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Microsoft Lumia 950 review

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Summary

Our Score:

6

Pros

  • Superb camera
  • Windows Hello is cool
  • Sharp screen

Cons

  • Dull, boring design
  • Expensive for what's on offer
  • Poor app offerings

Key Features

  • quad-HD display
  • Snapdragon 808
  • 3GB RAM
  • Windows 10 Phone
  • Continuum
  • 20MP camera
  • Manufacturer: Microsoft
  • Review Price: £449.99

What is the Microsoft Lumia 950?

The Lumia 950 is Microsoft's first high-end phone to be launched running Windows 10 Mobile. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most frustrating and disappointing devices I’ve used this year.

Judged on the spec-sheet alone, you’d believe that Microsoft is on to a winner. The Lumia 950 has a fast processor, plenty of RAM, a generous battery with super-quick wireless charging, plus a sharp 5.2-inch display.

Yet, the shortcomings of Windows 10 Mobile and the almost budget feel of the handset make it hard to recommend.

Watch: 5 things you need to know about Windows 10 Mobile

Microsoft Lumia 950 – Design and build

In the past, I've been a huge fan of Nokia’s Lumia devices. They’re up there with some of the most slick and classiest phones I've used and have stood out from the pack by doing things just that little bit differently.

Available in a range of vivid hues, they were built using metal and high-end materials. In fact, even the cheaper offerings were sturdy little phones that displayed plenty of character.

Related: Best Smartphones 2015

The 950 may have the Lumia name, but it lacks that Nokia charm. It’s a Polycarbonate slab, with curved corners and flat sides, available in black or white. Three clicky buttons can be found along one side of the phone – including one for opening up the camera – while the USB-C charging port sits along the bottom. And that’s all there is to say. The Lumia 950 is dull – and I've used budget Nokia phones in the past that feel better.

Some will be happy to discover that the rear of the phone can be removed to easily access the battery, SIM and microSD slots. However, it juts out ever so slightly from the sides of the phone and each time I tried to prize it off, it felt like it was going to snap.

Unlike other flagships – the Nexus 6P from Google and iPhone 6S from Apple, for example – the Lumia 950 lacks the precision finish that I’ve come to expect from a premium handset. Nokia used to be one of the best in this regard, so it’s a real shame to see it lost here.

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Since the phone has a fairly small – by today’s standards – 5.2-inch display, the Lumia 950 is compact enough to be used comfortably in one hand. It’s dense, though, weighing in at 150g – 7g more than the aluminium-clad iPhone 6S.

Considering that this phone retails for the same price as the gorgeous Nexus 6P and last year’s iPhone 6, it really shouldn’t feel worse than the £199 OnePlus X.

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Microsoft Lumia 950 – Display

The Lumia 950 may look like a budget Nokia circa 2012, but Microsoft has packed the phone with plenty of the latest tech. This begins with the 5.2-inch quad-HD panel covered in Gorilla Glass 4.

It’s a pixel-dense display, of that there's no doubt, but it can’t quite match some of the other AMOLED panels on the market.

I’ll start with the positives. It’s sharp and, since it’s AMOLED, it offers up a solid punch of vibrant colour – without becoming oversaturated. Blacks are typically inky and viewing angles are superb.

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Outdoor visibility is decent too, although there are a lot of reflections under bright lights. However, this is an issue for all phones these days.

My main concern with this panel is that it just doesn’t have enough oomph when it comes to brightness. Switching it from 50% to 75% and even 100% doesn’t result in an obvious difference, instead resulting in colours looking muddy.

While this isn't something you'll notice unless you have all the flagships lined up, it's frustrating nevertheless.

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JohnW

December 3, 2015, 8:19 pm

Battery life is one of the great features of Windows Phone 8.1 so it seems a shame that this device is merely average.

beamerman

December 3, 2015, 8:30 pm

Very sad that the great design of the early Lumias has been dropped. Lumia 800, 920 felt like great premium devices as did some of the mid-range models.

