Microsoft Lumia 950 evaluate: Not a flagship, however a primary step

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

After years of misguided makes an attempt at cellular, Microsoft is prepared for a recent begin. Whereas Home windows Telephone eight and eight.1 principally simply seemed like their desktop counterparts, Home windows 10 Cellular aspires to one thing much more substantial. This time, Microsoft tried to construct a cellular platform — and a telephone — that may critically replicate a few of these huge-display experiences. Moderately than simply peck out emails and tough drafts on the brand new Lumia 950, Home windows 10 makes it potential to attach a keyboard, mouse and show and let Common apps like Phrase and Outlook to get extra carried out.

Microsoft does not assume the Lumia 950 is a brand new telephone as a lot because it a logo of one thing new — a normal-bearer for a type of cellular computing that will not be contained by a single field in your pocket. Their imaginative and prescient is formidable, and who is aware of! They may be proper about all of this. For now although, it is clear Microsoft nonetheless has loads of work to do.

sixty eight

Lumia 950


  • Home windows 10 Cellular has potential
  • Robust digital camera efficiency
  • Continuum and Hiya are very cool


  • Home windows 10 Cellular is not there but
  • Costly for what it’s
  • Design does not really feel like a flagship’s
  • App help continues to be missing


The Lumia 950 is the primary telephone to run Home windows 10 Cellular, a revamped software program platform that goals to make Home windows Telephones do greater than ever earlier than. Each have promise — the previous with its nice digital camera and tremendous excessive-res display, the latter with stand-out options like Continuum and Home windows Hiya. Finally, we’re left with a telephone that does not really feel as costly as it’s, operating software program that also wants some polish and stronger app help. 

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Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

The Lumia 950 ($550 unlocked, $600 with AT&T) is not a lot of a looker. Its face is nondescript, save for a Microsoft emblem, 5-megapixel entrance digital camera and a straightforward-to-miss sensor meant to determine your eyes. All of that sits simply atop a pocket-pleasant 5.2-inch WQHD AMOLED show. The 950’s bottom is extra fascinating, and never simply due to the shiny, metallic Home windows emblem inset a number of millimeters north of middle. Past that lies a tri-tone flash (the higher to seize pure colours, my pricey), a single speaker and a 20-megapixel digital camera sitting between the 2.‚Äč

Fortunately, what’s inside is a bit more tantalizing. If it have been an Android telephone, the 950’s hexa-core Snapdragon 808 chipset and 3GB RAM would put it firmly within the higher-center class. There’s one other model of the 950 — the XL — that comes with a much bigger display and an much more potent processor, however there’s extra making Home windows run easily than simply pure energy. Keep in mind, Home windows Telephone has virtually all the time carried out easily even on straight-up weak hardware, so my expectations going into this have been fairly excessive. Extra on that later, although.

Beneath that detachable polycarbonate again sits a detachable three,000mAh battery that performs good with the Qi wi-fi charging commonplace. The battery is flanked by a nanoSIM slot and a tough-to-spot microSD slot slightly below that. You won’t want it too since there’s 32GB of inner storage ready for you, however hey — who could not use as much as 200GB of further space for storing? Depart it to Microsoft to incorporate what many Android system makers simply will not. And whereas we’re speaking about issues that Android-pleasant OEMs do not all agree on, the Lumia 950 additionally use a USB Sort-C port for charging and knowledge switch.

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Now that the tour’s over, how does the telephone really feel? Not as premium as I might hoped. There is no creaking or groaning if you begin twisting it — and actually, who does not do this to a brand new telephone — however Microsoft’s lackluster design and fondness for light-weight supplies imply the Lumia 950 does not really feel like a flagship telephone. Truly, Android purists may be amused to study it feels identical to the Nexus 5X, virtually right down to the ounce. There are worse telephones to really feel like, nevertheless it’s nonetheless a bit odd that Microsoft’s would-be cellular savior feels extra like a Lumia 640 than a Lumia Icon. The detachable polycarbonate again does not attain all the best way up the telephone’s sides, which is slightly regarding because it seems to go away the sides of that Gorilla Glass three plate uncovered. Luckily, the telephone is extra rugged than you’d anticipate and it is all holding collectively properly even after a couple of butter-fingered drops.

