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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.

Many phones these days have fingerprint readers to let you unlock them. The Lumia instead uses a Windows 10 feature called Windows Hello, which uses the phone's biometric technology to scan the irises in your eyes and thus lets you unlock the phone by looking at it -- in theory, that is. In practice, though, it frequently didn't work for me unless the lighting conditions were right and I held the phone a certain distance from my face and at a certain angle.

The Lumia 950 is available from AT&T for $150 with a two-year contract, or from the Windows Store for $549 unlocked. Its larger-screened sibling, the Lumia 950 XL, has a 5.7-in. display and a more powerful processor (an eight-core Snapdragon 810), but is otherwise similar; the 950 XL is currently available for $649 unlocked from the Microsoft Store.

It's all about Windows 10

For me, though, what's most important about the Lumia 950 isn't the hardware -- it's that the device is the first phone that comes equipped with Windows 10. Based what I found, I don't expect it to make a dent in Microsoft's low-single-digit smartphone market share.

windows 10 mobile
Continuum makes it easy to connect your phone to a larger display (left). However, besides a few new features, Windows 10 for phones doesn't appear much different from its predecessor (right).

One problem is that, on a phone, Windows 10 simply isn't different enough from Windows Phone 8.1 to make much of a difference in the way the device is used. The interface looks and works much the same: A scrolling collection of large, live tiles that can deliver information on the tiles themselves, such as the latest news, and that launch apps when you tap on them.

That being said, there is a Windows 10 feature that may find a niche demographic: Continuum, which lets you turn your phone into a mix of a phone, tablet and PC.

Continuum changes the Windows 10 interface to suit the device on which you're running it. In the case of the Lumia 950, it allowed me to plug into an external display, a keyboard and a mouse using a $99 Microsoft Display Dock -- and turn the phone into a Windows 10 computer.

The Display Dock has six ports: Three standard USB ports, an HDMI port, a DisplayPort and a USB-C port. Connect the phone to the dock via the USB-C port, connect a display to the dock via HDMI or DisplayPort, and you can start working with Windows 10 on the display. (You can also connect to the display via Wi-Fi if it's Wi-Fi enabled via a Miracast dongle or other wireless-capable device -- the requirements can be found here.)

 

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