The Microsoft Lumia 950 review

Microsoft has finally delivered a high-end Lumia. While it will satisfy Windows fans, there is room for improvement.

Windows Central Recommended Award

The quick take

The AT&T and unlocked Lumia 950 from Microsoft is the best Lumia in the last two years. With the best PureView camera yet, solid battery life and a great display, the Lumia 950 has a lot going for it. However, its ho-hum design and meager app selection will keep switchers at bay leaving just enough to satisfy the die-hard Microsoft fans.

The Good

  • Fantastic display
  • Amazing camera
  • Relatively light and thin
  • Smooth, responsive performance
  • Solid battery life, with removable option
  • Continuum support to use the phone as a PC

The Bad

  • Paltry app selection
  • Uninspiring design
  • Non-premium plastic body
  • A new operating system with some holes

Microsoft Lumia 950 Specifications

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CategoryLumia 950
OSWindows 10 Mobile
Screen Size5.2 inches
Screen Resolution1440x2560 (564ppi)
Screen TypeAMOLED
Processor1.8GHz Snapdragon 808 64-bit hexa-core
RAM3GB
Internal Storage32GB
External StoragemicroSD
SecurityWindows Hello iris scanner
Rear Camera20MP ƒ/1.9 PureView camera, triple-LED flash
Front Camera5MP, wide-angle lens
Battery3000mAh removable
ChargingQi wireless
PMA
USB Type-C
USB-C fast charging
Height145mm
Width73.2mm
Thickness8.2mm
Weight150g

Microsoft Lumia 950 Full Review

The last high-end Lumia was introduced in April 2014 with the Lumia 930, itself a carryover from the Verizon Lumia Icon earlier that year. And the pivotal Lumia 1520 was announced two years ago in November 2013. Needless to say, it has been a very long wait for windows phone fans for something new.

Much has changed in the last few years for Windows Phone. Today, we have Windows 10 Mobile, which is yet another rewrite of Microsoft's mobile ambitions. Market share has also retreated due to the lack of new high-end phones and the widening app-gap problem.

Now, Microsoft and AT&T are getting behind the Lumia 950. Was it worth the wait and will it save Windows Phone or just prolong its slow demise?

About this review

I used the Microsoft Lumia 950 for AT&T for the last week as my primary phone. The device was provided with Windows 10 Mobile build 10586.0 and the optional Continuum Display Dock. The differences between the AT&T branded version of the Lumia 950 and the unlocked variant are minimal, but include a small AT&T logo on the back cover, some pre-installed AT&T software (which is removable) and support for PMA (Powermat) wireless charging in addition to support for Qi wireless charging.

Microsoft Lumia 950 Video Review

What's new

The Lumia 950 brings a lot to the table regarding raw specs. Sure, it may not look the part with its matte coat and distinctive lack of metal, but underneath the removable battery cover sits a powerful mobile device by any standards.

First up is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexacore processor timed at 1.8GHz. This engine results in a large jump in performance from the old quad-core Snapdragon 800 found in the Lumia 930. Next is the ample 5.2-inch 2560 x 1440 OLED ClearBlack display, with Gorilla Glass 3, and an impressive 564 ppi for outstanding color and clarity.

Microsoft Lumia 950 display

The Lumia 950 also packs all the bells and whistles that Windows Phone fans have been clamoring for all in one device.

Lumia 950 highlights

  • 32 GB of internal storage
  • Micro SD with support for 200GB expandable storage
  • High resolution display with Glance
  • USB-C fast charging and wireless Qi charging
  • Large capacity removable battery
  • Arguably the best mobile camera to date
  • You want thin and light? They did that too as the Lumia 950 weighs only 150 grams, making it one of the lightest Lumias to date and at 8.2mm for thickness, you'd be hard pressed to call this phone big

As a bonus, Microsoft will even sell you this phone direct and unlocked for a reasonable $550. There is even the ability to use the phone as a computer through Continuum, a new feature that no one was exactly asking for but makes a lot of sense when you consider the future of mobile computing.

Did I also mention it has an iris scanner to unlock your phone just by looking at it? All of this makes the Lumia 950 not only impressive to Windows Phone fans, but anyone who is considering a high-end device.

There is also the new USB Type-C connector to offer some future proofing. The benefits of Type C include greater bandwidth for data transfers and the ability to handle more power for charging. Also, the Type C connector that is finally reversible. That means there is no more fidgeting when trying to insert the connector as there is no 'up' or 'down' side anymore. The other benefit is support for USB-C fast charging, Microsoft claims that this ability can charge your phone from just 10 percent to 50 percent in thirty minutes. Indeed, from my testing this is attainable and it is a breath of fresh air to be able to charge the phone that quickly.

Oh, and yes folks, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL both support USB OTG. This means when you use a third-party adapter you can connect up USB peripherals including a USB drive that the OS mounts. By using the built-in File Explorer, you can then browse the drive and access files. We'll have a follow-up video demonstrating this ability soon.

The one downside of the Lumia 950 hardware is cosmetic. The phone is rather bland looking. As Apple and Samsung have moved to lots of metal and glass for an elegant, premium design, the Lumia 950 balks at that with matte polycarbonate plastic. Microsoft will have to learn – like Samsung – that to some people plastic "feels cheap" even if it packs the right specs and is more durable. I fully expect some people to admire the poly carb design while others will be less impressed.

Microsoft Lumia 950 phone

Of course, it's not all bad. The Lumia 950 is lighter because of the plastic, and it doesn't feel like it'll shatter into a million pieces if you drop it. In fact, it feels pretty great to hold and use. This is a phone that you can grab and go with confidence and not coddle it, or even have to bulk it up with a protective case. Having said that, the Lumia 950 is not winning any awards for design.

Let's take a closer look at three banner features of the Lumia 950: Camera, Windows Hello, and Continuum.

Camera – Setting new standards

Lumia fans have become so used to having some of the best cameras around that it is just expected the Lumia 950, and its 20 MP camera would continue that trend. Microsoft's bag of photographic technology is referred to as PureView, and it includes Zeiss lenses, optical image stabilization (OIS) and a high-end flash. The bigger story, however, is how Samsung and even LG have caught up to and even surpassed PureView. The bar has been set, and Microsoft needs to beat it.

