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Deep-dive review: Microsoft's Lumia 950 phone introduces mobile Windows 10

Preston Gralla | Dec. 4, 2015
Both the phone and the OS have some interesting features, but neither is revolutionary.

lumia 950 marketing 01 dsim
Credit: Microsoft

With the release of the Lumia 950, the mobile version of Windows 10 is ready for its close-up -- the device is the first handset that sports the new operating system. Microsoft is betting big on it, hoping that the new OS, which shares a code base and features with the PC version, will resuscitate its tiny mobile market share.

Did Microsoft succeed? Is the Lumia 950 a phone that buyers will flock to, driven by Windows 10? Should you buy one? I spent more than a week putting the phone through its paces in order to come up with some answers.

Design and hardware

You likely won't be impressed by the Lumia 950 design -- with its simple, straightforward look and plastic back, it practically cries out middle-of-the-road. When placed next to my iPhone 6S it looked like a visitor from an earlier era. In the hand, the plastic has a cheap feel compared to the sleek metal of the iPhone 6S and other recent high-end smartphones.

The Lumia 950 is a visitor from an earlier era in another way as well -- but in a good way. By inserting a fingernail into a tiny slot on the bottom, you can remove its back to replace its battery and insert a micro SD card with a whopping 200GB of storage. (The SIM card slot is also here). None of the latest crop of smartphones have removable batteries, and many -- such as the iPhone 6S and the Samsung Galaxy S6 -- don't include micro SD card slots. So in this area at least, the Lumia 950 bests them.

The screen is a winner. It's a 5.2-in. AMOLED display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution at 564 ppi -- significantly larger and with higher resolutions than the iPhone 6S's 4.7-in. (1334 x 750 and 326 ppi) display, and essentially identical to the Samsung Galaxy S6's 5.1-in. (2560 x 1440 and 518 ppi) display. But specs are one thing and real-life experience another, and in my experience the screen is a beauty, with sharp contrast and rich colors that are most noticeable when watching videos.

Underneath the hood you'll find standard fare: a six-core Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Unlike most of today's phones (with some exceptions, such as the Nexus 5X and 6P), it has a the new USB Type-C port, which offers performance increases (although you probably won't have extra cords available to use with it). It also supports Qi and PMA wireless charging.

Nokia, which manufactured the phone, generally does a fine job with its smartphone cameras, and the Lumia 950 is no exception. Its 20MP rear camera has a Zeiss lens, optical image stabilization and triple LED natural flash. In operation, I found that the camera took clean, vivid photos with nice contrast. It also has a feature similar to the iPhone 6S's Live Photos, which the Lumia refers to as Living Images -- two-second videos that stop at the end with a still image. Meanwhile, the front-facing 5MP camera has a wide-angle lens so you can get a panoramic-like background for your selfies.

 

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