Microsoft Lumia 950 XL in-depth review - Only for the fans

The first Microsoft device to be sold with Windows 10 onboard with its fancy Continuum feature, the Lumia 950 XL comes with a fantastic camera and a very beautiful display, but has the Windows phone flagship got what it takes to challenge the best of Samsung, Apple and LG? Read on to find out more...

 Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Review - Only for the fans
3

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/29/2016 10:41:35 AM

6

out of 10

Performance

5

out of 5

Look and feel

8

out of 5

Ease of use

7

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Good battery | Windows 10 | good camera

Cons:

Cheap plastic body | Juddery and stuttery performance | penchant for freezing mid-task | no fingerprint sensor

- By Sunetra Chakravarti

 The 950 and 950 XL were launched as the go-to devices for those who wanted workhorse phones with the software that divides phone users in equal measure- Windows 10. Because work-wise the Microsoft phones aren't the only ones which take advantage of Continuum and the docking station to help the user go seamlessly from home to commute to work.

There is the Acer Jade Primo, HP's Elite X3 and Microsoft's own Lumia 950 giving it competition but the 950 XL does well to stave it off.

Acer Jade Primo: Hands-on review 

Does the Lumia 950 XL look and feel premium?

The premium in the 950 XL does not come from the removable plastic back cover. It also doesnt come from the wobbly physical buttons on the side for power, volume and camera shutter. Dont' get me wrong, it does have some very premium features, but it is not reflected in the looks department.

 

The 950 XL is only available in black and white as well and doesn't hide its plastic-y credentials under fancy texturing or metallic paint either, but then this is IS aimed at white collar workers and am sure they are okay with a monochomatic phone.

It is quite wide though at 78.4mm, the same as the Galaxy S7 Edge but the latter appears slimmer owing to the sloping edges and is as tall as the Samsung stunner.

The camera lens on the back is encased in a black glass roundel that also houses the triple LED flash. The area next to it is perforated for sound and the very obvious Microsoft logo is etched on the back. For its size, the phone is quite light at 165g and you need to remove the backplate to access the removable battery, the nano-SIM card tray and the microSD card holder which can expand memory by 200GB.

I hear the camera on the Lumia 950 XL is very good, is it really?

The camera on here has a 20-MP sensor, one of the highest and best of all phones available at the moment. On paper, it sounds great but in action, it isnt all that fantastic. 

Fire up the app and you are presented with three sets of features: option to switch between still and video shooting options, the ability to adjust everything from white balance to ISO on a right panel and the third which lets you buy filters (titled lenses here) from the Microsoft Store, photo timer and settings. Although it is baffling why the settings option will be hidden behind another layer of options doesnt make sense. But then a lot about this phone doesnt make sense.

Pictures in low-light conditions are brighter than the ones taken on an iPhone 6 but have an overwhelming sepia tint to them. 

It isnt the fastest either and trying to focus on different parts of a scene before clicking a picture took quite a while, as did the actual picture taking.

Dont get me wrong, the camera is very good, just that it isnt the fastest one of the ones available right now and images taken with it lack the rich clarity and detail that you would expect from a 'flagship' device and others liek the Huawei P9, LG G5 and even the HTC 10 outdo it very easily.

Video recording is quite interesting because you can turn on the triple LED (like a torch) to film in low light and while the default option is HD video recording at 30 frames per second, you can increase it upto 4k to record at the rate of 30 frames per second. I would have liked a tough more light and brightness in the videos I recorded, but again, the experience and the result was just satisfactory rather than spectacular.

How is the display on the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL?

The display is AMOLED and boasts a 517ppi which should make it absolutely amazing for streaming, but instead, it is just okay. The 5.7-inch screen displays colours very well and as is to be expected from an AMOLED panel, the blacks are deep and velvety and even though colours arent as rich and deep, they are perfectly acceptable.

The phone does not have high-res audio capabilities so even if the picture clarity is good, the audio via high-res headphones will be sub-par and if you are planning on listening to audio via the speakers, then it is super easy to cover them with your fingers, accidentally.

Processor, software and battery on the Microsoft 950 XL?

There is 32 GB of storage onboard the phone and this is further extendable upto 200GB via microSD, the best feature here is that you are able to save apps on the microSD. The Snapdragon 810 processor coupled with the 3 GB RAM works fine but Windows 10 is very juddery with the Tile layout not doing it any favours.

App shortcuts like those for Audible and Youtube are absolutely massive and even though you can resize them to make scrolling through apps easier, they take an age to load the app. Try loading the Store app and you are left facing the scrooling wheel for a long time before the app freezes and then loads several options at the same time.

Battery-wise, 20 minutes of streaming HD video off Youtube made the battery drop from 84% to 79% and even though the Youtube app just links to videos on Windows Explorer, it worked fine. 

Swiping down on the home screen brings up settings and you are able to access all of them through there or by swiping left on the homescreen to be presented with an alphabetical list of all apps on the phones with the most recent additions at the top.

 

Recently opened apps can be accessed using the <-- arrow and unlike iOS and Android devices, you cannot close all the windows you have recently opened by tiling them up in a queue and swiping right.

Additionally, for a phone that costs £469.99, there is no fingerprint sensor. Yes there is the Windows Hello feature in beta which allows you to technically unlock the phone by scanning your retina, as anyone who has ever used a Microsoft Surface Book will tell you, it is a poor substitute that is not only prone to misfiring but also freezing and crashing with alarming regularity.

Is the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL THE flagship device to own?

If you are a devout Lumia fan then it cannot get better than this. Windows 10 is present and correct and it has the battery power, camera and the display that, in theory, can take on the best out there.

If you are not a Windows phone fan, please don't buy this phone. It is juddery, crashes frequently and freezes while switching between apps with such regularity that it will leave you not just exasperated but also wondering how Microsoft can even dream of passing this off as a premium device.

The plastic back, although doesnt scream sophistication, is the least of its worries as are the fewer number of apps on the app store. Microsoft needs to get its software working as intuitively and as seamlessly as the best of Android and iOS out there. Until it does, its Lumia phones will only serve as be a curiosity and one for those who worship at the altar of Windows.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL specifications

Price: £469.99

Operating System: Windows 10 

Dimensions: 151.9 X 78.4 X 8.1 mm

Weight: 165 g

Resolution: 2560 x 1440 518 ppi 

Display: 5.7-inch WQHD TrueColor (24-bit/16M) AMOLED, ClearBlack

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Octa core; 2000 MHz. GPU: Adreno 430

Camera: 20-MP with Auto focus & two-stage capture key; 6-lens optics Stabilization: Optical image stabilization Oversampling: Yes Sensor size: 1/2.4 inch Camera aperture: f/1.9

Memory: 32 GB RAM: 3 GB; Expandable memory upto 200 GB via MicroSD

Battery: 3340mAH

Fingerprint sensor: No

Misc: Gorilla Glass 4; App and data storage on memory card