I can confidently say that the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL do have the best cameras you'll find on a phone, or at the very least rank in the top echelons. Images are crazy sharp, colors are vivid, and the new triple-LED flash offers bright natural-looking light where none can be found. The updated auto Rich Capture only kicks in when it is needed, and it even lets you adjust the brightness of the flash after you've taken a photo, which is always a fascinating feature.

Microsoft Lumia 950 camera

Like a lot of prosumer photographers, I loathe using the flash as I prefer ambient light, but between the triple LED 'natural' flash and the ability to control its intensity in post-processing using the flash is now preferred. The same applies for HDR, which lets you customize the look.

The Lumia 950 also incorporates a 5th generation optical image stabilization (OIS) housing to ensure jittery free images and assist with video.

More importantly the new Microsoft Camera app and Snapdragon processor finally give fast results both for launching the camera and taking photos rapidly. Even post-processing Rich Capture images are significantly faster due to those extra cores.

The Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL have the best cameras you'll find on a phone.

I did find focusing a bit nuanced with some shots coming out with a slight blur. I think this is partially due to the large f/1.9 aperture but also due to the lack of newer IR laser-assisted autofocus technology found in phones like the LG G4 and Nexus 5X, which can make a big difference.

Likewise, there are some early bugs with Windows Hello beta when reviewing an image after launching the camera from its locked mode. There is also the lack of such basic features as built-in panorama, which is borderline egregious in 2015. And while Facebook has announced that a Windows 10 Instagram app is on the way until it is here users have to use the excellent – but still third-party – 6tag app for Instagram.

When it comes to video, the Lumia 950 can handle 60 FPS for 1080P video, and I have heard through my sources that Microsoft is working on 120FPS for early next year. Additionally, you can shoot 25 or 30 FPS at 4K, which is more common these days but still impressive.

And while Apple acts like they invented Living Images, we know that it was the Lumia team who originally brought moving photos to the table. The new version works in the universal Photos app for Windows 10 including on PC, and it seems smarter. Interestingly, Living Images are now only invoked when movement is detected in the photo instead of being applied across the board for every photo taken. This feature both saves storage space, and it just makes sense—after all, there is no need for a Living Image if there is nothing moving in the photo.

We'll be doing in-depth comparison articles with the leading competitors in the Android and iPhone space (see how they fared against each other last time around). For now, you can rest assured that the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL do have outstanding cameras.

But here is the thing: How much does it matter in 2015?

If you're a mobile camera enthusiast, then you should consider the Lumia 950.

If you are a mobile camera enthusiast, then the Lumia 950 should be on your list of phones for consideration. However, since the early days of PureView it is hard to ignore the fact that Samsung and LG have caught up regarding image quality. Even the new iPhones I only consider to be decent for image quality, but they no longer get top awards either.

Sure, I can say the Lumia 950 takes better images most of the time, but the differences between it and the competition is a lot less pronounced than it was two or three years ago. In other words, when posting to Instagram or Facebook, both of which downsize and downsample images, I am not sure the Lumia 950 will be noticeably better than other high-end phones. I do think the dedicated camera button is a huge advantage, and I still get frustrated with the iPhone and Android devices that make you use a swipe-gesture option, but these are also preferences and for a lot of people, minor advantages.

Even the front-facing 5MP camera stands out with support for Living Images as well as being super sharp for those super important selfies. It gets decent low-light support too. Unfortunately, the corresponding Skype app gets mixed results for video streaming quality from the camera, something we hope to see optimized in an update.

Microsoft Lumia 950 camera

In the end, the camera on the Lumia 950 is quite phenomenal, and the new algorithms reveal and preserve subject detail better than ever. I'm just not sure it is that big of a deal in 2015 as it was in 2013 when the Lumia 1020 hit the scene.

Iris scanning and Windows Hello - Awesome, but necessary?

Biometrics for modern computing is the ability to use your unique physical characteristics for security purposes. It's a big trend in mobile and is featured prominently in Microsoft's own Windows 10 ads. Microsoft puts this tech under the marketing name Windows Hello and it includes facial recognition, fingerprint reading, or an iris scanner.

Fingerprint scanners have become the most popular technology for biometric phone security, and can be found in the latest iPhones, Samsung's Galaxy S6 series and Galaxy Note 5, the new HTC One A9, the Nexus 5X and 6P, the LG V10, the... you get the idea — the list is extensive. While fingerprint scanners were decent in 2014, the latest generations are very fast and reliable to the point of feeling seamless.

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Windows Hello Iris scanner

For some reason, Microsoft went down the road of an iris scanner for the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. Using a near-infrared camera along with the standard 5MP front-facing camera, you can unlock the Lumia 950 just by gazing deeply at the display for a second or two. Once recognized Windows Hello can dismiss the lock screen automatically. You can, however, set it so that it just unlocks the phone leaving you to dismiss the lockscreen manually. This is ideal if you like to read the lockscreen for notifications. Luckily, with Glance enabled, you do not need to do even that.

You can unlock the Lumia 950 just by gazing deeply at the display for a second or two.

Regarding privacy, Windows Hello does not take a picture of your eyes or irises, nor does it send any information to the cloud. Instead, scanning creates an encrypted hash that is stored on the phone.

Is it better than a fingerprint reader? In some ways, yes, but not enough to make it a clear winner either. Besides not having to take your gloves off in the winter, iris scanning can be a little finicky. For instance, you do need the phone about a foot away from your face. You won't look weird using it in public, but you do need to look right at it to unlock. Sometimes it's hit and miss for recognition too, requiring you to use the PIN or cycle the display off and on again. (Using the improve-feature can help here).

From my experience, the Lumia 950's iris scanner is similar to what the first fingerprint scanner on the iPhone. Sure, it works, but there are some errors and misreading about 30-40% of the time. It helps to use the 'improve recognition' feature, but it is still lacking. Newer generation fingerprint scanners are so fast and accurate that they're seamless to use. I can't say the same about the iris scanner.

