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Microsoft Lumia 950XL review: Time-saver edition

Introduction

The Microsoft’s Lumia 950 XL is the face of the new Windows series and a reboot of the company’s smartphone business. Microsoft may have been slow in adopting new tendencies and features, but it made sure everything is done right with the Windows 10 Mobile premiere.

Key specifications


5.7″1440×2560 pixels



20MP
2160p



2GHz
Snapdragon 810



3GB RAM
32GB memory





3300mAhLi-Ion

And indeed the Lumia 950 XL lives up to all the promises and then some. The Lumia 950 XL is the most powerful Windows phone to date.

Design and build quality

The Microsoft Lumia 950 XL offers great build-quality and clean simplistic design, but the polycarbonate back doesn’t feel as premium as the phone’s price tag would suggest.

The Lumia 950 XL may be big, but it’s not monstrously big. It can easily fit in most pockets because of its slim profile and rather lightweight construction. The build is excellent – the rear cover fits perfectly around the chassis and there are no squeaks or creaks.

Handling a phone made of matte plastic is always a pleasure and this choice of materials pretty much guarantees an excellent grip. Operating the Lumia 950 XL with just one hand, or taking pictures, is rather easy and you don’t feel the phone will slip any moment now – a rarity these days.

Microsoft Lumia 950XL time-saver review

The Lumia 950 XL back panel is removable and what’s more, the battery bellow it is removable as well, which allows you to carry a spare if a single battery charge is not enough.

Speaking of removable stuff, the Lumia 950 XL is among the few high-end phones to actually offer a microSD slot, so you can expand the built-in storage cheaply and easily.

The Lumia 950 XL has a USB Type-C connector – it’s the new reversible connector for USB that builds on top of USB 3.1. If you like to use USB OTG or USB Host, you should either get the Microsoft’s Display Dock or other compatible accessory or adapter. If none of those matter to you, it’s enough to know that the port provides speedier transfer speeds but none of your existing chargers will fit. In fact, we couldn’t get the Lumia 950 XL to work with any other USB Type-C cable or charger we had around, so we could guess they have some sort of a proprietary implementation. Not good, Microsoft, not good!

Design and build quality score



2.5

Display

The 5.7-inch display on the Lumia 950 XL has Quad HD resolution, which equals 1440 x 2560 pixels. The pixel number sits somewhere in the middle between 1080p and 4K and in 2015 it established itself as the flagship smartphone resolution to go by.

The screen makes use of an AMOLED panel but it is also enhanced by ClearBlack technology, which is an extra layer of polarizing filter, which is supposed to reduce glare. We’re not quite sure how much it improves things, but the end result is stellar performance outdoors in the bright sunlight but we’re already used to seeing that from AMOLED screens.

Microsoft Lumia 950 review XL

Colors and contrast on AMOLED displays are usually gorgeous to look at and this screen makes no exception.

The Lumia 950XL has only average maximum brightness (335nits) if you have the brightness control set to manual, but as soon as you switch to Auto, the phone will push the brightness all the way up to 705nits given the environment is bright enough.

Microsoft Lumia 950  time-saver review

Color rendering is amazingly accurate. With an average color deviation of only 1.6, it’s among the best we’ve seen on a mobile phone. You have got to remember that anything below 3 is considered calibration-level color accuracy so we’re really happy with the fact that Microsoft provides that out of the box.

Battery life

The Lumia 950 XL comes with a beefy 3,300mAh battery. The phone supports fast charging and can recharge up to 50% of the battery capacity in just 30 minutes. Wireless charging is available, too.

Through our dedicated tests the Lumia 950 XL ramped up an endurance rating of 64h, which is an estimation of how long the phone would last if you use it for an hour each of calling, browsing and video playback a day.

Microsoft Lumia 950XL review

Such usage pattern may not be relevant to your own usage scenario, but we’ve established it so our battery results are comparable across devices. You can adjust the formula to better match your own usage pattern, by visiting our dedicated battery test results page.

The 64h rating on the Lumia 950 XL is above average in the grand scheme of things, but it’s actually less than average if you compare it to phablets only – phones with bigger screens often come with bigger batteries.

It’s the standby performance that’s to blame for the overall lackluster performance as the individual results in the three tests are about what you would expect.

Unfortunately, once you pop a second SIM card inside, the overall endurance rating plummets to a total of 47h as the second radio modem would take its toll.

Audio

The speaker on the Lumia 950 XL scored Excellent in terms of speaker loudness and it’s one of the loudest phone we’ve had lately. The speaker sound quality is very good, but not impressive, as the sound is somewhat tinny.

Besides testing the loudness of the built-in speaker, we also measure the quality of the audio output through the audio jack.

When connected to an active external amplifier the smartphone’s volume levels were nicely high and its clarity readings were splendid.

Plugging in a pair of headphones harmed the stereo crosstalk moderately and it also introduced some intermodulation distortion and frequency response fluctuations. It’s still a very good performance overall, but not quite among the best out there.

Photo camera

The Lumia 950 XL camera has uses a 1/2.4″ BSI sensor with 20MP resolution. In comes with ZEISS-certified optics, an optical stabilization system and a triple-LED RGB flash.

The ZEISS lens has a really wide 26mm equivalent field of view wide, as well as a really bright F/1.9 aperture.

Camera quality is really top-notch – the detail levels are high, there is little noise, colors are accurate and contrast is great. Our photo samples all have excellent dynamic range and the rendition of foliage is lovely. You also get up to 2x lossless zoom, when shooting 8MP images.

With night time photos the optical image stabilization lends its helping hand in snapping sharp night time photos. The image quality is great, there is lots of detail and the noise levels are kept amazingly low for such conditions.

The Lumia 950 XL offers an excellent 5MP front snapper and the images are among the best we’ve seen from a selfie camera. There is enough detail, little noise, high dynamic range and accurate colors.


Microsoft Lumia 950 XL review: Microsoft Lumia 950 XL camera samples
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL review: Microsoft Lumia 950 XL camera samplesMicrosoft Lumia 950 XL review: AutoMicrosoft Lumia 950 XL review: 5MP selfie samples
Microsoft Lumia 950XL camera samples

A unique feature is that if you take flash photos with Rich Capture mode turned on, the camera would take a few photos at different flash settings and it would allow you to adjust the flash strength on the resulting image after-the-fact in the photo gallery.

The camera can also be set to shoot 3-second videos along with your shots. Called Live Images, those really help bring to life the photos in your gallery.

The only bad thing about the camera is that sometimes it’s slow to focus properly on your subject, especially when it gets darker. It also takes its sweet time to save some of the images shot in Rich Capture mode.

Video camera

The Lumia 950 XL is capable of recording videos in up to 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, which makes for smooth videos. Video recording also makes use of Optical Image Stabilization system and videos come out nice and steady even when handheld.

In videos, just like with photos, resolved detail is very good, the colors and white balance are spot on, while the dynamic range is really impressive. And again, from time to time, we experienced minor, but nagging autofocusing issues.

Still, we deem the Lumia 950 XL 4K video fit for a flagship.