Lumia 950 Review


The Lumia 950 and it’s big brother have a big job to do: correct a five-year lineage of flawed execution regarding the Windows Phone platform, debut the non-beta form of Windows 10 Mobile… and ultimately save Windows Phone.

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So after all the hype, how is the Lumia 950?

Aesthetically, it’s design does so little to stand out that it’d take a seasoned Windows Phone veteran to even distinguish it from anything else. It’s looks okay… but it’s not winning any awards from the type of material snob that scoffs at any degree of polycarbonate or plastic. If there were any positives about it’s build, it is comparatively lighter than other high-end Windows Phones, and both the camera ring and mirror-like modern Microsoft logo give this some slight distinction in it’s design. Of course, if you absolutely must have this look the part of a premium device, you’ll want to shell out $50-$60 to get this in a Mozo cover so that it looks just as beastly as it is under the hood.

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On that note, lets go ahead and discuss specs. Depending on the configuration you choose, you have either a 5.2 or 5.7 inch screen – both of which feature absolutely gorgeous 2560×1440 AMOLED displays that are protected by Gorilla Glass 4. Lumia 950 sports a very responsive, quick and efficient hexa-core Snapdragon 808 processor with the XL using a higher-performance octa-core Snapdragon 810. Both have 3GB of RAM, 32GB internal storage, 20 megapixel cameras with triple-lens flashes and a 1/2.4″ sensor, a very competent 5mp front-facing camera, dual-antennas and expandable storage. Then it’s got all the goodies like NFC, native Qi wireless charging, USB Type-C with fast charging support and a 3000mAh (3340mAh on the 950XL) that; with battery saver set to turn on at 20%, gets me through a startling two days and some change with casual use.

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Right off the bat, that struck me as a really big deal because Windows Phone hardware has – honestly – always made sacrifices that leave me and many of it’s own fans thinking “If they’d have only changed this one thing…!”.

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To elaborate ever so slightly, we have a Lumia 1020 – advertised as a high-grade camera lacked the SD card slot that most every good camera has. We have a Lumia 520/635 that are popular, low cost and accessible… but hold back too much on power and lack a front-facing camera. Lumia 1520 brought power and expand-ability to a market flooded with low-end or mid-ranged Windows Phones, but excluded the entire crowd of people who had no interest in phablets. Lumia 930 offered escape from the Lumia 1520’s sheer size without sacrificing any power… but expand-ability was sacrificed (which is odd considering just how obscenely thick the Lumia 930 is). Sure the Lumia 820 and 830 were balanced phones, but what’s under their hood was so… yester-generation. Mind you, I had my own reasons for liking each and every last one of these phones… but there’s also reasons that each and every one of them got sold.

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Then we have the Lumia 950. Power? Check. High-res screen? Check. Option for someone who doesn’t want a phablet? Check. Nice amount of internal storage? Ditto… and they didn’t even use the 32GB as an excuse to cheap out on expand-ability (as SO many have). And after being burned by the 535, 635 and 640 lacking the two-stage camera launch button, I couldn’t have been happier to see that it didn’t die with the Microsoft/Nokia separation. Bravo Microsoft, bravo. Finally there’s a Windows Phone that doesn’t leave me feeling restricted in some way or another… and all I had to do to get it was trek out a state away to get it on the evening of Black Friday to get it (note to Microsoft: if you love us – please don’t release a phone on Black Friday ever again – that was bad, and you should feel bad for doing that).

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Something we absolutely can’t discuss the Lumia 950 without is Continuum. Connecting a phone to a keyboard, mouse, monitor, external hard drive to do desktop things? It’s insane! (and Bryan Roper wants us to know that it’s insane) For what it offers, Continuum has the potential to be kind of a big deal. What it advertises is a docking station that will allow your phone to essentially become a desktop computer – to a degree. And it does! – to a degree. While Microsoft Edge gets fairly sluggish trying to make the Lumia 950 a big boy ‘puter, it shows a lot of promise in execution as the supported applications seamlessly re-flow themselves to utilize the big screen. The attentive eye will have gone “Wait, supported applications?! What isn’t supported?” and with good reason! As it is, the sad truth is that not very many third party applications support Continuum. If it’s your life long dream to turn your phone into a PC for the sole purpose of mail and Microsoft Office, you’re golden… if you had this dream of seeing all your phone apps become desktop software, you may just end up crying. What you’ll see upon connecting the Lumia 950 is a vast majority of the apps are darkened to show that they’re unsupported… but there’s also a bit of potential being missed out on here that I’d like to shed light on… because few reviews (if any) seem to mention this neat thing you can do with the Continuum dock.

