• Our Microsoft Lumia 950 Review


    Hereís my review of Microsoftís Lumia 950. Iíll be honest, I normally carry an iPhone (6s Plus) and some sort of Android device (lately a LG G4 or Nexus 6P) around with me. I only play with Windows Phones when I have a unit that Iím reviewing. This will help you understand the type of shades Iím wearing when I look at a Windows Phone - you'll understand where Iím coming from.
    With that in mind, the last Windows Phones to cross my desk were the Lumia 830 and some Blu units so itís been awhile since one has graced my pockets.

    Sure, I love my Windows powered computers and laptops with all my heart but when it comes to their phones, Iím not invested at all in the Windows Phone eco-system.

    I guess I have 3 problems with Windows Phone (now called Windows 10 Mobile). First off, as a parent with young kids, Iíve never been fond on the cameras on Windows Phone. Sure, there have been some great ones like the Lumia 1020 and the camera button is always handy but the app just stinks because itís just too damn slow. The way I see it, since camera phone sensors are inherently inferior to larger ones, they have to make up for it with speed and the ability to shoot in bunches so that you can increase your chances for a keeper.

    Secondly, while Windows Phone usually has the most popular, top tier apps, once you get past that, the app selection is still very thin. Sure, theyíve sold zillions of Windows Phone but youíd never know that if you try to look for a game thatís not Candy Crush or an older version of Angry Birds. On the app front, it feels like there is no momentum at all. If you buy a new companion device, like a connected power switch or a smart thermostat or network connected camera, thereís a really good chance that there is no app for it on Windows Phone.

    Microsoft is doing their best to fix this by making it easier for Android and iOS developers to bring their apps to Windows Phone but this isnít going to fix this situation.

    Thirdly, Iím just not fond of the operating system itself. I mean it works alright but in the end the workflow doesnít feel as efficient as it is on iOS and Android. Task switching is usually slower, killing apps is less intuitive, that sort of thing. When I use Windows Phone, it feels like Iím trying to do Microsoft a solid, rather than using it because I want to.

    On to the review.

    vs LG G4:



    To me, the closest competitor to the 950 is the LG G4. It sports very similar specs but it runs Android.



    Both have Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 2560x1440 displays and removable 3000mAh batteries.

    Looking more closely the G4 has a slightly larger, curved 5.5Ē screen while the 950 counters with a few more megapixels on the rear camera.

    The problem with the 950 is that it was released around 6 months AFTER the G4 came out plus the 950 is more expensive.

    Add to that the Android vs Windows Phone thing. I wonít take sides here so I guess if you really need a Windows Phone then Iíd pick it over the G4. Otherwise the G4 is an easier choice.

    Specs:

    • 5.2Ē AMOLED
    • 2560x1440 resolution
    • 564PPI
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
    • 3GB RAM
    • 32GB of storage
    • MicroSD
    • 20 1/.24Ē megapixel rear camera
    • f/1.9 lens
    • optical image stabilization
    • autofocus
    • triple LED flash
    • 5 megapixel front camera
    • LTE bands 1,2,3,4,5,7,8,12,17,20,28
    • 145 x 73.2 x 8.2mm
    • 150g
    • dual nano SIMs
    • 3000mAh battery



    Body:



    When I inserted a SIM card, I was disappointed because it it reminded me of a Blu phone. It has a matte poly carbonate back cover with a flimsy body with a shiny plastic bezel - just like the Blu Win HD LTE I reviewed a while ago. If you took the MS logo off, Iíd swear itís Bluís newest phone.

    The green phone is the Win HD LTE.

    Donít get me wrong, Blu makes great phones when you consider that they typically cost around $100 but on a $650 phone, itís completely unacceptable.



    I mean Iím ecstatic that the 950 has a removable battery and memory card slot but you really pay for this feature in other ways.



    What annoys me further is that the last Microsoft phone I tried was the Lumia 830. The 830 comes with a slick metal body. Does this mean that Nokiaís influence is truly gone?



    All the buttons are located on the right side, from top to bottom it goes volume, power and camera. I dunno about you but theyíre all flat and chromed which makes them look kind of cheap. I mean I get that the 950 is a minimalist looking phone but they could have included some surprises with the buttons.



    The buttons themselves have a nice click but theyíre kind of vague feeling until you actually press them all the way in.



