We give the top Lumia a chance before its complete demise
I guess we all know by now that Windows 10 Mobile is a mobile operating system that no longer has a future, and even though there are users sticking with it for the time being, the only thing they do is delay the switch to Android or iOS.
But despite becoming a failure, Windows 10 Mobile impressed in several regards, including with its loyal user base. Just think of this: even though Microsoft itself has confirmed that there are no new features and devices planned for Windows 10 Mobile, there are lots of people who continue using it.
Needless to say, most of these users own one of the latest Windows phones that got to see daylight, like the Lumia 950 XL, Alcatel IDOL 4S Pro, and HP Elite X3. Out of them all, the Lumia 950 XL has a special place in our hearts.
As the latest flagship phone released by Microsoft, Lumia 950 XL is a phone that was truly ahead of its time when it was launched in October 2015. It boasted features that no other phones had at that point and judging from a hardware perspective, it’s still a pretty capable product.
This is exactly the reason we decided to give it another look this month, as it’s pretty clear that in less than 12 months, the Lumia 950 XL will be an obsolete device as well.
Note: you can read my original Lumia 950 XL review here.
I must admit that using my Lumia 950 XL for a couple of weeks to see how the model evolved lately has generated some sort of nostalgy. Because I, just like so many people out there, really loved Windows phones but had to switch to a different platform because of the same reasons we discussed so many times before.
In terms of hardware, the Lumia 950 XL is still a solid choice, despite phones obviously improving substantially in the last few years.
First and foremost, the Snapdragon 810 chipset continues to be more powerful than most of the mid-range Android models out there, and paired with 3GB RAM, it creates a mix that wasn’t supposed to let you down. Just think that Apple has only recently started offering 3GB RAM on its iPhones, and this shows just how advanced in terms of hardware the Lumia 950 XL really was.
The device comes with 32GB storage and a microSD card slot, which again is the perfect combo to make up for limited built-in storage. Apple is betting big on hardware, while Android OEMs indeed increase storage capacity, but at the same time offer lower-storage configurations mixed with microSD card slots for a smaller price.
I still think the display of Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile flagship is a good piece of hardware. Measuring 5.7 inches, the AMOLED screen boasts a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels and a 16:9 ratio with 518 ppi pixel density. It’s covered by Gorilla Glass 4, which is a really strong choice given that the most recent high-end phones come with Gorilla Glass 5.
The camera is still a very capable configuration, even though it lacks the more advanced technologies that the latest-generation flagships have embraced, like dual- or even triple-lens setups.
Lumia 950 XL sports a 20-megapixel sensor with Zeiss optics, f/1.9 and 1.2 um sensor size, with the feature arsenal including OIS, auto-focus, triple-LED RGB flash, HDR, and even 1080p recording at a maximum of 60 fps.
On paper, this sounds like impressive hardware for a phone launched in 2015, but once again, the lack of software refinements drags it down. Just like it happened when I first reviewed the Lumia 950 XL, there are bugs here and there that sometimes make the focus slow, and the actual photo shooting takes more than a couple of seconds at random times. The post-processing also needs improvements.
Photos are good, but they aren't anything impressive. As most users know already, the Lumia 950 XL was quite an advanced photo shooting machine back in the days when it was new on the market, but since then, camera performance has improved substantially in the mobile world.
There are now dual- or even triple-camera systems, and needless to say, the Lumia 950 XL single-lens unit can't keep up with such tech. But on the other hand, it's still a much better camera than what you can find on the majority of mid-rangers out there. So it still delivers incredible value for the money.
My personal struggle still seems to be taking photos with a Lumia 950 XL in low light conditions. The phone has a hard time focusing, and every little shake has the potential of generating a blurry photo.
Other than that, if lighting conditions are good, the Lumia 950 XL can deliver good-looking shots, though as I said, there are substantial differences as compared to today's flagships simply because of the outdating tech.
