Lumia 950 & 950 XL: What we want to see from Microsoft's next flagship phones

We'll know everything about the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL at Microsoft's launch event in New York, but leaks give us a pretty good idea of what is coming. It feels like it has been a long time since we've seen a new flagship Lumia device, so expectations are high. We figured we'd get a good old-fashioned round table going and see what everyone is looking forward to!

Lumia 950 or Lumia 950 XL?

Dan: For looks, design, and the larger display I'll have to go with the Lumia 950 XL. Having said that, I think I'd appreciate the smaller size of the Lumia 950 on occasion.

Derek: Considering that the two devices are expected to be practically identical internally, I'd go with the smaller Lumia 950 (I tend to carry two devices on most days). But… the thick shiny washer they've glued onto the back of the Lumia 950 looks just terrible, at least based on the leaks we've seen so far. So I'll probably be picking up a 950 XL because I'm a diva like that.

George: I'm going big screen this time. The 950XL should be scaled back enough so I can enjoy the 5.7" screen without having the large form factor we saw with the Lumia 1520. I'm hoping it ends up being the best of both worlds. A large screen Windows Phone in a pocketable form factor.

Jez: I switched from a Lumia 1520 to a Lumia 930, having decided that the larger screen was impractical. In practice though, I ended up sorely missing the 1520's battery life, particularly when traveling. Should the 950 XL pack similar longevity, that's where I'll be headed!

John: I definitely am more interested in the larger screen that the Lumia 950 XL will reportedly have.

Mark: I like bigger displays, so I'm more interested in the Lumia 950 XL. Big screens for me mean more real estate for watching videos and browsing the web. From the leaks, it seems the 950 XL isn't too thick, so I probably won't have any issues holding it. We'll see.

Richard: I've succumbed to the fact phones are getting larger and so I'd go with the 950 XL.The extra screen size works great when traveling for reading and watching movies without needing to carry a tablet.

What are you looking for in the Lumia 950 or 950 XL camera?

Dan: I think the hardware will be spot on for the new cameras. Improved OIS, low-aperture for night imaging, large 20 MP sensor for better cropping. My concern is whether the camera app and supporting software will be good enough. It needs to be fast, have HDR, Panorama and more to be worth it. Microsoft's competition, including LG, Apple and Samsung have all stepped up their game here.

Derek: Lumia cameras have always taken solid photos, and I'm not concerned that the Lumia 950 will disappoint when it comes to quality results. What matters is the experience of using the camera — it needs to be faster and easier to use. Apple and Google have made serious steps forward here and cameras are becoming one of (if not the) most important parts of a phone. Hardware quality is great — but the interface makes all the difference in the world.

George: It's been a long time since I've seen a terrible camera on a Windows Phone and expect the 950/950XL to sport an outstanding camera. I am curious to see how the f1.9 camera can handle low-light situations.

Jez: Speed is key when it comes to imaging, and I'm hoping the new handsets can deliver on that front. It would be cool if the new phones pack more features for video, borrowing the iPhone's slow-motion capabilities perhaps.

John: Solid image stabilization combined with good software for editing

Mark: I want great-looking images from a camera that isn't going to take a few seconds to load. The built-in Windows Camera is also already great at giving me manual controls and built-in HDR, so I'm not really asking for too much.

Richard: It has to be fast. One of the best things about the iPhone camera is how quick you can launch the camera app, snap a good picture and put the phone back in your pocket. Lumia cameras do just fine on quality, but they just take too long for me. I have a young child, so speedy shooting is a necessity.

Do you need Continuum?

Dan: I do not need Continuum because I have so many different computers laying around. However, I think it could prove to be useful on occasion, and it is certainly a unique differentiator. For enterprise users I think it could be tremendously useful. I like the idea of using it in a commercial as that is a visual "easy sell". It remains to be seen, however, if people will see it as an actual selling point versus gimmick.