    There is a USB type-C connector at the bottom. While not common yet, USB-C is probably going to ubiquitous on phones and other devices in about a year.

    I do like how Microsoft includes both a USB type C to regular USB cable along with a separate charger that has a Type-C connector. While Type-C is going to be common, Ďregularí USB ports are probably still going to be around for a few more years. Also, chances are none of your devices have a C port.

    One feature which Iím surprised is missing from the 950 is a fingerprint reader, iPhones have had readers for 3 generations now, Samsung has had it for 2 and itís becoming common on Android.

    This is one of the few Ďnewí features which is actually really useful and Microsoft should have included it. Heck, they could have taken it further and made it so you can unlock your Windows 10 PC using your phoneís fingerprint reader. Maybe next time.

    Display:



    You get a 5.2Ē, 2560x1440 AMOLED display. I compared it with the AMOLED display on the Nexus 6P and the 950ís lags in a number of areas.

    First off, Iím not sure Iíve ever used an AMOLED display that looks slightly washed out.
    It also exhibits more color shift than similar displays.

    In terms of brightness it lags behind competitors. At max brightness itís similar to an iPhone 6s Plus at 60%. Don't forget that OLED screens typically need a lot of brightness to work outdoors when its sunny.

    Iíll be honest, AMOLED displays have gotten so good lately that Iím a little caught off guard by the 950ís which while not terrible, isnít all that great.

    Camera:



    Thereís a 20 megapixel camera on the back with optical image stabilization and impressive looking 3 LED flash.

    There is a side mounted camera shutter button. Itís a nice feature to have though a bit of a vestigial feature now that you can launch the camera on Android by double tapping the home button.

    I will say though that the camera launches much faster than it does on any other Windows Phone that Iíve tried. You press the button and the app launches instantly. It doesnít launch quite as fast as the iPhone 6s/Nexus 6P/Galaxy S6 but I didnít really notice this until I had them all side-by-side.

    I donít know about you but when it comes to camera phones Iím all about speed. While the 950 launches quickly, by default the camera is rather slow because it tries to do stuff like shoot video and at the same time when you shoot pictures as is the style these days. HTC was first to do it several years ago with their oddly named Zoe feature, then Apple copied them and now Microsoft has too. This slows down the shot-to-shot speeds enough that I recommend you turn this feature off.

    By default, it also tries to fix up your pictures after youíve snapped and before you view them. It causes an annoying pause if you try to view a couple of them.

    As for the app itself, I actually like the interface. Itís clean and fairly efficient.

    Considering how minimalist Windows Phone can be, there are an awful lot of options for picture and video resolution. I mean itís nice that there are you can choose between x, x etc resolutions, but having this many is confusing and slows thing down.

    Image quality is not bad. I tested it mostly under low-light (indoors at night time). It captures a bit more noise than the iPhone 6s Plus and the Nexus 6P but the noise reduction is quite reasonable. It doesnít really capture much more detail. Color on the other hand is a mixed bag.

    I suspect the 950 does too much post-processing because colours are extremely over-saturated. Reds, blues, greens all pop too much and look unnatural.

    There is a RAW mode which captures JPG + DNG. Itís not that much slower but itís slow enough that I didnít really use it.

    Video image quality is mixed. It can be good but often times it loses focus plus picture can be soft at times. The microphone is excellent.

    Software:

    You get Windows Mobile 10 out of the box. If you have an older Windows Phone, youíre probably wondering why yours hasnít gotten 10 yet. I think there are 2 reasons; first off, 10 is buggy on the 950 (more on that later). Secondly, even though Microsoft exercises more control over Windows Mobile, Iím guessing carriers, plus the fact that they focus more on the desktop/server side means, getting all updates out at the same time isnít as high a priority. But thatís just conjecture.

    One of the most interesting features of the 950 is the new Continuum feature. It allows you to connect the 950 to a TV using an optional display dock or via Wireless Display. Connecting your phone is nothing new, youíve been able to connect a phone to a TV for at least 10 years now.

    Whatís different about the 950 is that it displays Ďbig screení versions of some apps when youíre using Continuum.

    When you use it, the screen looks like a Windows 10 PC. Instead of viewing a larger version of what you see on your phone, it feels like youíre sitting in front of a computer.



    Note how the Start menu is identical to your phone's - that's cool!



    If you browse the web, youíd swear youíre using a Ďrealí computer. That said, anything that requires a plugin probably wonít work.

