You'd think that the XL version of a phone would simply be a larger and perhaps somewhat faster version of the non-XL version. In the case of the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, that's not quite the case. Yes, it shares a very similar industrial design with the Lumia 950, and it has a larger display and a bit faster CPU. In fact, they both run the new Windows 10 Mobile OS too, and have the same 3 gigs of RAM. Yet the more aspirational and flagship 950 XL doesn't feel significantly faster and in fact it's been less stable for us than its smaller stablemate. Why is that? Our educated guess is Windows 10 Mobile's newness and that it's sold as an unlocked phone with no carrier intervention have given it a case of growing pains. Wait, isn't it better when carriers don't muck with phones and load them with bloatware? Yes, that's often the case. But carriers do have their good points: they stringently test new handsets for reliability and stability, and in this case we think Microsoft could have used that help. Microsoft sells the Lumia 950 XL direct to consumers as an unlocked GSM phone that works on AT&T, T-Mobile and smaller GSM carriers. There's no contract and no payments on the upside, and it works with any GSM nano SIM card in the US and overseas. In fact, it's a dual SIM phone, a feature that's more popular overseas than in the US, so you could use two SIMs (even two carriers) at once.
The Lumia 950 XL has a 5.7" QHD AMOLED display and it runs Windows 10 for phones on the 2.0 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 CPU with Adreno 430 graphics. That's an octa-core processor that's the fastest Qualcomm currently makes. The smartphone has 3 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of storage plus a microSD card slot that's compatible with cards up to 200 gigs. It has a truly excellent rear 20MP camera with Zeiss lens, optical image stabilization, 4K video recording at 30 fps and a tri-tone LED flash (the same camera as the 950). A solid 5MP front camera with 1080p video recording, WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC and a GPS round out the solid feature set. The phone sells for $649, which is as expensive as the flagship Android and iPhone competition. Given Windows Phone's serious underdog position in the market, the price tag hurts a bit unless the phone brings superior features or innovations that the other operating systems lack.
The Lumia doesn't have a fingerprint scanner but it does have an iris scanner on the front that will eyeball your eyes and grant you access to the locked phone (Windows Hello login). We found this worked about 85% of the time (glasses on or off). You can use your self-selected PIN code should it not recognize your eyes. Or if you don't want any sort of security whatsoever, you can ignore the feature.
Design and Ergonomics
Like the smaller 5.2" Lumia 950, the 5.7" Lumia 950 XL has a serviceable and unimaginative design that puts function above form. The back cover is removable, and in fact you can replace it with jazzier backs in bright colors or faux leather thanks to third party offerings. It grants access to two nano SIM card slots, a microSD card slot and a removable battery--valuable features that are fast disappearing from the svelter and trendier handsets from Samsung and Apple in the Android and iOS worlds. The phone is available in your choice of white or black--no playful and vibrant Lumia colors from the Nokia Lumia days.
Our only design quibble other than the somewhat bland, non-premium design is the power button that's nestled between the volume up and down buttons on the side--a sure recipe for accidental power off rather than volume adjustment actions. The USB-C port is at the bottom-- kudos to Microsoft for including that forward looking port that supports fast charging as well as a USB-C to USB-A adapter in the box so you can connect it to your PC for file transfer. The phone has the usual 3.5mm headphone jack and a dedicated camera button that we love. As ever, the Lumia line keeps camera aficionados in mind.
The Lumia 950 XL has a 5.7" QHD 2560 x 1440 AMOLED ClearBlack display that matches other phablets in size. Since it's AMOLED it has rich blacks and infinite contrast along with vibrant colors that will likely please most folks. It has an outdoor brightness mode, though the display isn't insanely bright. It has adequate brightness but it's by no means eye-searing. The display is protected by Gorilla Glass 4 and for those who prefer natural colors to extra-vivid OLED, there are several color profiles to choose from.
Performance and Horsepower
With the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 and 3 gigs of RAM, you'd expect top of the line performance, but the Lumia 950 XL doesn't experientially outperform the slower Lumia 950. We chalk this up to Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile OS, which is a work in progress (they call it "software as a service", which means you'll get improvements and updates as free downloadable updates over the course of time). Clearly Windows 10 can milk more performance out of the Snapdragon 810, but it's not doing so yet. We look forward to seeing what Microsoft can do, but on the other hand you shouldn't have to wait after buying a flagship phone for $650. The Lumia 950 XL is by no means slow, in fact it's mostly spritely, though we saw occasional stutters that were unexpected given how incredibly fast Windows phones have been in the past. We also suffered many stalled app store downloads and a few app crashes (even after downloading the latest OS updates).
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Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Video Review
Though the rest of the world might not be, we're still bullish on Windows phones. They're easy to use and the Live Tile interface is intuitive and pleasing. The app selection still can't compete with Android and iOS, and we're still stuck in a "chicken and egg" situation where the developers will come if sales increase but sales won't increase unless developers release more Windows phone apps. Perhaps universal apps, those that can run on PCs and phones alike, will bring more developers, but we're not convinced. The staples are here for streaming music, social networking and cloud file management, but the rest still lag behind or are missing. That doesn't mean your phone will do precious little--there are plenty of apps to keep you entertained, connected and amused. It's just not akin to what the other two platforms offer.