But there are some cool things about iris scanners that you may not know. For instance:

  • It works in low light and even the dark
  • You can wear eye glasses or even sunglasses when using it
  • Twins reportedly cannot fool it
  • A photo of your eyes cannot trick it
  • Besides unlocking your phone, you can authorize store purchases with it

At the time of this review, Windows Hello is still in beta for the Lumia 950, but it is pretty solid. There are a few quirks here and there as we have had it stop working on a rare occasion, but nothing catastrophic. Also, there are oddities when reviewing a photo after using the camera from a locked state. Luckily, battery impact seems negligible. The great thing about Windows Hello and biometrics is that you can now set the phone to auto-lock every time ensuring greater security.

There is also an odd experience where you set the PIN to lock only after 5 or 15 minutes of non-usage. Turning the phone on earlier still enables Windows Hello, which seems odd as you can just swipe away the lock screen without it recognizing your eyes. The presumed behavior would be Windows Hello only kicks in when the PIN lock is set to be enabled not every time your turn it on.

Microsoft Lumia 950

The iris scanner is not 100 percent yet on the Lumia 950, but it is certainly good enough for everyday use, and I strongly recommend enabling it. Still, it is peculiar holding the phone to look right at it. It's not bad, it's not a deal breaker, it is just different.

Putting aside any kinks and iris scanning is pretty awesome. It makes the Lumia 950 feel different and even futuristic. It will certainly be a talking point when you are out with others. I just wish I could tell you why it is a better choice than a fingerprint scanner. For now, I can't, and I leave it to Microsoft to justify the choice of technology.

Continuum – Your phone is now a computer?

Microsoft Lumia 950 Display Dock

Microsoft's Continuum for Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile is both a fascinating yet odd feature. Microsoft's idea here is that users can connect their phone up to a larger display and use it as a PC. Universal Windows 10 apps can auto-scale to the large display, and you can even connect a mouse and keyboard up to complete the experience. While the phone powers the display, you can continue to use the phone separately including making calls and getting charged through the USB-C Quick Charge system.

There are a few ways to use Continuum, including wired through the $99 Display Dock and wireless using Miracast. In both scenarios, you can use a mouse and keyboard as well. Microsoft is recommending the third-party Actiontec ScreenBeam Mini2 - Continuum Edition adapter for displays without Miracast support. The $67 dongle does not have anything special about it, but Microsoft insists it gets the best user experience. This makes sense as not every Miracast device performs the same, unfortunately.

I have to admit that Continuum works very well. I connected the Lumia 950 to a 4k display (output, however, is limited to just Full HD) and used Microsoft's wireless ergonomic keyboard for a test. It was all hands-off as everything just functioned. You can even use the phone's display as a mousepad, which works very well over wired connections.

Windows 10 Mobile's universal apps that work with Continuum include:

  • Office (Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Excel)
  • Outlook Mail and Calendar
  • Microsoft Edge browser
  • MSN News, Weather, Sports, Money
  • Photos, Groove Music, Movies & TV, Store, Messaging, Skype Video, People

But there is one thing bugging me about Continuum: Who is going to use this?

Additionally, any third-party apps that use the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) can also be Continuum-ready. Our new Windows Central app, which is in private beta, works very well as do other apps like Tweetium, Homeboy, Baconit, and Trakter to name a few. Of course, you can't yet run classic Win32 apps although who knows what will happen next year.

Using Miracast to a TV is pretty decent although if you toss in a Bluetooth keyboard you may experience some slight lag when typing. You could just use the keyboard on the phone to the TV, which is easier. Depending on the setup it could be a great experience or a kludge.

Microsoft Lumia 950 Display Dock + Miracast

Of course, it's easy to sit back and criticize the experience until you take it all in: you're running a PC's OS from your phone to your TV and using a Bluetooth keyboard and the phone as a mouse pad. At the very least on a technical level that is crazy impressive.

So kudos to Microsoft for not only making this feature but having it work well.

But there is one thing bugging me: Who is going to use this?

I can certainly envision unique situations where Continuum would be useful. Office presentations, hotel rooms, students who need to save space and money, people who come home from work and want to keep all their apps and data on a device, and maybe someday even internet cafes. Perhaps even you can think of a way how Continuum would make your life better, in which case go for it, it works very well.

Microsoft Lumia 950 back

However, I cannot see Continuum being a selling point for your average consumer. This isn't a killer feature for most people; it's a powerful but niche tool. It's also weird since for years all data was to go to the cloud so that you can work from any computer. Continuum seems to buck that by saying 'take the device and the cloud with you'.

Can I recommend the Lumia 950 to my friends for Continuum? It seems like a stretch. The thing is I see the Continuum model being the future. I could imagine a world where our phones are our main computers and everything is just a display. But that world isn't here yet. For now, Continuum is potentially trailblazing, but only in theory and only for some.

Windows 10 and the app gap

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Windows 10

Before we get to my final thoughts we need to talk about the elephant in the room: Windows 10 and the app-gap on Windows Phone. Unfortunately, in late 2015 the app-gap situation has in some way become worse for Windows 10 Mobile. Big banks and popular services are seemingly abandoning the platform. Meanwhile, others like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pandora, FitBit, and Ring are jumping on board.

Windows 10 and its Universal Windows Platform (UWP) should fix — in theory — as developers can write once and distribute their app to PC, tablet, phone, and even Xbox One (later in 2016). Even HoloLens can now run the popular Reddit Windows app Baconit.

The app-gap is not about numbers; it is about one thing: Can Windows 10 Mobile deliver the apps you need?

The problem is, the Universal Windows Platform has not delivered. Not yet, at least. We're still in the very early days of this universal platform, so that is to be expected.

Remember, the app-gap is not about numbers; it is about one thing: Can Windows 10 Mobile deliver the apps you need. Everyone has that one app that they desperately like to use. For me, as an MMA fan I want a universal UFC app. For others, it is Snapchat. It is a tough problem and makes recommending the Lumia 950 very difficult for most users especially, if you're already on Android or iOS.

Windows 10 Mobile as an operating system is pretty great, but there is still a lot that is missing. Panorama for the camera, no native payment system akin to Apple Pay, and some UI inconsistencies make Windows 10 Mobile feel, well, incomplete. Even Microsoft Edge is only about 75% there regarding feature completeness to compete with Safari or Chrome.