    Itís also good if youíre working on Microsoft Office. Another thing that you can do your messaging from a bigger screen.

    The idea reminds me of the Motorola ATRIX from 5 or 6 years ago. It let you attach it to the back of a laptop-ish looking dock. The 950 differs in that when you use Continuum, youíre actually accessing the information from the 950 instead of a separate hidden computer like on the Atrix.



    You can connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to the 950. If you donít have those then the 950ís screen doubles as a trackpad and keyboard.



    Continuum only works with certain apps. If you look closely at my screen certain apps are grayed out. Those one's don't support Continuum. My guess is there isn't going to be a lot of apps that support it.

    It looks like a really well thought out idea, but in practice, itís less useful than it looks.

    You see, wireless display has a bit of a lag to it. Itís perfectly fine if youíre just watching a video but if you want to interact with something, the lag makes it very frustrating - especially if youíre typing or moving a mouse. You use the mouse and then have to wait for the pointer to move. Itís very intuitive.

    I should also point out that I only have one official Wireless display enabled device - a TV with a Belkin Miracast dongle. It could be that newer Wireless display equipment has less lag.

    For what itís worth I also have a Roku which has wireless display as a beta feature. This has a lot less lag but it only works at a very low resolution which probably explains why itís faster.

    Itís probably a lot better with a wired display dock but letís be serious, if you have to physically connect your phone to something, chances are youíre never going to use it.

    The only times I really want get off my phone and move over to a Ďrealí computer are when Iím doing something that requires resources my phone doesnít have like downloading large files, complex video editing, that sort of thing.

    Then again, if your idea of Ďrealí computing is using a Chromebook or Chromebase then it could be a tantalizing view on whatís coming. Just think, you could consolidate your computer and your phone into one device. Then again, cloud computing kind of makes this idea obsolete.

    I hate to say it because itís a really cool idea that really leverages Microsoftís strengths but Continuum really looks like one of those features that looks good in advertisements that most people arenít going to use. I guess itís also a bit ahead of its time.

    Ironically, Windows Phoneís ďModernĒ UI with its solid blocks was starting to get dated so while 10 keeps the blocks, they now display your background so theyíre a lot more friendly looking.

    Unfortunately, what really stood out to me about the 950ís software canít be found on the spec sheets or marketing materials. My time with the 950 was plagued by strange bugs. For example, I wanted to snap a video of my 2 kids playing. Simple enough, but I just couldnít do it because every time I pressed record nothing would happen and the phone would become unresponsive. Mind you, this doesnít happen all the time but it happens enough that I was very annoyed.

    Other problems included a pull down that didnít always go up, unresponsive menu button among others.

    Performance:

    While you get a powerful Snapdragon 808 under the hood, itís hard to figure out just how capable it really is because there arenít a lot of ways to compare how fast a Windows Phone is with Android and iOS.

    Windows Phone uses different apps than iOS and Android. That said, I did do some side-by-side comparisons for tasks like launching the camera and loading webpages. The Nexus 6P is always half a step faster than the 950.

    In Canada, last year we didnít get any Windows Phone flagships in 2015. Correct me if Iím wrong, but the fanciest Windows Phone we got was the Lumia 830 which came with a modest Snapdragon 400 - something you can find on Android phones as cheap as around $150.

    With that said, performance is a bit of a mixed bag. While the 950 CAN be really fast Windows Phone, a lot of times itís not because it stutters randomly from time to time.

    You get 3GB of RAM which should make switching tasks between apps more quickly. It also probably helps if youíre using Continuum.

    As a Phone:

    Maximum earpiece is excellent with an easy to find sweet spot.

    The speakerphone is also fairly powerful.

    RF performance is good.

    I tried both a TELUS and Rogers Nano SIMs at the same time and it looks like they both support LTE. You can choose which one you want to use for data in the settings.

    I only tested them for a few hours but I found the dual SIM support to be kind of buggy. Switching SIMs sometimes results in data not being usable until you reboot and sometimes the RF gets dodgy.

    I ran my battery test (auto brightness at 50%, Netflix on WiFi for an hour) and got 6.7 hrs. The LG G4 only manages 5.6 hrs but then again, Iíve found that this test favours OLED over LCD so theyíre actually quite similar.

    Media Capabilities:

    Thereís a speaker on the back next to the camera. Itís relatively loud but it has no bass so it sounds thin.

