Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Review
Back in October last year, Microsoft launched the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL with a bunch of other things. Both the devices hit the Indian market in November. I have been using the larger variant for quite some time, and I can say that this might be the first step by Microsoft in the right direction. The device features a massive 5.7-inch display with a ppi of 518 and a screen resolution of 1440×2560 pixels. Under the hood, sits the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset with Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57 processor and 3 GB RAM. It also has a 32 GB internal storage which can further be expanded by using Micro SD Card up to 200 GB.
The phone also features a 20-megapixel rear camera with a 5-megapixel wide-angle front camera. To prevent chipset from toasting up the device, Microsoft is using Liquid Cooling technique which is already in place for the Surface Lineup. On top of that, the Lumia 950 XL comes with a removable 3340 mAh battery to power the hardware. It is one of the first device to come with the latest Windows 10 Mobile Operating System out of the box. As far as the device is concerned, it looks powerful on paper but the real question is, does the device live up to its expectations in real life situations. Head down as we find the answer to the question.
Back in the days of Nokia, it was known for the incredible and sturdy design. Now Microsoft is taking the legacy forward as the latest flagship device is beautifully crafted. On the front of the device, you have a 5.7-inch display with the Corning Gorilla Glass 4 for scratch protection. On the top right of the device, we have a 5-megapixel camera with a Microsoft branding in the middle and the infrared sensor at the left for iris scanner. Moving towards the side we have a new arrangement of buttons with the power button sitting right in between the volume rockers. Microsoft has also added back the two-stage camera button which is a nice way to quickly launch the camera.
On the back of the device, we have a camera bump for the 20-megapixel Zeiss optics camera. The camera is backed by a triple RGB Flash for the perfect mobile photography. Besides the camera sits the speaker grill which does get some benefits from the camera bump but the fact that Microsoft is still placing speaker grills at the back is something which is hard to justify. At the middle of the device, sits the Microsoft branding. Microsoft has changed the way of branding as the new Lumia 950 XL has just the new Microsoft logo at the back instead of the full branding found on older devices. At the top and the bottom are the secondary microphones. As the device is made of polycarbonate, so it is rather easy to give access to the battery compartment, and that’s what Microsoft has done. You can pull out the back panel of the device to insert the SIM cards as well as the Micro SD Card.
Moving to the top of the device is the 3.5-mm headphone jack in the middle, and the device has USB Type-C Connector at the bottom for charging and data transfer. On the left of the USB Type-C Connector is the space given to open the back panel which exposes the battery and other components. Overall, the device is perfectly designed with soft corners and a premium finish. The build quality of Microsoft is something which never fails to impress. Although the use of polycarbonate instead of the full Metal body might be a turn off for many users. After all we are living in 2016!
The Microsoft Lumia 950 XL comes with a 5.7 inch AMOLED display with a ppi of 518. The device has one of the brightest display out there and with the adaptive brightness, you won’t have problems using the device even in direct sunlight. The touch response is quick and smooth. Also the device supports Glance screen which is a nice way of showing quick notifications on the lock screen. Although it was disappointing to see that the Lumia 950 XL doesn’t support Double Tap to Wake Up. The device, however, supports Double Tap to Lock. It is not enabled by default, but you can enable it by going to Settings> Personalization>Lock Screen and select “Double-Tap the navigation bar to turn off display”. After you have enabled it, you can double tap the space between the navigation keys to lock the device.
Overall I liked the display of Lumia 950 XL. It has one of the brightest display and the sunlight readability also works as promised. Microsoft also added reachability feature like Apple so that you can use the big screen with one hand. Although it is very basic as compared to Apple, but it does the job. You need to press and hold the Windows key in order to use the reachability feature.
Interface & Apps
The Lumia 950 XL comes with the latest Windows 10 Mobile out of the box. It is one of the first devices to be launched by Microsoft with Windows 10 Mobile. Windows 10 Mobile has many new features over Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft has also made many new improvements over the previous version. Microsoft has also introduced USB OTG and Native Call Recorder with the Lumia 950 series and it is only available on phones with Windows 10 Mobile out of the box. There is not much to say about the User Interface as it is the same old tile interface with new customizations and many improvements.
One of the things that I loved about Windows 10 is the perfect integration of Cortana. You can use the voice assistant to directly send text messages from your phone without even touching it. Also, it gives you notifications on your PC if in case you miss a call. Now in the latest Windows 10 update, Microsoft has enabled more notifications from Cortana to your PC, which includes low battery on the phone and so. We can hope that Microsoft brings these features to the mainstream users soon.
Coming to the performance of the new Operating System, I must say that it is far better and smooth than the devices with the Insider Software. The device responds faster to the commands and also I didn’t get any “Loading” or “Resuming” screen on Lumia 950 XL. The availability of apps is still a problem on Windows ecosystem, but you have to blame the app developers for that. One thing I did notice was, the Lumia 950 XL doesn’t have an option for “Vibrate when the call is answered”. Although it looks small but considering the fact that it is available on other devices leaves me in a bit of surprise. I tried checking all the settings but can’t seem to find it. Again, all the Lumia 950/XL users can correct me if I am doing something wrong.
