An honest review of Windows 10 Mobile on the Lumia 950XL

So back in November 2016 I decided to ditch my Samsung S6 and get a Microsoft Lumia 950XL in the sale. I got £180 for my S6 in trade and spent £289 on the 950XL with a Continuum dock included.

My friend from work paid over £400 for the phone a year earlier and I personally wouldn’t have paid that much. But for the price I really do think (and still do) that it was phenomenal value.

So lets begin with the review, I got the phone when it was running the anniversary update of Windows 10, lets be honest here – prior to this lots of things were still broken. But when it arrived everything seemed pretty slick.

I went through the process of moving all my cloud based stuff from Google Drive to Onedrive (this was a major annoyance due to the lack of Google Apps in the Windows store).

Lets look at the good and the bad things I’ve found out about Windows Mobile since November.

The bad

I downloaded and hunted for alternatives to the apps I’d come to love on iPhone and Android over the years. This is where the problems begin.

Lack of apps

Despite Microsoft claiming that the apps in the store are growing, the actual number of decent mainstream apps is still limited, so you end up relying on 3rd party apps to achieve the same result. Now you could argue its the developers fault. But I’m sorry some incentives from Microsoft (and the tools to make it happen easily) would go a long way to correcting this issue.

I use my Sony mirrorless camera and transfer images to my phone via WiFi/NFC. But I have to use AlphaConnect as the store hasn’t got the Playmemories app. Not an issue but I have to pay for the pro version to get the features I got standard on my Android phone.

I bank with FirstDirect (part of HSBC) and they don’t have an app for Windows 10 Mobile (they used to have a Windows 8 Mobile app – but have no plans to develop one for Windows 10). This means I can’t access my bank on the go. All other platforms are supported.

Next is the issues with apps that MICROSOFT actually produce. The Windows Mobile versions are actually getting left behind in comparison to the Apple/Android versions. For example the latest apps to launch aren’t even available for Windows Mobile, for example Microsoft Classroom (which has now been scrapped after a year anyway) or PowerPoint features being added to mobile apps on iOS/Android that aren’t added into Windows Mobile. Shocking!

Lack of continuum support

Continuum was touted as the “replacement for your laptop on the road’ by Microsoft, and to and extent, it is. Without going into to much detail, it basically allows you to connect your phone to a bigger screen, keyboard and mouse and use the phone as a PC.

In principle this works fine, but again the devil is in the detail – it’s taken until the Creators Update (April 2017) for them to add a feature to turn the screen off on the phone whilst you are using the larger display to stop the phone draining and screen burn in – so again I had to rely on a helpful developer who created “Blackout for continuum”.

Combine this with so many apps that are the “Top 10” apps that still don’t support continuum and it begins to get frustrating. For basic Office/Outlook it works fine.

Relying on beta apps as daily drivers

Because the development of apps is either none existent or slower than the other platforms (e.g. Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram) it does mean that you end up running beta versions of the apps, and to be honest on the whole they work. But when bugs work their way in, it is extremely frustrating. Something that did work, no longer does.

Lack of finger print reader

Now, when these first came out on phones, I genuinely thought it was a fad. But having had a fast responding reader on my Samsung and previous iPhone’s this is a major downfall of the 950XL hardware. I appreciate people will say “but it has Windows Hello” and it does – but it works inconsistently and for a glasses wearer I have to pretty much headbutt the phone for it to pick my eyes up quickly. I end up using a PIN 99% of the time because of this. The lack of a fingerprint reader has become a glaring oversight.


Now it isn’t all bad, honestly, there are fantastic parts. There are fantastic features.

The good

The camera

Quite simply, this produces some amazing photos. I’ve used it over the last 8 months and have been really impressed by the detail, focus speed and ability to pull lots of extra content from the RAW files.

The UI

Despite what others might think, I really love the W10 mobile interface, it has great easy to look at tiles, fast info a a glance and really easy to change it to make it suit your workflow. The settings are easy to use, searchable and you can move all items to your SD card really easily.

The glance screen

I really like this, basically it is a battery saving feature where only a few pixels turn on and display content you want on your lock screen without it actually powering up the full screen. I have mind set to email notifications, messages and calls – once glance is all I need to know if I have to turn my phone on even at work)

Battery life

Windows 10 on my 950XL lasts all day (6am-6pm) and still has at least 65% left. That’s impressive, I use my phone a fair bit during my working day (accessing remote servers, webdav file shares, editing Office documents on the go as well as streaming music on the way to and from work) it just lasts and lasts.

Office 365 integration

Honestly, this should be a given, but the way the phone is obviously baked into the ecosystem really works well, OneDrive, Office Apps and the Camera/Photos app for perfectly together. This is a major plus for me, someone who uses their phone for work as well as play.

Storage

Having 32Gb on-board means you won’t run out of space regardless of how many apps you install. Having a Micro SD slot means I run a 128GB card and store all my content (photos, etc) on there. It makes iPhone users jealous!


In summary

To sum up then, this is a fantastic piece of hardware on the whole, the OS is great, but where Microsoft really lack here are apps. I can’t use this phone for mobile banking, anything Google related and more.

I love how it feels, I love the speed of the device and OS and I like how regular the updates come. But honestly, I’d be hard pressed to sell this to even the biggest die hard Microsoft fan now.

Microsoft recently announced there were no future plans on the Lumia lineup, seemingly giving up on the line for now. What is interesting though is that they appear to be actively developing the mobile OS alongside the desktop to keep it feature current, which leaves hope (no matter how small) – it does mean that they’ll have a solid OS to launch future phones on if they wanted to.

I will use my Windows phone for now, how long it lasts is anyone’s guess. My guess is until the apps I currently use become unstable. Then I’ll probably switch back to Android.

Are you a Windows Mobile user? Have you ever used the platform? What did you like? What drove you away? Comment below and join the discussion.

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