With the arrival of Windows 10, Microsoft also presented two matching smartphones; the Lumia 950 and the slightly larger and more powerful Lumia 950 XL. We have now tested the latter together with the Display Dock and its Continuum function.
As a descendant of Nokia, you don't really have to worry about the hardware of a Lumia phone. The Lumia 950 XL has a Snapdragon 810 processor, a 20 megapixel camera and a 5.7-inch QuadHD AMOLED display. However, buying a phone that runs on Windows still involves a number of question marks. For example, whether you like the interface but especially whether there are enough apps available by now.
Windows 10 was developed at the same time for use on PCs, tablets and smartphones. This means that there must be great similarities between the interfaces and it must be easy to exchange data and files. In addition, Microsoft wants to make it possible for developers to develop applications for all platforms simultaneously. These so-called unified apps come out well with an accessory such as the Display Dock. More about that later.
Content of the box
USB-A to USB-C cable
At the time of writing, Microsoft is the only manufacturer in the Benelux to release Windows 10 phones. The Windows 10 phones from Acer and Alcatel are not yet available here. As the largest Lumia flagship, the 950 XL has to compete against the flagships that run on the two largest operating systems; iOS and Android. That brings you to the iPhone 6s Plus and the Nexus 6P. Famous competitors and whether Microsoft will succeed in luring away users with this Lumia 950 XL we will find out in this review. In addition, we will take a closer look at the Display Dock with the Continuum function.
The Lumia 950 XL is available in white and black but also our white test model had a black front. Microsoft doesn't like the cheerful colours as we are used to with previous Lumia's. The entire front is covered with Gorilla Glass 4-glass. This glass doesn't have a bulge on the side but the edges have been polished a bit. The strips next to the screen are quite wide but on the other hand there is not much extra space above and below the screen.
On top of the device, the headset jack is located in the middle and the USB-C jack is located on the bottom. We saw this earlier with the Nexus 6P and makes sure that you don't have to check whether you plug it in correctly, because the connection is symmetrical. However, it does make all your old chargers and data cables unusable. The left side of the device is bare. On the right we find a physical camera button and the power button with volume buttons on both sides. Although the buttons are clearly distinguishable from each other, the latter is a bit of a clumsy layout. Microsoft is one of the few manufacturers that applies a physical camera button, homage for that.
The sides and back of the Lumia Lumia 950 XL are covered by an 'old-fashioned' plastic backcover. Underneath it we find the familiar black plastic interior of a smartphone with a slot for a microSD card and a removable battery that keeps the SIM card in place. Because of the latter, it is not possible to hot-swap the SIM card. In itself, a plastic cover also offers advantages, but with the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL it crackles quite a bit at the bottom and there is some slack in it. This makes the device feel a lot cheaper.
At the back there is a fairly large round bulge in front of the camera with triple LED flash. This makes the lens look very large, but this is not the case. Next to the bulge is the speaker of the Lumia 950 XL.
Despite the large screen, the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL is still reasonably manageable. This is because it is not very elongated. Still, the 5.7 inch screen is most comfortable to operate with two hands. Is it all a bit too big for you then you halve the screen by pressing the Windows button twice quickly. Apart from the round protrusion at the back, there is little noticeable on or on the device. It is quite ordinary. The simple plastic backcover provides grip but also gives the device a bit of an inexpensive look. Would you like a bit more premium feeling Google than once on the covers of Mozo.
The battery of the Lumia 950 XL has a capacity of 3,340 mAh. This is slightly larger than what we usually see on similar devices. Nevertheless, we were unable to get much more than a day's use out of it. In addition, we have set up two email accounts and are mainly working on WhatsApp, keeping track of news and social media and occasionally taking pictures.
Windows 10 Mobile does have an overview of battery usage, but here the usage can only be shown for the last 24 or 48 hours or one week. So not for the period since the device has been removed from the charger. Screen on time is also nowhere to be found. Windows 10 has a battery saving function that limits background activity and push notifications. This function can be enabled automatically on a self-selectable residual battery percentage. The device notifies you once of a 10% remaining battery charge, but then, often unexpectedly quickly, it may fail without making a sound.
In terms of processor, the Lumia 950 XL has slightly more power in house than the 'normal' Lumia 950 and is therefore similar to the flagships of other manufacturers. Still, the unit doesn't feel very fast. This is partly due to the animations and transitions of Windows 10, but there are also frequent hiccups when loading or scrolling apps. The device also often has to think for a moment after opening a screen or application.
