Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Review


Promising as it seems, the PureView camera's reputation has been merely upheld once more, not grown stronger.

The Lumia 950 XL is marketed as a camera powerhouse, which is hardly surprising considering the hardware and tech savvy involved. Microsoft is bringing back the PureView camera guns blazing, employing a 20-megapixel 1/2.4 camera sensor with Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, and the industry's first triple-LED flash, shining brighter than a thousand suns! The cam takes pictures in either 19MP or 8MP resolution, saving them in either JPEG or JPEG+DNG file formats. Video recording goes up to 3840x2160p/30 FPS, although 1080p/60FPS is also an option for extra smooth motion.

The camera interface feels familiar and easy to navigate, no matter which platform you come from. There's plenty of manual control at hand, making it easy to adjust white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed, and exposure. The star of the show here is the PureView camera's Rich Capture speciality, which lets you adjust a photo's level of illumination immediately after taking it.

Image Quality

After taking the Lumia 950 XL for a spin, our verdict is that the PureView camera makes adequate photos that fail to stand out among those achieved by competing phablets in its price range. The 20MP cam captures plenty of detail, indeed, but outdoor and indoor scenes tend to come off a tad over-saturated. Kicking in Rich Capture mode unexpectedly amplifies the problem, as it adds a not-so-subtle boost in saturation and contrast, giving photos a heavily processed look. Selfies from the 5MP FF cam turn out much in the same way, though certainly not as detailed

With an array of three LEDs serving as its camera flash, it's not surprising that the PureView cam is a strong contender in the low-light department. Not all is peachy, however. Although the bright and even illumination increases exposure and brings out details where most of the competition renders noise, the long exposure time can make photos come out blurred. This is especially visible in a club setting, where colorful light rays landing on people's clothes appear as blotches of color. Still, night time photography with the Lumia 950 XL is great at best, and reliable at worst, no matter if you kick in the triple-LED flash or don't.

Taking a pic Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL 2
Google Nexus 6P 2.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 2.1
No data
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 1.6

Video Quality

The Lumia 950 XL does a fine job recording video, although there is nothing outstanding to it. When light is in abundance, the phablet delivers sharp and detailed 4K-resolution video, while 1080p vids appear softer, as expected. Exposure adjustment is a bit over-sensitive, though, which could cause quickly changing, inconsistent lighting. Low-light videos aren't as sweet, though. There's more noise and smeary details to be wary of. Luckily, the optical image stabilization is pretty good at what it's supposed to do, which is to not let subtle movements destabilize the scene too much.


You probably won't have anything to complain about, although watching videos in the sun will be a stretch.

With its big and vibrant, though not especially bright display, the Lumia 950 XL does make for a fine video watching phone, unless you're out in the sun. Windows 10 on a smartphone can play about as many different codecs and video formats as it can on a full-blown desktop system, so chances are you'll be able to watch whatever you throw at the 950 XL.

Music playback happens by virtue of Groove Music, which is your average music player with a subscription service (Groove Music Pass) added on top. Both don't stand out visually or functionally, although we love the ability to tell Windows to automatically launch Groove Music when we connect to a Bluetooth speaker.

With 82dB of peak audio output coming out of its loudspeaker, the 950 XL is a loudmouth for sure. Playback quality is okay, though there's nothing remarkable about it. You can fine-tune the sound using the built-in equalizer, but you won't find it inside of the Groove Music app. It's a system-wide EQ that you have to look for in the settings.

Headphones output power (Volts) Higher is better
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL 0.55
Google Nexus 6P 0.34
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 0.609
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 0.986
Loudspeaker loudness (dB) Higher is better
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL 82
Google Nexus 6P 78.4
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 70.7
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 69.1




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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