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Microsoft Lumia 950: Amazing Hardware, Terrible Software

Microsoft Lumia 950 04

We review Microsoft’s Lumia 950!

We tried really hard to love the Lumia 950. Really, really hard. We have a thing for Lumia phones – even though they’ve become more or less irrelevant in the grand scheme of things (you can blame the failed adoption of the mobile version of Windows for that) Microsoft’s Lumia line of devices still manage to bring something interesting with every iteration.

Not the Lumia 950 though. The 950 is a glimpse of what might have been – a phone that has an amazing camera, solid build quality and spiffy performance let down by just a subpar experience via Windows 10. Read on to see what we mean:

Microsoft Lumia 950 specs

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 5.2-inch QHD AMOLED display, Gorilla Glass 3, Clear Black tech, 2,560 x 1,440 resolution
  • 32GB of storage, expandable via microSD up to 2TB
  • 20-megapixel rear camera, 26mm equiv f/1.9 PureView Camera with ZEISS optics, OIS
  • 5-megapixel front selfie camera with LED flash
  • Dual-SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, USB Type-C, Quick Charge, Qi wireless charging
  • 3,000mAh battery
  • Windows 10 OS

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A well built, if dated, looking handset

The Lumia 950 takes a page from handsets of Microsoft of old – a smartphone with a boxy design, removable plastic shell and a manageable 5.2-inch display. If you’re a fan of previous generation Lumia handsets then you’ll feel right at home with the 950. If however, you for some reason made the switch from a high-end Android smartphone (or god forbid, an iPhone 6) to the Lumia 950, you’re going to wonder where your Php 28,990 went.

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While the Lumia 950 is very well constructed, the materials used for the phone are pretty disappointing considering the price. We’re already seeing all-metal smartphones at half of the price of the 950 – to pay almost 30 grand for an all-plastic phone isn’t worth it, in our opinion. We’re a little disappointed that Microsoft didn’t go with a metal frame with the 950 just like they did with the cheaper 830, which would have assuaged our desireĀ for premium materials.

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If you’re willing to overlook the fact that the 950 uses a plastic body, it’s build quality is pretty decent. The corners are rounded, and the overall size of the phone feels great in the hands, and it’s not akward to use one-handed. The right side of the phone holds the power and volume buttons, along with a two-stage physical shutter button.

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Flip the phone over and you’ll see the triple LED flash module beside the 20-megapixel rear camera. The speaker grille is positioned right alongside the ZEISS optic-equipped PureView camera. Once you pry the removable cover out (which comes in two colors) you’ll see the dual SIM slot and the microSD slot.

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The 3.5mm jack is on top, while the USB Type-C port is located on the bottom.

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Microsoft has been using AMOLED displays on their top-tier Lumia phones for a while now, so it’s not surprising that that the 950 uses one too. The 5.2-inch, QHD panel looks absolutely lovely and text, photos and video on the display areĀ nice and sharp. Blacks are very deep and viewing angles are generous. The Lumia 950 has an awesome display which is a pleasure to look at while you’re commuting or just killing time.

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Top-tier hardware marred by software that feels like it’s still in beta

Microsoft has spared no expense in decking out the Lumia 950 with the latest tech – it’s armed with a Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which can be further expanded to 2TB once compatible microSD cards come out. The hardware is perfectly capable of driving Windows 10, and when nothing goes wrong the Lumia 950 breezes through everything you throw at it without any issues.

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Windows 10 is a spiffier version of Windows 8.1, and there’s a lot that looks familiar: Live tiles that give you up-to-date information about things you care about without having to open the app and customizable and pinnable apps on the start screen. Live tiles is something that we like about Windows on phones – they’re relevant, quick and gives you a quick glance at stuff that’s important without having to dive in and open apps if you don’t need to. We also like the idea of Windows Hello – which uses the camera on the front to scan your iris to make sure it’s you unlocking the phone. Unfortunately, it’s not very fast, and the time that you spend staring blankly forward into the display waiting for Hello to do its job, you could have already unlocked your phone via PIN code. Twice.