The Lumia 950 XL's 5.7-inch screen has a resolution of 1,440 by 2,560 pixels, giving it a commendable pixel density of 515 PPI. This is similar to what we find in most devices from other manufacturers with a 5.7 inch screen. This is an AMOLED panel that, like the other high-end Lumia's, has the ClearBlack technology. Together this results in a very detailed image with rich colors and deep black areas. In front of the screen, only the brightness level can be adjusted and there is an automatic mode.
It has now been six years since Microsoft presented the new Windows interface for smartphones. Characteristic of this is the start screen with the square and rectangular Live Tiles (tiles) that can show information from the corresponding app and one swipe to the left opens the alphabetical list of all installed applications.
Windows 10 has been redeveloped from scratch and we had very much hoped that with its arrival the imperfections of Windows Phone 7 and 8.1 would have been smoothed out. Unfortunately this is not quite the case. In fact, new frayed edges seem to have been added.
The standard Windows devices now also have a so-called burger menu for settings and additional functions that appears on the left side of the screen. Unfortunately, this can only be opened by pressing the button with three dashes in the top left corner and not, as with Android, by dragging the screen in from the outside left.
Microsoft has finally tackled the settings menu. This used to be a messy collection of options that seemed haphazardly mixed up. Now it's all grouped a bit more logically, but you still have to search a lot sometimes. You can search, but a search for 'factory settings' does not yield any results. It's nice to see how the settings menu changes layout when you turn the screen a quarter turn. The list becomes a screen with icons as we know it from Windows on the PC and when you open a segment it is displayed in split screen.
The Outlook mail app can open HTML messages but displays them very poorly and practically unreadable. This seems to be because texts are not always scaled correctly. Sometimes too small, sometimes too big. Quite standard third party apps also make little progress in their development. For example, the Facebook app is slow and cluttered and renewing your feed is bad. In addition, the standard font is far too large, which means that the 5.7-inch screen is not much use. Instagram does not allow video sharing. From WhatsApp, notifications of messages that have already been opened and read will remain visible. In addition, when WhatsApp is open, notifications are played while the sound is turned off. An official YouTube app is still not available. We can't blame Microsoft for all of this, but it is at the expense of the Windows 10 Mobile user experience.
The interface is very spacious. There is a lot of empty space on the screen and the font is quite large. To improve this somewhat, it is possible to adjust the scale of the interface. By default it is set to a somewhat inexplicable 350%. One step lower at 300% we think it looks more compact and nicer. The size of the tiles on the start screen can also be adjusted. An extra column with tiles will be added.
The background of the lock screen can be automatically filled with images of Bing, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. However, in practice this only seems to work for Bing and Instagram. Unfortunately, Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana is not yet available in the Netherlands. Only if you change both the region and language of the device to a region and language that is supported, for example English, you can consult Cortana.
Instead of a fingerprint scanner, the Lumia 950 XL is equipped with an infrared iris scanner. This can be used to unlock the screen but it is not possible, as some fingerprint scanners do, to activate the screen with it. To enable the function you need to open login options in the accounts section of the settings.
After you have activated the device with the power button, a red light will light up in the top left corner of the screen. At the top of the screen it will tell you that the device is trying to recognise your face and if necessary if you want to hold it a little closer. It actually only works if you sit still and hold the device steady. Even then, the device will often ask you if you want to hold it closer and it only works half the time. If it's going well all at once, it's no faster than a fingerprint scanner. Although the function is still in the beta phase, we find it hard to imagine that such a technique is really suitable for telephones.
It is usually not a fixed part of our reviews but because we have been looking for this position for a very long time, we are going to appoint him anyway. We are talking about resetting it back to the factory settings. At most you will use it to solve thorough problems or when you sell your device. To do this, go to Settings > System > Info and then scroll all the way down. There is a 'factory settings' button there. There is another way to go through a step-by-step plan. For starters, your device must be turned off. Next, simultaneously press the volume down and power button until the device gives a short vibration. Then press the volume up, volume down, power and volume down and the reset will be performed.
Until 1 February 2016, Microsoft will supply a free Display Dock together with the Lumia 950 XL. This makes it possible to connect an external monitor or TV. A function called Microsoft Continuum. Los the accessory costs a solid 94.99 euro. The dock comes with a USB Type-C to Type-C cable and an adapter to which a USB Type-C cable is already attached. For this amount we also expected an HDMI or DisplayPort cable to connect it to your monitor. The fact that there are 2 monitor connectors on the box does not mean that you can also connect 2 monitors at the same time. Besides wired, you can also connect a monitor wirelessly via Miracast.
