• Paul Fingleton

Microsoft Lumia 950: Review

The Lumia 950, a flagship phone aimed at Windows Phone enthusiasts and business users, was never designed to be a showy phone. It was planned as a device that quietly and efficiently got on with the job at hand. Does it live up to the wait among Windows Phone fans or is it too little too late.

Almost a year after release, how does the Lumia 950 hold up.

Strangely enough, the time has helped the Lumia 950 because the Windows 10 Anniversary Update smooths out the experience with useful, subtle improvement and the price is closer to what it should have been at launch. It's a more affordable and reasonably priced offering.

Screen and Size

The screen on the Lumia 950 is beautiful, a 5.2-inch QHD beauty. Colours are represented in vibrant ranges, the blacks are really black and images really pop. It is fast and responsive to the touch and makes up for the lack of pizzazz elsewhere in the looks department. Although I believe that was the idea all along, get the phone out of the way and let the screen be the focus.

Windows Phone had always played well with simple hardware requirements, the popular Lumia 520 was a testament to that. With 3GB of RAM and a hexacore Snapdragon processor, the Lumia 950 flows between apps and games without issue. The "resuming" screen so familiar to older handsets when switching between apps rarely, if ever, appearing.

The handset is comfortable to hold with straight edges making it less likely to escape from your grip. At 5.2 inches, the screen is just about usable for texting with one hand. A useful feature in the software to get to hard to reach buttons at the top of the screen is by pressing and holding the on-screen Windows button, the screen slides down, so only the top half of the screen is displayed, you can press whatever link or button and then swipe the screen back up to full screen.

The Lumia 950 handles the normal functions of a phone as you would expect: phone calls are clear and crisp, texting is an easy process made more useful with Microsoft's Word Flow keyboard helpfully suggesting words as you type.

Apps and games run smoothly, although the phone can become warm to the touch after longer sessions of game play, phone calls or using GPS.

Operating System: from woes to hopes?

Many reviews of the Lumia 950 marked it down for shortcomings of the Operating System, the app gap and some functionality that was essentially broken at launch. One year later, with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update Microsoft have addressed many of these niggles - the OS is smoother, more polished and feature rich. On Mobile, it is the OS that should have been on the device when it launched.

Certainly there are certain apps that you will not get on a Windows Phone at this point, the cutting edge games like Pokémon Go or apps like Snapchat, do not appear in the Windows Store. However, with Microsoft now targeting the Enterprise and Business market more with Windows 10 Mobile, the majority of apps are present and accounted for: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram alongside the full Office suite of mobile apps.

Cortana, Microsoft's Digital Personal Assistant, is extremely responsive on this handset and is constantly updated with new, useful and entertaining updates. If you give her permission via her Notebook, she can link to a number of your accounts and inform you of your upcoming events, traffic on the way, local weather or even if you maybe made a commitment in a mail to do something by a certain date / time. Features like this are available via Google Now and Siri, but Microsoft have managed to infuse Cortana with a personality while doing it, even a sense of humour in certain cases.


Lumia handsets have a heritage of excellent cameras and the Lumia 950 does not disappoint, a 20MP Pure View camera on the back with Optical Image Stabilization, with a triple RGB LED flash to help with colour tones in low light. The camera can capture 4K video at 30 fps and truly amazing photos.

The Camera app on Windows 10 has incorporated all the many features of the Lumia apps and added more. Using the auto settings produces decent photos and the time between photos is surprisingly quick allowing for burst photography to hopefully capture that spontaneous moment in the nick of time.

It is with the manual settings that the Lumia camera app really let the inner photographer loose, portrait and macro settings producing stunning results and bokeh effects.

Continuum and Potential

The Lumia 950, and it's larger sibling the 950XL, were the first handsets to support Microsoft's Continuum to allow your phone to act more like a PC when connected to a large screen, either by using the wired Display Dock and HDMI cable or to a wireless display.

Using Continuum with the Office apps, for example, show exactly the power and potential of Microsoft's Universal Windows Applications. When used on the Lumia 950 screen, the Office Apps appear as a mobile app and the UI adjusts to the smaller form factor, but connect to a larger screen and it has the same UI and functionality and speed as Word, PowerPoint and Excel that you run on a Windows 10 PC or Tablet.

Continuum is perhaps indicative of the overall issues with the Lumia 950. There are many things to like and some to even delight about it, but it remains a feature with great potential that needs apps to be updated to support it fully and for it to take off.


There is plenty to like about the Lumia 950: the camera still outclasses some from flagship phones that have been released since, the OS is smooth and customisable making it easy to for your phone to be your phone.

While this may be the last in the line of Lumia phones produced by Microsoft, maybe the plain looks of the device signify the simpler intent of the Redmond giant to bring the OS and the user experience to the fore. Windows smartphones tend to receive OS updates far longer than those of their Android or iOS counterparts so it is receive feature and performance updates to further improve performance. The difference between the shipping Windows 10 Mobile OS and the Anniversary in terms of polish are night and day.

The current price for the Lumia 950 makes it easier to recommend than the initial launch prices. For a die-hard Windows Phone enthusiast or as a business user, this would be a solid handset to recommend. It does everything it needs to competently and some really nice touches, but it leaves you with the feeling that it could have been so much more.

We liked:

  • Camera: This is almost without equal in the Smartphone market. Quick and easy to use for snaps, but enough power under the hood for the camera enthusiast to get the best out of it without much effort.

  • Screen: extremely clear and responsive with deep blacks and wide ranging colours.

We didn't like:

  • Heat: the phone can become quite warm after long periods of usage or when charging.