    Thereís a MicroSD slot located under the battery cover. You can swap cards without having to turning the 950 off.

    I also noticed that the speaker volume will randomly lower even though I didnít touch the volume buttons nor do I see any change in volume on screen.

    Conclusion:

    In the end, I was a bit disappointed with the 950. While its spec sheet is top notch, the package itself leaves a bit to be desired.

    3 Howies out of 5.

    Pros:
    • Finally, a Windows flagship for Canada
    • Large battery
    • Removable battery
    • MicroSD slot


    Cons:
    • Thin sounding speaker
    • Feels cheap
    • Uneven performance
    • Screen is lackluster
    • Screen isnít that bright
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Our Microsoft Lumia 950 Review started by howard View original post
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Steven Hurdle's Avatar
      Steven Hurdle -
      A fair article on the whole. A correction and a few comments:

      HTC was first to do [living images] several years ago with their oddly named Zoe feature, then Apple copied them and now Microsoft has too.
      While they did do it after HTC, Microsoft rolled this out well before Apple. And while Apple only rolled this feature out to their last two flagships, Microsoft has rolled this out all the way down to the Lumia 640 (which is a relatively inexpensive phone).

      It’s probably a lot better with a wired display dock but let’s be serious, if you have to physically connect your phone to something, chances are you’re never going to use it.
      In a case like yours, where you're using it in your livingroom or bedroom on a TV set, you're probably right. However, imagine someone whose tasks at work are mostly email, Microsoft Office, and simple web browsing. You could dock it when you arrive (which conveniently also charges the phone) and use Continuum for those things. It's also possible to use Continuum with remote desktop for some pretty advanced tasks if you're connecting to a full PC (perhaps your home PC while you're at work, or your work PC while you're at home). A wired dock is ultimately as convenient, or as inconvenient, as the distance to your monitor. There are going to be some organizations that could deploy these phones in lieu of deploying both a smartphone and a desktop computer for work desks, and that's where this starts to make a lot of sense.

      Your supposition is correct, BTW, it's essentially lag free with a wired dock. There was no perceptible lag for me using my Lumia 950 XL with a wired dock.

      Finally, the really cool thing about Continuum is that you can continue to use your handset as a phone while it's docked. You can talk and text on it, and even play Candy Crush (or whatever) while you (or someone else!) runs Microsoft Office. I think the use cases are broader than suggested in the article.

      I agree that Windows 10 Mobile is still a work in progress, which is why it hasn't been released as an official upgrade to Windows Phone 8 yet. It was a lot buggier at earlier stages and is down to the level you experienced, and will keep getting less buggy over time.

      Not specifically mentioned in the article is that USB-C charges really fast. My 950 XL can charge from completely dead to fully charged in little more than an hour (if the phone is in sleep mode with Glance off, obviously it takes longer if you're using it while it's charging).
    1. tigerwolf's Avatar
      tigerwolf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steven Hurdle View Post
      A fair article on the whole. A correction and a few comments:
      Thanks so much for the additional information!

      Does this thing have Windows Update the same was x86 10 does? Can the Office programs work with local files? Does it still have the Podcast app that syncs with iTunes on x86 Windows?

      I'm sort of guessing it runs Windows Phone 8 apps, but not windowed on the desktop, but newer stuff works on the desktop, maybe...

      Oh, and can it use printers and scanners and the like like Windows 8.1 on ARM could?

      Obviously I'd love x86 with real Windows on a phone, but this still seems like it's really cool. I've got my mom running a Surface 1 because it's got a full browser, Office, works with a mouse and keyboard and monitor, and her scanner and printer, but there's still less that she scan screw up, since it won't run x86 code. I've wondered if the 950/xl could actually replace both her Windows Phone AND Surface... (And while I wouldn't use it as my main system, I can definitely see a 950xl being useful for me too!)
    1. Steven Hurdle's Avatar
      Steven Hurdle -
      Quote Originally Posted by tigerwolf View Post
      Thanks so much for the additional information!

      Does this thing have Windows Update the same was x86 10 does?
      It's pretty familiar if you're a desktop Windows user. It's got File Explorer (finally), for example. OS updates are handles via the Update section of Settings, but app updates are handled through the Store. You have the choice of app updates being installed automatically, or not. Similarly you can set OS updates to download and install automatically (at a time of day you specify, with 3am being the default), or not. I'm not sure if that answers your question?

