Lumia 950XL Review

Last night, I arrived home late with my younger son from his basketball practice. I noticed a FedEx box on the floor. Not thinking anything of it, I went about my business getting the dog walked, kids to bed and eating a little dinner. Finally, around 11:00, I realized I should look at the package.  I opened it and was amazed to find three boxes. A brand new Microsoft Lumia 950XL, a Microsoft Display Dock, and an Actiontec Screen Beam Mini 2.

Lumia 950xl Package


Back in early December, I received a letter from Microsoft asking if I’d be interested in participating in the Windows Insider program further by testing a Lumia 950 or 950xl device. Of course, I said, yes. I had thought of purchasing one but was holding back, happy with my HTC One M8 (now running Windows 10) and not wanting to fork out $650 for something I didn’t really need.  

So, I carefully walked away, and allowed my fifteen-year-old son the pleasure of opening the boxes as well as inserting my SIM card and existing SD card into the device.  I then signed into my network, added my Microsoft account, and restored a backup from my HTC One M8 to this device.

A few reboots later and I was up and running on Windows 10, build 10586.36.  I’ve been running various mobile operating systems for some time now, and keep coming back to Windows mobile. With 10, Microsoft has struck a balance between usability, customization and productivity. I have a Samsung Galaxy S6 from work and find it spends most of the time in a drawer.  The Windows phones just work better in my opinion.

I even posted back in May, my preference for Windows phone over iPhone, Android or Blackberry –

Android, windows, iphone

The 950 XL is a beautiful device.  I’ve read reports that many aren’t happy with the “plastic” backing. Honestly, I don’t really care. The One M8 and the Galaxy S6 both are metal. I never see the body, since I immediately put a case on the devices.  The same will be done for this device. As it is, the device does not feel “cheap” in any way.  I will point out, however, that both the One M8 (5″) and LG G4 (5.7″) are easier to hold. The power button placement on the One M8 is on top and seperate from the volume rocker. The G4 has the power and volume buttons on the back. In both instances, holding the device and using one-handed is easier with that button placement.   Also both the M8 and G4 have rounded edges. This is a factor in helping the device feel more comfortable in the hand.  While the One M8 does not have a removable battery, the G4 does. The backplate on the G4 feels more solid than the one on the 950 XL and I don’t worry about accidentally breaking off the power, volume, and camera buttons.

LG G4 5.5″ phone

Still, the 950XL buttons are solid, the screen is extremely crisp, and the performance is flagship-worthy.  My One M8 came with a Snapdragon 801, a 5″ screen, and 2 GB of RAM.  It ran Windows 8 poorly but excels at Windows 10M.  This device, with a liquid cooled Snapdragon 810, 3 GB of RAM, and a 5.7″ screen performs very impressively. The screen size is perfect. While I found my Galaxy S6 and One M8 a bit too small, I also found the Lumia 1520 a bit too big at 6″.  The 5.7″ form factor in this device is a perfect size. Of course, for those with smaller hands than I, Windows mobile allows for the screen to be resized simply by holding the home button.



In addition, the keyboard – while not replaceable with third-party options like on Android or iOS – is very configurable.  The full-size keyboard can be quickly moved to one-handed position simply by dragging the spacebar left or right.


On-screen keyboard for left-handed use.




On-screen keyboard full-size.


In addition, the device has a software-based navigation bar. I originally disliked this, coming from the world of Samsung devices, however, now very much appreciate not having to touch a physical button to go “home” on the device. Speaking of home, however, there is one nit-pick. If you notice the image above, the notification area across the top shows I have two SIM card options. SIM 1 is getting signal while SIM 2 is missing. This device allows for two SIM cards, but I fail to understand why I need to be always notified the second SIM is not present.

I won’t go too much into the software of Windows Mobile 10. This has been done many times. I will only say that the “app gap” is not an issue for me. The only app I really miss is the official Starbucks App found on iPhone and Android devices.

The new feature I’m already enjoying is the ability to unlock the phone using a iris scan.  Basically, the device has my iris mapped. When I go to unlock, it will take an infrared picture of my eyes and validate that I’m the person who is registered to unlock the device.



Unlike facial recognition, Windows Hello is based on  “asymmetric key cryptography” which validates that only my eyes work to unlock the device. Of course, I can also use a pin or password if needed.



The other feature I’ve already found better than expected is the camera. I loved the camera on my Lumia 1520. However, the camera on this device is superb.  The camera has  Carl Zeiss optics, 20 MP sensor, and triple LED flash. After updating and getting things working, I wanted to find out how it worked. As I walk my dog early in the morning, I felt a low-light situation would stress the camera. It would also provide a good opportunity to compare the camera in the 950XL to that in my One M8, both running Windows 10.


Here’s a picture of my dog with the One M8 using only natural light and automatic settings.


Click for full-size

Here’s a picture taken a few seconds later using the 950XL.  You can clearly see the image quality, color saturation, and stabilization features of the camera. My dog was clearly more interested in a treat than the camera.


Click for full-size


I felt it a little unfair to compare a flagship 20MP camera against a two-year-old 5MP camera. So, I asked my son to snap a picture inside without flash using stock settings with both his LG G4 16 MP camera and the camera on my 950XL.  Once again, I’m impressed with both the richness and clarity of the camera on the 950 XL.

First the LG G4 Image:

Low-light image taken with LG G4 Camera

Low-light image taken with LG G4 Camera. Click to see original.


Next the 950XL Image:

Low-light image taken with Lumia 950XL Camera

Low-light image taken with Lumia 950XL Camera. Click to see original.


So far, I’m very impressed with this device.  With a 3340 mAh removable battery (unlike on my One M8, Lumia 1520 or Galaxy S6 – all of which have non-removable batteries.) and USB-C Fast Charging, the device can run all day on a charge and recharge in less than an hour. My main concern is with the lack of front-facing speakers. I got used to incredible sounding speakers on my One M8 and already miss the clarity.  Rear speakers are no longer a luxury but a necessity on flagship devices.

I’ll report back soon with my review of the device using the Continuum feature. I have yet to set that up.


Posted in Business, productivity, System Review

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