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31 May 2016

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

The best Windows Phone experience you can have

Devesh Shobha
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Will Microsoft pull the plug on Lumia devices? Will it continue supporting the Lumia phones if it decides to pull the plug on the brand? Will developers continue creating apps for a platform that doesn’t seem to have the brightest of future in the world of mobile phones? Will Surface Phones become a reality? If you have these and many more questions in mind regarding the future of Windows phones, then this isn’t a review for you.

If you aren’t affected by the rumour mills and still want to experience the best of what Windows has to offer, it can’t get any better than the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL. Yes, just like this review, Windows 10 may seem like it’s too little, too late in the day, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a colossal update when compared to Windows 8.1.

Okay, the plastic body may not give it the premium look of an iPhone 6S or the Samsung S7, but that doesn’t mean it feels cheap in anyway. In fact, it’s a well-finished product that feels good to hold, even with its matt finish plastic back cover. And once you start using the phone, you may not even notice the cheap-ish plastic bit anymore, as everything else on the 950 XL works like it should on a phone that retails at around Rs 45,000.

Take the superb 5.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen for instance. With its ClearBlack technology, the blacks are richer than ever, colour rendering is fantastic and reading under direct sunlight isn’t an issue. The touch sensitivity, too, is flawless. And we’re glad Microsoft didn’t bother changing the overall look and feel of its latest user interface. If you’ve used WP 8.1 before, it wouldn’t take you long to get used to the new look. The basic layouts for home and apps screen remain the same, with minor changes that go a long way in giving WP10 a refreshing look.

With top-drawer hardware, 950 XL’s performance is good. Windows Phones are known to be lag-free, this one is no different. However, due to the use of Snapdragon 810 chipset, the 950 XL is prone to overheating. This is despite the use of liquid cooling system, which clearly doesn’t work at times when the 950 XL is multitasking. Extensive use of Camera app, Whatsapp, emails, Edge and others will result in the back of the phone getting more than just warm.

But compared to the 8.1, response time has improved, and most apps open up faster than before. Okay, so WP10 doesn’t really have the apps strength of Android or iOS, and with a lot of developers ditching the latest Windows platform, it isn’t going to get any better. One of the best apps, Here Maps, doesn’t work on WP10 and that’s a shame. Instagram is still a Beta version. Windows Hello, the iris scanner, too, is a Beta version – which works really well by the way.

Notable improvements are apps like the Edge, Microsoft’s latest version of Internet Explorer, that works way better than the older IE – it’s lighter, much smoother and doesn’t crash as often. It’s no Chrome-beater yet, but it’s pretty close. Outlook Mail is another good feature that allows you to sync multiple accounts and emails show up under a single window – which wasn’t possible before. And then there’s the Continuum feature that lets you turn your phone into a PC-like experience by connecting an external display, keyboard, and mouse using the new Microsoft Display Dock. It’s a nifty feature that can also be enabled using Miracast on supported devices, but using the wired Microsoft Display Dock is the better option as there is no compression like with Miracast.

Another standout feature is the 20.0 megapixel PureView camera that is bundled with the impressive Zeiss optics, optical image stabiliser, and triple-LED RGB flash. It’s the 950 XL’s biggest asset and one of the best phone cameras in this range. Although the camera app takes some time to work its charm, the superb photo quality sort of negates the extra seconds it takes for the final product. It also gives you an option to click live images, and lossless zoom for 8MP shots clicked under 2X zoom. Plus, for those obsessed with selfies, there’s a fine 5MP front camera, and that too works really good. And then it also shoots excellent 4K videos with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. Yes, it can do slow-mo too. As we said, the Lumia 950 XL’s camera is one of the best out there.

What isn’t best is, the battery. Though there is a large 3340 mAh pack doing its duty here, but the phablet-size screen and a demanding chipset means you’ll run out of juice by end of the day. And that’s rather disappointing. Yes, there’s the fast charging option through its USB-C type charger, but battery optimisation could have been much better.

In the end, the 950 XL has come a long way, but it will only appeal to a die-hard Windows fan. And for the kind of money Microsoft wants you to shell out, it’s not the most value-for-money phone you can have today. And like every Windows Phone in the past, this one too doesn’t comes without its own set of shortcomings. Things like the plastic body panel, dearth of apps compared to other OS’, weak battery performance and heating issues don’t go too well with the flagship tag.

Luckily, the good points overcome the bad ones here and after using the 950 XL for over a month, it’s a satisfying experience for someone who’s been using Lumia phones since the WP7 era. The 950 XL is a fine example of how good a Windows Phone can get, sadly, Microsoft took a lot of time to get things right. But from the way it looks, to the way it performs, the 950 XL does justice to its flagship phone tag.

Will Microsoft kill the Lumia brand anytime soon? We aren’t sure. But till that moment arrives, this is the best a Windows Phone can get and you should buy the 950 XL for its simplicity, excellent camera and superb performance.

Tags: smartphone, windows 10, windows phone, microsoft lumia 950 xl review, microsoft lumia 950 xl, microsoft lumia

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