Dead Words

December 3, 2015, 10:04 pm

An extremely disappointing review. The reviewer in question clearly came in with biases against both Microsoft and Windows 10 Mobile & its predecessor, Windows Phone 8.1. Furthermore, the reviewer showed multiple times throughout the review of this device that they have little to no experience with either Windows 10 Mobile or its predecessor and no real knowledge of the differences between them or how either operating system works.
Asking this person to review this phone was like coming to me and asking me to review the latest iPhone. I would immediately say no, as I know any review I wrote of the iPhone would most likely be extremely biased against iOS, as I do not enjoy any part of iOS.
I, as a Windows enthusiast, would give this phone 9/10. I, as a person looking in from Android or iOS, would give this phone an 8/10. Allow me to explain why.
This phone offers exactly what Microsoft promised their flagships would offer. Superb hardware in an unassuming body. The screen is fantastic, as is evident by anybody who actually tests the screen. The max brightness of the screen is actually 628 nits, found when—with Automatic brightness turned on—direct sunlight hits the screen. Normal brightness tops out at an admittedly disappointing 323 nits. Screen calibration is actually very good, with the OLED panel offering accurate, sharp colors and great viewing angles. The Lumia 950 and 950 XL are probably on par with phones like the Nexus 6P and the Samsung Galaxy S6 when it comes to OLED performance and calibration. The cameras are some of the best out there, easily keeping up with any other flagship camera out there. If they surpass them is another question entirely and far more difficult to answer, but there is no doubt that these cameras are great in any situation. The performance of both devices is very good, only being held up by a few software bugs that will be found in any new operating system. Android Lollipop 5.0 was a worst offender than Windows 10 Mobile is now when it comes to bugs and glitches. The design is the only thing holding these phones back. Yet, it's not nearly as bad as the reviewer seems to make it out to be. Build quality is very good, and the polycarbonate used is far higher quality and far sturdier than the cheap plastic used in many other phones, including last year's Samsung Galaxy S5. In addition, this design allows the phones to be far more customizable than almost any phone other phone out there, and gives them a set of features that almost no other phone has. In today's market, the closest thing to the Lumia 950 and 950 XL feature-wise is the LG V10.
If you're a Windows enthusiast who either owns a Windows phone or is looking to own one, these devices are perfect. They are exactly what Microsoft intended them to be, and their price is fair for what they are.
If you're simply curious about Windows phones and you are currently using a different operating system, the question is harder to answer. The hardware of these devices is unquestionably good (with the exception of the polarizing and disappointingly simple design), yet the software is another matter entirely. Whether or not you'd enjoy using Windows 10 Mobile is based entirely on what applications you use. For me, for example, Windows 10 Mobile offers everything I need and it's beautiful UI, slick and easy navigation, and unique charm means it's a better choice (for me) than either Android or iOS (although Android comes pretty close). For someone who wants the latest and greatest apps, Android or iOS are better choices, of course. However, I suggest you think long and hard about what applications you really need and just how many of those are actually available on Windows 10 Mobile. Many applications from third-parties, you'll find, are actually better than those from the first-party company (including Twitter and YouTube).
If you're a Windows enthusiast, this is the phone for you.
If you're thinking about Windows phones, this is a great phone to try, but be aware that there are weaknesses (although not as severe as this frankly terrible and biased review makes them out to be).
More unbiased, accurate reviews of this phone can be found elsewhere. Windows Central wrote the best review I've seen so far, writing the review from two points of view. That of someone who is already enamored with Windows 10 Mobile and Windows phones, and also from someone who uses Android or iOS and is either curious about Windows phones or intending to try it. It's a very accurate, objective, clear review of the phone and gives the phone the score it deserves. It goes through all the cons and pros of the phone in detail, and Windows Central also provides a number of guides, tips, and videos to help you improve your experience with the Lumia 950.

Bobtheblob

December 4, 2015, 12:21 am

I agree with most of your comments here. As a past user of Windows Phone, and a current user of Android, I have no attachment to any particular OS. If I was currently looking at a phone upgrade, I would seriously consider the Lumia 950 according to my own needs. The Cons described in this review wouldn't bother me very much, but the reviewer states them as if they should be deal breakers for everyone. IMHO Trusted Reviews have really decreased in quality in recent years, reviews are no longer as detailed, and certainly don't feel as impartial as they used to. (And if the Admin ban this comment because I've said that, then SHAME ON THEM!)