The good news is we don't have to wait six months or a year for a new OS update. "Windows as a Service" means the OS is constantly being evolved and receiving frequent updates. Windows 10 for desktop just received a major update three months after its release and it is rather impressive. Windows 10 Mobile will likely follow the same trajectory. It remains to be seen, however, just how fast Microsoft can push out updates and just what kind of interference – if any – carriers will impose.

I like Windows 10 Mobile, and I feel it is the right evolution of the Microsoft Design Language (MDL). The OS is minimal, and it still puts heavy emphasis on information and content. However, like all design languages some people will love it, and others will find it off-putting. I'm not sure how the general public will view Windows 10 Mobile.

You have to decide: are you willing to get on board now, or will you wait to see how it pans out?

This is the conundrum with Windows 10 Mobile. It is an amazing vision from Microsoft one that is truly different from the competition. One OS and one app platform are a bold vision for the future and technically speaking it is now in my hands. Not only does it work, but you can see it is like a solid foundation to build on. But most of Windows 10's benefits are still down the road.

Folks, this is just the beginning, but you have to decide if you are willing to get on board now, or wait to see how it pans out over the next six months. Unfortunately, iOS and Android are like unstoppable freight trains that are innovating and perfecting their ecosystems, and it makes recommending the Lumia 950 for switchers very difficult at this time.

Odds and Ends

Microsoft Lumia 950

For those who are fixated on many of the Lumia features, past and present, here are a few things you will want to know about the Microsoft Lumia 950:

  • It ships with Windows 10 Mobile build 10586
  • Visual voicemail is finicky requiring a few attempts to get it to display
  • USB OTG is supported when using a Type-C adapter
  • No double-tap to wake, but there is double-tap to turn off
  • Glance is supported with Glance backgrounds; Peek is gone, and only intervals can be set
  • There are 4 HAAC microphones for Rich Recording when shooting video
  • Qi wireless charging is supported (the AT&T version supports both Qi and PMA)
  • Hey Cortana is enabled and works with the display off
  • You can record phone calls
  • The display is covered with Gorilla Glass 3 (the Lumia 950 XL is getting Gorilla Glass 4)
  • There is about 29.5 GB of usable storage out of the box
  • There are about nine pre-installed AT&T apps that can all be removed
  • You will have around 38 app updates out of the box
  • It works well with the Microsoft Band 2 including support for Cortana
  • The Lumia 950 does not have liquid cooling
  • The Lumia 950 does not get hot, but it can get acceptably warm under heavy use; heat is distributed very evenly
  • The matte cover, especially white, can pick up dirt but is easily cleanable
  • There are third-party back covers from Mozo
  • The rear speaker is decent, but far from the best I have used
  • Phone calls are of acceptable quality
  • AT&T HD Voice is supported
  • USB audio did not work in my 2013 Honda Accord; Bluetooth obviously works
  • I only saw a 'Resume' screen with the Skype Video app
  • Everyday performance is similar to the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 930 with Windows 10 Mobile; heavier loads like Rich Capture processing favors the Lumia 950

Should you buy?

To answer the question of should you buy the Lumia 950, I have to break it down into two user groups:

  1. Fans of Windows Phone and Windows 10 who are committed to Microsoft's vision
  2. Everyone else in the world

Windows Phone fans

If you are already a Lumia user who likes Windows Phone, then the Lumia 950 is your dream device.

If you already like Windows Phone, then the Lumia 950 is your dream device.

Concerning specs and features, it has everything but the kitchen sink. Expandable memory, wireless charging, a fast processor, large battery, excellent display and arguably the best mobile camera yet. And yes, I can report that both the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL each have four dedicated Rich Recording microphones for outstanding audio recording.

Speaking of, you can even record your phone calls now in Windows 10 Mobile.

There are some rough edges, of course. As of now, there is no double-tap to wake although I expect that to be enabled at some point. Windows Hello works most of the time, but it still has some quirks, hence the beta tag. I also cannot say iris scanners are definitively better than a fingerprint reader. The rear speaker leaves a lot to be desired regarding quality.

Microsoft Lumia 950

And let's be honest, the overall design of the phone is bland and generic. It is by no means bad, just not inspiring. The Lumia 950's design is very pragmatic. It's not svelte or awe-inspiring, but it's functional and versatile. Like cargo pants.

Battery life, I am happy to report, is very good with the Lumia 950. Compared to Android, standby times are excellent — if you forget to charge it overnight, you won't wake up to a dead phone. My BlackBerry Priv and Samsung Galaxy are very different. My Priv was at 95% at 8 pm without even a SIM card, and it was just 7% the next morning.

If you are on the fence and waiting for something better than the Lumia 950 I can say with confidence now that there won't be another high-end Windows phone until late next year. Unless another OEM steps in with an equally spec'd phone, the Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL will be it.

As a Windows Phone user and admirer of Windows 10 Mobile I have no problem telling people to grab this phone if you like Microsoft. It is a powerhouse, and it should be a fun ride as Windows 10 Mobile continues to evolve. I have been using it as my main phone for the last week, and I will continue to do so with confidence.

Everyone else

But if you are on Android or iOS should you consider the Lumia 950?

It all depends on your thoughts about apps and services. Obviously if you live to get the best app support or the latest and greatest in mobile, you will have a lot of pain points switching to Windows 10 Mobile. Banking apps are hard to come by, and there is no Snapchat.

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Nexus 5X

Maybe that will all change. But maybe not.

Of course, what everyone considers important is relative, but I'll miss my apps for UFC and Five Guys restaurants. Even Skype is still not a great experience on Windows 10 Mobile, which is shameful.

  • If you are switching phones for the camera, you will be thrilled with the results, but I know very few people who will do so for that reason alone, not when the competition is good enough these days.
  • Continuum is very specific and while it works well I do not see many consumers jumping ship for that either.
  • Windows Hello and the iris scanner is pretty cool, but not any better than newer fingerprint scanners on the iPhone 6s or Nexus devices.
  • And the Lumia 950 design is practical, but not beautiful.

I do encourage you to see a Lumia 950 in person. Sample the photos that people will inevitably share from its outstanding camera. Watch how Continuum can be useful for some. But in the end, the Lumia 950 is still a tough sell for non-Microsoft fans.

