We have been testing the Microsoft Lumia 950 for nearly a month now and wow, it has been way too long since Microsoft launched a flagship phone. Personally, I have always been a fan of Windows Phone, going as far back as Windows Phone 7. But don’t call this Lumia a Windows Phone — Microsoft considers it to be a smartphone running Windows 10. Running Microsoft’s new and unified operating system and thanks to features like Continuum and universal apps, the Lumia 950 is more than just your average smartphone. This little guy is powerful enough to transform an ordinary TV display or monitor into practically a full PC desktop experience. You can’t really do that with your iPhone or Android phone, can you?
Although it is made of plastic, the build quality of the Lumia 950 is solid, but oh so drab. It’s a far cry from the older Lumia 1020, which was tough as nails and uber haute in yellow. Even many of the more affordable Lumias have rocked in the looks department with fun color choices like cyan and orange. Available in only a choice of black or white plastic, the Lumia 950 on the other hand looks like a phone dressed in a rather ordinary smartphone suit, so it’s really difficult to impress people with its looks alone. Fortunately, where it lacks in looks, it makes up for in other areas, such as its display. The 5.2″ 2560 x 1440 562 ppi AMOLED display on the Lumia 950 is top notch and crystal clear — it’s definitely one of the best you’ll find on any smartphone. The display performs well in direct sunlight and is made of scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3.
It’s All About The Accessories
The Lumia 950 can connect to most monitors and even TV displays, but you’ll need an additional accessory to make this work. You can choose to go with the Microsoft Display Dock, which allows you to connect the Lumia to a standard monitor. In addition, there is also a Wireless HDMI accessory available for using it with a TV, and the phone should be able to connect wirelessly with any TV that has Miracast support.
Look Ma — My Phone is a Computer! No, Really!
We tested the Lumia while connected to the Microsoft Display Dock, which in turn was connected to a Dell monitor. The Lumia detected the monitor quickly on the first try, so the initial setup process is an easy one. The Continuum experience, which adjusts the user experience based on form factor (like going from a smartphone to a desktop setup powered by the phone), works quite well. In general, the experience is quite fluid and responsive. Even the Lumia 950, which lacks the more powerful processor and liquid cooling of the XL model, handles running a PC experience with aplomb thanks to its exa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC and 3GB of RAM.
All in all, when connected to a standard desktop monitor, it feels crazily close to the Windows 10 desktop experience, with very little lag. Office apps and Outlook scale up to create a big screen-optimized work environment and you get to use a standard-sized keyboard and mouse just like you normally would on a desktop PC. Alternatively, if you don’t have a mouse laying around, the phone display can be used as a trackpad. Microsoft also makes a great Universal Foldable Keyboard, which is the ideal accessory to complement the Lumia 950 if you plan on using it as a portable computer. This keyboard is tiny enough to travel easily when folded, and it will work with most mobile devices.
In the near future, will people be able to ditch their laptops and just travel with their phones? With the Lumia 950, we’re certainly getting close to that. Unfortunately, not that many apps support Continuum (or Windows 10) yet, but more are on their way. As a result, Continuum doesn’t provide a full PC experience, but it’s getting there. Being a feature of Windows 10 as a whole, Continuum will be part of Lumia phones for the foreseeable future, so it’s bound to be refined and improved. In the meantime, you at least get to use the full desktop-like version of Microsoft Office, which can be a serious productivity booster for workers on the road.
Lumia has a strong history of having outstanding cameras, and the Lumia 950 follows in those footsteps with an impressive new camera feature. When Microsoft first showed off this new lighting feature at the Windows 10 launch in New York, we were very skeptical. The reality is that most phone cameras struggle like crazy in low light, and using a flash often creates a shot with uneven lighting. Fortunately, the 950’s camera packs in a 20.0 MP sensor with Carl Zeiss optics and PureView technology, which Microsoft acquired along with Nokia’s handset division. PureView technology enables some of the best optics you can get on a smartphone.
In addition to PureView tech, the 950 has a really cool trick up its sleeve called Rich Capture. Rich Capture lets you quickly adjust the color saturation level of bright or dark areas and add or remove the flash afterwards. The first time we tried this feature, we were blown away. The photos below speak for themselves. The camera also packs in Triple LED Natural Flash, which allows for different flash tones that help balance the brightness in a flash scene. When using the flash in low-light environments, you’ll get much more accurate lighting than the average smartphone. In addition, the camera packs in 4k video capture with video zoom, optical image stabilization, continuous auto-focus, a video light, and Lumia Rich Recording with four microphones. The front-facing 5 MP camera is also quite good and features a wide-angle lens, which is great for selfies.
Try Staring At It
The Lumia 950 also comes running Windows Hello Beta, which lets you unlock your phone just by looking at the screen. The phone is able to accomplish this using an infrared sensor and facial recognition technology. It’s so much cooler than a fingerprint or a swipe, although it often doesn’t work as quickly as either of those would. That said, this feature is still in beta, so there’s plenty of time for it to improve. Overall, it works quite well — even in beta, it recognized my face most of the time. For times when it doesn’t work, there is a PIN input available as a backup.
Say Goodbye To Micro USB
The Lumia 950 charges via USB Type-C. There’s no question that USB Type-C is the future, but it’s still a bit inconvenient considering how easy it is to get hold of Micro USB cables. But, we guess that’s the price you pay for progress? Fortunately, there are some benefits to using USB Type-C. Thanks to USB Type-C Fast Charging, you can charge the battery to 50 percent in just 30 minutes.