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Microsoft

Review: Microsoft Lumia 950 XL – can a Windows phone beat the Androids or the iPhone?

Microsoft hopes its latest flagship phone will compete with iPhones and the newest Samsung smartphones, but despite great specs, it falls short in many areas, not least the apps available

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 January, 2016, 10:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 January, 2016, 11:00am

While Microsoft’s operations system is widely used on computers, in the smartphone ecosystem, it’s a distant third behind Android and iOS. Still, with improving software and hardware, Windows phone could prove to be a viable alternatives for those wanting something different from the norm.

The latest flagship, the Lumia 950 XL claims to “push the limits of what’s possible”, but does its “Windows 10” operation system live up to expectations?

Design

The phone’s body is made of polycarbonate, which is just a fancy word for plastic. With continued use, the battery cover began to creak and one drop revealed that the polycarbonate is just as susceptible to scratches as any other material.

The rest of the body is of minimal design with the power, volume and camera buttons all on the right side and the big round camera on the back. The button setup feels unfamiliar: Power sits in between the two Volume keys and it’d take you some time to get used to.

Features

Microsoft wants to push the idea that both its PCs and latest handsets are compatible, so it named the OS for its phones Windows 10 too. To its credit, Windows 10 Mobile (just so that we’re not confused) integrates well with the desktop version.

The stand-out feature is dubbed Continuum, which allows users to connect the phone with a bigger display – along with a mouse and keyboard – through wires or bluetooth. My review unit came with the Display Dock that would enable a wired Continuum connection to any display with a HDMI port.

This feature, in theory, can turn the handset into a semi full-fledge desktop computer, while still functioning as a phone. In practice, apps only open in full screen mode and some won’t open at all. But by and large this presents a fluid desktop experience and should appeal to Windows users.

It also has the potential to become a PC gamer’s go-to device when complex Xbox games start to populate the smartphone’s app section in the future.

Camera

Lumia flagships have always been about the camera. The 20 megapixel shooter can produce high quality photos in most daylight situations. Macro shots capture some of the finest detail up close. Under a mixed lighting environment – such as indoors with a lack of natural light – results start to falter, but not by much. Colour is still accurate and there’s little visible noise.

But night time shows? Ouch, this camera is not good. The detail is sparse and looks as though it’s the aggressive noise reduction algorithm at play. A second opinion tells me the night time images look like oil paintings, and that is not something you want your photos to look like.

Apps

A decent suite of first party apps and features come with the phone including the full Microsoft Office and OneNote. There’s also Skype for calls and messaging and the stock email app.

Third party apps are where I had the most issues; some of the more popular apps just aren’t available. Instagram is still in beta, Spotify is seriously sluggish, and if you bought this phone for productivity, you’ll be missing Facebook page manager, or anything to do with Google.

Performance and battery life

On paper, the Lumia 950 XL has some very impressive specs: its 5.7” QuadHD (1440x2560) AMOLED display, that 20 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, top of the line Snapdragon 810 chipset, 3GB of RAM and a generous 3340mAh battery. But stats and numbers can only do so much if you can’t make use of them.

Even with a powerful processor, some apps load unbelievably slow. Having said that, while the Snapdragon 810 processor is notorious for heating up in other phone models, the Lumia 950 XL never became hot to the touch except when using Continuum.

While the 950 XL doesn’t have a good standby battery life, power doesn’t drain excessively during heavy usage. What this means is you still get a 14-hour day’s usage with the power saving mode off.

Conclusion

The operating system is smooth albeit with the user interface being slightly inconsistent in places. Most of the issues mentioned above can be fixed with firmware updates.

Microsoft should be capable of getting third party app developers on board but it seems that is not happening, yet. It would be a shame to see an operating system with such potential go to waste; but as it stands now, the Lumia 950 XL is a tough sell with all the superb Android phones out there and the always reliable iPhone.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL with 32GB storage is available for HK$5,988.