Derek: At this point, I do not. I use my phone differently than I use my computer, and I'm not certain that plugging my phone into a dock will solve that, not to mention the raw power deficit here. But… I'm not a typical user, nor is Dan or Mark or anybody else you're reading right here. I know plenty of people that use their phones as their primary internet portal and barely touch a computer. They do that for the convenience and portability, and I'm not certain they need or want to sit down at a desk and plug in to do that either. It's a really neat concept for things like switching from tablet to laptop (but I can see it being confusing for users), but for phones it's questionable.

George: It's one of those features that I'd rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Jez: If continuum is as good as it seems, I will switch to a Lumia 950 XL set-up for traveling and perhaps trade my nimble Surface Pro 3 for something larger and more powerful. Hopefully, Microsoft will iterate on the travel accessories to make this feature great, like the foldable Bluetooth keyboard we saw earlier in the year.

John: Yes; it would be great to hook up a smartphone to a big monitor and use it like I would a regular desktop PC

Mark: Continuum seems like a great feature to have, but I don't know if I'll be using it often. The idea of using a mouse and keyboard with my phone makes me cringe. It would have to be an amazing experience to make me go out of my way to set up, instead of just powering up my laptop.

Richard: No, I don't. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in it, though. It's a possible selling point for enterprise and developing markets though for sure. One device that can be your entire computing world is an exciting prospect.

Are you excited about the Iris Scanner?

Dan: An iris scanner seems to be truly unique here but, once again, it has to perform well e.g. be fast and consistent. Apple's new fingerprint ID on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus is crazy fast. Therefore, the burden is on Microsoft to tell us why an iris scanner is a better choice than a fingerprint one.

Derek: I was questioning this at first. I have multiple phones with fingerprint sensors that work fine, and the new iPhone 6s and Nexus phones are absurdly fast. Why go for something like iris scanning? And then I realized that I look at my phone every time I'm unlocking it anyway — why wouldn't I be looking at it? The only thing that concerns me is using it in the dark or shade or wearing sunglasses. Then again, fingerprint sensors don't work when I'm wearing gloves.

George: Same as with Continuum. Nice feature but I'm not sure how often I'll use it.

Jez: Features like this often strike me as a gimmick. It needs to be as fast, if not faster than punching in a pin - otherwise what's the point?

John: It depends on how it performs. It sounds great but, as we have seen with Kinect, great technology has to be backed up with great performance, or it will fail to reach an audience.

Mark: Seeing a demo of Windows Hello on a PC makes me excited about the Iris Scanner on the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. Logging into a machine happens instantly after stepping in front of it. If that's how iris scanners work on the new Lumia devices, then it'll be a lot more convenient and faster than entering a pin code.

Richard: I've seen a phone with an iris scanner before from ZTE. While cool as hell it was still a delay I wouldn't want unlocking my phone. But if Microsoft can make it work as fast as Windows Hello on the desktop I'm sold. Hello on Windows 10 PCs is secure and fast. I want the same for Mobile, too.

Any new colors you would like to see?

Dan: I think Microsoft is missing an opportunity to use their new Windows 10 blue color on these phones. The good news is with removable backplates they can always create and add color variants to their product line. Just because you buy a white Lumia does not mean it has to stay that way. Fingers crossed they offer blue, green, orange and yellow.

Derek: Eh… I've never been big on colors. The phones I buy are typically black-on-black or white-on-metal. I tend to be conservative like that. The only real exceptions I make are with the Moto X series — there's something about a phone with a sexy real wood teak or rosewood back that gets to me (and my wallet). Apart from that… polka dots?

George: As long as it comes in matte black, I'm fine.

Jez: All the best looking Lumias are red, fact!

John: Plaid :)

Mark: I want to see them in red or yellow! I hope we'll see more than just white or black for these phones.

Richard: I'd love to see them bring red back like we had on the 1520. My team plays in red, so why wouldn't I want that?!

Anything else, no matter how unlikely, you're still hoping for in the next Lumia phones?

