Tuesday, 19 January 2016 09:51

Has Windows 10 Mobile and Lumia 950XL got it right? Mostly! Featured


Windows 10 Mobile (W10M) and Lumia’s 950XL are Microsoft’s best mobile operating system (OS) and smartphone. Are they good enough to take market share from Android and iOS?

The short answer is in three parts:

First, it will depend on your needs and usage. "App happy" consumers will not find W10M trendy enough for their likes. They are not so affected by lack of a standard operating environment (SOE).

Second, it depends on how important an SOE — a homogenised, Windows ecosystem — is for you or your employer. Maybe there is a great argument for Windows (or OS X) on everything.

Finally, it may depend on how much faith you have in Microsoft knowing what it is doing and how the Windows ecosystem will grow, thrive, and prevail.

So begins the in-depth review of Microsoft’s new Lumia 950XL and, by inference, Windows 10 Mobile.

This is a flagship phone. Its specifications are class leading in almost every area – 5.7” quad HD, OLED screen; Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor (liquid cooled); 20MP, f/1.9, Zeiss PureView, optical image stabilisation, triple LED flash, camera; 3340mAH removable battery with wireless Qi and fast charging; 4G LTE Cat 6 ‘world bands’; Wi-Fi AC dual band MIMO; NFC; 3GB RAM, 32GB storage and 200GB microSD support …

Most reviewers to date acknowledge the hardware specifications are top drawer. A few criticise the black plastic slab design (it is matt polycarbonate and it is hard to do much with that especially with a removable battery), and suggest that more "Surface" like magnesium alloy design cues should have been taken.

I think its functional, business like, and no bigger than the excellent Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ I have been using.

The App conundrum – the elephant in the room

If this were an Android phone people would clamour for it! And that explains its one Achilles heel – once you have used Android or iOS you become used to saying “There’s an app for that.” Sorry, with Windows 10 there may not be – at least yet.

That is not a biggie if you are a corporate user who just needs productivity software like Office 365 and access to approved apps via a private corporate app store. In fact, given that something like 98% of smartphone users seldom do more than use the inbuilt productivity and standard apps, it is not the hurdle that Android or iOS proponents make it out to be.

Microsoft is trying to get more popular apps written in its Universal App format – but this is a slow process. For now, browsing in the Windows 10 Mobile app store is a bit like shopping at Aldi – a limited, yet functional, choice of things that look similar!

App wise (to name a few) it includes: Office 365 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote); Productivity (Outlook plus generic mail, calendar, contacts); Evernote; OneDrive; Dropbox; Tumblr; Uber; Skype; Facebook; LinkedIn; Twitter; Flipboard; WhatsApp; Instagram; Viber; Spotify; Pandora; Netflix; VLC; Kindle; Here mapping and Navigation; Groove Music; Film and TV; and a reasonably comprehensive set of built-in apps (including weather, money, news, sports, fitness, flashlight, etc.).

After four weeks use, this aspect has not caused me the concern that I thought it would. Apart from the Coles Supermarket app not being available (and I can view the information at its website anyway) I have not been adversely affected. In fact, it has been a pleasure not to be bombarded with Android advertising or nagged for in-app purchases.

My best advice is that if you absolutely must have an app that runs on your current Android or iOS, go to the Windows Store and look for it, or find something similar. Windows Central has a good overview of Windows 10 Mobile apps.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (Google Play and Apple’s iPhone App are 10s) but app availability is improving all the time and I don’t think it is going to be a deal-breaker issue for most.

Windows Hello

It uses Windows Hello biometric authentication as one option to unlock the phone – or you can use a PIN or leave it unlocked. It replaces fingerprint technology.

It is currently in Beta testing – it is not final. It is based on Iris (eye) recognition and I found it accurate and fool-proof even wearing glasses – identical twins and photos of eyes will not fool it. Currently it only recognises one user whereas some fingerprint scanner-enabled phones will recognise two or more. Microsoft has taken that on board and soon will allow iris scans for multiple users.

My concern is that it can take a few seconds and sometimes it suggests you move the phone closer to your eyes – about 20cm away. I generally found that it was quicker to use the pin if you were in a hurry. By comparison Samsung’s fingerprint is instant.

Unlocking the phone is not required to take a phone call and the glance screen (showing time and selected notifications when the phone is off) is very functional. The glance screen is handy, informative and you can customise what it shows, delay updates, or turn it off to conserve battery.

You can also access the Action centre from the glance screen by swiping down. This is handy to turn on airplane mode or perform any of the other customisable functions there.

There is also a one-handed mode and a task switcher (see Continuum comment later) that manages active apps (a bit like Android’s App Draw)

Rating: 7 out 10 and will only get better as it gets out or beta.

Windows Continuum

Continuum is a ‘killer feature’ — for those who can use it — that allows the phone to be used as a computer when connected to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse (wired, Logitech dongle wireless, Bluetooth, or use the phone’s touch screen). From an enterprise viewpoint, it makes sense to provide mobile road warriors with a phone and when they are back in the office a dock for basic computing use. It may also make sense to those who only need one primary computing device but like a larger screen at home.

In an earlier review I said that it felt like a work in progress and recent firmware updates have polished this feature a little more. It is now extremely easy to set up and worked first time for me.

