Specifications 5.2in 2560×1440 564ppi AMOLED display, hexa-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 32GB internal storage, microSD up to 200GB, 3GB RAM, 20MP rear-facing camera, 5MP front-facing camera, GSM/3G/4G, 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile OS, 3,000mAh USB-C fast charging battery, 145x73x8.2mm, 150g
The Lumia 950 and 950XL are the first from Microsoft to run Windows 10 out-of-the-box
We have the Windows Continuum review pack, The phone becomes the PC or TV.
- See phone contents on a larger display
- Can use wired or wireless keyboard, and mouse
- Dock or HDMI port connection options
What if your phone could double as a makeshift PC? That, in a nutshell, is the promise of Continuum. It’s arguably the big distinguishing feature of Windows 10 phones and something that doesn’t really exist in the Android or iPhone realm. It should work with most future phones with Microsoft’s mobile operating system (the low-end Lumia 550 won’t have it), but the Lumia 950 is the first model to boast the functionality.
How do you use the phone as a PC? Pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to the Lumia, and use a PC monitor or TV as the primary screen. For any of us who have had to transition from writing a bevy of one-line emails and texts to writing some 1,000-plus word documents from a hotel room, the idea is instantly enticing. And that’s why I tested it by using it to write this phone review.
(In fact, I’m typing this on my phone — by way of using the Continuum keyboard and mouse, along with a monitor through the DVI)
The catch is that you need to tether to your big-screen display, through two possible methods, and they’re DVI or HDMI. If you’re using a TV and has built-in support for the wireless Miracast video standard — or if you have a Miracast dongle plugged into the TV — you can beam the signal from the phone through the preloaded Continuum app. Alternately, you can go with a more reliable wired setup, using the Microsoft Display Dock, which is what I used.
With the release of the Lumia 950, Microsoft does have a lot resting on its first smartphone without the Nokia branding, and it has to prove Windows 10 is a truly universal operating system as Microsoft hopes that those with the software on their PC will opt for a smartphone that works in tandem with the OS.
The Lumia 950 is available in black or white, and is made from matte polycarbonate that feels nice but slippy in the hand. The back is prone to picking up smudges and fingerprints. It’s a nice size coming in at 145x73x8.2mm, with a weight of 150g.
Microsoft has so far failed to make much of a dent on the smartphone market, although the UK market is pretty strong at the moment. This handset’s dull design could see it struggle to stand out against its big-name competitors. This is where Microsoft need to up its game and come up with a decent design as it’s not much to look at.
With regards to the button placement (all on the right-hand side), we find it odd that the Microsoft designers have moved them slightly closer together, as the picture below shows. Even though the Lumia 950 is 145mm and the Lumia 625 is 133.2mm long.
This does make the Lumia 950 harder to pickup as you tend to press either the power button or the camera button by mistake as they are only 30mm (approx) apart, compared to 36mm on the Lumia 625.
Why couldn’t they put the camera button on the other side or the back?
The design of the Lumia 950 is certainly practical. The backplate can be removed, giving access to the battery and microSD slot. This also suggests that other, more colourful, backplates could be made available. The only ones we could find are the Wooden Pattern Hard PC Back Battery Cover Case over at Aliexpress for $2.84
The screen on the Lumia 950 is stunning. The 5.2in display, which is surrounded by a tiny bezel that gives it an almost edge-to-edge quality, and comes with the AMOLED technology more typically associated with Samsung smartphones.
This makes for crystal clear text, vibrant colours, deep blacks and, despite the reflective Gorilla Glass 4 coating, impressive viewing angles and outdoor visibility. What’s more, the screen didn’t prove overly susceptible to fingerprints, unlike the Lumia 950’s plastic back.
This isn’t as powerful as the Snapdragon 810 in the Lumia 950 XL, but we noticed no problems with the overall performance of the smaller model. Everything from Netflix to Crossy Road ran smoothly, and navigating through the software is arguably slicker than on some Android devices.
The big talking point about this phone is that it’s the first, along with the Lumia 950 XL, to run Windows 10 Mobile out of the box. Although when we booted it there was an update waiting to be downloaded.
Those who have used a Windows Phone device won’t notice any radical differences on first impressions. Microsoft’s playful Live Tile interface is present, and you’ll find the swipe down Action Centre and quick action buttons – Back, Home and Search – at the bottom of the screen. Holding a Tile allows you to move it up or down the screen, delete it or change the size, then tapping the home button sets the tiles in place.
The changes become apparent as you make your way around the operating system. Microsoft’s Edge browser, which proved really nippy and, easy to navigate. The Windows Store has been given a facelift making it much more pleasant to use.
Apps have long been a problem for Microsoft. The company has upped the ante with Universal Apps, which means that some offer identical or near-identical functionality and data syncing between the mobile and desktop editions of the same application, but third-party apps is still a real problem on Windows 10 Mobile.
