After such a long wait since it was announced at October 6th, both Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL are available here at last. These are first devices from Microsoft that fully run Windows 10 Mobile. I was so excited about this phone, however, the lack of news about this phone dampened the excitement quite a fair bit. Anyway, it is available now, and this is my review after using Lumia 950 XL for about 2 weeks, thank to StarHub for offering me the device to try it out.
In addition to the phone itself, there is also special accessory, Displayed Dock, which I will also review toward the end at continuum section.
Lumia devices in the past have been built with many unique distinctive design by Nokia and hand over to Microsoft. I have used Lumia 920 and Lumia 1520 before. Those were great devices before they gave up on me eventually (920 had battery issue and 1520 screen was cracked ). Lumia 950 XL still carries some DNA design from its predecessor. This phablet still has the plastic cover, comfortable to carry with 8.1mm thickness, 165g weight. The screen/display is good, big and sharp at 5.7 inch with 2560 x 1440 pixels and Microsoft ClearBlack technology, which makes it clear to and enjoyable to read.
However, does Lumia 950 XL have same unique design as previous Lumias? Unfortunately, the design of this phone is frankly quite unremarkable and boring. The front is just flat with Microsoft logo, front camera and iris scanner. The typical 3 buttons (back, windows and search) are now part of the display (a.k.a soft buttons). On the right side, there are 3 buttons next to each other, volume up, power and power down, and one more dedicated camera button. I always like dedicated camera which comes handy when you need to quickly snap a picture. However, it's quite confusing to put power button in between volume up and down buttons.
The back has a pureview camera, speaker and another Microsoft logo.
One nice thing that Microsoft seems to buck the trend is the removable battery. Lumia 950XL comes with hefty 3340 mAH battery (compare to iPhone 6s Plus at 2750 mAH or Galaxy S7 Edge 3220 mAH). The back cover can be peeled off by placing your nail at small opening at bottom, and you can find the removable battery, sim, and microSD card slot.
For charging, Lumia 950/XL uses the new Type-C USB, which might be bit troublesome if you do not have the cable with you. Fortunately, it still supports same wireless charging as previous Lumia. Nokia wireless charger which I purchased together with Lumia 920 can also work well with Lumia 950/XL.
Software / Windows 10 Mobile
To review how Lumia 950 XL software will be mainly on how Windows 10 Mobile performs. Microsoft mobile operating system has come long way, from Windows CE to Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 10 Mobile. Each of this release is almost like a total revamp from their previous version. This has brought many confusion to both users and developers. Windows 10 Mobile should be finally the operating system Microsoft shall focus as it has been built under single platform, Windows 10. Fortunately, most apps built for Windows Phone 8 work fine under Windows 10 Mobile.
Windows 10 Mobile concept is still similar to Windows Phone 8. The home still has the same great live tiles display which can be personalized easily. It shows more structured information in a glance without opening apps or complexity to configure Widgets in Android. However, there are many other changes under the skin, which are due to Microsoft attempt to consolidate the operating system into Windows 10. The home screen now has even more option to be personalized with transparency level.
However, there are many other changes under the skin, which are due to Microsoft attempt to consolidate the operating system into Windows 10. Below are few more screens which are new to Windows 10 Mobile.
With all above changes, how does Lumia 950 XL generally perform?
When it was first launch, many early adopter complained that Windows Mobile 10 was too buggy and not ready for prime time yet. That might be the reason why Microsoft decided to launch this device here after more than 6 months. Throughout my usage past 2 weeks, it is already generally stable, smooth and fast. However, the device seems to be get warm easily which usually results in shorter battery life. I experience the system crashes few times which then it restarts by itself. Overall, it is zippy and stable enough to use as main phone.
The bigger problem with Windows Mobile is the number of apps available. There are enough core apps to use as daily drivers, Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) which are fantastic, and there are many other apps like Whatsapp, Line, Facebook, etc. However, specific or local apps usually does not exist, so you might need to rely on the web application via browser. If you are not really app person, Windows Mobile will be fine as there are many good core apps available and many other casual games to kill time.
Most recent flagship phones has included fingerprint scan which makes entering pin or password to unlock device sounds like dinosaur way. However, Lumia 950/XL does not have any fingerprint scan, but, it has other advanced method to unlock device with Windows Hello and Iris Scanner. Iris Scanner is different from Face Recognition or Retina Scanning. Face recognition requires chunky device like Kinect camera, and Retina Scanning is complicated as it scans patterns on the colored part of the eye. Iris Scanner is simpler and only requires a light-emitting diode and light-receiving sensor, so it should work in many lighting condition.
The setup Windows Hello to use Iris Scanner is pretty simple, you just need to go to Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options > Setup Windows Hello. If you wear glasses, it will ask you to remove glasses at first recognition. After everything is setup, you can improve recognition and wear back the glasses. On paper, Iris Scanner sounds very promising as it is even simpler to unlock device by just looking at the phone, which you already do anyway. However, Iris Scanner and Windows Hello occasionally takes bit longer time to recognize which I usually end up typing PIN. When it works though, the phone can be unlocked like magic just by looking at the phone. (Although picture above shows strong red light emitting from device, actual usage is not that bad for eyes, so do not worry).
Lumia line has been famous for good quality camera phone. Lumia 950 still retains that with 20MP PureView camera with optical image stabilization. Pictures taken using Lumia 950 are comparable to other flagship devices. The picture can be taken fast enough without too much lag. The camera app is very similar to the one found in previous Lumia, which is a good thing. Lumia 950 also has feature to capture living images, which every picture will be taken with 1 second video so the image seems to be alive. It made popular by iPhone, but Lumia line has this feature for longest time.
Microsoft really wants to position Lumia as productive device. One of the feature heavily shown during introduction of Lumia 950 is Continuum, which enables Windows 10 mobile to show on second larger screen, e.g your PC monitor or TV. To enable continuum, you need Display Dock which comes with many display ports (HDMI or Display Port), USB-C to connect to the phone, and normal USB port for mouse/keyboard.
Of all the new features of Lumia 950/XL, this is the one that I can call mind-blowing. Continuum is not just to show what you see on phone to second monitor, but the screen on second monitor is different and more like Windows 10 desktop. (Apologize for the white patch on my television screen).
The setup is easy and straight forward. Once your mouse/keyboard is plugged in, you can really use it like Windows 10 desktop. There are number of apps available on bigger screen, like Office Word/Excel/Power Point, Edge, etc. However, these apps are not full-blown Windows 10 application, they are more stripped down version, but good enough for light usage.
Edge browser can also be used to display web page same as normal desktop, e.g. it can play youtube video in full screen.
If you do not have mouse/keyboard, Lumia 950 will show laptop trackpad and you can use it to move mouse pointer on second screen. Once mouse pointer enters into data entry area (e.g. textbox), phone keyboard will automatically appears.
For now, there are still limited application available for continuum, which i hope there will be more available.
During introduction of Lumia 950, one of presenter mentions Lumia device enables you to be "productive like a boss". There are many features of Lumia that can drives you to be more productive. Full suite of Office are readily available. The built-in email app is great, easy to use and emails are better organized. With continuum feature, Microsoft brings productivity even further by enable the phone to be used like PC on second larger screen. However, as consumer device, Lumia 950 still has many challenges, especially on the quantity and quality of third party apps.
Lumia 950 XL is currently priced at $369 under StarHub 4G 4 plan under 2 years contract and it can be purchased from their Online Store here!
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