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Hands on with the Lumia 950 and XL

Article Comments  3  

Oct 6, 2015, 12:56 PM   by Rich Brome

The Lumia 950 is Microsoft's flagship phone for Windows 10. It continues the Lumia line while showcasing the new, unified Windows 10. Not only can it run the same Universal apps that run on Windows 10 desktops, it can transform into a desktop computer itself with a dock accessory, running the same apps in desktop mode. It has high-end features and classic Lumia design. So how is it in person? Read on to find out.

The features, specs, and capabilities of the Lumia 950 (and XL) are impressive. Its screen, camera, and processor are absolutely best-in-class on paper.

Lumia 950  

The Lumia 950 may look like a classic Lumia phone of the fine Nokia heritage, and it sort of is, but unfortunately, it has the look and feel of a low-end Lumia. The plastic shell has a matte finish that feels nice, but the light weight of the phone — while impressive — lends it a somewhat cheap feel. There's no metal nor tapered glass to give it that premium feel. Worse, the silver side keys feel plastic-y and have a lot of wiggle, making the phone feel even more cheaply made. The camera bezel on the smaller 950 has a similar low-quality feel. The solid plastic shell will probably hold up just fine, but this phone does not have a premium feel to match its price.

On the positive side, Nokia is catering to the no-compromise folks out there with features like removable battery, memory card slot, and wireless charging. That compares favorably with the latest from Apple and Samsung. There's also USB Type-C, the new standard connector for phones, which offers excellent speed and is reversible. We're glad to see this.

Lumia 950 XL  

The software didn't feel as fluid as we expected. It's difficult to make a Snapdragon 810 feel slow, but the demo units we tried weren't lightning-fast. Speed was perfectly acceptable in most cases, but where we expected to be blown away, we weren't. Of course this is not final software, and that fact often affects speed, especially with a major new OS version like this. So it's too early to make a final judgement on the speed of Windows 10 for Mobile.


The new notification shade in Windows 10 is vastly improved, as is the main settings area. Cortana looks better and is more helpful. You can also make folders of apps on the home screen now. These are all welcome features.

Windows 10 For Mobile  

The camera has a tweaked interface with a control strip at the top. The buttons are a little small, but otherwise handy. The usual Windows system of Lenses (software plug-ins for the camera) is still present and nifty as ever. One of the standard Lenses has a "Living Pictures" feature that attaches video clips of the previous 1.5 seconds to each photo, much like Live Photos in the new iPhone, and HTC's original Zoe feature.

Of course the coolest feature is Continuum, which lets you plug the phone into a monitor and keyboard via a Dock. That basically turns the phone into a desktop computer. Any Windows 10 Universal apps installed suddenly morph into their full desktop versions, with full desktop interfaces. It's a great feature we can't wait to test in our review.

You can also log in using facial recognition.

Another neat trick is the Glance mode, which uses a special low-power mode of the OLED screen to show the time and notifications while the phone is locked, using very little power.

Sadly, there is no hint of a CDMA-capable version, which means we can only hope to see these on AT&T and/or T-Mobile, and probably not Sprint nor Verizon. Quite worryingly, Microsoft isn't ready to formally announce a deal with any carrier just yet. The FCC has approved these phones in a version compatible with both AT&T and T-Mobile, so we'll just have to wait and see who gets it come November.

About the author, Rich Brome:

Editor in Chief Rich became fascinated with cell phones in 1999, creating mobile web sites for phones with tiny black-and-white displays and obsessing over new phone models. Realizing a need for better info about phones, he started Phone Scoop in 2001, and has been helming the site ever since. Rich has spent two decades researching and covering every detail of the phone industry, traveling the world to tour factories, interview CEOs, and get every last spec and photo Phone Scoop readers have come to expect. As an industry veteran, Rich is a respected voice on phone technology of the past, present, and future.


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Oct 7, 2015, 8:26 AM

Lacking CDMA support, dual-SIM

Seems like a good effort on Microsoft's part, but IMO it is a FAIL that they omitted CDMA support and dual-active-SIMs. If Microsoft truly wanted to become the de-facto phone for businesses and "knock it out of the park", they just blew it.

(1) They should have exactly mimicked the RF capability of the iPhone6 and made the 950 a truly world phone.

(2) They should have made dual-active SIMs standard on these "flagship" phones. That would have been a great differentiator.

I love Windows 10 on our Surface Pro 3, I love the Windows 10 Mobile "fast ring insider" beta I have on my Lumia 635 spare phone, and I was REALLY looking forward to trading in my Android working phone and buying a Windows 10 Mobile phone with dual active SIM capabil...
There is a dual-SIM version of each.

Oct 6, 2015, 2:58 PM


Rich—you might want to correct the sentence "On the positive side, Nokia is catering to the no-compromise folks..."

Too bad that these: a) feel cheap; b) will have limited carrier coverage in the US. As usual, Microsoft is handicapping their own chances before they're even out of the gate.
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