Show and sound

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

The Lumia 950’s 5.2-inch display does a effective job packing in these pixels (564 pixels per linear inch) however in different respects it is lower than stellar. First up, it is simply not as shiny because the units just like the iPhone 6s or the Moto X Pure Version, and whites tackle a distinctly greenish forged. It ought to come as no shock that blacks are deep and luxurious since we’re in AMOLED nation, and colours rendered on this display do no less than present extra depth than on others. That stated, the overall dimness of the display means these colours typically really feel a bit of muddy — you will discover this extra in photographs with numerous heat colours. On the very least, you’ve got obtained the choice to swap between Commonplace, Vivid and Cool shade profiles, in addition to tweak the colour temperature, tint and saturation from the Extras part within the settings.

There’s additionally a little bit of area between the show panel itself and the sheet of Gorilla Glass overlaying it, however viewing angles have been usually effective anyway; no bizarre colour distortion once you peek on the display askance. At greatest, Microsoft’s display selection will get the job finished. The identical might be stated of the only speaker sitting simply to the suitable of the digital camera, truly. Rear-dealing with audio system have all the time been a pet peeve of mine however the 950 is able to cranking out some loud, if typically muddy, sound. Your audiobooks and YouTube movies will sound positive; simply do not anticipate to realize any new aural perception into your favourite tracks.

Home windows 10

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Let’s be trustworthy: You are not right here for the hardware, are you? This is how Home windows 10 Cellular’s massive bits come collectively on the 950. First off, Home windows Telephone devotees may have somewhat acclimating to do. Most of Home windows Telephone’s broad strokes — the homescreen filled with Reside Tiles, the minimalist app launcher, the Motion Middle we received in WP8.1 — are nonetheless right here and act as intuitive anchors for individuals buying and selling one cellular model of Home windows for an additional. Peer past the acquainted facade, although, and a few massive modifications shortly develop into obvious.

Think about the Home windows Retailer, for example: Gone are the large-fonted classes, changed with a extra nuanced look in keeping with its desktop counterpart. Extra importantly, Microsoft says it tweaked the algorithms that dictate which apps get advisable to you and when. It is a very delicate change, solely actually obvious after you’ve got been a consumer for some time, and I have never observed an actual leap in high quality of suggestions. Frankly, previous-faculty Home windows Telephone’s retailer was a modern-wanting mess; this new model lacks a number of the unique’s fashion however makes up for it with pure performance.

The inventory Messages app has grown dramatically, too. Along with firing off normal texts, you even have the choice of linking it to your Skype account for extra of an all-in-one expertise. Properly, kind of. Out of your viewpoint, SMS and Skype messages are folded into the identical threaded dialog. Until the individual you are speaking to additionally has a Home windows 10 telephone, they will simply get these messages in two totally different locations. You may also discover a curious blue nub within the nook of the keyboard when you’re thumbing out these messages. Consider it as a software program model of little pink nub on ThinkPads: It is meant for fantastic-grained management over the cursor, however it strikes so slowly I principally gave up on it.

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Microsoft went huge with its Edge browser on Home windows 10 for the desktop, so in fact it did the identical right here. To provide you some context, Edge on the desktop was a marked enchancment over the beleaguered variations of Web Explorer it changed. Right here, the enhancements are much less dramatic. Pages load snappily over LTE, and scrolling by way of them (even actually lengthy ones) is usually clean. Past that, although, there is not an entire lot to say; it can save you articles to a Studying Record the place they will be transformed right into a good-looking file with bigger typefaces, and your favorites nonetheless get synced throughout units if you’re logged in together with your Microsoft account. And naturally, everybody’s favourite Halo-impressed digital assistant Cortana is right here too. Rivals like Google Now and Siri have benefitted from years of iteration and augmentation however this model of Cortana is lots succesful. The road between this model and her desktop counterpart is reassuringly skinny, and that is principally an excellent factor.

