Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Review (with video)

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We have been waiting a long time for a flagship Windows phone and finally we have two devices from Microsoft the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. As my Lumia 1520 was aging I picked up a 950 XL as this week’s UK launch event in Manchester.

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Having used the 6 inch Lumia 1520 for a while I find the 5.7 inch 950 XL a perfect size, for a large screen phone it doesn’t feel big maybe due to the small bezel and how light the phone is. It is a lot lighter than the 1520 but the down side is that it doesn’t feel quiet as solid as the 1520 does. It has a polycarbonate removable back and the phone feels very nice in the hand, it feels like a quality phone but not as tank like as some of the older Lumia phones. There is a slight bump on the back for the camera which isn’t an issue. This is one of few high end phones that has a removable back so you could swap out the 3340 mAh battery if required. So far I have found a get just over a day between charges but its early days yet so its hard to put a finger on an exact battery life.

The NanoSIM and MicroSD cards go in the phone under the cover.
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As with all Lumia phones the screen is excellent, the AMOLED screen runs at 2560 x 1400 (518 ppi) and it’s extremely clear and very bright. Photos look great on it and text is very clear and sharp. On the right hand side there is volume up, power, volume down and a dedicated camera button. I am not sure why the change from the normal power, volume up and down button layout but it doesn’t take long to get used to the new layout. One thing that is missing is double tap to wake which I do miss from the 1520 and I am sure why that feature is missing.

One of the really nice features is Windows Hello. This uses front facing sensor to detect your face and sign you in, it takes minimal setup and then works really well. When you turn the phone on with it in your eye-line it detects your face and signs you in. I tried it with glasses on and off and in the office it works every time. When it’s in my dash mount in the car it works some of the time, the mount is not lined up straight on in the car so I can see why it doesn’t always work. You can still use the PIN entry if it doesn’t work and it doesn’t slow you down. So far I really like Windows Hello and it’s a nice feature when your showing off the phone.
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The Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 is fast, there is no lags anywhere. Switching from app to app is lighting fast and everything loads immediately, I have never had the “Resuming” message. Taking photos, loading Microsoft Health, using Microsoft Edge and anything else is instant. It does seem to get very warm under heavy load like playing a game, but it cools down again when not in use.
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There is a 20MP rear camera with a triple LED flash which should help produce natural images when using the flash. I haven’t spent a lot of time with the camera yet but so far I have found the images to be excellent, it excels at low light images. Outdoor images are really sharp and images taken with the flash have great colour reproduction. You can record 4K video and slow-motion video on it, I need to spend some more time with it to really see how good it is but so far I have been impressed with the results.

Outside:

Taken in a dark room without any flash:

The same photo taken on a Lumia 1520:

Taken with the 950 XL:

The phone has a USB-C port, with a USB C charger and USB C to USB 3 cable included in the box. It takes about 30 minutes to charge it to about 70% with the supplied charger and it also supports Qi wireless charging, my in-car and desk Qi chargers work fine.

The 950 and 950 XL run Windows 10 Mobile which I have seem develop over the last year and is now a really good OS. The built in apps are better and just feels better than Windows Phone 8.1. I especially like having gapless playback in Groove music, improved settings, better photos app and more. Of course on of the main features is universal apps, so a developer can write one app that runs on Windows 10 PCs, tablets and phones. So while Window 10 Mobile has a small market share Windows 10 overall has a massive target audience and should entice developers to target the OS. There are some great universal apps like Plex, TuneIn and the BBC Store and the Microsoft’s built in apps.

One of the main new features of the 950 and 950 XL is Continuum where you can use the phone as PC connected to monitor, mouse and keyboard via the Microsoft Display Dock or Bluetooth and Miracast. I am going to do a separate review of the Display Dock and Continuum but my initial impressions are that it is a very interested technology and it could prove to be a game changer over time. You can have Outlook or any other universal app on the main display and still use your phone as phone or run another app on it. It works very well and means you could hot desk with just your phone. More on that in a future post and video.

Overall I really like the 950 XL, yes the so called app gap is an issue but apart from a Sonos and a couple of other apps it doesn’t really bother me. The phone is fast, has a great camera and the continuum is amazing.

The phone costs around £460 depending on where you go (Amazon seems to be the cheapest at the moment), its one for the Windows fans like me. In this video I unbox the phone, compare it to my Lumia 1520 and put the 950 XL through its paces.

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