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Lumia 950 XL: A stellar phone, but the price stings

By Himanshu JUneja
January 21, 2016 14:37 IST
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Feature wise, the handset really stands right among the best. A powerhouse of a phone with brilliant camera, promising and potent software, decent battery life and a superb display. The device is looking good.

What is not appealing is the somewhat unpolished software. It is not exactly a deal breaker, but the price tag of Rs 49,399 stings, says Himanshu Juneja

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

Microsoft's eagerly awaited Lumia 950 XL is finally here. The latest Windows phone comes riding on huge waves of expectation. Not only is the phone running Windows 10 Mobile OS out of the box, Microsoft has instilled a water cooling mechanism within the device to increase the coolness factor as well.

Ever since Microsoft acquired Nokia, path breaking devices have been expected from their camp. The Lumia 950 XL seems to be carrying the essentials of a stellar flagship on the paper at the least.

Will features like a fabulous display, revolutionary operating system, a brilliant camera, and expandable storage among others be able to mask the shortcomings?

Here is what we found out.

Construction

The handset measures 152 x 78 x 8.1 mm in dimensions, and weighs about 165 gms. The not too heavy feel is great while using the phablet in the longer run.

Microsoft continues with the polycarbonate material with this handset as well. The admirers of metal or glass are not going to be pleased, but Microsoft is not trying to either, otherwise the occasion was perfect for a new design language.

The matte finish imparted to the phone helps in establishing a good grip. The panel could have been made to fit a bit better as there was more give than expected towards the bottom. Also, the protruding camera module at the back will hit the user as the fingers try to get a grip of the handset.

Thankfully, it allows the rear speaker to remain unmuffled when placed on a flat surface.

The buttons are on the right hand side as one finds the power, volume and shutter buttons in a single file. The headphone jack as well as the charging port are located on the top side of the phone. While the buttons have a good tactile feedback, the side looks and feels cramped for room. Placing the power button on the left side would have been a good choice.

The back panel is removable, and one finds the microSD card as well as SIM slots hidden beneath. Removable battery is a confidence booster.

Display

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

The users are greeted by a 5.7-inch Quad HD display unit, and the AMOLED display with clear black technology really shines. The 1440 x 2560p resolution screen cranks up the pixel density to a very impressive 518 ppi.

Corning Gorilla Glass 4 provides a good degree of protection to the glass.

The colours seemed rich, and vibrant as well. Sharpness was pretty good, and the text came out sharp and without fuzziness on the phablet. The viewing angles are good, but have a bluish tinge when looked at. The screen could have been brighter, but one can manage reading content under direct Sunlight.

The screen is not class leading, but does the job quite brilliantly none the less.

Specs

The 950 XL is powered by an Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC. The processor specifically comprises of Quad-core Cortex A53 (clocked at 1.5 GHz) and another Quad-core Cortex A57 (clocked at 2 GHz).

The Adreno 430 GPU provides a good company, and well aided by 3 GB of RAM. There is 32 GB worth of onboard storage, and can be expanded by another 200 GB via microSD card slot.

Connectivity

The dual SIM phone allows for 4G connectivity on both the SIMs and comes with the expected options for connectivity like Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth (ver 4.1), and the NFC.

The users get to avail the advantage of AGPS and GLONASS for navigational assistance. The option for wireless charging is another big plus, and so is the presence of the FM radio.

Operating system

Windows 10 Mobile OS has had a lot of expectations ever since it was announced. The project aims to seamlessly tie up devices like desktops, mobile phones, tablets, consoles etc.

Microsoft has tried to bring in a sense of deja vu across different devices by keeping a common core code. Giving a huge helping hand to the ambitious project is the concept of Universal apps. These apps (MS Word, MS Excel, Netflix etc) resize themselves according to the device in use. This brings us to the revolutionary feature Microsoft has up its sleeve -- Continuum.

Continuum

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

Armed with a display dock, an external monitor, keyboard, and of course a phone like the 950 XL the users get to avail what is a simplified desktop version of the Windows 10 OS.

Don't let the word simplified fool you, because armed with the essential elements of the OS, the lightweight version still packs a punch. The unified apps allow for a quick fix solution for accomplishing essential tasks, especially in a business environment.

The user is free to carry on with accessing the mobile phone as normally while the display dock keeps functioning independently.

The universal apps are still in the nascent stages, but this is a huge achievement already, and Microsoft has already brought a phenomenal productivity feature for the professionals.

