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Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL unboxing and first impressions: phoney PCs for road warriors

|November 30 2015 |Microsoft, Dual-SIM, First impressions, Unboxing, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Lumia

“The latest flagships from Microsoft can offer a PC-like experience, all thanks to Continuum”

It’s been a very long time since the world saw a high-end phone from Microsoft. That changed earlier last month, when the company took the covers off the Lumia 950 and 950 XL. It also sprung up a big surprise in the form of the Surface Book, its very first offering in the laptop space... along with the Surface Pro 4 tablet hybrid (quick look). Clearly, things are looking up for the software giant when it comes to its devices portfolio, and it has managed to create quite a bit of buzz and excitement around its new launches. And not without good reason – both the 950 and the 950 XL boast loaded specs and innovative features, while the Surface Book looks quite sexy and drool-worthy as well. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has already announced that the Surface Pro 4 would be coming to India early next year, but today is the day when we get to see the smartphone flagships in action.

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We got a chance to go up close and personal with the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, and here’s what they bring to the table. First, a quick unboxing of the Lumia 950 XL…

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Packed inside a flat cardboard box, the Lumia 950 XL comes with the removable battery, a wall charger with a fixed cable, a USB to Type-C cord and a wired headset, apart from the usual documentation packed alongside. The Lumia 950 should also have similar box contents.

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Coming to the devices, the new Lumias are clad in plastic, which is one of our main gripes with them as they doesn’t look or feel as premium as flagships should. In fact, they don’t look significantly different when compared with the Lumia 640 (review) and Lumia 640 XL (review), which are affordable smartphones from the brand. At the front of the Lumia 950 XL is the gorgeous, 5.7-inch ClearBlack screen toting 2K resolution. The AMOLED display offers a pixel density of 515 ppi and comes with a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 4 to keep scratches at bay.

The Lumia 950 is more compact with its 5.2-inch screen, though you still get the same QHD resolution resulting in a higher 565 ppi density.

Above the screen, you’ll see Microsoft branding, along with the usual earpiece, 5-megapixel front camera and sensors. There’s nothing below, save for the black bezel, as the navigation keys are part of the software.

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On the right, you get a set of metal-finished keys. There’s a power key, with two dedicated volume keys above a below it. There’s also a dedicated shutter key for the camera. The 3.5mm audio socket is on top, while the bottom is home to a USB Type-C port.

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Switch to the rear of the 950 XL, and you’ll be greeted by a large, circular camera module that protrudes out of the phone’s body. Looking similar to the camera setup on the Lumia 1020, this module hides a 20-megapixel PureView shooter with Zeiss optics and optical image stabilisation, and also features a triple-LED flash. The phone’s speaker is placed towards its left. You’ll also find a metallic Microsoft logo embossed in the centre.

The Lumia 950 looks slightly different from the rear when compared to its larger sibling. Its camera module comes encircled by a wide chrome ring, and the triple-LED flash is placed towards its left, with the speaker on the right.

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The back panel is removable, and opening it made us realise how flimsy it is. In fact, the thin plastic strip next to the cavity for the USB Type-C port was already broken on the back panel of our demo unit. Underneath, there’s the 3,340mAh removable battery, and you’ll also find a pair of nano-SIM slots and a microSD slot that accepts cards up to 200GB in capacity. The Lumia 950 is powered by a smaller 3,000mAh battery.

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The Windows 10 platform and the new Lumias bring a bunch of cool features to the table, including the Cortana voice assistant, and Windows Hello, a biometric security system that scans the retinas of your eyes for authentication. Microsoft says this is more secure than using PINs or passwords, and even a notch higher than fingerprint-based authentication. Another feature called Continuum is the bigger highlight though, and with this, you can get a near PC-like experience when the phones are connected to a large-screen monitor or television.

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Enabled by universal apps, i.e., apps developed to serve both the mobile and desktop screens, Continuum also needs a hardware accessory to work. This is the Microsoft Display Dock, priced at Rs 5,999 when bought separately.

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This dock is a compact box that connects to the Lumia 950 or 950 XL using a Type-C to Type-C cable (comes bundled with the dock). It needs to be powered via the provided adapter, and features an HDMI port to connect to external displays. It also offers three USB ports to let you connect peripherals like keyboards, mice, flash drives and external hard drives.

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Continuum is much more than simple screen mirroring. When connected to an external display or TV via the Dock, a Lumia 950 or 950 XL can offer almost a desktop-like experience, complete with the Windows Start menu and desktop views of supported apps.

 

When you launch a supported app, say the Outlook email client, on the large screen, you get a desktop view of the app, which is different than the screen you’d see on the phone. Another key highlight is that the connected screen can actually work independently on its own, which means you could be running a Powerpoint presentation on the large screen and use your phone to view slide notes, or even make phone calls… without the presentation being affected. By pairing a wireless keyboard and mouse with the phone (via Bluetooth or by using the USB ports on the dock), you can effectively convert your Lumia 950 / 950 XL to a PC. And just in case you don't have a keyboard / mouse spare, the phone's screen can work like a touchpad for controlling the onscreen pointer, along with other tasks like scrolling, launch apps etc. For inputting text, you can make use of the virtual keyboard.  

The Continuum experience is mainly limited by the availability of universal apps. Most Microsoft apps are supported of course. Some apps, like Fitbit for example, have already made their Windows versions universal, and others are adding support as you read this.

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The underlying hardware is powerful for sure. The hexa-core Snapdragon 808 powers the Lumia 950, while the octa-core Snapdragon 810 ticks inside the 950 XL. Thanks to 3GB of RAM, the usage should be fairly snappy, at least on the phone side of things. There’s 32GB of expandable storage, and you get about 25GB to use. The 20-meg PureView shooters should be able to take good pics too. The 2K display looks quite nice as well, with vivid colours and deep blacks.

Microsoft says that it’s mainly targeting Windows fans and business users with the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, but the pricing of Rs 43,699 and Rs 49,399 could deter potential buyers, and if you ask us, the plasticky build quality doesn’t help the cause either. Needless to say, Continuum looks like it can add significantly to the value proposition offered by the new Lumias. The idea of leaving your laptop at home and getting a PC-like experience from your smartphone is a worthy one, though it remains to be seen how users accept it.

 

With inputs from Ketaki Bhojnagarwala



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