Get used to this screen. You'll be seeing it a lot.
Get used to this screen. You’ll be seeing it a lot.

Notice we said “when nothing goes wrong”. Unfortunately, almost always something comes up with Windows 10 while we were using it. Several times while we were trying to take 4K video the camera app crashed. The phone tends to heat up a lot, which is a bit weird, seeing as Snapdragon 808 isn’t prone to overheating (that’s why manufacturers used it over the 810). And the reboots – oh the reboots. The phone just reboots all the time, for no apparent reason.

And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the app gap for the platform, which has moved from bad to worse from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. Despite Microsoft’s efforts, there’s still not a lot of apps to be had for the ecosystem, which is not a good thing. One saving grace of the 950 (and the 950 XL) is Continuum – the ability to use the phone as a desktop of sorts if you invest in the right accessories. Unfortunately Microsoft did not lend us a Continuum dock to test this, but be aware that since the 950 uses an ARM architecture, you’re limited to the apps that are available through the app store – sorry guys, you can’t use Steam (or any other x86 program) on the 950.

The Lumia 950 is still a phone, and as a phone it’s pretty good. Data is fast and consistent (if your mobile provider does its job), calls are clear and crisp. The Lumia 950 produces loud audio, though it is in a tinny side.

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An amazing camera

The biggest saving grace of the Lumia 950 is its camera. The rear shooter uses a 20-megapixel sensor with a six-element lens, fifth generation optical image stabilization, f/1.9 aperture and triple LED flash. To say that the camera on the 950 is good is an understatement – it’s a very, very good shooter, and if taking photos is important to you, you definitely need to take a look at the Lumia 950. Pressing the shutter button on the side immediately launches the camera, and just like other flagship Lumia smartphones you can switch over to full manual control whenever you like. The two-stage shutter button works just like a regular camera (half press to focus, full press to shoot).

As for the photos? They’re pretty awesome – you can judge yourself in the photos above that we took during our very, very cold stroll in Hong Kong a few days ago.

Battery life is pretty average

The Lumia 950 is equipped with a removable, 3000mAh battery. Since there’s no PCMark in the Windows store now unfortunately, you’ll have to trust us when we say that the Lumia 950 managed to get around a day’s worth of battery life on a single charge, less if you’re particularly heavy on browsing and gaming. The good news is that you can charge the phone via the USB Type-C cable or through a Qi-compatible wireless charger if you have one.

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Verdict: Skip this one unless you’re a Windows phone diehard

Instead of being a showcase of what Windows 10 can do on a mobile phone, the Lumia 950 becomes a highlight of its many faults. Using the phone for as long as we did really felt like using a piece of beta software. And yes, many of the bugs that we encountered can be fixed by software updates, but that’s not an excuse. Windows 10 isn’t a beta product – it’s a fully realized piece of software that’s supposed to run a phone that’s now being offered in stores for 28,990. If you’re a Windows diehard that want to see what the next evolution of the OS is like, then by all means, grab the Lumia 950. Everybody else should stay clear.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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13 Comments

  1. I’d been itching to get myself a windows phone for quite some time now but clash of clans is preventing me from making that switch. One of the reaons why i fell in love with windows phones is because of how nokia designed their lumias back then. They were so attractive, so classy. But microsoft’s designs of the lumia is… uuhhhhhh…. But i still think windows 10 on mobile phone is pretty cool. Sure it needs a lot of work but i’m sure microsoft’s gonna make it.

  2. The Lumia 950 is the first phone to run Windows 10 Mobile, its hard to decide whether I rather like it or hate it. Apps like Shazam either work instantly and recognise a song for a second, or don’t do it at all. Edge is pain in the ***, since it constantly restarts when I use certain websites.

  3. I’m no fan of Intel but they should have stuffed it with those atoms whatever. As for the price I guess Mr. Gates needs more money for his depopulation programs in Africa hahaha!

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