If you want a really good, detailed review, wait for the Anandtech review of the new Lumia phones.

Overall, I am slightly disappointed we aren't seeing a 'Surface phone' though. Letting the Surface design team loose on a phone would yield some really nice results I think!

Bobtheblob

December 4, 2015, 12:51 am

Before anyone reads the below and harasses me for being a Windows Phone fanboy - I write as a former Windows Phone 8 user, who currently is happily using Android, and also an occasional user of a household iPad. I simply choose my tech based on my needs of the time.

@Max Parker, you say you can't figure out who this phone is for... let me spell it out for you as an alternative verdict to the one in your review:

This is a phone for someone who wants a, powerful phone with a fantastic camera, a great screen, flexibility of a replaceable battery, and expandable storage. All presented with a slick and easily usable UI. Oh and plug in a screen and keyboard, and through Continuum, this phone can almost replace your laptop.

Sure, to some of the more vain people, who worship at the altar of the great Apple, it may be plasticky, but answer me this: Almost every iPhone user puts their beautifully smooth and undoubtedly lovely aluminium slab straight into a tacky plastic case for daily use. So you never actually feel the aluminium in your hand. Instead, it's the pure vanity of knowing the phone is aluminium. If that's the situation, then why not simply have a tough, plastic phone that you don't need a case for, and one that won't be ruined by a drop from 50cm.

Also, regarding the perennial bashing of Windows Phone for the lack of apps. This is PURELY DEPENDENT ON WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT APPS YOU NEED! On my previous Windows Phone, all the apps I wanted were there. And actually, since moving to Android, I now miss some of the things Windows Phone natively did really well, but simply isn't possible on Android.

SO my advice to any reader is: 'IGNORE THIS REVIEW'. Decide on what you need your phone to do, look on the Microsoft store, and see if the apps you can't live without are available. And then make your decision on whether this is the right kind of phone for you. DON'T BE A SHEEP AND LET THIS 1D1OT REVIEWER'S VERDICT LEAD YOU ASTRAY

Dead Words

December 4, 2015, 1:52 am

Yes, I noticed that reviews have been seriously lacking in detail lately. I've been leaning more and more towards abandoning Trusted Reviews as my main source of technology news and finding new places to go. I currently follow Android Central, Windows Central, WM Power User and Trusted Reviews (and a scattering of other sites when they write something interesting). Windows Central wrote a fantastic review of this phone and WM Power User was pretty good but not AS good.
Trusted Reviews is starting to turn into the Verge which is about the worst thing that could possibly happen to this site.
It's been confirmed that Intel and Panay (along with his team) are working on a phone together. The "Surface Phone" we heard of last year was scrapped (it was a Nokia project) and replaced with a pure Panos Panay project. It should be really exciting and we should see it in around a year.

Jamie Maclean

December 4, 2015, 7:34 am

The writer states about Lumia phones that in the past they were... "Available in a range of vivid hues, they were built using metal..." I think that it was only the 925, 928 and 930 that used metal and then only partly. Polycarbonate is much tougher than the light metals and also is radio "transparent" including wireless charging. In the past and including now I have had two Lumia phones, one mid-range and one high-end (the 1020) they were not made of metal.

CasperG

December 4, 2015, 7:58 am

Seems like you are the clown here.

TrustedReviews Sam

December 4, 2015, 9:57 am

Yes, because Windows Central will definitely write an impartial review of a Windows phone...

Menorca Man

December 4, 2015, 10:18 am

Hi Jamie,
The Lumia 830 also has a metal frame. I'm sure of this because I own one and love it.
Looking forward to the Windows 10 Mobile update!!