Microsoft is betting on Continuum; the ability to connect wired or wireless displays, keyboards and mice to Windows 10 phones as the special sauce that will sell you. For business users this is a potentially captivating feature--connect these peripherals via Microsoft's Lumia Display Dock ($99 but free via mail in rebate for a time), and you can have a desktop-like experience. Right now, it's mostly Microsoft's own built-in apps that run in Continuum like Mail, Office, the Edge web browser and Groove Music. Over time, we'll have to see how many more apps transition to universal and support the desktop-ish transition that is Continuum. Still, you can get work done in MS Office Mobile (a pared down version of desktop Office), Mail and Edge. It's actually pretty cool, and there's a lot of potential here.
Phone and Data
Nokia made excellent voice phones and that continues under the Microsoft brand. The unlocked GSM Lumia 950 XL has full and clear incoming and outgoing voice. The speaker is decent enough to carry on a call with the phone on a desk a few feet away, and the mics picked up our voice nicely from that distance. Data speeds on T-Mobile and AT&T's networks in our strong coverage area (Dallas) were good and competitive with carrier phones. The Lumia supports a healthy selection of LTE bands, so you should get good coverage across the US.
This is a dual SIM phone, and that means you can use two SIM cards (even from different carriers) at once and assign the default SIM for data connections. The top status bar provides info about both SIM cards and there are even two different phone Live Tiles for the different lines.
Like the Lumia 950, the 950 XL has an excellent 20MP camera (they use the same camera and lens). It takes natural and three dimensional photos that look more like a dedicated point and shoot than a camera phone. On the other hand, the same can be said of the LG V10 and even the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Note 5 family of phones. When Nokia made Lumias with high end PureView cameras, they pushed the envelope and did things no one had done before--like 40MP sensors and DNG RAW formats. There's nothing so innovating or daring here, but we'll forgive it because the photos and videos are so darned good. This camera takes excellent photos and very good video in 1080p @ 30 fps and 4K @ 30 fps with OIS and a fast f/1.9 Carl Zeiss lens to keep things bright and sharp in low light. But those specs sound much like the competition's, other than the boost to 20MP from 16MP. That 4MP really doesn't matter much--the sensor, image processing and software are more important rather than a small resolution bump. Happily, both are in top form here, as we've come to expect from higher end Lumia phones.
The camera app has plenty of manual settings, downloadable "Lenses" (bar code reader, background blur, social networking plugins and more), and a nice automatic short animated sequence capture if your subject is moving when you try to snap a photo. It doesn't trounce the top camera phones on the market today, but we'll give it a slight edge for photos. Unfortunately for Microsoft, they need more than a slight edge to draw Android and iPhone owners.
The front 5MP camera has an f/2.4 lens and it can record 1080p video. Like the rear camera, it's very respectable and yielded natural Skype video footage with minimal noise.
The Lumia 950 XL is one of the few phones to sport a USB-C 3.1 port, which allows for faster charging and support for a wider array of peripherals like display out (e.g. Microsoft's own Display Dock). The phone also supports Qi wireless charging, which is an easy way to charge your phone (just lay it on a Qi charging plate), but considerably slower than cable charging. The Lumia 950 XL has a 3340 mAh battery that's easily swapped once you pry off the back cover. Battery life was decent but not stellar--the Snapdragon 810 is a powerful and hungry CPU and the Lumia is driving a high resolution display. The phone managed a full day with light to moderate use (8am-10pm), but it was generally down to 10% power remaining by 10pm.
There's a lot to like about the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL. After all, it's the first flagship Windows phone with a big display and top of the line CPU in some time. The display is colorful and reasonably bright and the phone has one of the best rear cameras on the market. The phone's generic looks and matte plastic back aren't quite fitting for a $650 model when the high end competition is cranking out aluminum and glass phones that look truly stunning. As a consolation, unlike those classy looking phones, the 950 XL's back cover pops off for easy battery swaps and third party colorful and leather backs can significantly improve the look. Our only wish is that the phone were spritelier and stable--it's been on the market for two months and Microsoft still clearly has work to do with Windows 10 Mobile and related software. The hardware is fine, it's a matter of Microsoft getting the hiccups and bugs fixed.
Display:5.7" AMOLED QHD 2560 x 1440 display, Gorilla Glass 4. 518 PPI. Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer and proximity sensor. Supports display out via Miracast wireless display and via USB-C and optional Display Dock.
Battery:3,340 mAh Lithium
Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. Supports Qi wireless charging.
Performance:2.0 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 6-core core CPU with Adreno 430 graphics. 3 gigs RAM and 32 gigs storage.
Size:5.98 x 3.09 x .33 inches. Weight: 5.82 ounces.
Phone:GSM and EDGE 2G quad band world phone. 3G and 4G LTE bands 1,3, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20 and 28. Dual nano SIM card slots.
Camera:5MP front camera and 20MP rear camera with f/1.9 Carl Zeiss lens. Can record 1080p and 4K video with rear camera. Supports JPG and DNG recording formats for photos.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Networking:Integrated dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac, NFC and Bluetooth 4.1.
10 for Phones.
microSD card slot compatible with cards up to 200 gigs. USB-C port.