Windows 10 Mobile & apps
At first glance what makes Microsoft Lumia 550 stand out is the fact that Windows 10 Mobile looks great. The design is, in our opinion, remarkable: minimalistic, colorful and highly customizable. Like the previous Windows Phone operating system, Windows 10 Mobile is easy to use, as you have to navigate between the Start screen, the Apps list and Settings. It's so easy anyone can use it.
Windows 10 Mobile removes some of the features we had in Windows Phone 8.1 and introduces several new ones. We would like to describe the ones that caught our attention.
First of all, we like the new Office apps. You can create and edit Microsoft Word, OneNote, Powerpoint and Excel. That's pretty cool for such a low-priced smartphone. The apps are well integrated with OneDrive and you can use them to resume your work while on the go.
The email client was also improved. You can navigate easily between your accounts in contrast to the Windows Phone 8.1 version, which required separate tiles. Reading and sending emails has become faster and it also looks good.
The Microsoft Edge web browser is a very good improvement over Internet Explorer. It's a modern browser that works well with the modern HTML5 standard and it's also synchronized with the Windows 10 desktop version. If you are also using it on your PC, you can sync your favorites, tabs and so on.
Another thing that changed was the notification system and the status bar. The notifications can be viewed in a more friendly format and you can be more selective when removing them, instead of removing them all at once. The status bar contains more buttons making it easier for you to reach certain options, instead of searching them in the settings list. Also, the status bar contains a flashlight. This way you won't need an additional app and it's easily reachable.
Another important change in Windows 10 Mobile is its integration with Skype. For instance, you can easily switch from a phone conversation to a video call on Skype if the person you are talking to is using Skype. Also, the text messaging app can be integrated with Skype and you can exchange both SMS and Skype text messages in the same conversation with a person.
Another thing we like about this smartphone is the ability to synchronize your Windows 10 Mobile operating system with Windows 10 on PCs. Cortana deserves the title of a true personal assistant as it will display on your PC the notifications about your missed calls, as well as allow you to reply to those missed calls with a text message, directly from your PC.
The new Groove Music app is another welcome addition. Far better than the old Xbox Music and it's also integrated in OneDrive, so you can listen to your music stored in this cloud service.
What we don't like is the fact that Windows 10 Mobile removed apps which were really valuable in Windows Phone 8.1 like Lumia Camera, Panorama, Ringtone Maker, HERE Drive+, HERE Maps, HERE Transit and so on. As a result, Microsoft had to create its very own Camera app which is inferior to the Lumia Camera app . Also, the Microsoft Maps app doesn't stand a chance against HERE Drive+ and HERE Maps.
We discovered that, when you try to take more than 6-7 photos in rapid succession, the Camera app displays the message " Saving... " for about 10 seconds. While this message is displayed you aren't able to take any new photos. This is highly annoying and it's a software issue. Even high-end smartphones like the Microsoft Lumia 950 have the same issue and it should be fixed by Microsoft.
The Lock screen background is not updated with the Bing image of the day on a daily basis. Some days, you have to manually change your background source and then get back to Bing, in order for the wallpaper to get updated. Also, if you set the Weather app to show detailed status on your lockscreen, the info might not fit into the screen as captured in the screenshot below.
Another annoying aspect is that when you press the Wi-Fi button on the notification bar, it just turns on this feature, instead of displaying the available networks, like Windows Phone 8.1 did. If a known network is discovered in the area, it will connect automatically, but if you want to connect to a new network you have to go to Settings , press Network & wireless , tap Wi-Fi , then select the network you want to connect to.
Overall, we think that Windows 10 Mobile is a platform with many good ideas and quite a bit of potential. It has a lot of interesting features and it's visibly improved in many ways, when compared to Windows Phone 8.1. However, the operating system deserves more bug fixing and also some improvements in terms of battery life. Then, the removal of some useful features from Windows Phone 8.1 wasn't a great decision. Last but not least, we found that large applications have a hard time running smoothly on this device.
