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Microsoft Lumia 950 review

 Review: December 2015  
 

Rating: 4 stars

In a nutshell: The Microsoft Lumia 950 is the first phone to feature Windows Phone 10. It's a highly capable phone, with a powerful processor, an excellent 5.2 inch screen, outstanding camera, plenty of memory, and good battery life. Two things let it down - its plastic build, and the scarcity of third-party apps.

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Design & looks

The Lumia 950 is better-looking than other Lumia models, but it still doesn't look like a flagship smartphone. Instead of the glossy polycarbonate finish of low-end Lumia phones, the 950 is much more refined, with a smooth, matte plastic casing, and metal buttons along the edge - with a much-welcomed camera button, as well as the usual power and volume rocker. It's a moderately large phone, but feels lighter than many, but although it's slimmer than other Microsoft phones, it's not what we'd call superslim. It's available in a choice of Black or White.

You could say that it's understated. Or you could say that it's underwhelming. Either view is valid.

The screen is impressive. 5.2 inches is an excellent size for a flagship phone - not as large as some phablet-style devices, but noticeably larger than the iPhone 6s. And it's easily the best screen we've seen on a Microsoft phone, with an incredible 564ppi pixel density and an overall Quad HD resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels.

The screen uses AMOLED technology in combination with Microsoft's ClearBlack anti-reflection system. This combination makes for a superb, high-contrast display with wide viewing angles, that's very easy to read in all lighting conditions. Gorilla Glass 3 keeps the screen safe from scratches and other damage. It's a flagship screen, although possibly not as bright as the very best from Samsung or Apple.

Windows Phone 10

The Lumia 950 is the first phone to run Windows Phone 10. This has a slightly different look from Windows 8, but keeps the Live Tiles that we're so fond of here at S21.

Mostly, Windows 10 preserves the features that we liked best about the previous OS. You can pin apps to the home screen, and move and re-size them at will. Productivity apps like OneNote, Outlook, Skype and Office are all included. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and LinkedIn are pre-installed. The excellent MixRadio is still here, which is like Spotify but free, and without adverts. Cortana, the virtual assistant, is as eager to help as ever. And of course documents sync across all your Windows devices.

There are some changes. Edge replaces Internet Explorer as the web browser. Instead of HERE Maps, Windows 10 comes with Windows Maps, which keeps all the features we liked, including offline maps, turn-by-turn directions for walking and driving, and public transport information.

Completely new is the use of the camera as an iris scanner for device security. The camera uses an infra-red image, so should work without problems in different lighting conditions. This is a headline grabber for sure, but in practice isn't more convenient than a fingerprint scanner. You might just prefer to use a PIN. 

Continuum is another new feature. This lets you connect your phone to a display dock so you can use an external monitor and keyboard. We're not really sold on this feature. Who can't carry a laptop or tablet with them when on business?

Of course Windows 10 still falls down when it comes to third-party apps, especially the free games and so on that fill so many of our smartphones (as well as our attention.) We'd say that the Lumia 950 isn't intended for the kinds of people who want to download those kinds of apps. Sometimes, however, even serious users will find that the app they want isn't available for Windows Phone, and this is becoming more of an issue as the years roll on. Microsoft is working on ways to port Android apps to Windows, but in our opinion, it's about time that project started to bear some fruit.

Hexacore processor

The Lumia 950 comes with a 6-core Snapdragon 808 running at 1.8GHz, which is the same as the LG G4. It's a fast processor, and Windows 10 is a fast OS, so this is a good pairing. The user interface responds quickly and apps load without delay. It helps that there's a massive 3GB of RAM available too, making multi-tasking no problem on this phone.

There's plenty of storage for data, with 32GB of flash memory available, plus the ability to add microSD cards of up to 200GB.

20 megapixel PureView camera

The Lumia 950 is serious about photography, bringing across all of the high-end tech developed by Nokia.

The main rear-facing camera is particularly capable and impressive. This 20 megapixel PureView camera uses an over-sampling technique to produce very fine images. The camera has a particularly wide f/1.9 aperture, and a large 1/24 inch BSI sensor to enable it to perform well in low light. Optical Image Stabilisation also helps to capture the best possible shots under poor lighting conditions. A triple LED flash helps to capture natural-looking images. Results are truly impressive.

The rear camera can also capture 4K UHD video. Optical Image Stabilisation and a video light are welcome additions to video recording.

The front camera uses a 5 megapixel wide-angle camera, making it perfect for high-quality selfies. It can record Full HD 1080p video too, so it's ideal for Skype.

The Lumia Creative Studio app can do a lot of picture enhancement, from cropping and rotating to applying filters and performing red-eye removal. The Photos app will sync your photos across all your Windows devices.

Connectivity

The Lumia 950 is a well-connected 4G phone. As you'd expect, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC connectivity is supported. And Windows Phone 10 brings in support for USB Type-C connections, and the Lumia 950 comes with a USB Type C cable included.

A-GPS, A-GLONASS and BeiDou positioning services are also supported.

Battery life

Battery life is strong. The 3,000mAh battery is large and capable. It's removable too, which is a bonus, and it can be charged wirelessly, or via the USB-C cable for fast charging.

Conclusion - the best Windows smartphone

Certainly the Lumia 950 is the best Windows smartphone. That's not contentious. What's more questionable is whether it has what it takes to be considered a genuine superphone. In our opinion, it falls down in two key areas - looks and apps.

Let's face it. Plastic doesn't impress anyone these days. Apple and HTC phones have been metal for years, and now Samsung phones are too. Sony has its own unique look, that's just as impressive, and LG is experimenting with exotic materials like leather. Microsoft has stuck predictably to plastic. It's frustrating, because Microsoft's Surface devices are one of the most premium laptop/tablet-thingies you can buy, with their ultraslim magnesium cases.

Second, apps. Although we remain fans of Windows Phone, it's really time that Microsoft solved the problem of lack of third-party apps. Yes, there's a lot of really good stuff available, but there are big gaps, and the gaps are becoming more of a problem for us.

But for business users, serious users, and WP fans, the Lumia 950 brings a lot to the table. Here is a premium device that doesn't cost silly money, yet incorporates a lot of cutting edge features. That screen is amazing; the OS is fast and easy to use; the camera is stunning; and overall the phone is very capable. We do like the 950 a lot, and we hope that Microsoft continues to support and develop the operating system, and to bring out more Lumia phones in the future.


Microsoft Lumia 950 features include:

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Microsoft Lumia 950 user reviews

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Average rating from 2 reviews:

Reviewed by Andrew2097 from UK on 21st Sep 2016
Battery life is beyond excellent, and the phone runs very smooth on the most updated Windows 10 software. There is no lag in any app I’ve ran and the camera is beyond wonderful.
I found the apps were satisfactory. I was able to find apps that did what I needed them to do. I do love the camera on this phone. I’m not what I call a picture taker by I find myself taking way more pictures than my last two smartphones.
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Reviewed by Don from uk on 18th Jun 2016
It's a great phone, lasts solid day compared to Samsung galaxy s6. The keypad is simply the best with word flow. Syncs very well with the laptop using Cortana. The camera is crisp, and fast. Would really recommend the phone.
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