Microsoft may be riding a high wave on the strength of its Windows operating system, Office suite, and Xbox gaming consoles, but when it comes to smartphone devices, they are not just lagging behind, but getting an astonishing amount of ridicule for their efforts thus far. Is all that about to change now that Microsoft is directly involved in the production of Windows Phones? The launch of Microsoft’s flagship device, the Lumia 950 could just hold the answer to that question and to the survival of Microsoft phones in the future as well.
The question is whether Microsoft has just intended the Lumia 950 to be a flagship device that users will upgrade to (since there hasn’t been a Windows Phone launch in quite a long time!) or is this one that will break through the barriers of mediocrity that has plagued the smartphone arm of the company and emerge as the go-to- phone for the future generation? Let’s find out.
We’ll start with the hardware. The first thing you’ll notice about the Lumia 950 is the polycarbonate shell and unimaginative design. The shell is only available in 2 colors, black or white and lacks the premium look that you’d expect in an expensive device such as the 950. On the bright side, you’ll probably end up having fewer scratches in the long run. Another plus is the advantage of having a firm grip on the phone if you’re using it single handed for taking photos in a crowded subway.
Under the shell lies the SIM and expandable storage slot sections and the removable battery. The right edge of the phone is lined up with the standard Volume Up and Down buttons followed by the Power and Camera button while the phone’s USB-C port sits at the bottom.
The Lumia 950 has a 5.2-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 AMOLED display, which sits beneath a sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The display resolution at 564 pixels per inch (ppi) matches the Galaxy S6 while bettering the iPhone 6. Although not as slim as the iPhone 6S and the Samsung Galaxy S6, the Lumia is still lightweight, measuring about 8.25mm thin and weighing 150g.
It has a 20 MP, Zeis Lens, PureView and OIS enabled rear camera that lets you capture great photos, while the 5MP front camera features a wide-angle lens, which is decent enough for taking selfies with your buddies. The camera is also capable of 4k video recordings with the ability to record up to 120 fps slow motion in 720p. Overall, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking about the phone’s camera, but it does a good enough job that an iPhone or Samsung would do.
The Lumia’s spec sheet lists the latest Qualcomm processor, the 64-bit, hexa-core Snapdragon 808; 3GB of RAM, 32GB of onboard storage, which can be expanded to as much as 200GB via a microSD card, and an Iris scanner. Powering this device is a 3000 mAh battery that can last up to 9 hours and 30 minutes if your usage involves web browsing via Wi-Fi, 10 hours of 1080p video playback and 18 hours of talk over 3G. So at least on paper, the phone should take you through the day.
So while the hardware isn’t the most exciting thing about the Lumia 950, the software is what’s worth noting. Microsoft has finally managed to bridge the gap between its smartphones, tablets, and PCs with Windows 10 operating system. That said, if you’re expecting a complete UI overhaul from Windows 8, you won’t see that on the Lumia 950. However, there are plenty of desktop features you’ll enjoy using such as Microsoft’s fun virtual personal assistant Cortana, the new Edge browser, and the mobile versions of the Mail and Calendar desktop apps. These features should definitely appeal to users who want the Windows desktop experience on the phone.
The new Windows 10 Hello feature is also available on the Lumia 950, making it super easy to log in to the phone by just looking at it; no PIN or password is required. Again, the lack of a fingerprint scanner may be disappointing to some. The most interesting feature of Windows 10 on mobile is Continuum, the feature that turns the tiny phone into a full-fledged PC. You’ll however need to pick up some additional components for this to work such as the $99 Display Dock, a mouse and keyboard and an external display, such as a TV or a monitor. Once you plug the phone to the dock and to the rest of the peripherals, your phone content will get displayed on the big screen, giving you a wholesome Windows 10 user experience. I’m not talking stretched out images to fill up the big space but appropriate resizing of tiles and content that’s on your phone.
Continuum still has some way to go though, because it supports only a handful of apps, most of it being Microsoft’s own contribution. It may not also be convenient or practical for users to carry around the different peripherals to get the Continuum experience on the go. Also, the Microsoft Store still lags behind badly when it comes to Universal apps with even big names like Twitter and Instagram still not being as good as the ones on Android or iOS.
Overall, the Lumia 950 is a pretty decent phone. It has a nice looking screen, a great camera and feels solid. When it comes to smartphones, Microsoft is still way behind leaders like Apple and Google. What would have made a powerful impact in the space would have been a smartphone that wasn’t just visually appealing, but also highly innovative and app rich. If you expected the Microsoft Lumia 950 to offer you one such experience, you should know by now that it is not the case. If on the other hand, you are a big Windows Phone fan, (and probably hate the iOS and Android ecosystem) you might be eager to upgrade to the newest flagship device. In such a case, the $550 Microsoft Lumia 950 is probably one that might catch your eye.