Windows Hello

Stepping up the game in bio-metric security, the feature unlocks the device, or allows the users to accomplish a payment while letting the phone authenticate the proceedings by scanning the user's Iris. The 3D mapping of the Iris is unique to every user, and hence provides a secure way of doing things around.

It is not as convenient as fingerprint scanner and is still in beta, so Microsoft has to optimise the security feature further. It does however works even with users wearing glasses, so it is already quite potent.

Improved Cortana

Cortana has been keeping pace with its rivals from other platforms. The virtual assistant has the ability to learn from user's habit for improved behaviour. It can launch apps, sync up reminders from desktop and vice versa as well. Depending upon the entries, it will even prompt the user to make a move in order to fulfill an appointment.

Information about favourite eating joint, movies, sports feed or map can be gleaned off Cortana as well.

Glance

Taking a cue from the Moto Display it seems, the 950 XL allows basic information to be shown even in the sleep mode. Information like notifications, time, date, and battery stat always come in handy.

The apps in the marketplace still remains a concern, and it is really disturbing that Microsoft has failed in populating the place with options to match the rivals. True, that the essentials are there, and it is improving, but somebody needs to give a huge nudge to the software titan to do something about the software selection.

Performance

Microsoft created a flutter of sorts by announcing the water cooled 950 XL. Immediately it seemed as an obvious way to tame the fiery Snapdragon 810 SoC. The move seems to have paid off since the phone goes about with the tasks without raising any heating concerns. Whenever the phone is heated up, the cooling kicks in effectively and keeps the users' concerns at bay.

The reason for not giving an all out green signal is because of the fact that there were a few instances where the phone did seem to stutter. These were not deal breakers, but certainly unforgivable for a premium device. The speaker is good and provides ample level of sound. The top volume level unfortunately does allow distortion to creep in.

Camera

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

Armed with a 20 MP camera, the rear unit is particularly strong. Carl Zeiss optics with Optical Image Stabilisation and a triple LED RGB flash makes up for a drool worthy configuration. The front camera is 5 megapixels.

The rear camera delivers results pretty much along the expected lines, as the photographs show good details and with an overall warm hue. The colour reproduction is pretty natural and the user can snap continuous photographs pretty fast to boot.

It will not be a long shot to call the camera being among the top performers at the moment.

The low light images do show presence of grains, but the performance is far from being cringe worthy, since the detail levels are good. The triple LED flash is fairly bright, and illuminates the subject quite nicely.

Two step shutter button activates the camera quickly, and the app has been designed to fit user's varying tastes as well. While the automatic settings will keep the casual users happy, the manual controls like white balance, ISO, exposure etc give good granular control. The series of rings, which appear upon sliding the camera icon, bring up the option to manually adjust a number of options. The pro users should be able to keep themselves busy with this nifty feature.

The UHD videos showed up again as crisp, and that was true even for the samples from low light conditions. The inclusion of four way ambient noise cancellation mics above the camera is a very good touch, and the clear sound reflects the importance.

The front facing camera too delivers some very good selfies, and is bound to keep the users happy with its own results.

Battery

The 950 XL comes with a 3340 mAh battery pack. Microsoft has done well to keep this one a removable unit, allowing the users to swap spare ones, should the need arise. For some, this maybe a necessity.

Strangely enough, the battery loses some significant bits when compared with other flagships. But this didn't stop the phone from chugging along a full day on a moderate usage pattern. Powering the large and gorgeous screen is a taxing task.

Thankfully, the fast charging option makes up for the quick drainage in a small manner. But Microsoft should look into Android's doze mode with a good amount of interest.

Verdict

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

The expectations from Microsoft were reaching a flashpoint, and especially after acquiring Nokia and the launch of the Windows mobile OS. Seems like the marquee product from the software giant have finally landed.

Feature wise, the handset really stands right among the best. A powerhouse of a phone with brilliant camera, promising and potent software, decent battery life and a superb display. The device is looking good. What is not appealing is the somewhat unpolished software. It is not exactly a deal breaker, but the price tag of Rs 49,399 stings.

The software has huge potential and thanks to a little friend called as OTA, the next update should start delivering the refinements, and then on it should be an exciting journey.

Till all that happens, a price cut should keep the handset moving if Microsoft is serious about the Indian market.

Photographs: Courtesy, Microsoft

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Himanshu JUneja