Dan: I'm less concerned about the hardware and more worried about the state of the OS at this stage. Hardware is in some ways easy compared to the OS, APIs and supporting apps that Apple and Google have amassed through their years of mobile OS maturity. Windows Phones have always done more with less for hardware, but I'm worried that the Windows 10 Mobile OS experience is years behind their competition.

Derek: What I want has nothing to do with the hardware. I have no doubt that Microsoft will be able to execute on the hardware front — they've been making good stuff since the days of the Zune! Which is odd, since Microsoft is still considered to be primarily a software company that just happens to make some decent hardware. But what they really need is support for that software from third party developers. We saw the awkward reversal of fortunes just a month ago at the announcement of the iPhone 6s and iPad Pro — Microsoft was on stage at an Apple event showing off how well their Office productivity apps work with Apple's fancy new tablet.

Microsoft's been able to flex their muscle to get apps onto Windows Phone/Mobile, yes, but they need to keep flexing that muscle to make sure the apps stay on and stay updated. Building an app for a developer is just part of the workload that Microsoft's taking over. There's the overhead of supporting a new platform and those additional users and making updates to the app to support both new features in the platform and new features in the developer's own product. Microsoft's having the hardest time cracking this chicken-egg problem, and new hardware isn't going to solve it unless Microsoft can put these phones into the hands of millions and millions of customers. And they have to be the right customers with the spending power that the developers crave (which is to say, app support's not going to happen without major American and European adoption of Windows Mobile). And even then, they'll need to get up-to-date versions of all the apps people want on them from day one.

Windows Phone 7 wasn't great, financially or technically. Windows Phone 8 took what was good about it and brought it to a modern platform that's at least reached a broader audience, and that's been aided by Windows 8 and 10. I won't say that Windows 10 Mobile is Microsoft's last chance at smartphones — they have the perseverance, talent, and resources to keep plugging away until they succeed (see: tablets, which Microsoft started doing a decade before Apple). But Microsoft needs to make a statement with Windows 10 Mobile, and that statement needs to be that this platform isn't just as capable, robust, and support as iPhone or Android — it's better.

George: I've been using Windows Phones for a long time now. Each new model seems to build upon the last and I expect the Lumia 950/950XL to follow suit. I would like to see better battery life (not that what we have sucks by any means) and fewer "resume" screens. Oh… and I wouldn't mind a tooth-rattling vibrate alert. Something that you can feel when the phone is in your pocket.

Jez: These phones could have a levitation feature that saves you from even having to hold the phone, but when it comes to the bigger picture, simply having Snapchat would bring more benefits to the platform. As a Lumia fan, I've done my part urging friends and family to give the platform a try - but I've seen the vast majority of them slip away after their first Lumia contracts expire. Sad to say, the reason is always apps. We might have 6Tag, MyTube, and 6Tin, but consumers want to feel confident that their phone will always be up to date with the latest and greatest. Third-party developers, regardless of how good, can't be relied on for every video game companion app, every banking app, latest social craze, etc..

As Windows transitions into a service model, the app store is going to be increasingly important for Microsoft's bottom line, and they need to showcase some powerful third-party support for the universal Windows platform as soon as possible.

John: Would love it if the battery life were longer than most smartphones

Mark: I want to see more apps. Would love it if Microsoft announces that Snapchat will be available on Windows 10 Mobile. I also would like to see the official Instagram app for Windows Phone get out of BETA and offer the same features that are available on their iOS and Android platforms.

Richard: Apps and services. While most of what I use daily is already available, you won't attract new customers without being able to say you have the likes of Snapchat. Oh, and if Microsoft could make it so we can stream Xbox One games to the phones, I'd be very happy indeed!

Your wish list

So, we told you what Dan, Derek, George, Jez, John, Mark, and Richard are looking forward to with the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. What would be on your wish list and, more specifically, what would the details be? What kind of camera improvements? Which new color options? Let us know in the comments.

Mark Guim

Mark Guim is Video Editor at Windows Central. He switched to Windows because the MacBook Pro isn't Pro enough. You can follow him on Twitter at @markguim.