Overall the user experience looks great and is better than the Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft is continuing the Insider Program for Windows 10 which suggests that the Operating System will get more updates with improvements in the future. That being said, I still don’t feel that Windows 10 Mobile is ready for end consumers because of many bugs being present in the Operating System.
Hardware & Performance
Windows Phone is always known for running perfectly even on low specifications, so one doesn’t have anything to complain about on a Snapdragon 810 device with 3 GB of RAM. The device did score low when I ran AnTuTu Benchmark, but I am considering that it might be possible because Microsoft doesn’t let apps collect all the data. For example, the test only ran on 480 x 800 portion of the screen, not the full 1440 x 2560 that it’s capable of.
To test the full potential of the device, I ran games like Modern Combat 5 with messenger running in background and texting my friends. And guess what, the game ran without lag. So I decided to go ahead and push it to the extreme. I was able to run both Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5 without getting “resuming” screen. Although, the games started to lag and the device was overheating.
Bottomline is that, the device handles multi-tasking pretty well. There is very less possibility that an app might lag or not work properly on the device. And for the power users, the device might show some lag on using heavy apps/games simultaneously. Otherwise, I must say that the device handles multi-tasking very well and also has a proper RAM Management.
This is one part where the Lumia lineup needs no introduction. It was Lumia 1020 which made an everlasting impact on the way people see the cameras on the smartphones. The latest flagship takes forward the legacy. Lumia 950 XL comes with a massive 20-megapixel camera with f/1.9aperture to accompany it. On top of that, it comes with Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, and a triple-LED flash.
Being a Lumia device, it comes with many Lumia exclusive apps like Lumia Creative Studio and more which allows post photo editing. The device also supports Dynamic Exposure; lighting; HDR etc. which will allow the user to set parameters like amount of flash, exposure settings, etc. after the photo is taken. Lumia 950 XL also has triple LED flash which uses RGB colour combination to take natural looking photos even in low light conditions. You can check the photos below.
Photos taken in Auto Mode without flash
Auto mode with Flash
The device features a front 5-megapixel wide-angle camera which is great for taking group selfies. You can also go to the Windows Store and download “Lumia Selfie” app which will allow you to play with your pics. You can edit the selfies and also add different effects to the photos. Microsoft also introduced Slow Motion feature in the Lumia 950 XL. It is the first Lumia device to come with Slow Motion. Slow motion is basically the same as one found on iPhones. It lets the user record a video and then the user can slow down particular frames of the video. The feature, however, is not enabled by default, so you need to launch the camera and move to video and tap the little turtle icon in the upper panel. Overall camera is one place where Microsoft did their homework very well. I am pretty impressed by the quality of photos taken both by front and the rear camera. The photos were taken in the Auto settings but of course, you can switch it into manual mode to get better results by playing around with the settings.
This is another section where Microsoft never fails to impress as Lumia devices generally have an amazing battery life. But sadly the Lumia 950 XL fails to impress me in the section. For the battery test, I charged the device to 100% in the morning and decided to use it until the battery dies. The phone went from 100% to 10% in about 18 hours. I did use the phone mainly for calling, and the device was connected to the WiFi whole day. Also, I did gaming on the device for some time. Honestly, I did expect a much better result considering the fact that Lumia 950 XL poses a massive 3340 mAh battery. The device, however, gave me around 26 hours of backup on standby which is not so bad.
Bottom of the line, the device did work well, but you can’t really expect an amazing battery life on the Lumia 950 XL. The good thing is, the device has a removable battery so you can just go ahead and replace the battery or use a power bank for the same. The device also supports quick charging which might as well come handy.
The Lumia 950 XL has almost all the 2G, 3G and 4G bands for cellular and data connectivity. The device also has dual-band, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac along with Bluetooth v4.1, GPS and a USB Type-C connector for charging and data transfer. The device does have a great cellular reception as we took 950 XL with Yu Yunique, iPhone 6 and Lumia 830. Apple iPhone had the best cellular reception followed by Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 830. The device also performed well we took it far from the WiFi router.
The problem comes when you start using the software counterpart of the device. You still need to pair the device before transferring anything over Bluetooth. Also, you need to turn Bluetooth on so that you get the Bluetooth option in the share menu. These things make the software experiences worst for an end user. If you leave the software woes behind considering the fact that Microsoft might fix these things in the coming updates, then the device is having no problems with the connectivity whatsoever.
This is one section where I don’t know whether Microsoft’s excuse can be justified or not because I don’t know any reason that why the company didn’t go with the front speakers. Being said that, the back speakers do a good job when placed with the screen facing down. But if you decide to face the speaker down, things start to get worst. Although the speaker gets some clearance from the camera bump, but it is not enough to get better sound.