Final thoughts

The Microsoft Lumia 950 represents the best of Windows 10 Mobile and is 100 percent built for the fans, which is exactly what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella promised back in July.

Oddly enough, the Lumia 950 is a really good smartphone. It is just the lack of apps (and some services like payments) that are holding it back. It can get a lot done with a gorgeous display, excellent camera, and very good battery life, all of which used to be the criteria for a good review. But in 2015, you cannot discount the importance of the full ecosystem and what you are buying into when you commit.

Microsoft Lumia 950

The Lumia 950 is a first-rate phone, but it is not the best, which is what is needed in 2015 to beat the competition. Microsoft fans will love it, but the rest of the world will likely look on with curiosity and nothing more. I still think Microsoft's vision of mobile is unique and evolving, but they are still kicking the can down the road as we all wait for the next big thing.

Alternatively, if Microsoft's aim is just to keep its enthusiasts happy well from that perspective, the Lumia 950 should succeed. I'll be using the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL as I'm all in on Windows 10, but I recognize that I'm part of an increasing minority of users. Microsoft has some brilliant ideas here, but they can still do better.

Where to buy

Microsoft Lumia 950

You can now pick up the Microsoft Lumia 950 from AT&T both online and in stores. The AT&T Next 12 plan will have you paying $29.95 a month for 20 months for the Lumia 950, while the Next 18 plan will cost $24.96 a month for 24 months. Finally, the Next 24 plan will cost $19.97 a month for 30 months. The off-contract, non-commitment price is $599. The Lumia 950 is listed in both black and white.

AT&T has stated that people who purchase the Lumia 950 on an AT&T Next plan will be eligible to purchase a Surface 3 tablet for just $399.99.

Buy the Microsoft Lumia 950 from AT&T (opens in new tab)

You can also buy direct from Microsoft including the unlocked version for $550.

Buy the Microsoft Lumia 950 Unlocked for $550 (opens in new tab)

Continuum Gear

You can now purchase the $99 Continuum Display Dock right from Microsoft or grab the Actiontec wireless Miracast dongle for around $70 from http://http://Amazon.com?tag=wpcentralb-20?tag=wpcentralb-20

More resources

If you need more on the Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL make sure to hit these resources and guides to get you started!

Gear

Want to know which Type-C cable to get? How about a micro SD card? Read these guides for the best tips.

News

Want all the latest news on these phones? Hit these topic pages for all that we got.

Support and help forums

Want to chat about the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL? Jump into our forums and ask others what they think or get help and advice for your new phone!

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.