Dead Words

December 4, 2015, 12:25 pm

Windows Central wrote the review from two different perspectives. That of a person who knows they want a Windows phone, and that of a person who is simply looking at the Lumia 950 from another operating system. Both perspectives received entirely different scores for different reasons, with the score for a person looking at the Lumia 950 from a competing operating system being more flexible, depending solely on the needs of the user in question. I'm not saying their review is completely unbiased, but it definitely showed more openness to other points of views and other operating systems.

Dead Words

December 4, 2015, 12:26 pm

The Nexus 6P is octa-core, not quad-core.

Bobtheblob

December 4, 2015, 2:09 pm

Before, insinuating anything about other review sites, I suggest you read some of their reviews first!

Bobtheblob

December 4, 2015, 2:27 pm

I want a surface phone which has an Intel processor, (Core M3 or something like that with a <4.5W TDP). Then we could have a continuum mode which runs full desktop programs. I would so get that phone!

greycounciller

December 4, 2015, 4:38 pm

I lost all interest in this article when he mentioned the weight of the phone with the comment....."It’s dense, though, weighing in at 150g – 7g more than the aluminum-clad iPhone 6S".
This show's his bias will be more favorable to the device he/you are comfortable with.
I have never had an iPhone or an Android device, but only Symbian and WP devices.
When I have used the other 2, I find them just as tedious and archaic as they presume WP to be. I have an iPad I use (I won it in a competition) and see many aspects about it which amaze me that it become such a world leader.

And with regards the app situation, any OS would be in the same boat if developers only choose the easy, well trodden route of the developing for the big 2.
Imagine where Android would be if no one developed for them, and the same for iOS?
Will MS turn it around?
I don't know, the ball has been batted out of there court, it's up to the developers to return it.

Dead Words

December 5, 2015, 2:03 pm

I'm just saying, none of the phones in question are quad-core. The Nexus 5X and Lumia 950 both use hexa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processors clocked at 1.8gHz while both the Nexus 6P and Lumia 950 XL use octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processors clocked at 2.0gHz.
I actually would rather have a Lumia 950 XL over any phone on the market today.

Dead Words

December 5, 2015, 2:04 pm

It's already been confirmed that there is a new phone project under Panos Panay (the original 'Surface Phone' was cancelled as it was a Nokia project) and that Intel is closely working with Microsoft on the project, meaning we could see an extremely powerful custom Intel chip for mobile phones.

Prem Desai

December 5, 2015, 6:45 pm

What a nonsensical review!

How can a bug in an app (non-Microsoft) bring down the score??

Change the badge on this to say Apple, and the score will be 55/10 or something stupid like that.

Everlast

December 6, 2015, 12:24 pm

According to you guys, everyone that does not like Windows phones is an "anti MS hack" and is hating purely because they don't like MS/Windows. Unfortunately for you this appears to be 97% of smart phone users so you should start thinking whether there is something else involved rather than pure MS hate!

Dead Words

December 6, 2015, 10:51 pm

Oh, were you referring to the Motorola Nexus 6 from 2014 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor clocked at 2.5 gHz?

Dead Words

December 7, 2015, 12:21 pm

Never said it wasn't, sir.

Slobodan

December 14, 2015, 12:53 pm

Over 500k+ apps = Poor offering? ... OK

Tristan Vaillancourt

December 20, 2015, 3:37 pm

Dull boring design? a) it's a phone. b) it looks better than an iphone. c) the ui design look and feel is the most advanced offering for cell phones ... ever. This review is pure garbage designed to sell iphones. Anyways, Lumia cameras are superior, the essential apps are all there, using a windows phone is fun and easy. Lumia phones are great and the 950 series with windows 10 takes it up a notch.

Tristan Vaillancourt

December 20, 2015, 3:38 pm

Me too!

Tristan Vaillancourt

December 20, 2015, 3:43 pm

I stick with windows phone because of the apps and UI. The iphone ui is dated, and android launchers are popular for a reason. The ui on both phones gets junky. When I was into android, the first thing I did was install smart launcher pro to clean up the mess. When i use my lumia 830, I never think "I wish there was a better launcher". Mac books are no better. I recently looked at what all the fuss was all about to discover that mac os has a very dated looking ui. Apple customers just love getting ripped off by a monopoly I guess. Lmao.

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