Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Review

Interface and Functionality

Although rich in features, this isn't what Windows 10 should be if it wants more users flocking to it.

Technologically, Windows 10 represents a substantial update to the Windows Phone platform. Yet, even with the many new features and tweaks Microsoft has piled up on the platform, the "Windows on a smartphone" experience has barely changed. In fact, from the perspective of an everyday user that doesn't demand advanced settings, services, and device convergence, the change might as well have been for the worse. When it works, Windows 10 is smooth and straightforward, but when it doesn't, it gets ugly.

Unfortunately, our experience with the Lumia 950 XL was peppered with an unhealthy amount of frustration. It took us the better part of an afternoon to merely register a Microsoft account, as the burdensome and confusing procedure kept culminating in nonsensical error messages. More than a few times, we found ourselves tapping non-responsive buttons in vain, held back by menus that refuse to load, tolerating sluggish app installs, and cumbersomely browsing the web with the Edge browser. Initially, we couldn't even try out the fabled iris scanner security feature, as the system stubbornly refused to accept our freshly restored account password. It magically worked the next day, letting us tell you more about this totally cool piece of functionality in the paragraphs ahead.

As tech enthusiasts, we can show some understanding towards Windows 10's work-in-progress state, for Microsoft has set up some ambitious goals for its operating system, and the Lumia 950 XL is a first-generation Windows 10 smartphone. It will take a while before things glue together and rough edges are smoothed out, but even then, Windows 10 still suffers from a disheartening lack of quality applications. Although stock Microsoft services, such as Mobile Office and OneDrive are solid, both the choice and level of polish are low where third-party apps are concerned.

Windows Hello

The Lumia 950 XL is one of the two big name smartphones to ship with iris scanner security in 2015. The other is its smaller counterpart, the Lumia 950. Called “Windows Hello”, the feature lets you unlock the smartphone and authorize payments by simply staring at it. The technology uses an IR light on the front panel to light up the unique patterns in your irises, and takes a photo with the front camera. We're pretty fond of the feature's quick and reliable operation, although the working distance is short, and the process takes maybe a second longer than it should. Should the iris scanner fail, you'll need to resort to using the pin code.


Continuum is one of Windows 10 Mobile's unique virtues. Put briefly, it lets you hook up a handset like the Lumia 950 XL to an external display and peripherals, obtaining an experience close to running a desktop version of Windows. There are two ways of using Continuum. The first requires the Display Dock accessory, a little box that lets you connect an external monitor, mouse, keyboard, and other USB peripherals to it. The second way lets you experience Continuum wirelessly with the aid of a Miracast dongle. Between the two, the Display Dock makes for a more responsive experience, as Miracast is prone to lag.

At this stage, Continuum lets you use native Windows apps (including MS Office) and not much else. You can't run two apps side-by-side for some reason, but you can comfortably switch between open ones. Even then, the Lumia 950 XL is no laptop replacement. Fast as it is, the chipset starts to pant as we keep opening tabs of web pages. We also don't think carrying a bunch of cables and accessories with you to a place with a computer screen or TV is more convenient than being on the move with a laptop. But Continuum definitely has its place and we hope Microsoft will attract more developers of Universal Windows apps that run alike on all sorts of smart devices (sans fitness bands and smart watches).

System Performance

Windows 10 doesn't take full advantage of the Lumia 950 XL's competent spec sheet.

Windows Phone has always been a lightweight operating system, designed to perform swiftly on devices across all price tiers. Windows 10 carries on in the same spirit, but in the Lumia 950 XL's case, the code has a broad hardware dance floor to waltz on. The phablet features the octa-core Snapdragon 810 chipset, paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash storage in the base model.

Performance-wise, the Lumia 950 XL is a mixed bag. For example, the phone does a killer job handling PureView's complex photography, which involves lots of post-processing and dealing with large file sizes. But Windows 10 itself feels un-optimized as menus occasionally stutter, the Edge browser is slow to render web pages, and apps refresh unusually often. Moreover, gamers won't be able to give that premium hardware a good run, for the selection of visually intense titles present in the Windows Store pales in comparison with that of competing platforms.