762 Comments
  • Too expensive in new zealand
  • I'm agree with you, too expensiveeeeeeeeeeeee in Indonesia!!!!
  • This is a Flagship phn, that is 100000000000000000000000000x more superior than overrated iJUNK phns that is 4 years behind Lumia 950 and 950XL, and those iSHEEP pay whatever CrApple is asking for it, with no question asked. Ok let me tall you how much iJUNK 6S is missing compare to this phn, with a ridicules price CrApple is charging all around the world. In some countries iJUNK 6/6S were selling for $4000+ and iSHEEP gladly paid for it. Ok here is the list: Overrated IJUNK 6S 1. NO Quad HD screen(still at 720 res that most phns used 4+ years ago) 2. NO MicroSD slot 3. NO 20 Pix Unbelievable Camera 4. NO removable Battery 5. NO rapid Charger 6. NO high Capacity Battery 7. NO wireless charging 8. NO continuum 9. NO gorilla Glass 4 (iJUNK 6/6S' Plus screen breaks very very easily) 10. NO liquid Coolling CPU 950XL( as matter of fact, iJUNK6S/6S+ having major overheating issues and making people made check #Chipgate) 11. NO USB Type-C 12. NO interchangeable Back Cover(already there are perineum back covers are for sell for 950/950XL with great choices that will make these phns stand out from the rest, if you don't like white or black plastic battery covers that comes with these phns) 13. Easily gets dings and bent, unless iSHEEP uses a PLASTIC Case protector  14. NO dedicated Camera Button 15. NO glance and many many more features iJUNK phns don't have, but yet people all around the world pay top money for it, like they are getting gold or something, when they are getting Gold painted iPOOP instead. If this phns is too expensive, you guys can always buy the 640 or 640XL with a great price. If you guys want MS to keep making more flagship phns and grow in the world market, we ALL have to support it, like those brainwashed iSHEEP. We are much smarter then them. everyone of us needs to show MS, we will do whatever to support them. Just saying.  I belive these phns worth what MS is asking for them. Just look at other flagship phns SPECS, and see for yourselves(NO iJUNK toys please) 
  • Lumia 950 DOES NOT have Gorilla Glass 4 ! It has Gorilla Glass 3. (the information from MS coming along the review L950 is wrong.) Lumia 950XL, on the other hand, DOES have Gorilla Glass 4.  
  • The point he is making is true though, there are a whole host of reasons why the 950/XL wipe the floor with the iPhone 6 yet reviewers who are having ******* over the iPhone are slating these JUST because they don't have a metal casing. The number of reviews I have read from people who decide they don't like the phone early on into the review simply because they don't like the design is bordering absurd.  What I don't understand is how supposedly serious and professional reviewers don't get that it means you can have a swappable battery and hide the sim card/memory card slots away without worrying about damaging the back cover (does anything have a removable metal back cover?). It also means you're not likely to get those antenna/reception issues that you get with metalclad devices - the wi-fi signal on my 930 for example is better than anything else I have ever used. not forgetting of course, it makes wireless charging a lot easier. It's nondescript design means it's also less likely to get stolen if left on a table, and less likely to break if it is dropped as the polycarbonate is much better at absorbing the shock. It will also be easier to obtain and replace the back cover if it does get broken, and most people will use a case anyway. You can keep your blingy 6s and S6's - I know what I would rather have, even though I admit I am slightly disappointed that the design isn't a little more adventurous. I understand the general public not getting the somewhat plain design but not experienced reviewers. Besides, hasn't it been stated that Microsoft are now going after the business community rather than general sales? They are also perhaps aware that a lot of those who slate Windows phones also slate the "kiddie" design with the bright colours and if that's the case you can't blame them from moving away from that. I suspect the 550 is aimed more at the younger market who are likely to accept the colours more anyway.    
  • Regardless which Gorilla Glass it is, it is still far superior than the junk glass that Apple uses.  And yet not a word about Apple’s iPhones cheap glass.  What good is buying a phone that has extremely fragile glass?  Thank God Microsoft is not using Apple's cheap Glass because, in my opinion, this "mac wag" reviewer would be stating that a million times against Microsoft.  Why do you people bother listening to these bogus sites, in my opinion, that are useless and worthless and all they want to do is to ensure that Apple stays on top AT YOUR EXPENSE!!!!!  Apple can even build a phone with a defective antenna and they remain so quiet about it.  FIX THEIR ASS GOOD AND SHOW YOUR FRIENDS YOUR MICROSOFT 950XL PHONE AND WHAT IT DOES AND HOW WELL IT DOES IT AND SALES FOR MICROSOFT WILL PICK UP QUICKLY AND SITES LIKE THIS WILL BE IGNORED, IN MY OPINION.  Or even better, Microsoft relocates their head office to California and then Microsoft can build crap and so many reviewers now will find gold in every Microsoft product.  I have seen this sickening bias too many times, in my opinion.
  • Everyone misses it. The biggest elephant in the room, Apple totally screwed America and the entire World by not paying US Tax and becoming a corp of Ireland. Do you think Ireland is going to fight ISIL? Are you all willing to pay for our crumbling bridges and infrastructure, because Apple doesn't? And to give them Apple Pay and control of our finances makes us complete a__holes. Talk about letting a CEO screw you where the sun don't. People have no idea what Apple has done and we need to tell them and beat the hell out of their crappy devices. Why Satya Nadella and and Microsoft doesn't do this I have no effing idea! Incompetence, unless he plans to do the same thing and if that's the case, throw him the hell out. It's time we show these CEOs and whorish politicians what we want. If the 950 and 950XL were only just as good as the iphones, HELLO! Anericans and everyone else, but the Irish and the Chinese, should buy the 950 line and the apps would gush in like a tidal wave. You need to talk about this because people think Apple is an American Company. Samsung is more American than Apple because of Google. Get the word out. Even Toyota and Nissan and Honda make cars here. Apple makes nothing here and then gets taxed in Ireland. It's time to get angry and expose this company. It's more important than megapixels!
  • The apps I use every single day are not available on Windows Phones - Chase, Starbucks, etc.  That's a problem.  Phones are all about the apps and WP doesn't have them and everyone knows that.  No one cares about removeable batteries anymore.  Type C USB? Again, no one cares.  Wireless charging? No biggie. Take cable, stick in phone. Done. Continuum? Just rolls off the tongue... So now I have to buy a $100 adapter and a bunch of cables to use my phone as a PC? No thanks. Back cover? Why do I need to take off the cover? To put in a microSD card? My iPhone has 128GB of storage built in. I got it handled. Plus this is one cheap looking back cover for a "flagship device" - plastic? Really? Redmond, we got a problem. Glance? All of my messages come up on the iPhone screen including text messages, alerts, emails and much much more. When I need the time, I check my Rolex.  I have a leather case for my iPhone 6 because it's a bit slippery; I bought a rubber one for $5 on Amazon for my Lumia 830 for the same reason. Phones are slick and people tend to drop them. That's why most people buy cases (even Lumia owners) for their phones.  I'll take Apple TouchID technology over Windows Hello (still in Beta) any day... because it just works.  As for camera, I have a Lumia 1020 which certainly was a solid performer but now that Microsoft has essentially shut down all of the Nokia camera apps that were fun and useful it's made the Microsoft camera less impressive. Most high-end phones have pretty good cameras now and even though it's a 20MP camera, I find 8MP is beyond sufficient for most images.  As for the price, I'd go for an unlocked iPhone or a new Nexis because of their significantly better eco-systems before dropping the same money on a flagship Lumia - and I know of what I speak, I've got 7 Lumias.     
