Announced back in October 2015, the Lumia 950 is the first high-end phone from Microsoft since the announcement of the Lumia Icon/ Lumia 930 in 2014. Over one year the Windows Phone community did not have a true flagship for an upgrade – a situation which for many fans wasn’t pleasant. Everyone was waiting for the Lumia 950 (XL) and various leaks did get us both excited and disappointed. Then on 6th of Octobre Microsoft finally and officially showed the Lumia 950 range of devices to the public and just some days later I was able to get my hands on both the 950 and 950 XL as well as the budget smartphone Lumia 550. Now, some months later I was lucky enough to get a review unit of the smaller version of the flagships for an extended period of time (over a month) allowing me to really get a feeling for the device and testing it out in real world use. In this review I will try to answer the ultimate question: Is the Lumia 950 worth the long wait?
Before reading on you might want to check out my earlier posts about the Lumia 950:
Design and Build Quality
Probably one of the most discussed aspect of the Lumia 950 is whether it feels premium enough for a flagship-type device – especially since the announcement of the Lumia 650 questions rose again why the Lumia 950 (XL) doesn’t have a metal frame as well. This question is definitely eligible and I totally understand people who don’t like the devices because of their plastic shell: After all my daily driver Lumia 830 does have metal frames as well and I really love the mixture of premium-feeling sides and comfortable-feeling plastic back. Nevertheless, I also have to admit that I quite liked the Lumia 950’s feel in the hand. Of course my Lumia 830 feels more premium which is – when you compare the prices – mind-boggling but the Lumia 950 feels very comfortable in the hand in my opinion. Furthermore, the device doesn’t get as cold as the Lumia 830 thanks to the lack of metal sides which definitely is a positive aspect. The Lumia 950 also makes a good impression in terms of size and weight: For its 5.2″ display the 950 is actually relatively compact (145 x 73.2 mm). Additionally, the phone is comfortably thin with 8.2 mm and only weighs 150 grams (which feels extremely light!). This all let me think multiple times when I picked up the Lumia 950 “Hey, that phone feels actually really comfortable in my hand. I like that!”. While I like the build feeling of the Lumia 950 in many ways, there are also things I don’t particularly like about it. First and foremost I’m not a huge fan of the buttons on the right side of the device: They somehow just feel like they don’t belong to the device. I don’t really know how to explain that but to me they just don’t feel “right”. Furthermore, all of them – volume rocker, power button and dedicated camera button – are a bit sharp and the “clicking sound” is quite loud and sounds a bit cheap. Regarding the dedicated camera button I had to turn of “preventing of accidental launch” because the button just didn’t work reliably for me. But when I turned the mentioned option off then everything worked fine.
Moving on to the design of the device I once again have to admit that I’m positively surprised – I actually fell in love with the 950’s design immediately after I unboxed it. In white the 950 looks way better than in black in my opinion! I even got to like the shiny silver ring around the back camera – on the black version of the device it always looked kind of strange to me and I didn’t really like it. Furthermore, I like the new Microsoft branding on the back of the device although on my Surface Pro 4 it still looks slightly better. All in all the back of the device looks actual quite sleek and elegant. This to me was probably the most surprising aspect of the 950.
The front on the other hand is kind of boring and there are slightly too many “holes” which disrupt the black frames but then again those are things which have to be placed somewhere and I don’t think you can really make a front look very interesting either – although a physical navigation bar (like on the 830) would maybe make it look a bit more special. Nevertheless, I actually do prefer an on-screen navigation bar.
At the end of the day I’m pleasantly surprised by the Lumia 950 both in terms of build quality and design. This doesn’t mean the Lumia 950 couldn’t feel more premium – on the contrary: I really hope a possible successor (if there is any) or the “Surface Phone” will have a more premium feel. Nevertheless, I liked the 950’s comfortable feeling a lot and I really enjoyed using the device. Despite the disappointing buttons I don’t really have major complaints and I think if you don’t really want to have a metal phone then you won’t be disappointed by the Lumia 950 regarding build quality. Furthermore, the Lumia 950’s back looks beautiful in white. And if you don’t like the back you can easily remove the back and exchange it with a back from a third-party manufacturer such as Mozo.
Design & Build Quality – Pros and Cons:
+ Comfortable feeling
+ Relatively compact
+ Thin and light
+ Removable back
+ Nice design (at least in white)
– Sharp, uncomfortable buttons
– Could feel more premium
One of the most important parts of a smartphone is undoubtedly the display and therefore manufacturers keep improving this aspect. Thus the Lumia 950’s display has some impressive specifications:
- 5.2″ AMOLED screen
- 2560 x 1440 pixels (564 ppi)
- Gorilla Glass 3
- Glance Screen
- Double tap to turn off display
The AMOLED display of the Lumia 950 has a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels which leads to mind-blowing 564 ppi. Compared with my Lumia 830 the 950 has over 260 pixels more per inch and you can definitely notice a difference between the two screen in terms of resolution. While I’m perfectly fine with the sharpness of the Lumia 830’s screen most of the time, the Lumia 950’s screen is just amazingly sharp and you won’t notice any single pixel. Quad HD may not be a necessity for a smartphone screen – after all I also enjoyed the 640 XL quite a bit – and many of you may argue that Full HD would have been enough. Nevertheless, it’s awesome to have such a sharp display.