      Can the Office programs work with local files?
      Hmmm... interesting question. I work with OneDrive files by default, as I'm an Office 365 subscriber. I'll have to check...

      [checks]

      Yes, it can. I created a new Excel spreadsheet and was given the option to create it on OneDrive, on C: (the internal memory), or D: (my microSD card). Windows Phone 8 didn't describe the storage areas as C: and D: so that's an unexpected nod towards full-blown Windows for me.

      Does it still have the Podcast app that syncs with iTunes on x86 Windows?
      Don't know, but almost all Windows Phone 8, and even most Windows Phone 7, apps I have still work in Windows 10 Mobile. So maybe?

      I'm sort of guessing it runs Windows Phone 8 apps, but not windowed on the desktop, but newer stuff works on the desktop, maybe...
      Yes, for the most part. "Universal" Windows app work on Continuum. Think of Universal apps as being similar to a website with "responsive design" in that they're designed to reconfigure their user interface depending on the device. So (generally) the same menus and options are there but they're reconfigured. To a degree the OS can do this for an app, and apps can further customize it if they want to create more specific experiences.


      Oh, and can it use printers and scanners and the like like Windows 8.1 on ARM could?
      I've gone pretty paperless in my life so I rarely interact with printers and scanners, so that's outside my pay grade.

      Obviously I'd love x86 with real Windows on a phone, but this still seems like it's really cool. I've got my mom running a Surface 1 because it's got a full browser, Office, works with a mouse and keyboard and monitor, and her scanner and printer, but there's still less that she scan screw up, since it won't run x86 code. I've wondered if the 950/xl could actually replace both her Windows Phone AND Surface... (And while I wouldn't use it as my main system, I can definitely see a 950xl being useful for me too!)
      Whereas the Surface RT can run most Windows 8 universal apps, the 950 XL has the benefit of being able to run most Windows 8 and most Windows 10 universal apps. A continuum-enabled Windows phone will be able to run more apps than a Surface RT, including more newer ones. There are still Win8 universal apps being made, but I imagine the rate of their release will decline over time. Win10 is soon to be a bigger market for app creators.
    1. Steven Hurdle's Avatar
      Steven Hurdle -
      With regard to the lag of using Continuum over a miracast adapter, I made a startling discovery. I used a wireless miracast adapter and had a drastically better experience than what was described in Howard's review. Looking into it, there's a reason why: most miracast adapters don't support "pointer events", meaning every time you move the mouse pointer it has to redraw the entire screen.

      However, there are two that do support "pointer events": the "Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter", and the "ScreenBeam Mini2 – Continuum Edition". With these two the lag is almost non-existent, as it doesn't redraw the entire screen when only the pointer is moving, which drastically reduces lag when interacting with apps with keyboard and mouse. It was shockingly good, given it was over a wireless connection. I expect if I used a miracast adapter without "pointer events", though, I'd have an experience equally disappointing to Howard's for lag-sensitive application. I haven't tried, as I have only used it with the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter which does support pointer events.

      So for best results use one of those two (or something newer that specifically advertises Continuum support, if you're reading this well into the future), but for non-lag-intensive applications probably anything will do.
    1. tigerwolf's Avatar
      tigerwolf -
      On wow, thanks! That sounds like in every way you've used it's exactly what I was hoping it was!

      It sounds like it probably can be a drop in replacement for my mom's phone and Surface, and super handy for me...

      Still crossing my fingers for an x86 Windows Phone, but this is still very cool! Could become increasingly useful, the more programs show up in the Windows Store.
    1. tigerwolf's Avatar
      tigerwolf -
      That's super useful info too, regarding the adapters. Personally I'd use a wired connection, but that's handy to know.
    1. realwarder's Avatar
      realwarder -
      Quote Originally Posted by tigerwolf View Post
      Oh, and can it use printers and scanners and the like like Windows 8.1 on ARM could?
      You can use a set of compatible printers. Not the same as full Windows, but if they are on this list or newer they should work.

      support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/3083720 [too new to post as link]

      I have to say it's pretty seamless and even scanning works on the phone with my HP All In One printer! Not too sure I've ever been able to scan and print from a phone before.
    1. tigerwolf's Avatar
      tigerwolf -
      Wow, that's awesome, thanks!

      Yeah, this is really, really cool.