All your e mail will cross by means of Outlook, which suggests you’ll be able to kiss pinning particular person e-mail accounts to your Begin display goodbye. Full disclosure, by the best way: I am an enormous fan of Outlook on different platforms, however this model simply is not as function-wealthy. Establishing the e-mail related together with your Microsoft account (you do have one, proper?) requires zero work, and even including my weirdo company Gmail account with its separate safety layers took just some moments. Triaging these missives is simpler now too because of the gestures Microsoft picked up from its acquisition of Acompli final yr — a swipe to the left archives an e mail whereas swiping in the other way flags it for later perusal.

Even higher, Outlook now enables you to connect trustworthy-to-goodness information (that’s, issues that are not pictures) to emails! It is the little issues, individuals. Talking of little issues, listed here are a number of extra. The icons for pals and contacts within the Individuals app are circles now as an alternative of sq., which is surprisingly jarring. Now you can filter out all of the notifications within the Motion Middle with a single faucet. And sure notifications — like these for Fb updates or textual content messages — allow you to reply with out having to open the related app. Three phrases: It is about time.

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Then there’s Home windows Whats up (nonetheless in beta), which makes use of a tiny infrared sensor to peek at your iris and confirm your id. The setup course of principally simply includes lining up your eyes in an on-display field whereas Microsoft’s algorithms do their factor — simply keep in mind to take your glasses off the primary time you run by way of it. That is proper, first time — you’ll be able to run the setup a number of occasions to offer Home windows a greater glimpse at your eyes in several circumstances, like once they’re sitting behind a scuffed pair of Warby Parkers. The sensible advantages to Hey’s iris scanning are nonetheless very restricted; you need to use your eyes to unlock the telephone as an alternative of punching in a PIN or obtained authorize purchases within the revamped Home windows Retailer. It is by no means quicker than simply getting into a numerical code both, which is frankly foolish. A minimum of it is correct (even with glasses), particularly when you get a really feel for a way distant from the digital camera that you must be for it to work.

If you screw up sufficient occasions that Howdy will get blocked although– and it will virtually definitely occur — you will be requested to enter your PIN to reactivate it. Superb! Besides by default, Home windows 10 does not immediate you for a PIN for quarter-hour after you’ve got already entered the telephone. Meaning in case you simply depart all choices as they have been, you will both have to attend quarter-hour or return into the Settings, set the display to lock instantly, lock the telephone and unlock it once more to make Whats up work once more. I am not holding this inelegance towards Microsoft (an excessive amount of) because it’s nonetheless a beta function, however yeesh. I hate to say it, however that lack of polish is a operating theme up to now in Home windows 10 Cellular.

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

There is a slight, noticeable pause whenever you swipe out and in of the app launcher. A couple of occasions, the 950 utterly locked up whereas making an attempt to fiddle with the display’s brightness; not even the sleep/wake button did the trick. Good factor I might take away the battery. When checking my e mail in Outlook, I am going to typically be introduced straight to the accounts settings menu for no purpose I can work out. My homescreen tiles as soon as disappeared solely after Home windows took forty five seconds to launch an app. The listing goes on. These are little issues, definitely, however collectively they mar an in any other case robust step ahead for Microsoft. After my days of testing, Home windows 10 Cellular is equal elements practical and irritating. It is maybe unfair to match model new software program to Home windows Telephone eight.1 and the additional yr of improvement and polish it acquired, however there have been undoubtedly moments once I missed the snappy cohesiveness of the earlier model. We’ll quickly begin to see a few of these rougher edges get sanded down by way of replace, however till then, there’s another function which may make this all well worth the hassle.


Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Utilizing the Lumia 950 to energy full-measurement apps on exterior shows is most fascinating a part of Home windows 10 for cellular, although even Microsoft’s brass admits some individuals won’t ever, ever use it. And you recognize what? When it really works, it is fairly sensible.

If you hearth up the 950, you will spot an enormous Continuum tile in your homescreen, however you won’t even want it. It took mere seconds for the telephone to understand I had related it to Microsoft’s $ninety nine Show Dock over a USB Sort-C cable. With just some faucets, I used to be taking a look at what amounted to a Home windows 10 desktop on my monitor. It is clearly not a one-to-one translation of the standard Win10 expertise, although; as an alternative of the Begin button and search bar, there is a quartet of icons. The again and search icons are fairly self-explanatory, and certainly, you will be utilizing the Home windows one most frequently. That one launches the “Begin menu,” or in different phrases a reproduction of your telephone’s regular homescreen. Click on over into your app record and you will find a majority of them are greyed out; those that are not are what Microsoft calls “Common” apps — that’s, purposes with a single codebase that intelligently broaden and contract based mostly on the show they’re on.

For probably the most half, those Microsoft inbuilt-home work properly. The inventory Climate app makes use of all that additional area to point out off the week’s forecast, plus an hourly breakdown and extra particulars for the day. The grid of tales that appears so constrained within the Cash app’s cellular view instantly has room to breathe and it is lovely (if a bit of overwhelming). Ditto for the included Sports activities app, which I can not actually decipher anyway. Microsoft’s cellular Workplace suite is probably the most important argument for utilizing Continuum as a result of the apps typically work so damned properly. I wrote this complete part on a full-sized USB keyboard related to a telephone related to a tv. That sentence would not have made a lick of sense only a couple years in the past, and now it looks like probably the most pure factor in world.

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Are the Phrase experiences (or the PowerPoint, or the Excel) full replacements for his or her desktop equivalents? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, the power to craft a letter or an honest-wanting slide deck on an enormous show and decide issues up close to-seamlessly on a small display after disconnecting all the things is a reasonably highly effective argument for Continuum’s existence. Proper now, there are two massive issues. First is a slight sense of inconsistency. Nonetheless different apps on the 950, just like the calculator, are simply stretched out variations of the traditional, cellular view and are fairly lame. Fortunately, you need to use the telephone to run apps and take calls whereas it is related to a secondary show. Positive sufficient, you are higher off operating these non-optimized apps there as an alternative.

The larger drawback is functionality. Microsoft appears intent on demolishing the barrier between a cellular-first and desktop expertise, however it simply cannot do it with out assist from builders constructing the common apps that may make Continuum shine. I am advised the curiosity is there — too dangerous there aren’t many nice common apps at this early stage. Among the many standouts: Amazon’s Audible app (I’ve received a Robert Heinlein audiobook enjoying as I write this) and CBS’s. On the flip aspect, the Home windows Retailer additionally performs host to Common stinkers like Fb which simply blows out the cellular view once more. This is hoping Microsoft can persuade these app creators on the fence. This function deserves it.

Alas, Continuum does not deal with every thing the best way I might prefer it to. As an instance you are pecking out a prolonged one thing in Phrase and also you wander away to make a sandwich. By the point you come back, your telephone may have doubtless gone to sleep, and once you wake it as much as decide up the place you left off, Phrase has disappeared out of your monitor. The shortage of persistence won’t be a problem for some because you’re meant to have the ability to yank your telephone out at any second, however it makes periods of extended productiveness trickier to handle. Your greatest guess is to set the telephone to by no means fall asleep, which could be problematic in its personal means.