  • I don't want to start a war, and I am not saying that windows phone is perfect, much less the Lumia 950. BUT: Glance is cool and practical, gives you notifications without even touching it, and makes a good night clock with its lowlight red mode. The 128 GB phone is mad expensive. Iphone prices are comparable only when they are the 16 GB model. I would much rather spend $30 dollars on an SD card then hundreds of dollars more for a biggger Iphone capacity Removable covers are a nice touch for adding custom casing without adding thickness, and removable battery might be useful. I had to replace my battery by myself on an Iphone 4s. It was not something I want to do again. Don't dismiss things with nobody cares. Many do care, you just end up sounding ignorant        
  • I agree with Alberto on this..  Because of the app gap and some applications I need are not in Windows Phone (some were even removed recently like Mint) and some others that are pure crap (like BBM), I switched back to Android. For a year I had a Samsung Galaxy Note 4.. That phone was terrible. Was very slow! I changed it for a LG V10 and boy is that phone better.. There is a neat feature on the V10 which I like, the SECONDARY SCREEN. This acts like the Windows Phone Glance. Instead of a led, I see what notifications I have, the time, etc, and barely takes any power. And this LG V10 also has a removable battery and microSD slot.. Which is very important to me. It is terrible that some companies would not give you the possibility to change your battery.. What happens if your battery cannot hold the charge anymore and you need to change it but you have a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 for example??? Well guess what, either you pay big $$ to get it replaced or you buy a new phone.. What if you shoot a lot of videos ?? That MicroSD can be very important.
  • The only argument you had is saying iOS has more "apps" and "No one cares". Continuum? No one cares.. I care. Who is with me? Windows Hello vs. Apple TouchID better, because it all works. I'm gonna throw up. Beta means it's going to be Better! I personally like both techs. Fast charging? No one cares.. Is bullshhh but you didn't care to respond to that one. Removable storage? No one cares.. Paying a few hundred dollars extra for more internal storage and saying that no one cares is pretty stupid to me. Glance? No one cares.. Because it comes up on your iPhone screen? That's not the point pal. Camera? All the fun apps are essentially shut down. Please name a few. iPhone's camera is meh. Well how about USB OTG? No one cares? Man you wish you had that on the iPhone and I'm glad W10M supports it now! Bye now!
  • I care too. I use my phone and headphones a lot as a music player and I find it hugely frustrating that I can't listen to some of my music at times because I can't get a Wi-Fi connection. Give me a memory card anyday. I can still transfer my music OTA so it's not as if we need to keep removing it. I also care about wireless charging. I think it's fantastic that I can slip into bed late at night in the dark without disturbing my husband fiddling around for a cable I can't see. It's so much more convenient just popping the phone on a charging plate that I now have several around the house. But mostly I just charge it overnight as my 930 lasts the day most of the time. How I managed without wireless charging I will never know. I care about Continuum too. Like many people I now only use my slow, ageing desktop to browse the internet and do a little office work. I can replace that with a Display Dock and a decent monitor for under £200 instead of having to buy a whole new computer. I think that's a more powerful feature than most people have yet realised, and given a chance it will only get better over time.   I don't care much about the glance screen if I'm honest because if I'm looking at the phone I'm probably about to unlock and use it anyway, but it's good that it's there. All this in a silky smooth handset which does everything I want it to and a lot more besides. As for the apps, sure there are going to be some here and there that people will miss but in days when it's as easy, if not better, to use the website equivalent which wasn't possible a few short years ago because phones were not powerful enough and screens were not big enough to use effectively as a browser, it's no big deal overall and I haven't missed anything in the past 18 months.  Too many reviewers still slate this phone too much because of the lack of apps. But while most people might miss one or two, it's hugely overstated.    
  • Hear that? Your mom is calling you, time for bed!
  • How much did your 128Gb iPhone cost? That's right, case closed.
  • @AndreasKj: Lol literally case closed since the iPhone doesn't let you remove the back case. *ba-dum pssh!*
  • You want a Starbucks app? Does that let you sign up for an outlet to charge your phone, as Apple users are always scurrying around looking for places to charge their phones, which could be WASTING an hour each time plus you have to overpay for coffee. I was trying to respond to Andrea ' 3 pistons that were emailed about how WPM gets credit for nothing. I love the 950xl and plan to get it when AT&T gets it because I'm a Microsoft user and I want to stay that way. I think MS CEOs have been dreadfully at evolving their products. Apple has blown them away in that area. I met someone the other day and told them about my views on Apple expatriating to Ireland. She, like almost everyone, had no idea Apple screwed us and that this one time American company pays no tax here on its 178 Billion of Worldwide sales. Last quarter Apple's profits were $11 Billion for 3 months and birthing comes back to the USA. She said that she just received a $300 gift certificate from Apple and she's going to use it to buy a new iPad. She seemed troubled about the fact that Apple left but she said, she's totally invested in Apple. She also said that each device talks to each other. I cannot tell you how disturbed it makes me feel that people won't even give a Microsoft phone a chance because they blindly buy iPhones. These are people who use their phones for very little and everything that they could do on their iPhone they can do but a Windows Phone. Given the fact that Apple pays for nothing in the United States anymore, no schools that our heavily invested in apples, no infrastructure which delivers Apple devices all over the country, no military that is fighting against Isis, etc, one would think another look would be patriotic. So it doesn't bother these people one bit about what Apple is doing and they will not take 15 minutes to see how the programs they use work on Windows Phone. However, as I have said many many many times before, they all have and use bank apps. They are not going to switch all their bank accounts to Wells Fargo because Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America don't have Windows Phone apps. For that reason alone they will not look at Windows Phone. So, what do you do about that problem? You try to make your overall system better which Windows 10 is trying to do but if nobody but Kool-Aid drinkers like us try it, then what good will it do? So then what do you do next to get more banks, or at least the three big banks, to let you write and support Windows Phone apps for their banks. You take it to the American people can tell them that Apple is gone and every dollar they pay Apple never will come back to this country and instead it will go to Ireland and Asia. You tell them that Samsung, LG and HTC aren't sending their profits back to the United States either. Finally you tell them that Microsoft is an American company, when it sells its devices they pay tax in the United States on it. They might not make all their devices here but at least profits from sales of all those devices paid to the United States Treasury and that actually reduces the price of their cell phone to almost nothing because they don't have to pay for all the expenses that Apple, Cisco, Coke, and now Pfizer are not paying. There are lots of apps that Windows Phone doesn't have but if they get the bank apps all the rest will come as it came for Android. What bothers me so much is the squandering of the huge advantage of having almost every business computer as Windows devices. Right now I blame Satya Nadella for it but Microsoft has no history of innovative CEOs as we can see from absolute non evolutionary updates of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. By now they could be doing lots more that would make people absolutely love them. We use them because that's all there is and they are tied to our business computers. Again, that's a huge advantage that Microsoft does not take advantage of in the cell phone and tablet arena. . Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I'm not going to lie and say I read all of your comments - but calling other phones "iJunk" and the other little gems you used makes you look uneducated and immature. Get a clue.
