Microsoft Lumia 950 Review - The first smartphone that works like a PC

Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

Microsoft Lumia 950 is the first premium smartphone with Windows 10 Mobile and it comes after more than a year in which Microsoft did not release any premium smartphones. It h as been a very long and painful wait and, for Windows fans, the interest in this flagship is very high, as it promises high-end features, premium design, and the best Windows 10 experience. After all, this is the first smartphone that works like a PC and that’s not a small promise. We’ve been us ing the Lumia 950 on a daily basis, for the last 10 days and we would like to share our opinion about this smartphone, in this in-depth review:

Hardware specifications & packaging

Microsoft Lumia 950 is packaged in a cardboard box which is similar to those used for all Lumia devices since Nokia was purchased by Microsoft. On the front, you can see only a picture of the device.

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On the back, there’s very little in terms of information: you learn only that it uses Windows, a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and ZEISS optics.

When you open the box, you see the smartphone.

Beneath all the paperboards, you will also find the charger, a USB-C cable, the product user guide and the safety information booklet.

Unfortunately there are no bundled headphones and that’s quite a shame for a smartphone this expensive. You will have to buy them separately, which increases the cost of owning a Lumia 950.

In terms of hardware, Microsoft Lumia 950 brings a much needed update to the platform. First of all, it packs a six-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, running at 1.8 GHz. It includes 3GB of RAM memory and 32GB of storage space which can be further expanded with the use of a MicroSD card, of any size up to 200 GB.

Microsoft Lumia 950 has a 5.2" AMOLED screen wit h a resolu tion of 2560 x 1440 pixels, a pixel density of 564 ppi, with ClearBlack technology and Gorilla Glass 3 . The screen also includes sunlight readability enhancements. Unfortunately, the super sensitive touch technology that we enjoyed in Nokia Lumia 930 or Lumia 925 is gone from the Lumia 950, meaning that you cannot use this smartphone while wearing gloves. This will be a disappointment to users who enjoyed this feature o n previous Lumia flagships.

The battery is replaceable, it has a capacity of 3000 mAh and it features Qi wireless charging as well as fast charging.

The main camera has a 20 megapixels image sensor, it features ZEISS 6-lens optics, with natural flash, PureView and other useful technologies that, at least in theory, should make it one of the best smartphone cameras out there. In terms of video recording, it is capable of recording 4K video at 30 frames per second and a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels.

The front-facing camera has a decent 5 Megapixels sensor with wide angle lenses and can record Full HD 1080p video.

In terms of connectivity, the Microsoft Lumia 950 is the first Windows smartphone to feature USB-C. This means very fast charging and very fast data transfers between your smartphone and your computer. Lumia 950 also includes Bluetooth 4.1 and support for wireless networking using all the modern standard s, including 802.11ac. It’s great that you can connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks and enjoy really fast transfers. Just like any recent Lumia device, it also includes NFC support.

Lumia 950 is larger than Lumia 930, having a size of 145 x 73.2 x 8.2 mm (or 5.7 x 2.88 x 0.32 inches) in terms of height, width and thickness. In also weighs 150 grams or 5.29 ounces.

You can find all the hardware and software specifications of this smartphone, here: Microsoft Lumia 950 Specifications.

In terms of hardware, Microsoft Lumia 950 packs enough punch in order to deliver very good performance and a smooth user experience.

Design & build quality

The Microsoft Lumia 950 offers good build-quality and a clean simplistic design, but it isn't flagship quality, while the price tag is. For the same money you can get an Android device which looks like a real flagship. Unfortunately, the Lumia 950 uses a very generic design, similar to that of cheaper Lumias, and it will definitely not turn heads. It’s too generic for that.

The good news is that the screen is of very good quality. The ClearBlack technology definitely shines, by offering really good blacks. Whites are good too but other flagship models with Android will do slightly better in this regard. The viewing angles are also good but outdoors visibility is slightly weaker than on Android flagships at the same price. The screen lacks in brightness when used outdoors, compared to other smartphones in its price range . A feature that we missed from previous high-end Lumia smartphones is the super sensitive touch. This is not available on the Microsoft Lumia 950, meaning that you cannot use this smartphone while wearing gloves. Winter is here and this feature is very useful during this time of the year.

The back cover definitely doesn’t feel like that of a premium device. It’s the same kind of plastic used on cheaper Lumia models. On the back you will find the camera, the flash and the speaker.

Taking the cover off is very easy. You will have no issues in changing the battery if you have a spare, inserting the SIM card or the MicroSD card for extending the storage space.

Unfortunately Microsoft Lumia 950 is available only in two colors: black and white. Microsoft decided to quit using colorful covers like Nokia did, which is a mistake in our view. Users of high-end smartphones will always prefer more customization, not less.

Another important change is the fact that Lumia 950 has fewer hardware buttons than previous Windows Phone flagships. The Back , Windows and Search buttons are now software buttons. The only hardware buttons you get are on the right side of the smartphone: the power button, the volume rocker and the camera button. A smaller number of hardware buttons is a downgrade from previous high-end Lumias, as the software buttons can be fiddly at times.

One design aspect that we appreciate on the Lumia 950 is how light it feels to hold in your hands. This smartphone is not too big either and most users will be able to use it with only one hand.