Furthermore, the Display Dock has three USB Type-A connections, one of which has a power supply. For example, you could connect an external hard drive to this. At the front is the USB Type-C connection which is meant for the phone. Once connected, a white light appears. Somewhere it is a pity that you cannot put the Lumia 950 XL standing in the accessory as you can with the Dock of the Acer Liquid Jade Primo. However, because you can still use the phone, it is convenient to have it close and with the screen with you.
You'll need to open the Continuum app on your Windows 10 phone and go through a short step-by-step plan to get it working. If you connect the Display Dock to a monitor without a mouse or keyboard, the Lumia 950 XL serves as a trackpad. A keyboard will also appear here if you need to enter text. A keyboard or mouse can be connected to the Display Dock via USB or wirelessly via Bluetooth. A background image appears on the external monitor with your phone screen in the left corner serving as a start menu. Not every app runs on the big screen and they are dark. Developers will have to make their apps suitable for this and according to Microsoft it will become more and more so over time. Until then, you can click the apps, but they only open on your phone.
Most apps that are also made suitable for the big screen work well. Think of the Microsoft Edge browser. There is an insignificant delay in the whole and in terms of speed it just doesn't come close to a full-fledged desktop PC. No wonder, because it's your Lumia phone that has to control everything. Actually, we were quite surprised at the ease with which everything worked. No drivers, just connecting some cables. The only pity is that the Display Dock needs a power cable.
All that remains is the question for whom exactly the Display Dock is intended. People who can afford a Lumia 950 XL can also afford a desktop PC. Microsoft itself stops with people who are mobile and don't want to bring a tablet or laptop everywhere. The dock could also be useful for organizations where there are many flexible workstations and where employees are not in the office for days. This quickly becomes a fairly business target group that may also be very limited. The high price tag would scare us away.
The Lumia 950 XL's 20 megapixel PureView camera can take pictures of 16 or 5 megapixels in JPEG format or 5 megapixels in .JPG and 16 megapixels in Raw (DNG) at the same time. Then you have more editing options on the device. The camera can be started by pressing the physical button but this only works if the camera is held vertically.
The interface is nice and clear and doesn't show too much fuss. The camera opens standard in auto mode in which only flash and Rich Capture are available. If you open the settings bar, the pro mode opens and you can also adjust white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed and brightness. In the settings menu, timer, burst mode, aspect ratio, image grid, picture size, focus light, live images and video recording can also be set.
The camera opens smoothly and works smoothly. Only zooming is remarkably slow and the focus is not always good either. When you have captured the focus point with a tap on the screen, this is not changed when you point the camera somewhere else. Not even when you use the physical shutter button. During filming, the camera often wants to lose its focus for reasons that are unclear, so you will have a blurred image for a while.
Apart from the focus, the Lumia 950 XL shoots very nice pictures. Colour and detail reproduction are very neat. The amount of noise is very limited. The triple flash ensures a soft, even and natural exposure. After taking a picture, the exposure can still be adjusted in the album, but this does not necessarily improve the result. With live images you can make a short movie instead of a photo. Especially in this case the autofocus is struggling. The 4K video does deliver very nice, sharp and stable images with pretty clean sound.
Sample video shot with the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
The Lumia 950 XL has a high-end price and high-end hardware. The screen and especially the camera are one of the better ones we have come across lately. Although the appearance is not very high, the Lumia 950 XL should in theory be a real alternative to the iPhone or Android devices. It is always good for a market when there is more competition. Moreover, the interface of Windows 10 has a distinct character with interesting facets.
However, in order to entice users of iOS and Android to make the switch, the user experience of Windows 10 Mobile must be virtually perfect. This is not the case on the Lumia 950 XL. The biggest stumbling block is still the limited range of apps available in the store. In many cases, this can still be overcome by using the mobile website instead of the app. That's workable but doesn't really feel full. All in all, this means that on a daily basis you are confronted with shortcomings and miss out on basic functionality. To lay down more than 600 euros for such a device, we find it a bit much to ask. However, those who don't need much more than Office apps, can do a lot with the browser and attach little importance to apps can seriously consider the Lumia 950 XL. We only fear that this target group is not really large.