Regarding brightness I’m also very pleased by the device’s screen. It does not only get very bright but also very dim which allows you to use the smartphone in basically every environment without having problems to see what’s on your phone’s display. Furthermore, auto brightness works just fine.
So far everything about the display has been very positive and the color reproduction is no exception. Since the Lumia 950 has an AMOLED screen colors look very vibrant but still quite natural and definitely are a pleasure to look at. Furthermore, blacks are very deep and look phenomenal – at least on a relatively high brightness level. If you reduce the screen’s brightness to the minimum (or close to the minimum), then blacks are bit reddish. But since probably most of you will have set the brightness to a higher level most of the time this won’t be that much of a problem and even if you dim it to that level it won’t be that annoying – it’s just something that I noticed. As it is typical for AMOLED screen, whites on the Lumia 950’s display aren’t completely white but appear to be a bit yellowish. Even though I’d like to have a clear white this is a trade-off I don’t have huge problems with since I get awesome colors in exchange.
Also in terms of viewing angles I don’t have any complaints at all. Content on the screen looks good from nearly every possible angle one might look at it.
Double Tap and Glance Screen
As mentioned before the Lumia 950 sadly doesn’t support double tap to wake up. This is – especially since the 950 is supposed to be a flagship – quite unfortunate. While this might not be a deal breaker the lack of support for this feature ist still kind of odd considering that most of the previous Lumias – even the low-end ones – supported it. Personally, I missed the feature quite a bit since I use it quite regularly on my Lumia 830. Therefor, the 950 supports double tap to turn off the screen which my daily driver doesn’t support.
One of the things the predecessor of the 950 was missing is Glance Screen. Being one of the most interesting differentiator in the smartphone market back then, many Windows Phone fans were disappointed by the Lumia 930 in that regard. Now time has passed and the Lumia 950 is here supporting Glance Screen – but others, including Samsung with their Galaxy S7 (Edge), have caught up by adding always on features to their smartphones as well. Nevertheless, this feature is still not the most common one so I definitely appreciate that the Lumia 950 supports it. I already mentioned it multiple times: I don’t want to miss Glance Screen anymore. It’s just a very convenient feature.
Display – Pros and Cons:
At the end of the day the Lumia 950’s display is undoubtedly one of the best displays one can find on a smartphone and it’s definitely one of the highlights of the Windows 10 Mobile flagship.
+ Very sharp screen
+ Good brightness range
+ AMOLED technology
+ Great looking colors and perfect blacks
+ Good viewing angles
+ Double tap to turn off the screen
+ Glance Screen
– Whites a bit reddish when low brightness
– No double tap to turn on the screen
At least on the paper the Lumia 950’s battery specs are very impressive:
- 3000 mAh
- Wireless and fast charging
The Lumia 950’s speaker sits – like on pretty much every smartphone these days – on the back of the device. While the speaker on the Lumia 950 XL is placed at the bottom of the device’s back, Microsoft decided to put the speaker of the Lumia 950 right next to the camera. While the placement might not be perfect, it isn’t too bad either. At least for me it’s fine because I think most of the people will use headphones anyway. But in case you don’t have any headphones with you, you won’t be let down by the built-in speaker: It can get quite loud and the quality is decent – all in all it’s good enough for watching YouTube videos, playing games and listening to music occasionally. For some of you it might be disappointing that Microsoft still doesn’t include headphones in the packaging.
Speaker – Pros and Cons:
+ Decent quality for videos, games and occasional music consume
+ Can get pretty loud
– Not the best placement
– (No headphones included)
Lumias are known for their great cameras and especially the Lumia 1020 was or still is being praised by camera enthusiasts for its extraordinary camera and also the Lumia 950 comes with high-end camera sensor:
- 20 megapixel camera on the back (optical image stabilisation)
- Up to 4K video recording
- 5 megapixel camera on the front
- Dedicated camera button
Like all the new Lumias being released, the Lumia 950 does come with Windows 10 Mobile preinstalled. While I do agree with those in the Windows fan community who claim that the OS is far from being perfect, I quite liked the experience with Windows 10 Mobile on the Lumia 950.
