Microsoft has thought long and hard about how all its disparate hardware exists and has come up with Windows 10 to bring it all together.
Now the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL flagship smartphone is here to bring Windows 10 to the phone market. With it comes an operating system like nothing Windows Phone 7 and 8 ever managed in terms of continuity across devices. Since Windows 10 now uses one app on PC, tablet and smartphone, developers should start making more and more for the multi-device platform. Lack of apps was always a Windows Phone weakness that may have been fixed in this one move.
The Lumia 950 XL isn't just a platform to spread Windows 10 though, this is a seriously high-end smartphone with impressive specs backed up by that app store shared with the entire Windows 10 platform.
Is this smartphone here to steal pocket space from Android and iPhone users? Will this Windows 10 device be the beginning of a new attack from Microsoft that sees Windows in more hands than ever? We went hands-on to find out.
Bare in mind this is our initial experience and we will be expanding this into a full review as we spend more time with the device.
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: Design and display
Microsoft has gone for simplicity with the 950 XL. It's a large phone in the hand so keeping it light and grip-friendly was obviously high on Microsoft's priorities list. What it's not gone for is high quality.
The 950XL feels decidedly plastic with that polycarbonate casing, like an early generation device for Android. In a sense, despite Windows Phone being around for several generations, this is the first time it's really a pure Microsoft built flagship leading the charge. Perhaps this model was focused on specs rather than the build, allowing it to be affordable enough to reach more people.
The bezel is minimal with squared off edges that offer a pleasant punctuation between screen and case. USB-C adds to the minimalism sat alone at the bottom of the handset while the speaker is placed in the rear next to the camera. The top simply has a headphone port while the side houses one large power button flanked top and bottom by volume rockers and a dedicated camera button. They give a reassuring click but, as part of the case, do feel plastic.
The display is a hefty 5.7-inch AMOLED with QHD resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 for 518ppi which all adds up to an impressive screen. Perhaps colours could be punchier but that trade-off helps save on battery.
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: Specs and hardware
What the Lumia 950 XL may lack in build quality it makes up for in hardware. This handset is crammed with tech, and it's not a small device.
The phone is noticeably faster than previous Lumia generations. This may be a combination of the top-end hardware working in conjunction with that new Windows 10 operating system. Either way it's lag free, which is a big deal for Windows Phone running full PC apps.
Running the show is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor backed by 3GB of RAM. There's 32GB storage with microSD expansion. Essentially this has enough power to run as a rapid smartphone or a PC, but more about that below.
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: Cameras
Microsoft now offers a whopping 200GB of OneDrive cloud storage, plus the phone can support up to 2TB microSD, so its upper limit on photo size isn't an issue. That in mind the rear camera is a hefty 20-megapixel sensor with OIS, 4K video and triple LED flash, while the front-facing selfie snapper is 5-megapixels.
Lumias have been famed for great cameras since the PureView range began. One issue they've had is too many separate camera apps.
These have all been pulled together into one camera app with various lenses available. This isn't new to Windows 10 but shows a minimalism that finally makes the camera feel simple to use. Extra lenses need to be downloaded but can be from within the camera app.
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: Battery life
In our short time with the handset so far it's been difficult to judge battery life. From a few hours use, the battery meter barely drops though, showing Windows has managed to maintain that famous Lumia lifespan.
Charging from full only took well under two hours so that USB-C fast-charger certainly works at a rapid rate considering there's a 3,340mAh battery in there.
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: Software
Windows 10 is totally redesigned with continuity in mind, in fact that's near to what Microsoft is calling the function. Continuum is primarily aimed at Windows users to allow them to jump between devices more seamlessly.
If you're in the middle of a Word document on the PC and leave the office or home, you can continue where you left off from the smartphone. Of course this isn't new for Word but shows the idea. This also works in a deeper design way that make platform jumping easier.
The homescreen of the phone layout can be personalised with tiles. Tapping the Windows on a computer brings up a similar tile layout. This can also be organised in the same way but won't synchronise across devices. Microsoft says this is to allow users to pick and choose, as often PC apps that are needed regularly might be different to the smartphone. The same happens in settings thanks to the new Continuum focused layout.
Quick selection tiles are accessible from the pull-down and allow for instant access to things like Wi-Fi, Settings, Flashlight and more.Similarly quick to access is the Cortana virtual assistant which appears faster than ever with accurate word recognition in our time with it.
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: Display Dock
Th Display Dock, sold separately, acts as a middle-man between the smartphone and any screen with HDMI on the back. This lets the phone act like a computer powering the large screen. It can be controlled using a Bluetooth or wired keyboard and mouse. The screen can even be used as a touchscreen mouse if you decide.
Since the apps are all the same across platforms the phone outputs automatically in fullscreen once it's plugged in.
Once running on full screen webpages open in desktop mode automatically. Calls can still be taken on the phone and using a connected mouse and keyboard the main display can still be used like a computer, even while on the phone.
What the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL lacks in design wow, it makes up for in seamless cross-platform integration. That and a whole load of power in the spec department.
For an excellent camera, growing app store that will only get better thanks to Windows 10, fast functionality and stunning screen the Lumia 950 XL really does excel.
This is the device for any Windows fan or Windows 10 user that wants the easiest hand-off between computer and mobile device. Combine this with the Display Dock and you're essentially buying yourself an entire Windows PC for your money.
But with other Windows Phones to follow, some may want to hold back for more premium built handsets from other manufacturers, or even next-gen phones from Microsoft. There should also be more apps down the line. So once again Windows phones still feel like an early adopter device. But we predict that's all about to change.