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Microsoft initially despatched Engadget what seemed to be a faulty unit. It had some critical hassle with enter units and Continuum. On a number of events, Home windows did not know what to do once I was utilizing a mouse’s scroll wheel. Typically it might cycle by means of tabs in Edge once I was needed to learn extra textual content. Different occasions it simply stopped working utterly. This was the case with a number of mice too, by the best way, together with Bluetooth and wired fashions. Fortunately wasn’t a problem with the second unit I examined.

When you attempt to launch an app that is not Continuum-pleasant, Home windows will supply to launch it on the telephone as an alternative. Within the case of media apps like Spotify, this system and all its controls nonetheless pop up on the telephone, however the audio will route via your show’s speaker (if it has some, that’s). Properly, virtually all of the controls. If an app has key features situated very low on the display, the “Faucet to regulate your show” bar that sits atop the common interface may push them down too far to see. I’ve have not come throughout any apps which were made utterly unusable by that pesky UI flourish, however some come shut; solely the highest third of Spotify’s playback controls have been seen they usually have been robust to correctly poke. Like the remainder of Home windows 10 Cellular, Continuum is way from good and suffers from a dearth of stand-out third-get together apps. However as with the remainder of Home windows 10 Cellular, there are glimmers of promise that would give Microsoft a definite edge as we step additional into the submit-PC period.

Digital camera

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Nokia’s love of images manifested in units just like the PureView 808 and the Lumia 1020, and Microsoft was very happy to attempt to hold that custom alive. The act of snapping a photograph is remarkably quick, punctuated by an ersatz shutter sound and a quick darkening of the display. Ensuing snapshots are likely to look unimaginable by default on the 950’s pixel-dense show, with vibrant poppy colours and a great deal of element to select.

The actual magic, although, occurs after the photograph’s already been taken. Pop into the digital camera roll and Home windows will point out it is making use of some ending touches to probably the most lately taken photograph. A second later that photograph will subtly change (often for the higher) as Home windows takes the sting off overexposed spots and restores a contact of actuality to colours that typically really feel overmagnified. Very useful. That is to not say that instant submit-processing is all the time a very good a factor; I snapped a number of photographs of an L figurine beneath some subtle lights and the colours have been crisper and extra dramatic earlier than the digital camera app determined to scrub them out.

The 950 even does surprisingly nicely in low-mild circumstances, although you will nonetheless by no means utterly escape the grain that plagues small smartphone digital camera sensors. That is the place the software program actually halps. Whereas snapping a photograph (even one which will get saved as an 8MP JPEG and a 16MP DNG) is tremendous quick, a faucet on the floating menu permits you to manually focus, to not point out fiddle with white stability, shutter velocity, ISO and publicity with these trademark round sliders. Kudos to Microsoft — and Nokia — for making one of many extra elegant capturing experiences you will discover.

This is the rub, although: Whereas the 950 has a terrific digital camera, it does not have the sting over the competitors as older Lumias. Trendy smartphone cameras have gotten so good that it takes a critically particular mixture of sensor and software program to push the business ahead. I nonetheless choose pictures taken with the likes of the Galaxy Notice 5, although the 950 usually punches in the identical properly-revered weight class because the iPhone 6s.

Efficiency and battery life

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

When the Lumia 950 is fast (which is more often than not), it is actually fast. What else did you anticipate from a Lumia? It even handles video games like Asphalt eight Airborne fairly nicely, although you will spot a dropped body right here and there. In truth, it is that basic smoothness that makes these occasional hiccups really feel particularly troublesome. It appears clear that the hardware is not at fault; we have seen this similar chip thrive in loads of different telephones. Promising as it’s, the software program nonetheless feels unpolished, leaving the Lumia 950 to behave like much less of a velocity machine than it might have been. I am prepared to chop Microsoft a bit slack right here; in any case, it’s extremely early days for Home windows 10 Cellular and it is unfair to match this model to Home windows Telephone eight.1, which turned extra polished over time. Nonetheless, that is a really nerdy concession to make; if weren’t already keen on Home windows Telephone, you would be approach much less inclined to forgive Microsoft for a brand new OS that has its justifiable share of bugs.