You won’t find any Google apps – Maps or Drive, for example – and the YouTube app is in fact an app published by Microsoft that simply takes you to YouTube’s mobile website. You will find many of the big name apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Netflix, but some are sub-par versions of their iOS and Android counterparts. Instagram, for example, proved so jarring and buggy that we quickly switched back to our Android, Honor6plus for browsing through pictures.
The selection of third-party apps is lacking, but Microsoft hasn’t been shy when it comes to pre-loading software onto the device. Most are welcome, such as Office and Xbox, but you’ll also find Groove Music, Lumia Creative Studio and Shazam, all of which are unlikely to get a second look.
Still, some of Microsoft’s own features redeem the situation somewhat. Windows Hello, Microsoft’s futuristic iris-scanning feature, proved one of the operating system’s better features during our time with the Lumia 950, working quickly and accurately despite its beta tag. But having to take my glasses of to activate iris was, hard as I couldn’t read the instructions!
Now let’s take a look at the Camera.
A 20-megapixel beauty that takes pretty good shots
- Dedicated camera button
- 20-megapixel sensor
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
- 4K video recording; 1080p front-facing capture
Microsoft missed a trick by not making many changes to its native camera app, which I feel was a opportunity missed. Image quality is still very good in nearly all lighting situations, but manual options aren’t always easy to figure out, and there’s some missing information in the settings menu. For instance, the 950 has a 20-megapixel camera sensor, but if you pick the 16:9 aspect ratio, you can only go as large as 16 megapixels. You get 19 megapixels if you switch to the narrower 4:3 aspect ratio.
There’s support for 4K video capture, but video defaults to 1080p (it’s crisp and clear on the phone screen and when played back on a 50-inch 1080p TV). I appreciate manual controls to get that macro, and you can set the camera for timed shots and photo burst capture. You can capture a few seconds of “living images” that’s just like Live Photos in the iPhone 6S. That’s mildly interesting, I guess, but I’d rather have an auto-HDR toggle and Panorama already installed. You can get those and other options, too, by downloading separate “lenses”, or apps, but I think more people would use and appreciate pre-installed features versus common settings they have to find themselves.
I continue to be impressed with the Lumia’s ability to take crisp, usable photos in a variety of settings. Lumias often cast a bluish or yellow tint to scenes. Warm yellows were punched up in some scenes, making them richer than real life; in other circumstances, tones were true. There’s a triple LED “natural” flash that says it’ll smooth out lighting too.
We are glad that the ‘Dedicated camera button’ is back.
Third update via Windows Insider – Insider Release Preview since I’ve had the Lumia 950
Battery life and storage
The Lumia 950 has a 3,000mAh battery which Microsoft’s claims will provide around 18 hours of talk time with a maximum standby time of 12 days.Maximum music playback time 67 hrs.
Like most people, we don’t use our smartphone much for talking anymore, so we put the Lumia 950 through its paces although being a little conservative we found that the Lumia 950 made it through almost two full days of use. What’s more, the battery is removable so you can always carry around a spare in your bag. One thing we do like.
The Microsoft Lumia 950 has ditched the microUSB for USB Type-C. Two USB Type-C chargers came with the Continuum pack, but we quickly made this back given how fast the handset charges. We found that the Lumia 950 goes from nada to full in less than an hour and a half on average. Wireless charging is also supported, but you won’t find a charger in the box.
The Lumia 950 comes with 32GB of storage which can be expanded by an additional 200GB thanks to the microSD slot.
I like Windows Phones having both the 425 and the 625, and I’ve been looking forward to testing the Lumia 950. The hardware – impressed with a gorgeous display, great camera and slick performance, but it’s hard to overlook the lack of apps that continues to plague Microsoft’s mobile operating system. Plus the App Store seems to be running very slow taking a lot more time to download than other OS’s
The lack of app support means it will continue to struggle to drag buyers away from Google and Apple.
The buttons on the same side are too close together. You could easily press the ON/Off or Camera buttons by mistake while just holding the device. Why oh why did they not move the camera button elsewhere.
App selection remains disappointing compared with iOS and Android
Been involved in technology for many years, more than I care to remember. Live in Dundee, Scotland. I like Android, Windows Phone OS, BlackBerry OS and iOS, and love writing about all things techie. Currently have a Honor 6+, Elephone P6000, Nexus 5, Chrombook C720, HTC One M7, Nokia Lumina 625, Microsoft Lumia 435, Blackberry Q10, HTC Hero and iPad mini
Latest posts by Dave Thornton (see all)
- HTC 10 leaks – Yes no M or One both Dropped – March 4, 2016
- Microsoft Lumia 950 Continuum Seeding pack review – March 4, 2016
- Microsoft release Windows 10 Mobile Build 10586.122 – March 3, 2016