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It barely needs to be said that upon connecting to the Continuum dock, the Lumia 950 or 950XL will default into a mode which looks much akin to a desktop PC, but if you change the display type to “Mirror What’s On My Device” then voila ~ all of your apps and games that were unusable on the Continuum dock become usable on the big screens! After sinking one solid hour into Final Fantasy III via this method, I actually found this to be an infinitely more app-inclusive way to use the Continuum dock .

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Apps will always need to be considered because hardware is worthless without software… and I feel about the same way as I’ve always felt about the Windows Phone app situation. The app gap is undeniably there; so the platform does still and likely will continue lacking some integral apps. The same goes for also having outdated/lacklustre versions in the instance that we do have something iPhone/Android has. At the same time though, I don’t find myself actually losing anything integral. I still pay my bills and handle mobile banking through Prism, My Study Life still keeps my university life organized, #Friends for Facebook satisfies me in times where the actual Facebook app frustrates me, and – despite the ‘app gap’ – I’ve managed to fill my download history with a LOT more apps than the average user uses (about 700 app installs, ~300 of which are currently on my Lumia 950). The Windows Store is far from perfection but; in most cases, it hasn’t been hard to find a quality app that performs any given task a user has expressed that they want on their Windows Phone.

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So; speaking candidly, how is it to have been using the Lumia 950 for every moment since it was available? Honestly, I’ve found a lot to appreciate about this phone. It’s rich captures, 4K recording (and 1080p 60fps recording) are fantastic, performance throughout the operating system and my games are great, getting such long battery life as what I’ve mentioned before gives me faith in an AMOLED screen type I’ve been continuously skeptical of, and non-beta Windows 10 seems to be now free of the problems that sent me running full-speed in the opposite direction of the Windows 10 Technical Preview.

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wp_ss_20160112_0002.pngWith that said, I also do have to address reports of bugs and other random instabilities within the officially *not beta* Windows 10. That’s not going to be easy for me to do… because I’ve been completely devoid of the bugs I hear reported. App crashes? Nope. Six-second sound pop after audio? Tried it with TubeCast, Groove and a couple games and couldn’t replicate this one. Overheating? It gets warm when I play some games, but so does my iPhone and my Nexus. Extreme idle battery drain? Haven’t seen it. Random restarts? Nope. Error prompts when trying to record in 4K? I actually spent the better part of an hour trying to do whatever it took to replicate this issue and couldn’t get it to happen with all background services going, Windows Hello/NFC/GPS/BT/Auto-upload on, and save destination set to the SD card and it just would not stop successfully recording in 4K. Michael Fisher’s report of MS-DOS Mobile and LiveATC failing to install? I figured these would at least be the one problem I could replicate since he showed them failing to install with video evidence, but they both installed first shot (for that particular one, I even brought in an XL to see if I can replicate that thinking maybe it was an exclusively XL issue – installed first shot there too).

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About the only of these issues I did get was that; during the first week of owning the 950, some app updates were stuck… but then this update happened and I haven’t seen it since. Now does that mean Windows 10 is perfect and there are no bugs? Absolutely not – these issues have been reported on Windows Feedback, after all. While the low upvote numbers behind these complaints would have one conclude that these issues have a miniscule reach within the numbers that come from the 950 and 950XL being immediately (and constantly) sold out, one complaint speaks louder and spreads faster than twenty happy customers… and as someone who dealt with the extra-glitchy screen of the Lumia 535, I’ve nothing but sympathy for those having issues with their Lumia 950/950XL . Perhaps what’s said about a silent majority (or me even being lucky) is true, but I can say with absolute certainty that when it’s working, the Lumia 950 is an absolutely wonderful experience.

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I do want to see Microsoft deliver on their promises to unify messaging between mobile and desktop, bring NFC payments back via host card emulation (or do anything at all with the wallet to make it useful), and I’ve wanted to see the search button be context-aware since it made it’s debut… but even as it is, my experience with Windows 10 on the Lumia 950 definitely has made me want to keep sticking with this platform, and to even keep bringing new users onboard.

Score: 9.4/10

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4 responses to “Lumia 950 Review

  1. I’ve been looking for a Lumia 950 review that clarified whether some of the bugs affected everyone or just a few. Would’ve liked to see some sample shots/video, but this was very detailed. I have some more confidence about buying this phone now!

  2. Now six months after this review, have you any update? Have you still not experienced any problem with overheating/rapid battery drain? I have had this issue intermittently on my 920. It is so frustrating that I have delayed updating to the 950 for fear of finding the same issue.

    • It gets quite warm when I play 3D games. Otherwise it stays at a regular temp.

      Now I will note that an update was pushed out on the 14th of last month that’s been resulting in some random camera failures. Insiders say newer builds fix it though, so the one and only bother I’ve had should be gone by the big Anniversary Update.

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