  • thanks Dan for the much needed review. it was very objective. i think the L950 is a very good phone. finally the slim light phone we've been asking for with removable back. it's really responsive and that's saying alot coming from a L930... And as for windows hello (iris scanner), I ran the setup several times and it improved recognition each time.
  • Will the tech media finally come clean and state the obvious--Satya Nadella wants Lumia/Windows Phone to fail.  I don't care what he says... this "revised strategy" is not a strategy.  It's surrender.  Nadella has killed Windows Phone through neglect. If someone truly loves Windows Phone (like most of us here do... or did), you don't release your first flagship in two years like this... with a product like this.  You just don't.  Sorry. I guess the question is... if Satya doesn't want Windows Phone to succeed, then what chance does it have?  And why is he stringing us along? Ballmer made plenty of mistakes when it came to Windows Phone, but at least he genuinely believed in it and wanted it to succeed.  Satya does not.  I'm not even convinced he loves Windows, to be perfectly honest. Will we even see a Surface Phone?  And can it even make a difference after Nadella has devastated the platform the way he has? It's sad.  Windows Phone made Microsoft interesting again.  How interesting will Windows 10 be without mobile?  What point is there in universal apps without mobile?  How many of us will keep coming to this site without mobile?
  • I totally agree. It's almost as if he's being paid by Apple not to do well. Who knows how many people Apple pays. Al Gore is on the Apple board, pretty nasty place for him to be if you ask me since Apple is totally screwing America. I never hear Robert Reich say a word about Apple and they're turning their back on America, especially considering this is allegedly America's largest corporation. However it's not an American corporation anymore and even though Apple appears in the Dow, its success have nothing to do with a financial health and economic health of the United States, quite the contrary by charging so much for their crappy phones they're actually hurting the United States. But using our roads are bridges to deliver the devices and and not paying a penny to build them or fix them, they're hurting the United States. I never hear Bernie Sanders saying a word about Apple and he named the 18 worst corporations in the United States. Yes Apple is not a US Corp anymore, but Bernie Sanders could have mentioned that they don't pay taxes here, they don't make anything here, they don't assemble anything here and they probably buy goods and services in Ireland with it would have been buying them here. This is a very very big problem, more so then which phone to buy. It's the big elephant in the room that nobody ever talks about. Never never never. In the meantime they're, in everyone's pockets, in our schools, in a government offices, in our polling places, on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon being their spokesperson, and somebody some place needs to expose this. You would think Satya Nadella might say something in a commercial. I think he is wrong for the United States and I think he is wrong for Microsoft. We need somebody who's a little bit more patriotic & will do things to help our country. Maybe years ago they were a step ahead of everybody but that's long over and their devices are no better than anybody else's devices and in many ways worse. And once again Microsoft says nothing. It's like the Democrats who never criticize the Republicans and expect things to change out of osmosis. Microsoft needs some hard hitting commercials and spokespeople tearing down what Apple has done.
  • I agree with you on CrApple. But i can promise you, they do NOT own or pay MS for them to do anything. Lumia 950 and 950XL is 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000X better than ALL iJUNK phns combined. just LOOK at the """""""SPECS"""""". I LOVE the 950XL and can't wait to get my phn on the 26th. while i enjoy my  OLED QUAD HD SCREEN, 20 PIX UNBELIEVABLE CAMERA WITH RGB FLASH, MICROSD SLOT, WIRELESS CHARGING, REMOVABLE BATTER, SO I CAN HAVE 1 EXTRA IN MY POCKET, RAPID TURBO CHARGING, 3400 MAH BATTERY, LIQUID COOLING, GLANCE, CONTINUUM,................and so much more that no IJUNK phns offers to this date. These phns are GREAT, and you guys should just STOP whining and boooHoooing about these GREAT phns. Last, if you guys don't support MS, like iSHEEP blindly supports CrApple,and gladly pays whatever CrApple is asking for their garbage toys, MS will not continue making flagship phns. WE ALL MUST support MS, to see some killers phns in 2016.
  • I totally agree with you ''if we don't support MS, like iSHEEP blindly supports CrApple, and gladly pays whatever CrApple is asking for their garbage toys, MS will not continue making flagship phns. WE ALL MUST support MS, to see some killers phns in 2016". I already own the L950 and i REALLY love it. no complains at all. that screen is just incredible. Weird, most pple reported not having visual voicemail, but i do. My only problem is that i don't wanna cover up my phone in any phone cover but i must if i wanna have the phone looking good for a while.
  • ...and Steve Jobs killed off the Newton for the same reasons.  When a product isn't succeeding, you either change it or kill it and start over.  I'm sure Microsoft will be a player in mobile - they've got to be. But it probably won't be with their own proprietary apps and OS. 
  • Well, thank God I live in America! Great review. I enjoyed it. However, I scanned through the written review and watched the video intently. I have to say, if Mark is producing this, you have to stop posting them or you will lose him soon!  Like your Ask Daniel videos, there are little things you pick up that are very impressive. Like when he zooms in at the right time for emphasis. You need to have an eye and ear to get that just right. 
  • Thanks! And Mark is a huge asset who has a lot of patience :P
  • Do u think att will enable visual voicemail soon?
  • Actually, it is there, but it is not consistent to enable/attain. I have yet to get it on my phone, but others in our forums do have it working.
  • But that's an ATT issue. Why is that even a part of this review? Does VVM work with T-Mo? Mention that as well, maybe?
  • Ok, this has been your best article yet imo. Just wow! Congrats, Dan! Can't wait to put my hands on mine!  
  • Are you saying VVM is an L950 problem or Windows 10 Mobile problem?  It's working fine on my L640 running 10586.11.
  • Glad that its still there since this is considered as a basic feature to phones these days. Though its maybe the carrier issue but maybe its also an unreported bug? I don't have Visual Voicemail either but I found out that my carrier doesn't actually support it yet.
  • I recently watched my first Ask Dan video and it was outstanding. The video work was indeed super, but I was really struck by the content's signal-to-noise ratio. You're really setting a bar there.
  • I was just wondering, has anyone thought of this... Get the Lumia 950/xl, which has the build that all insiders currently have, and use recovery tool, and put windows 8.1. I mean, is it possible to do it? Wouldn't it be amazing to run 8.1 in such a hi spec. Device for now, as windows 10 develops?
    Just a thought.
  • No.  Really - NO. You wanna run 8.1 on a performance comparable device just get a 2 year old 1520.  As Daniel's review said, performance is the same even with the 950's hexacore which is worrying.  The HEx chips aren't actually 6 core chips.  They have 3 'main' processors and 3 teeny tiny, slow speed, low power ones to do regular stuff without killing the battery. The Lumia 1520 has 4 high speed 2.2 (or 2.4) Ghz cores, which even though 2 years old give the same performance baring any OS and APP optiomizations.
  • Not true, the 808 and 810 can use all of their cores at the same time to increase performance and GHz can be a lie if you know anything about a CPU. Even if you disabled all but 1 core of an i7 and put it up against a P4 of the same speed, the i7 would still be faster as it can do more work per clock cycle. This doesn't take into account new features the CPU may have over the old CPU. The truth of the matter about performance in Windows 10 Mobile is that it just performs well in the first place. You won't notice the gains of the new, faster CPU in most tasks. The big game changer is the Chipset supports multiple display output that the old Chipset couldn't do. Hence, why no Continuum for the new 550.
  • I doubt you could. When you connect to the Recovery tool, it checks for the OSs that can be installed based on the device model. 8.1 won't show up for the 950s.