AnTuTu Higher is better
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL 28978.66
Google Nexus 6P 60007
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 67207
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 58664
Sunspider Lower is better
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL 387.93
Google Nexus 6P 1079.7
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 677.7
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 218.2
Basemark OS II Higher is better
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL 1494.66
Google Nexus 6P 1894
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 1765
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 2032




Posts: 1168; Member since: Oct 05, 2015

I've seen this camera in action, and it trumps everything else out there, ESPECIALLY the iPhone... PA, what's the deal? Why do so many of your reviews delineate from what the majority of other reviews find? Why is always that Apple and Samsung just happen to get it right while no one else can? It's making me lose any respect for you guys' ability to do decent, unbiased reporting.

17. SenorThrottles

Posts: 284; Member since: Dec 23, 2015

Well actually most other reviews agree with PA... If you want a harsh review, watch pocketnow's.

29. TyrionLannister unregistered

The camera is great, but it doesn't excuse the buggy software.

88. Furbal unregistered

Indeed, the camera was about the only thing good about my XL.

40. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

you might have seen the camera of lumia 950xl in action. But surely, you havent seen the camera of nexus 6p, note 5 and v10 in action. Otherwise, you might realize that these phones give tough time to 950.

89. Furbal unregistered

If you pixel peep, its not even close. The 950 is much sharper. Not that those phones dont have good cameras (love my 6p, note 5 is in the drawer although the camera is excellent)

71. TheAmazingBoj

Posts: 12; Member since: Aug 13, 2015

since when does good camera and garbage system= something above a 7, i think 7 is pretty nice

7. Intrepid_wiz

Posts: 28; Member since: Dec 30, 2015

Boo to PA. They hate on everything not Android. I personally think there reviews are B.S

9. Intrepid_wiz

Posts: 28; Member since: Dec 30, 2015


41. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

Boo to you. Bcoz you are blind to reality. Wow to PA for presenting very accurate review

64. jontaylor07

Posts: 169; Member since: Oct 12, 2015

They claimed it took "the better part of an afternoon" which I suppose means multiple hours, to create a Microsoft account? This takes 5 minutes tops, including verifying email and everything. Obviously there's a gap somewhere between what they're doing and what the normal person experiences.

78. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

normal person experiences a frustration by setting up microsft account. Like I experienced and become microsoft hater instantly. First, it creates windows account and then microsoft account separately. Then you have to go to a lengthy wait for all the apps to get updated. Windows store is pathetically slow. Only 5 minutes for setup? Now, I will say it again that you might have used some other OS accidentally and you are in an illusion that you have used windows 10.

83. jontaylor07

Posts: 169; Member since: Oct 12, 2015

Not on a phone it doesn't. I've set up my own and helped non-technical people do it. It takes literally seconds, plus you have to log into your email and click a link. It's super easy plus it lets you continue to use a third-party email address, unlike Apple or Google. The only way one could manage to spend hours on a Windows phone creating an account is to be a moron, or purposely sabotage the situation so you can write about how terrible it is.

10. GreenMan

Posts: 2698; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

Guess it's my turn to whine now, considering I'm a hardcore WP User... Bad P.A, Bad P.A... Booo... Okay, seriously now... Yes, according to multiple resources; Windows 10 Mobile is awfully buggy & is full of glitches. And I couldn't agree more that The OS is undercooked... But there's a solid reason why WP10 Update is halted on previous Lumia Devices. Microsoft realizes it too, & hence they're probably busy making a patch as we speak... Remember, Blackberry Priv had the same software related problems & it got a 7.2...? So better wait for the update (which BTW will be out anytime now) before finalizing your judgement regarding Windows 10 Mobile platform...

11. Rydsmith unregistered

No. Why should they wait for an update to review it? If I were to want to go out and buy a phone now, I want reviews pertent to the current state of the phone. This phone is a buggy mess and should be regarded as such. The app difference has only gotten larger and the phone needs to be docked for it.

