Wednesday, 09 December 2015 14:34

Lumia 950XL is xlcellent – detailed looks

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Microsoft’s re-entry into smartphone market is a serious attempt to capture the hearts and minds of consumers and corporates. It will do well in the latter but a lack of apps may affect the former.

This is a quick, detailed looks article that is a precursor to a full review in a week or so. I felt it best to get this out now as stock was available on 7 December.

It is easy to review a Windows 10 Mobile – there is no competition in this operating system. I must resist the temptation to make comparisons with Android or iOS and their hardware except where clinically correct. The reason – each operating system has features and benefits as well as aficionados.

In fact, if you are a happy iOS consumer user you probably won’t want to read on but Android and corporate users may want to see what this secure operating system can offer.

The 950XL is the best smartphone designed and made by Microsoft – it and the lower specified 950 and 550 are the only others until the Windows OEMs take up the cause. There are rumoured to be more than 40 of those but Acer is the only one to actually launch the Jade Primo.

The iPhone 6S Plus has a 5.5” 1920x1080, IPS LED screen and is not in this comparison. The Samsung S6 Edge+ is shown in [square brackets] for convenience

Out of the box

Initial impressions are a large, black glass slab with a ‘glance screen’ dimly poking through. Its handy to see the time, battery status, mail, missed calls and more if you want. The Lumia has a slight plastic feel – well-made but not as solid as the Edge+. Interestingly the Samsung S3/4/5 had the same comments and they had a plastic back covering a removable battery and microSD support too

The Edge+ is a sexy, curved screen device and probably slightly better looking. Both have a protruding rear camera lens.

Advantage: Edge+ slightly but I also like the black slab. Both are eminently pocketable and can be used with one hand.

Battery

It uses a USB-C connector and has fast charging. The Edge+ uses microUSB and fast charging. Both have Qi charging. But the Lumia has a removable 3340 [3000] battery and the Samsung does not (like the iPhone).

Endurance ratings are 62 hours for Lumia and 83 for Edge+. I got fairly similar life out of each.

Advantage Lumia because its removable.

Screen

Turn it on and you see the brilliant 5.7”, 2560 x 1440, 518 ppi, Super AMOLED, Gorilla Glass 4 covered screen. It rivals the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ - also Super AMOLED and Gorilla Glass 4 – for the title of the best screen of all.

The high screen to body ratio is 74.3% [75.6%] which is very good – there is little wasted bezel although the Edge+ has virtually no bezel as it is a curved screen.

Advantage: Both are very good – the Lumia has slightly better sunlight readability due to a slightly more matte screen.

Dimension/weight

The dimensions and weight are 151.9 x 78.4 x 8.1mm/165g [154.4 x 75.8 x 6.9mm/153g]. The added thickness and weight is to allow for a removable battery – something few flagships phones have.

Advantage Edge+ by a smidgeon.

Processor/RAM/storage

It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 eight core (4 x 2GHz and 4 x 1.5GHz) with liquid cooling, 3GB RAM/32GB storage, and microSD (up to 200GB or supports larger USB hard disks).

The Samsung has its own Exynos eight core processor, 4GB RAM, 32/64GB Storage and no SD support although it will support USB flash and hard disks.

Advantage: Let’s call them roughly equal.

Rear Camera

It has a 20MP, 4992 x 3744 pixel, f/1.9 Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilisation (OIS), autofocus (AF), and triple LED flash. The Samsung is 16MP, 5312 x 2988 pixels, f/1.9, OIS, AF, single LED flash. On paper the Lumia wins. Using reference shots, it is at least the equal of the Samsung which is held up as the best smartphone camera to date. I need to do more tests on low light as I didn’t quite get the results I expected.

Both do 4K video and have similar effects. The Lumia has a more comprehensive camera app with flexibility that will please professional users.

Advantage: Lumia by a theoretical margin if its low light capabilities are verified. Certainly in daylight its brilliant.

Front camera

5MP, 1080p, wide angle produced equal quality shots to the Edge+.