On the flip aspect, the 950 does nicely as a telephone. Individuals I spoke to remarked on how clear I sounded, and I had no hassle listening to them whereas strolling down the road. Battery life was nothing particular, although having a quick charging, detachable cell could be sufficient to make it as much as a few of you. I spent greater than every week testing two totally different Lumia 950s, and each of them caught round for a full workday of Slacking, triaging emails, leaping on telephone calls and enjoying video games. My routine often means I pulled the 950 off the charger at about 7:30AM and each models routinely ran till about 6:30 earlier than needing a fast prime-up. You possibly can simply prolong that point by firing up the Battery Saver mode, and additional features may be discovered by disabling Howdy’s eye scanning. When it is lastly time to make a journey to the wall outlet, the included USB Sort-C charger brings the 950 from bone-dry as much as about half-full in slightly over half-hour.

The competitors

Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

This goes with out saying, however don’t purchase a Home windows Telephone that is not this factor or its extra highly effective cousin, the XL ($649 unlocked). The complete-on Home windows 10 Cellular rollout will start in December and so that you should not be caught with older Home windows Telephone hardware in the event you can keep away from it. For these of you who’re getting a primary smartphone, or mulling a transfer away from Home windows as a cellular platform, Home windows 10 Cellular and Lumia operating it present an intriguing view of the way forward for computing. Nonetheless, there are many different choices it is best to think about.

The iPhone 6s, for example, is among the greatest smartphones on the market and has a library of software program that Microsoft’s platform cannot match but. Apps apart, the 6s additionally has a fantastic thirteen-megapixel digital camera that excels at snapping fast, spectacular pictures with hardly any effort. There’s additionally the Huawei-made Nexus 6P ($499 and up), which brings the cleanest construct of Android you will get. Whereas it, too, is deceptively mild, Huawei’s glossy constructed aluminum physique is a deal with and the mixture of a Snapdragon 810 and 3GB of RAM make for snappy efficiency.

For those who’re on extra of a finances, you possibly can even go together with the Nexus 5X ($379 and up), which packs the identical brains because the Lumia 950 right into a physique that principally feels the identical. The identical might principally be stated of this yr’s Moto X Pure version — it hangs onto the Snapdragon 808 however squeezes it right into a physique that feels remarkably properly put collectively. The Pure version can also be extremely customizable, and extra importantly, poised to get Android software program updates almost as quick as Google’s personal Nexus units. Past the hardware, these three units have the maturity of iOS and Android propping them up. Builders are creating apps for these platforms at a far quicker clip than Home windows Telephone or Home windows 10, and even now it is exhausting to disregard the persistent app hole.


Microsoft Lumia 950 review: Not a flagship, but a first step

Microsoft’s concepts about the way forward for smartphones are intriguing, they usually may even have legs. In any case, who amongst us hasn’t idly dreamed of toting round one gadget that works elegantly in a number of contexts? To ensure that Microsoft to ship that imaginative and prescient, it has to (amongst different issues) ship a telephone individuals will truly need, and the Lumia 950 simply does not really feel prefer it. This is not a flagship telephone. This can be a first step.

I’ve little question that Microsoft will iron out the bugs in Home windows 10 Cellular; what selection does it have? Because it stands, when Continuum works, it is sort of superb. And there is no denying the Lumia 950 has a robust digital camera, to not point out strong underlying hardware. Nonetheless, although, I might be shocked if the Lumia 950 managed to seek out an viewers past die-onerous Home windows followers who’ve been hanging on to their 920s and 1520s. If that hit a bit of near house and also you’re dying for a brand new telephone, you are still in all probability higher off getting a Lumia 950 XL. The remainder of you could have two different choices: Discover a house on a unique platform, or wait to see what a number of additional months of progress does to a platform with a lot unrealized promise.