Performance in benchmarks
We have run some benchmarks on Microsoft Lumia 550 in order to compare it with other Windows Phone smartphones. For comparison, we chose two smartphones with a relatively similar price: Microsoft Lumia 535 and Microsoft Lumia 640 (which are running Windows Phone 8.1) and Microsoft Lumia 950 - a premium smartphone running Windows 10 Mobile.
First, we used Multibench 2 benchmark. In the processor test, Microsoft Lumia 550 was a little slower than the other smartphones with no significant differences. The graphics benchmark results are quite unexpected and disappointing. Lumia 550 was 81% slower than Lumia 640 and 79% slower than Lumia 535. This smartphone has a higher resolution than its predecessors but that's not enough to justify the huge difference. This may also be because Multibench 2 needs updating for Windows 10 Mobile and because the operating system is not yet finalized and still has bugs and issues.
In terms of data transfers, Lumia 550 was 21% slower than Lumia 640 and 23% slower than Lumia 535. The same was true regarding the speed of the RAM memory: Lumia 550 was 45% slower than Lumia 640 and 46% slower than Lumia 535. Again, we think these poor results are because the Multibench 2 needs to be updated for Windows 10 Mobile and because the operating system needs more work on Microsoft's part.
Next, we ran WP Bench benchmark app. The processor (CPU) test results are consistent with those obtained in Multibench 2. Lumia 550 was 17% slower than Lumia 535, 16% slower than Lumia 640 and 74% slower than Lumia 950. The last score shouldn't come a surprise as Microsoft Lumia 950 uses a 1.8 GHz processor with six cores.
In the chart below you can see the results obtained in the graphics, storage and memory tests. In terms of graphics, Microsoft Lumia 550 loses, again. With only 29 frames per second, it is way behind Lumia 535 and Lumia 640, the other smartphones in its price range. In terms of storage and memory the results are below Lumia 640 and Lumia 535 with an average of 20%.
Then, we used the Sunspider in order to evaluate the web browsing experience on this smartphone. Microsoft Lumia 550 again fails to exceed the standards set by Microsoft Lumia 535 and Lumia 640, but the differences aren't as significant as in other tests.
Next, we measured the time it takes for Lumia 550 to start and load Windows 10 Mobile. Our stopwatch says that the smartphone is ready to use in approximately 38 seconds. From this results we can conclude that Windows 10 Mobile takes longer to load compared to Windows Phone 8.1.
Finally, we measured how fast the battery drains when the smartphone uses all hardware resources at maximum capabilities. We used the WP Bench battery test. Microsoft Lumia 550 had a good result, lasting an average of 3,5 hours.
Lastly, we used the Speedtest.net app to test the speed of your 4G data connection. Our telekom provider is Vodafone Romania and we made the measurements in a central area of Bucharest, with very good 4G coverage. You can see that we obtained an average download speed of 18.08 Mbps and an upload speed of 5.93 Mbps. It's a rather weak result, even though it is good enough for a good browsing experience.
Our tests show that Microsoft Lumia 550 delivers less performance than Microsoft Lumia 535. This is mostly because Windows 10 Mobile is not yet finished and polished as it should be.
Microsoft Lumia 550 is an affordable smartphone with a lot of potential which, at least from a hardware perspective, is mostly an upgrade from the previous Microsoft Lumia 535. Lumia 535 set the standard high for a good smartphone at an affordable price tag. Unfortunately, Lumia 550 can't do the same because the Windows 10 Mobile operating system is dragging it down. Yes, there is a lot of potential to the operating system too but it's not yet finished. It's buggy, it's not as well optimized as Windows Phone 8.1 is and it's slower than its predecessor on similar hardware. While Lumia 535 was mostly fast and fluid, Lumia 550 is generally slow and with bugs that deteriorate the user experience. If we evaluate the Microsoft Lumia 550 today, we can't give it a rating higher than 3 out of 5, because of its issues on the software side. However, if Microsoft finalizes and optimizes Windows 10 Mobile to the same level of polish Windows Phone 8.1 has, then a rating of 4 will be more than well deserved.