Advantage: both

Phone

LTE bands are excellent - LTE FDD network: Band 1 (2100 MHz), Band 2 (1900 MHz), Band 3 (1800 MHz), Band 4 (1700/2100 MHz), Band 5 (850MHz), Band 7 (2600 MHz), Band 8 (900MHz), Band 12 (700 MHz), Band 17 (700MHz), Band 20 (800MHz), Band 28 (700 MHz). TD-LTE network: Band 38 (2570-2620 MHz), Band 40 (2300-2400 MHz). It is a true world phone.

The in call volume and hands free are very good. Crystal clear HD calls, good sound, and good mics.

The Edge+ is similar.

Advantage: both

Windows 10 Mobile versus Android 5.1.1

Android has 1.8 million apps in Google Play. Microsoft has not announced the number of Universal apps in its store except to say that the ones it has are the ones that are actually worth using. To put this in perspective W10M will most likely have a similar market share to Mac OS X so expect to see many more apps.

I found apps for my Telco, Bank, Flybuys/Coles, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Kindle, iHeartRadio, and pretty much all I needed. In addition, W10M is a more comprehensive operating system with much more bundled functionality

Advantage: Google Play but maybe that won’t affect those who don’t need 1.8 million apps.

User Interface

I have been a long term user of Windows Phone. The interface is similar to Windows Phone 8.x with live tiles and an alphabetic listing of apps on the second home screen. It is very similar to Windows 10 but built for a smaller screen form factor. I like live tiles as they automatically update and keep me informed. I like the way I can have 15 full sized tiles, or 60 quarter sized tiles or a mix of these. I like that the home page is 100% customisable and that contacts etc., can be pinned as tiles. Want to ring the wife – just pin her (contact). In all I like the ordered sensibility.

Android is still icon driven, it has a maximum of 16 icons on the home screen and 20 on the second screen.

Advantage: I find Windows faster, cleaner and more intuitive.

Special features

Windows Hello secure login is implemented by iris detection. Its good, fast and accurate. It is also foolproof – you can’t use a picture or even an identical twin! It is suitable for a payment system and can be customised for different users and permissions. Edge+ has a good fingerprint system.

Continuum allows the Lumia to connect via a docking station to an external 1080p HD monitor (any size) via HDMI or DisplayPort, three USB 3.0 that support keyboard, mouse, printers, Ethernet adaptor, Flash Drives, external hard disks, cameras, hubs – any USB device. It is powered by a USB-C charger (supplied and the same as the phone). Bottom line is that you can use the phone as a computer and a separate phone.

This is still work in progress. I had some screen sizing issues, only universal apps work (except on the phone), and in some cases it was a little laggy. Still it’s a great start for universal computing anywhere, anytime.

Office apps work brilliantly. Outlook will drive the contacts and caller ID. Documents don’t lose formatting and the OneDrive cloud is a great way to seamlessly pick up on different devices. But to me the biggest advantage here is in connecting it to a Windows PC and having a full file/folder system and easy copying and pasting between devices.

W10M has so many inbuilt features that you need to read about them. I have included many of them here.

Security

Android has many issues that may be acceptable to a consumer but not to corporates. Even with eyes wide open Android may bite you. Currently W10M has no known malware or virus and is considered to have the most secure operating system of all. Even smartphone sceptic Eugene Kaspersky (with the security company of the same name) has declared Windows 10 mobile security as top notch.

Corporate users are also talking about ‘value security’ where W10M has everything built in for no extra cost

To sum up Kaspersky said (with his best Russian accent) “On iOS criminals are obsessed with [it] and there are many, many vulnerabilities". Talking about Android, "More and more -- millions of brutal attacks -- not safe". This suggests that when it comes to security, at least, W10M is better than Android and iOS.

Wrap-up

The Galaxy S6 Edge+ is the best Android 5.7” phone by a good margin. I use one, my wife uses and S6 Edge, my daughter and son use Android. I swapped to Android after many years as a dyed in the wool Windows Phone user.

On paper Lumia 950XL has some superior specifications but on the whole they are pretty evenly matched.

It comes down to do you like Android or will you venture into W10M.

For me personally – using the Lumia 950XL has been a pleasure and I am torn between its superior experience and the ‘apps’ issue. Perhaps I need both phones - why not.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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