Are you looking at me? Oh, you are. And now you’re winking at me. Hmm, this is getting a little awkward. I mean, I like you Windows 10 – just not that way. And, after using the iris-scanning Microsoft Lumia 950 for a couple of weeks, I actually like you a little less.
With the Lumia 950, Windows 10 has finally made its long-awaited jump from PCs to smartphones. The trouble is, instead of bringing the fight to the high-end likes of the iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S6, the Microsoft-branded phone offers a design and performance more akin to a device that costs half of its near £450 asking price.
Sure, its eye-tracking security system is cool – if a little creepy with its intimate winks. And Windows 10 is – on the surface at least – a good-looking OS. But delving deeper reveals myriad problems that, unlike its iOS and Android-powered rivals, causes the Lumia 950 to be anything but a smartphone-based hit. With this many issues, it’s hard to see what all that waiting has been for.
- Impressive camera
- Useful iris-scanner unlock
- Stunning screen
- Cheap, flimsy design
- Buggy, sluggish performance
- Dire battery life
Microsoft Lumia 950 Design: Premium prices for this? Jog on
Let’s be honest from the off: this is not a well-designed phone. More market-stall than boutique-offering, the problem with the Lumia 950’s finish is that it costs £449.99. Its cheap, flimsy feel and uninspiring looks would be fine on a £100 no-brand network handset. But as a wallet-kicking flagship offering from one of the world’s biggest tech brands – it’s so far removed from what it needs to be, it’s worrying. This hasn’t just cut corners; it’s missed half the track.
Instead of a lustrous, high-end handset that looks like a well-hewn gadget appendage, you’ve got a slightly fragile-feeling, run of the mill device. There’s no easy on the eye brushed metal (think the HTC One A9), frosted glass (Sony Xperia Z5), or stylish leather (LG G4). Just a basic, thin, completely uninspiring slab of plastic.
It’s not even nice plastic. Sure, the matte finish is a bonus and the phone gives off a certain, serious, business appeal. But it’s really not a device you’re going to be eager to show your mates. There’s no soft curves or tapered edges. Just a boring, utilitarian finish – yawn. Even devices such as the £200Moto X Play and £239 OnePlus 2 look better – and they’re half the price.
Lining up at 8.2mm thick, the Lumia 950 does at least cut down on unwanted bulk. But even this is a minor achievement. If anything, it’s a little on the light side. The phone’s minimalist 150g body further accentuates its feeble, flimsy design. It really is hard to like the look or feel of this thing.
Making it a full house of frustrations, it’s not even a device that’s particularly comfortable to hold. Sure, its lack of a metal frame has one upside – it’s not slippery – but the side-mounted buttons feel loose in their housing, and feature overly sharp edges. We’ll just put this in the file marked ‘What Were You Thinking?’ – yeah, Microsoft?
Microsoft Lumia 950 Screen: A rare highlight on a widely disappointing device
Fortunately, the Lumia 950 isn’t a total visual disaster. Huzzah. Yes, Microsoft might have cut a few significant corners on the handset’s overall look, but when it comes to screen quality, we’ve no complaints. This thing’s a beaut.
The 5.2-inch AMOLED panel makes up for the phone’s other visual shortcomings with a stunning 2560 x 1440 pixel QHD resolution. That’s on par with the likes of the Galaxy S6 Edge and Nexus 6P. It’s one of the best smartphone screens we’ve seen. Ever.
The ClearBlack display is pleasingly bright. Colours are vibrant and detailed without ever being overblown to sweet shop levels of colour saturation. Blacks are also deep and immersive, helping content pop.
The screen is an all-rounder, too. Images are on-point, text razor sharp, and videos fluid and engaging. What’s more, thanks to a Gorilla Glass 3 coating, the screen should stand up well to the odd knock or drop. The only thing detracting from the 950’s screen is the handset’s sizeable bezels – but again, this is a design issue.
Microsoft Lumia 950 Software: Windows 10 is not fit for mobile purpose
We’ve been waiting a long time for Windows 10 to hit mobile devices. Now that the wait’s over, we realised we’ve wasted our time – so unpolished is the result. Yes, the tile-based home screen is a hit. It looks great, and is easy to customise. The trouble is, the platform falls apart as soon as you scratch beneath the surface. It’s like a magic trick – peeking behind the curtain ruins the magic.
Windows 10 for mobile is still slower, buggier and less intuitive than either Android or iOS. The melding of casual-user smartphone features and heavy, business-centric capabilities give it a confused feel that lacks direction. Seemingly simple things like browser performance and the keyboard disappearing when you’ve finished typing are clunky, performance-slowing issues that, after this much time, are hard to stomach.
