Microsoft Lumia 950 review

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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.

Lumia_950_Marketing_01_DSIMYou’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.

Lumia_950_Black_BackThe 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.

Price: $999
From: Microsoft

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

  • robert whitaker

    the windows app’ store may be ” abarren waste lane” compared to the apple and android stores. that’s because the apple and android stores have multiple apps that all do the same thing but go by different names.
    how many different apps do you want/need to tell you what the weather is like in timbuctoo etc…..
    or how different apps do you want to play your music..etc…
    you only need one…
    you go into sainsbury’s and they have six different makes of frozen ice cubes….still only one product.

    apple users bash windows ‘cos they don’t want to appear to be technically ignorant fashionistas and android users bash it because it took them soooo long to work out which app to use they are scared if they change they would have to relearn everything again..

    how many people who are anti wp have a p.c.?
    what would they do without microsoft, we’d all be where we were ten years ago and a lot poorer having to pay triple for an apple product.

  • Chris

    A couple of observations about your article.

    1. You call it ‘pricey’ yet it’s about half the cost of a Samsung Galaxy 7 and about 60% of the cost of an iPhone. Seems like a bargain to me.

    2. The display dock in most countries if offered free with the 950XL.

    3. I’m not sure I understand why you say the addition of Continuum ‘really limits the potential for older, less-powerful Windows Phone devices’. Why? I have Win10 running on my old Lumia 630 and it runs very smoothly.

    4. No idea what you mean about #TileArt. WP has always had tiled start screen and has had background images since v8. As far as I know just the transparency bit is new.

    5. The screen looks great ‘even when you compare it to.. iPhone..’ Ha ha! iPhone 6 has one of the worst screens out there. Virtually every top-flight phone trounces it in pixel density and resolution. Lumia 950 has almost double the pixel density (656 vs 326) and 4x resolution (2560×1440 vs 1334 x750). The iPhone isn’t a top of the range display a not even worthy of comparison to Samsung or Lumia.

    6. Windows Phone store a ‘barren wasteland’. So what apps are you missing? ‘Rate my fart’ or ‘Candy Crush #93’? All the apps most people need to get stuff done are available and the best (office apps) are pre-installed. If you’re into staring at your phone playing mindless platform games that most of us got tired of in the 90s then maybe Android or iPhone is for you. Getting stuff done and communicating with actual people is brilliant on a Lumia.