There's another thing that proves Microsoft's flagship was really ahead of its time: Windows Hello. The iris scanner is a feature that many OEMs are only now adopting, so Microsoft was betting big on biometrics nearly three years ago when its rivals were all about fingerprint scanners. Windows Hello hasn't improved much on Windows 10 Mobile, and it works just like it used to back in the days when the OS was still getting updates.
There's a somewhat inconsistency every once in a while and authenticating with Windows Hello doesn't always work as expected on the Lumia 950 XL. As a heavy Windows Hello user on my Surface, this shows that Microsoft being committed to a specific platform is critical, as this feature has evolved substantially on PCs, but stagnated on mobile.
Lumia 950 XL also features a USB Type-C port with fast charging, and it helps recharge the 3340 mAh battery in approximately one hour and a half. Again, this is a feature that proves Microsoft wanted to become a leader in terms of hardware in the mobile market, as rivals like Apple are only now implementing fast charging across its lineup.
The software side continues to be the biggest drawback of the Lumia 950 XL, and to be completely honest, the current state of Windows 10 Mobile hasn't changed too much from how it was more than a year ago when I finally decided to make the switch to iPhone.
The lack of app support is still a deal-breaker for me, and it can only get worse given that Microsoft itself pushed the platform to maintenance mode. Microsoft is still offering the essential apps should anyone want to use the phone for basic stuff, but other than that you'll have to stick with web-based versions of most services to enjoy Windows 10 Mobile.
Also, the operating system and the core apps still need many refinements. There are occasional slowdowns and app crashes happening when you expect the least, and as far as users are concerned, this is also one of the reasons that contributed to Windows 10 Mobile's demise.
It's not all that bad, however, as there are features that I still love on Windows 10 Mobile. Live tiles and the Start screen are simply amazing, and nothing on Android or iOS can replace them. Microsoft has clearly missed a major opportunity to build a powerful mobile operating system based on these features, but as everyone found out the hard way, being successful in mobile first and foremost requires a large app ecosystem to boost adoption.
Glance screen continues to be one of my favorite feature on a smartphone. I also use Always On Display on my Samsung Galaxy S8, but for some reason, I still prefer Microsoft's Glance screen. Plus, it eats up substantially less battery than Samsung's clone, and despite all the aforementioned bugs, it works unbelievably smoothly.
Back in 2015 when it rolled out this phone, Windows phones were already on the decline, but many people considered the Lumia 950 XL to be a sign of a new beginning for Microsoft in the mobile world.
It wasn't, but as you can see, the last Windows 10 Mobile flagship continues to be a solid choice these days, with good hardware that can deal with most of the tasks.
Sure, it's not a complete package, and hardware without software doesn't mean anything, but at the end of the day, it shows that with a little effort, Microsoft built a device that can really stand against the iPhone.
Despite building such a solid choice in terms of hardware, Microsoft has somehow decided to mess up the software, which is exactly the part that it was supposed to get right from the very beginning, especially when taking into account its culture.
The lack of apps isn't the only setback on the Lumia 950 XL, as the experience with the phone leaves a lot to be desired.
There are bugs and slowdowns all over you look and occasionally, apps crash without a clear reason. The Photos app, for instance, still needs a few seconds to apply the finishing touches, and this bug has been there from the very beginning.
At this point, Microsoft has more or less returned to the roots, so instead of improving its own mobile OS, it's building apps and services for the others. The company wants all of its apps to be available on Android and iOS, empowering its customers to access products regardless of the device they use.
But as far as the Lumia 950 XL goes, it emphasizes once again that Microsoft never managed to get Windows 10 Mobile right. And now after nearly three years since its launch, this thing becomes even clearer.
The hardware side of the 950 XL is impressive, to say the least, even though it can no longer cope with what the latest-generation phones bring to the market. Yet, without a refined software experience, all these efforts are worth nothing.
The only thing I'd like to see, and I'm pretty sure that many Windows Phone fans agree with me, is Lumia 950 XL unlocked to run Android. This would be the only way to see this device getting the chance that it deserves. Good hardware with solid software.