, 5.2-inch AMOLED screen looks impressive, even when you directly compare it to the latest top-of-the-line devices from Apple and Samsung.
The 20MP camera also holds its own in the big leagues, with sharp Ultra HD 30fps video capture or colour-rich 5K photos, and the USB-C charger tops up the 3,000mAh battery in record time, hitting 50% in just 30 minutes.
It’s thin, lightweight and feels great in the hand thanks to a softly-textured back that riffs on the vibrantly coloured plastic cases of earlier Lumia’s by keeping the lightweight insulating plastic, but limiting the range to more conservative white or black colour variations.
The Lumia 950XL, the Lumia 950’s big brother, lay claim to Qualcomm’s top of the line smartphone processor leaving the latter with the next-best Snapdragon 808 chip. So what’s perhaps a bigger concern than being able to run demanding apps and games is actually finding any in the first place.
In comparison to the Google Play Store or the iOS App Store, Microsoft’s Windows Store is still a barren wasteland. And the meagre selection of apps is currently further divided, thanks to the recoding required to transition apps from Windows Phone 8 to Windows 10 Mobile.