Microsoft has recently lent me a 950XL for review. I appreciate being able to use this loan unit but that has not influenced my opinion of the device or of Microsoft – this is my personal view and no 3rd party has influence directly or indirectly on my opinions.
The 950XL is definitely a great piece of hardware, the screen is beautiful, it’s fast and the camera is fantastic. It certainly matches up to my Nexus 6P in all of those regards, but it is not without it’s faults. Aesthetically I prefer the Nexus 6P, the 950XL doesn’t look bad, but it isn’t a stunning device either, the matte black plastic body does really do anything to make it look like a premium device. When there are Android flagships, and iPhones with all metal bodies it seems kinda unfortunate that the best Windows 10 Mobile device today uses black plastic. Having a removable battery and a microSD slot on a high end device is certainly something to be welcomed though, the 950, 950XL and LG G5 are the only high end phones I can think of with both. For some people the 5.7” display might be cumbersome, but coming from the Nexus 6P with the same size display, I had no issues. The 950XL is actually a little shorter. Whilst I haven’t tested the battery life extensively, I had no real issues with it. I didn’t have any particularly long days during my time testing it. Whilst it could still be a problem for some, but it’s certainly good enough for my use.
When I first turned the device on, I had to immediately do some fairly large updates and seemingly every app wanted to download an update too, this isn’t really anything to be surprised by, but the store choked up whilst doing this and it took much longer than it seemed it should of. Regardless I eventually got the device setup. First impressions of Windows 10 Mobile were positive, I am used to Windows 10 on the desktop and my Surface Pro 3 already. It performed well with few hiccups. I installed Spotify, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp and they all behaved as expected. Two omissions that mattered to me the most were Snapchat and Authy. I could certainly move away from Authy and this wouldn’t be so bad, I probably would if it was my device. Snapchat is harder to move from as it would require convincing everyone else to move too, something I don’t think I could do. I could find an alternative version of the KeePass password manager that worked well, though missed the custom KeePass keyboard I can get on Android, and the notification allowing for username and password to be copied. I also would like to see official Google apps support, whilst the built in email client is good, not having Inbox was annoying, I really like the UX in Inbox.
Windows 10 Mobile
Windows Hello worked well, I think that iris recognition is a little less convienient than the fingerprint scanner on my Nexus 6P as you have to hold it in front of you. Hello was however fast, and recognised me most of the time. I also had a chance to try out Continuum and it’s certainly a very good idea, the ability to pick up on your phone where you left off with a keyboard and mouse could be amazing, it works well with the included apps. Sometimes it behaves weirdly though, Instgram is unusable in Continuum for example, and it had the habit of giving me the keyboard on the device.
The camera and the hardware camera button was possibly my favourite thing about the device. The phone has one of the best camera apps I’ve used, manual focus, ISO, exposure, white balance, DNG and JPEG shooting, all with a great UI, I’ve used an LG G3 and the amount of control is about the same, but I definitely prefer the 950XL UI. The photos taken are sharp, and looked good both inside and on an overcast day. There was the tendancy to blow out the highlights, but this could be fixed with the exposure compensation, I think the Auto HDR+ mode on the 6P probably has the edge here, but for non HDR shooting the 950XL would be my preferred device. I’ve put some comparison shots between the 950XL and Nexus 6P at the end so you can make your own decision.
In all, I like the 950XL as a device. The hardware is good, the camera is fantastic, Hello works well, it’s fast and seems reliable. The out of the box experience could certainly be better. I’m really one app short of being able to switch without compromise, Google Inbox would be missed but I do like the built in email app, Authy again, could easily be replaced by another 2FA app. It’s messaging apps where it is really difficult to move away, for a lot of people that’s going to be apps like Snapchat, and it’s certainly sad that there is no support there. The situation has definitely been improving, and for some it may already have all the apps they need, with Project Islandwood surely helping developers too.