Overall, the build quality of the Microsoft Lumia 950 is good but its design is too generic for a smartphone with a premium price tag.

The smartphone experience on Microsoft Lumia 950

The quality of phone conversations was mostly good on the Microsoft Lumia 950. However, there were times when we've experienced voices that sound as if they were echoing out of a tin can. This is most probably a software issue which manifested itself relatively randomly and which can be fixed in the final version of Windows 10 Mobile.

The signal reception is good. Lumia 950 jumped from 3G to 4G connections and backwards without any “hiccups”.

The audio quality offered by the Microsoft Lumia 950 is good, as long as you are willing to invest in purchasing a headphone set, since none are bundled with this smartphone. The audio enhancements offered do a good job, even though there are fewer of them than on previous flagships, like the Lumia 930. The speaker on the back side of this smartphone is loud and clear, as long as you do not go for the highest volume settings. Distortions will kick in when you do that. Because the speaker is on the back, if you want to enjoy good sound, you need to position the smartphone so that the speaker is not covered by the surface where you placed it. This may be an issue if you don’t want to hold it in your hands while listening to music or watching videos.

One of the Windows 10 features that changes the user experience is the new Windows Hello!, which scans your iris in order to unlock your smartphone. Even though it works most of the time , it's not nearly as a fast as a fingerprint sensor. Also, you have to look at your smartphone in the same orientation as you trained it. On top of it, it drains your battery faster so you may just end up turning it off.

In terms of performance, most times Lumia 950 delivers good results. The only time when the smartphone was very slow was when we first set it up and we migrated all our apps from a Lumia 930. During the migration process, everything was slow and the battery drained quite fast. Once that was over, we enjoyed very good performance. All apps were snappy and worked well. The only thing that deteriorated our user experience were the bugs we encountered in Windows 10 Mobile. This operating system is not yet finalized and it still has issues that need to be ironed out. But more on those later in this review. What you need to remember is that hardware-wise, Lumia 950 delivers what you need for a fast and smooth user experienc e, although th e operating system is holding it back, for now.

Regarding battery life , this is a weak spot of this smartphone. Most probably, the fact that Windows 10 Mobile is still under development, is very likely to have a major influence on how much this smartphone’s battery is able to last: most days, it didn’t last more than 11-13 hours of normal use without charging. In light usage conditions, you might get a full 24 hours but not more. Also, Lumia 950 does get hot after extended use, especially if you are gaming or using GPS navigation. It gets especially hot if you are using it while charging.

On the positive side, the USB-C technology used by Microsoft Lumia 950 charges this smartphone very quickly. From 0%, it bounced back to 10% in about four to five minutes. It went on to completely restore the battery in about 1 hour and a half.

From a hardware perspective, Microsoft Lumia 950 is capable of deliver ing strong performance , a snappy user experience and decent battery life. However, Windows 10 Mobile is still under development and has bugs which lower the quality of the user experience. One feature that users will enjoy a lot is its fast charging USB-technology, which completely restores the battery in 1 hour and a half.

The camera experience on the Microsoft Lumia 950

The camera experience on the Microsoft Lumia 950 is almost at the same level of quality we had with previous Lumia flagships. The hardware inside the camera is of very good quality and it can shoot great-looking pictures in almost any kind of conditions, including in poorly-lit environments. However, the software is not as top-notch as it used to be. For Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft had to create a new Camera app. We no longer have the great Lumia Camera app from Windows Phone 8.1. Even though the user experience is similar in the new app, it does offer less in terms of customization options. Also, while the main camera has a two-stage auto focus capture key, it did struggle at times to focus and we had to help it by pointing on where we want it to focus. Another downside is that the post-processing always takes several seconds. If you want to view a picture as soon as you have taken it, you need to arm yourself with some patience. This is a shame, as the hardware included in Microsoft Lumia 950 is a lot more powerful than in previous flagships. P ost processing should not take more time than on older smartphones. This is surely a software issue that can be fixed in future updates to the Camera app.

Regarding the quality of the pictures you take with the Microsoft Lumia 950 - it is very good. Below you can find a gallery with dozens of pictures, including selfies which were taken with the front 5 Megapixel camera. As you can see, even the front camera is quite capable.

Video recordings are very good: the digital video stabilization works well and the video and audio quality are top-notch. You can record videos at a maximum resolution of 3840x2160 pixels and 30 frames per second or you can go for Full HD videos at 1920x1080 pixels and 60 frames per second. Below you can see a panoramic video, shot in a park.

Here’s a video featuring some children playing and moving around.

We also enjoyed recording videos at concerts. As you can hear below, the audio quality is really good. This is a recording from a recent concert held by the band Nightwish, in Bucharest, Romania.

And here’s another recording made at another concert.

Last but not least, t he slow motion video r ecording option is interesting. To start capturing slow-motion video , you tap the Video button on the Camera app, and then the icon with the turtle. Here’s how a normal video looks:

And here’s the same subject recorded in slow motion, at 120 frames per second:

The two cameras on the Microsoft Lumia 950 do a very good job at taking high-quality pictures and recording high-quality video . However, the software has been rewritten from scratch by Microsoft and it still needs a bit of improvement, until it reaches the level of quality offered by the former Lumia Camera apps from Windows Phone 8.1.