Microsoft Lumia 950 XL review: Microsoft’s last Windows Phone?

Price when reviewed

Its been over a year since I reviewed the Microsoft Lumia 950XL, and there’s a pretty good chance that on top of it being my first Windows Phone review, it could also be my last. Things have been pretty quiet on the Windows Phone front, and in the last quarter of 2016, purchases shrunk to just 0.3% of the marketshare. Ouch.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the road, in terms of Microsoft’s involvement, however. Rumours of a Surface Phone have persisted for some time, and as recently as last November, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft weren’t done in the space. “We will continue to be in the phone market not as defined by today’s market leaders, but by what it is that we can uniquely do in what is the most ultimate mobile device,” he told Australian Financial Review

“Therefore [with Nokia assets], we stopped doing things that were me-too and started doing things, even if they are today very sub-scale, to be very focused on a specific set of customers who need a specific set of capabilities that are differentiated and that we can do a good job of.”

With that in mind, it may be worth keeping an eye on Microsoft’s endeavours in the future, but for now, it’d be a brave man or woman to purchase the Lumia 950XL in 2017. Though if you have your heart set on one they’re under £300 on Amazon UK (or $308 on Amazon US) Read on to find out why it was a risky purchase in 2015 and is even riskier now.

The original review continues below.

Despite having reviewed many a phone in my time, the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL is my first Windows phone. I have no expectations as to what Windows 10 Mobile can offer one way or another, having had all of ten minutes playtime with Microsoft’s mobile OS in the past. I do, on the other hand, have extensive experience with iOS and Android.

When Jon Bray, our Reviews Editor, took a look at the Lumia 950, he gave it two separate verdicts: incredibly positive for Windows Phone fans, and lukewarm for those who either haven’t been impressed with the OS before, or are yet to sample its charms. As a member of the latter camp, what would my verdict be?

So, come on Windows 10 Mobile: dazzle me.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: Design

Even before the phone is charged and ready to go, first impressions are strong. Although the fashion has moved away from plastic-backed handsets such as this one towards metal, Microsoft has made a decent stab of things here.

It’s a reassuringly solid-feeling slab, with gently rounded edges. While it won’t gain any marks for originality – which phones do? – the Lumia 950 XL is undeniably nice-looking. I do miss the more playful colour schemes the Lumia brand used to push, though, which proved so popular that even Apple tried it briefly with the iPhone 5c.

Another advantage of the plastic back, other than its durability, is that it can be removed to reveal a replaceable battery and microSD slot. This means you can expand the storage space from the already acceptable 32GB. It loses points for hiding the SIM slot away underneath the battery, but that’s probably more of an annoyance to someone like me who frequently has to swap SIM cards than to a normal smartphone user. But, y’know: those living double lives may find this mildly inconvenient.

What also might be inconvenient is the handset’s size. Make no mistake, the Lumia 950 XL is a big fella: the screen is 5.7in across the diagonal, meaning it dwarfs the 5.5in LG G4 and is the same size as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 and Nexus 6P. But if you’re looking for a Windows phablet, this is as good as it gets.

The Lumia 950 XL makes the jump away from micro-USB to USB Type-C, but Microsoft helpfully provide both a USB lead and a plug charger in the box, so you’ll have at least two ways to keep the battery topped up as you enter the brave new world of slightly different connections. Oh, and it supports wireless charging too, so even if you misplace both you won’t be completely out of luck.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL review: Display

The first thing to know about the screen is that it’s AMOLED. One aspect of this is that when the screen displays blacks, it’s actually off, so it’s pretty energy-efficient. Something that takes a while to get used to is the fact that the Lumia 950 XL always displays the time, even when you turn the screen off. It’s quite distracting when you’re used to shutting down everything to eke the most battery life possible out of an ageing handset, but it’s nice to always have pertinent information available onscreen.

It’s a decent screen, too. The 5.7in display is 1,440 x 2,560 with a pixel density of 518ppi. That’s slightly lower than the Lumia 950, which squeezes the same resolution panel into a smaller 5.2in display. In practice, both are very sharp to look at, and the XL offers perfect contrast with good colour accuracy, covering 99.4% of the sRGB colour spectrum.

In fact, the 950 XL goes a touch brighter than its smaller sibling, but it’s far from searing, with our tests registering just 305cd/m2 at maximum brightness. That’s in manual brightness mode. With auto-brightness turned on, it can reach a far higher brightness – in excess of 550cd/m2. That’s great, but note, however, that this will only be in very specific circumstances: displaying small areas of white pixels on a black background. When the screen is mostly white, the brightness drops dramatically, back down to around 350cd/m2. As such, you may struggle to read web pages and apps with a predominantly white background outdoors and in bright sunlight.

The bigger screen also means a larger chassis, and therefore room for a higher-capacity battery. The Lumia 950 XL has a 3,340mAh battery, which will comfortably get you through the day with some to spare. Of course, the replaceable battery also means you should never be caught short, if you care to buy a couple of spares.

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