Microsoft has improved the overall experience with Windows Mobile in many ways while the most important changes for me are in the Action Center: Thanks to a multi-row quick actions area you can access the most important settings/ feature even quicker. Furthermore, there is finally an in-built flashlight right in the Action Center which means you don’t have to rely on third-party apps anymore. And now it’s also possible to easily turn off WIFI and Bluetooth directly with one click (instead of being forwarded to the settings app) on the corresponding quick action button in the Action Center. Those little but nevertheless very important changes improve the overall usability of the device. Moreover, multiple notifications from the same app don’t have to be removed all together with one swipe: You can now also easily swipe “away” just one single notification. Last but not least the notifications are expandable by a finger tip.
Of course Microsoft has not only improved the operating system in terms of notifications: There are also many more other small refinements. For instance newly added apps are being shown at the top of the app list so you don’t have to search for them anymore. Furthermore, Microsoft integrated skype messaging into the regular messaging app and of course also updated other system apps like the settings. While I do like many of the changes in Windows 10 Mobile, there are also aspects I’m not a huge fan of – I will write about those in the coming days.
Windows Hello and Continuum
Moving on to two features which are part of Windows 10 (Mobile) but so far are only available with the Lumia 950 and 950 XL: Windows Hello and Continuum. Both of those feature require specific hardware which of course isn’t present on older devices and therefore those features are restricted to the new Lumia flagships.
I already wrote a lot about my great Windows Hello experience on my Surface Pro 4. When reading the article you will notice that I’m a huge fan of Windows Hello and I definitely don’t want to miss it anymore. While I appreciated having Windows Hello on the Lumia 950 as well, I also have to admit that the overall experience wasn’t as pleasant as with Windows Hello on the Surface. This doesn’t mean the experience with Windows Hello on the phone was terrible – actually I was surprised by how well it worked considering the mixed reports I read. You only have to get used to lifting your phone to eye level so that the Iris scanner works – especially in public it felt a bit strange to me. But all in all I have to say that the Iris scanner was a very handy feature if it worked and when it didn’t it was a very annoying piece of tech. Since it worked most of the time though I enjoyed the feature quite a bit.
Another very interesting feature Microsoft introduced together with the Lumia 950 and 950 XL is Continuum. Sadly, I wasn’t provided with the Display Dock so I couldn’t try out the feature.
Software – Pros and Cons:
+ Windows 10 Mobile with many refinements
+ Windows Hello
+ Continuum (although not tested)
– OS a bit rough in some areas
With the Snapdragon 808 and 3 GB of RAM the Lumia 950 (together with the 950 XL) is the most powerful Windows 10 Mobile smartphone on the market. As expected, the performance of the 950 is outstandingly good: Switching between apps is very fast and games run really smooth as well. With all this power it isn’t too surprising that the Lumia 950 gets quite hot when playing games but I still was a bit surprised by how quickly the back of the device gets hot. Depending on which games you play, the device gets quite hot just after some minutes played. After all this isn’t too much of a problem for me as I think it never got uncomfortably hot but nevertheless I would have wished that the device would stay cooler.
At the end of the day I don’t have any complaints regarding the performance of the Snapdragon 808: This phone will – at least for most people – definitely offer enough power for the next couple of years. The only small downside of the Lumia 950 regarding performance is that it gets relatively quick relatively hot.
Performance – Pros and Cons:
+ Snapdragon 808 and 3 GB of RAM deliver great performance
– Device can get fairly hot
The Lumia 950 is a high-end Windows 10 Mobile device which is packed with a lot of interesting and innovative features such as Windows Hello and Continuum. Furthermore, the phone’s screen is phenomenal and the camera takes amazing pictures. Regarding performance users don’t have to worry either: The Snapdragon 808 and 3 GB of RAM permit fluid usage of the phone – even intensive games run fine on the Lumia 950. When playing games though the device gets relatively hot which might annoy some people. For me personally though, it never reached an unpleasant level of hotness. People who expected their phone to last two days with one charge will probably also be disappointed by the Lumia 950. In terms of design and build quality one either falls in love with the design and the plastic feeling of the device or one doesn’t like it at all. Personally, I definitely include myself to the first category of people regarding the design: I actually really like the Lumia 950’s design language. In terms of build quality I’m both happy and disappointed by the Lumia 950: While I appreciate the comfortable plastic but still not too cheap feeling of the housing I’m not the biggest fans of the sharp buttons. And the Lumia 950 just feels incredibly light which makes it a joy to operate the phone even with one hand. Furthermore, I actually had a quite pleasant user experience with Windows 10 Mobile and never faced random reboots. At the end of the day, the Lumia 950 is an impressing phone and once the price drops even further it will get more interesting as well. At the moment I will definitely won’t upgrade to the Lumia 950 because I’m still very happy with my 830 but if you are searching for a new high-end Windows phone and you like the plastic housing of the device I don’t see any reason not to consider a purchase.