The sound from the headphone jack is much better than that of the speaker. The in-stock headphones do a good job when it comes to listening music. We took the Lumia 950 XL and the headphones to a busy street in Bangalore to test the noise cancellation, and it worked pretty well. I was impressed by the noise cancelling, and the conversation happened without any problems.
Overall you can trust the headphones that come with the device. They are not great but will do the job pretty well. Regarding the speakers, Microsoft seriously needs to consider the idea of front speakers. Apart from the above parameters, we made a list of some new hardware/software Microsoft introduced with the Lumia 950 XL, which is new to the Lumia line up.
USB OTG feature is one of the most requested features for Lumia users. For those unaware of it, USB OTG allows you to connect any external media like Pen drives, Hard Drives, etc. to your phone using a USB OTG cable. This is a great feature considering the fact that people, nowadays have so many data to store.
Regarding the performance, it was good on the device. I tried copying some files to my Hard Drive, and it worked well. To use USB OTG, you will need a USB OTG cable with a Type-C Connector, and you just need to plug in the external drive. After that, you can go to File Explorer, and your device will be listed there. I also used the Continuum dock to plug the drive into my phone. You can use any of the ways to use it.
The year 2014-15 saw the rise of Biometrics inside the phone so that you don’t need to type long passwords and remember them. Microsoft might be a bit behind in the process, but they took something which no other manufacturers used till now. With the introduction of Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a new feature called as Windows Hello which is the name given to all sorts of Biometrics used on both PCs and Windows Phones.
The Lumia 950 XL comes with an Iris scanner which will scan your iris to unlock your device. And in case you are wondering if someone can unlock your device using your photo or something then you are mistaken. Microsoft has taken enough measures to ensure that even your twin brother/sister can’t open your device. Coming to the performance and accuracy, it is 100% accurate as I gave my Lumia 950 XL to my classmates and no one was able to unlock it. As far as performance is concerned, it works for around 98-99% of the time so I must say that it is great considering the fact that it is in Beta only.
Also, Microsoft has added Iris Scanner into the Windows Store in-app purchases, so you don’t have entered your long passwords in order to buy your favorite apps/games from the Windows Store. You can directly use the iris scanner to authenticate and continue with the purchase. This feature is already in place by Apple and Google for iOS and Android devices respectively, so it is good to see Microsoft doing the same.
This is probably one of the interesting parts for Lumia 950 XL. The device supports a feature called as Continuum. It allows the user to connect the device to a TV/Projector using a Microsoft Display Dock Accessory. It converts the device into a PC so that you can use it for all your works.
The feature did work very well on the device and worked as advertised by Microsoft. However, it only supports basic universal apps for now. All the other apps are not supported, but Microsoft has hinted that the support might not be far away. As for now, it is a great feature for people who have to work on basic things like Microsoft Word, Powerpoint or maybe watch some videos, etc. but you can’t just play games or maybe run the full PC version of Photoshop as it is still the device which is working. The monitor/projector is just for the display.
Native Call Recorder
Now this might not interest everyone but many still need it, and Microsoft has implemented it. The Lumia 950/XL are one of the first devices to come with Native Call Recording. In Android, call recording is available, but you need apps to use it. But as far as Windows is concerned, you don’t need any apps or something like that. All you need to do is go to Settings> System> Phone and scroll down to “Choose the app you want to use to manage recorded phone calls” and change it from None to Voice Recorder.
After doing that, you will get an option of record whenever you call someone or vice versa. You can access the recorded calls by opening the phone app and taping the three dots at the bottom. There you will get an option say “Recorded Calls”. Tap that and it will take you to the recorded calls.
When Microsoft announced the Lumia 950 XL, they said that they are using the technology used in Surface line up to cool down the super-hot Snapdragon 810 chipset. The device did have Liquid Cooling, and it works pretty well for at least normal usage. The device does heat up on heavy gaming, but that is something you can’t control. I liked it, but it doesn’t cool it completely especially if you are playing heavy games. But I must give credit to Microsoft for taking a step forward and implementing it.
So finally, it is time for the conclusion. I loved the performance of the device and also the new features that Microsoft implemented in the device. Cortana is now improved; the new iris scanner makes things easy for everyone. The Continuum feature can save many office workers from carrying a heavy laptop with them. But the device fails to impress me completely. Windows 10 Mobile is the new beginning for Microsoft, but it is still the unfinished product. The Operating System lacks stability and has many bugs which are ready to spoil the party.
Overall, Windows 10 Mobile might be the first step taken by Microsoft in the right direction. But it is still to be seen how the company takes forward itself back into the mobile space which is currently dominated by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Lumia 950 XL might be the first step, but Microsoft still needs to work many aspects before really leaving a mark in the mobile world. It might be one of the best devices out there for a Windows Fan but for a rational customer, there are better options available at the same/lesser price.