So, why should you go for Windows Phone over iOS or Android? Well, at the moment you probably shouldn’t. Even something as simple as sending a picture via email or WhatsApp is a painfully laborious process. It’s not as natural or as intuitive as Android or iOS and is just one of many, many niggles that actively discourage continued use.
Now, berating Windows 10 for its lack of mobile app support feels like a cheap shot. But we’re going to take it anyway – so pass us the rifle and plenty of ammo. This platform is wholly, and painfully, under-served. Yes, a bunch of the big hitters are here – you won’t have to live without WhatsApp, Facebook or Netflix – but there are still too many omissions.
Popular games such as The Room are missing and camera-enhancing apps like VSCO are nowhere to be seen. This is just the tip of the app-bereft iceberg, too. This not only restricts the user experience at every turn, it will piss you off time and time again.
Windows 10 isn’t all doom and gloom though. Not quite anyway. There are some wins. Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri, is well implemented, and Continuum – which lets you use your phone as a desktop replacement with a screen-connecting dock – is a cool, if probably little-used addition. The trouble is, these hits are lost in a minefield of misses. There are still so many features that need ironing out, that Windows 10 feels like it’s still in the Beta phase.
Microsoft Lumia 950 Features & Performance: Bugs and battery woes kill any promise
Software troubles aside, the Lumia 950 does host a couple of impressive features. And while it might not, like most of its high-end rivals, want you rubbing it in a special place – there’s no fingerprint scanner here – it can be unlocked simply by looking at it. Yes, really.
The phone’s iris-scanning front-facing camera utilises infrared tech to track your eyes. Just like a fingerprint scanner, you set it to unlock to your eyes and your eyes only. Despite still being in the beta phase, this worked well during our time with the phone.
Even as a glasses wearer and in less than ideal lighting conditions, it unlocked the phone with minimal fuss. You do look a little odd staring intently at a phone held 8 inches from your face, but hey, that’s the price of security. People will just think you’re really into your Netflix session.
The good points continue to microSD storage expansion. As in, it has it – take that, iPhone owners.
Trouble is, just when the Lumia 950 looked like it was showing some promise, its dire battery life brings things crashing back down to earth. This thing’s staying power is worse than an over-excited teenager. One of the least battery brave devices we’ve seen this year, the 950 haemorrhages power with little use or strain. Throw some more strenuous tasks into the mix and you’re just asking for trouble. Forget strolling into a second day, you’ll be struggling for power at 5pm on day one with this lacklustre Lumia.
General performance isn’t great either. Despite running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 processor alongside 3GB of RAM, the phone offers at times a slightly laggy, stilted experience. It’s not enough to see the device grind to a halt while you knock out an email, but it’ll certainly frustrate when trying to perform more demanding tasks such as a bit of casual gaming, or making picture edits. This is more down to ongoing software bugs than hardware restrictions though.
Microsoft Lumia 950 Camera: One of the best, for both night and day shots
It’s not just in tracking your eyes that the Lumia 950’s camera impresses. Just like the phone’s screen, the Lumia 950’s camera performs well above the core powers of the handset. The 20-megapixel Purview camera is a pleasing addition. In decent or low light shooting conditions.
In strong, natural light, the Lumia 950 is capable of capturing some of the best smartphone snaps around. A true challenger to the likes of the Sony Xperia Z5 and Samsung Galaxy S6, it offers well balanced colours and sharp levels of detail. Unlike the phone’s general performance it’s not too sluggish either.
Even its low-light shooting is impressive. It’s not the best we’ve seen, but the phone does well to reduce unwanted image noise and graining. Colours can become a little washed out, but this is still one of the better gig-friendly, club-loving smartphone cameras we’ve seen.
The front-facing shooter isn’t too bad, either. The 5-megapixel camera might flatten images a little, but overall results are far better than many a selfie snapper. It’s got your back when you need a new Facebook profile pic.
We waited a long time for the first Windows 10 powered smartphones. And now they’re here? We kinda wish we’d waited a bit longer. Until, you know, they’d worked out all the bugs, added a decent amount of apps, and, well, made the thing a bit more mobile-friendly.
The Lumia 950 is not a bad device on the whole. Its screen is stunning and camera impressive. It’s just everything else – the bits that meld the core features together – that are lacking. That and the design. Would we pay £450 for a device that looks, feels and performs like this? Not likely, and we’d suggest you don’t either.