16. GreenMan

Posts: 2698; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

@Rydsmith Well, I'm not criticizing P.A as they've done a fair & unbiased critique from their end... But don't you find it a little unjust? Reviewing a device with a half baked or as they've described themselves " an undercooked OS"? I had the same complain with The Blackberry's Priv review & the assigned score. It's an excellent device; only marred by a glitchfull OS which will probably be rectified soon by the maker, Microsoft, and is likely their first priority... Ah! But if you don't like Windows Phone then that's another story & demands another debate... Like how Americans describe it as: 'Another can of worms'... G'Day!

51. Napalm_3nema

Posts: 2236; Member since: Jun 14, 2013

If it is half-baked, it should have never been released in that state. It's not like other Lumias using a Preview, it's what it shipped with in the first place.

65. jontaylor07

Posts: 169; Member since: Oct 12, 2015

It isn't half-baked, I've used it and the experience is as good as Android on many devices. It's not as good as W8.1 yet, but it is still good. Most people haven't had the buggy experiences that this reviewer was able to create.

62. BaffledTruffle

Posts: 523; Member since: Dec 07, 2013

I think the review is just fair. A lot of phones are reviewed on pre-release software. I'm just not sure how often PhoneArena does a revisiting. In another site, GSMArena, they update benchmark scores whenever they get a major update. Or a final release software comes around. If this is a release-version software, then it's not PhoneArena's fault that MS screwed up their saving grace.

46. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

if they will wait for an update which will fix windows, then they will be waiting forever. Microsoft is not able yet to fix windows although they are trying from ages.

56. Plutonium239

Posts: 1239; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

I did have an issue with 4 hour battery life on my 950 after Microsoft pushed out a new build by surprise. I had to do a hard reset and join the insider program to get a new build that is behaving exactly as the first build did(before the build that turned the phone into a pocket warmer that lasted for 4 hours), flawlessly.

74. DSP96

Posts: 20; Member since: Oct 13, 2015

It is true that the initial release is a buggy, laggy mess. It feels more like a beta version of the os than the final version. But it is unacceptable that a flagship device of this class shoud feature such a buggy os at its release. And it is even more unacceptable that a company like microsoft did this blunder; the same company that released the windows phone 7, 7.5, 8, and 8.1 that were way smoother than this. Infact, microsoft was praised for being able to run windows phone 8 that can run on a measly 1GHz dual core processor seamlessly, at a time that a few android phones were struggling with quad core processors (Windows phone 7.5 was even more of an acheivement, for it could run smoothly even on a pathetic 800MHz single core processor). But this sort of an oversight is unacceptable for a company like Microsoft. This sort of treatement would start pushing the windows fans towards android.

13. T-rex unregistered

Lol! how in the brightness section, the minimum brightness of the iPhone at 5 nits is 'excellent' but that of 950XL at 6 nits is only good :D

18. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Probably because the cutoff is at 5?

28. TyrionLannister unregistered

That's a 20% difference. It looks only 1 nit but at low brightness, 1 nit can make a huge difference. Besides, cut off for excellent is 5 nits. iPhone barely crosses threshold.

66. jontaylor07

Posts: 169; Member since: Oct 12, 2015

They also failed to turn the brightness to max to record max brightness. Other reviews have recorded a max brightness of 500+ nits, this reviewer is obviously missing something.

15. cdm283813

Posts: 424; Member since: Jan 10, 2015

Nice way for Microsoft to kill off any hope for this platform. They can't afford releasing a average phone right now. Google and Apple shows no sign of getting weaker. Even Blackberry got the point.

19. GreenMan

Posts: 2698; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

Yes, That's what you've to deal with when you live in a highly competitive environment! It's such a shame really... Consider it's a bloody FLAGSHIP for crying out loud...

84. jontaylor07

Posts: 169; Member since: Oct 12, 2015

The phone is actually really good and outpacing their sales expectations. However, PhoneArena does seem to really hate it, but they wouldn't be buying it anyway. They hate the plastic back of the 950/XL, but the LG V10 is a great phone...

21. Switch00

Posts: 536; Member since: Sep 04, 2013

Very average phone. Very dissapointed. Prefer 1520.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Lumia 950 XL
  • Display 5.7" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 20 MP / 5 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, Octa-core, 2000 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3340 mAh(19h 3G talk time)

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