The 65 x 25mm square dock comes with full size HDMI, Display Port, and three USB 2.0 ports (one with always on charging). It supports an HD, 1920 x 1080 monitor. It is powered by a USB-C, 5V, 3A charger (supplied and the same as used on the phone). A USB-C cable connects to the phone and provides fast charge and data.

You can also cast the screen using standard Miracast or via a USB-C to HDMI dongle – without the external keyboard and mouse.

The dock becomes part of the Gadgets app that links any accessory connected to the phone with an action e.g. launch a specified app when you connect a Bluetooth headset.

In extended use the phone did not become hot (courtesy liquid cooling) and it did not miss a beat after being connected for two days straight. Yes, Continuum works as advertised and is a compelling feature if you can use it.

There are a few caveats to Continuum.

  • The external screen shows a "separate computer" to the smartphone – you can still use the phone separately. Text and images were clear and crisp on a 24” HD monitor.
  • It only supports Universal Apps. If an installed app cannot be used it is greyed out. Over time most Windows apps will be universal.
  • Most keyboard shortcuts work but the mouse will not right click and there is no "red x" in the top corner to kill an app – use task view (like you would use Alt Tab) to kill each desktop.
  • The screen "interface" is different from a normal desktop in that all apps run full screen (there is a familiar Windows 10 task bar below) – that means no windows resizing or running multiple apps on the same desktop. However, you can run multiple apps, each in a different desktop, using the familiar task view icon to swap between virtual desktops. You can cut and paste between apps/desktops.
  • Sound comes via the HDMI cable to the monitor – if your monitor does not have speakers and you want more than the phone's speakers, you should use an USB or Bluetooth speaker instead. The dock lacks a 3.5mm audio jack but you can use the phone’s jack.
  • Intel’s High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) 1.3 / 1.4 may stop HDCP encrypted content from playing but serves the more important purpose of preventing eavesdropping of information and man-in-the-middle attacks when using Wi-Fi.
  • Continuum is hardware dependent – not every W10M phone will have it

Rating: This is unique to Windows 10 Mobile and in the right place it is an 8 out of 10 with lots more potential.

Windows 10 One Drive and settings sync

One of the more compelling features of the Windows 10 ecosystem is that it applies to all devices — meaning that you can do the same work on Mobile, Tablet, Desktop and more and it is synchronised to OneDrive — if you let it. All devices allow for on-device storage as well but OneDrive makes it easier to pick up later.

Rating: All OS offer some form of "handoff" or sync data and settings so it would rate similarly to Android or iOS.


Cortana recognises both your voice (who you are) and an ever-increasing set of action commands and queries. She (yes, Microsoft has determined it is a she) has matured considerably since I first started using her a year or so ago. iTWire’s article on her basic commands is still relevant – it is worth a read.

I feel more comfortable with Cortana than Siri or Google Now and it definitely has the edge as a personal assistant. I also like that all information it knows about me is in an editable notebook – not hidden somewhere in the OS or Cloud. The more you tell her the more she can do for you.

Rating: Cortana is superior to Siri and Google Now. This is emerging technology so I will give it a 7 out of 10.


Microsoft bought Nokia and if there was only one positive to emerge from that shotgun wedding it was the world’s best smartphone camera technology – PureView and the Carl Zeiss lens systems.

In 2015 the best camera by far was Samsung’s 16MP found in its Galaxy S6 series and Note 5. It was hard to take a poor shot in almost any condition. I put the older Lumia 930 with 21MP (that is two separate 16MP and 5MP shots taken at the same time) against the Samsung and while the former was great, the latter soundly beat it in more light conditions. In part, that was due to the Lumia being released in April 2014 and the S6 a year later.

The 950 is now back as the absolute leader in smartphone cameras – by far. First, the hardware is top of its class – 21MP, f/1.9, 26mm field of view, six lens optics, back side illuminated (BSI) sensor, 5th generation optical image stabilisation, triple LED intelligent flash, and a dedicated hardware shutter button on the right side to launch and use the camera from the glance screen.

While it has a 21MP sensor it allows you to select 16MP JPEG, 8MP JPEG and a dual shot 8MP JPEG and 16MP DNG (open standard, free, lossless raw image format written by Adobe used for digital photography). The extras MPs are to allow for in-camera post processing, lossless zoom, and fixing things like poor exposure.

Camera start is instant. Auto-focus is accurate and fast — not the fastest I have seen — and it takes great shots in all light conditions. For the prosumer, a left swipe reveals a well-designed series of concentric rings to adjust things like White Balance, Shutter speed, ISO and more. Reviewers says you can have full control over all of the features.

Camera lens placement is important – it is in the middle top of the body and avoids all the "finger" mistakes that happen with phones that have the camera on the top left (like the iPhone).

Nigglingly however, while nine out of every 10 shots were excellent, one randomly was not. I cannot figure out why, except that I suspect it relates to HDR (High Dynamic Range) and auto-focus placing too much load on the processor. I understand that an update that allows HDR to be turned off will fix this.

The flash is powerful and wide angle – you will get good low light group shots out to about three metres. I turned flash off for many indoor shots as the f/1.9 lens handles low light and gave the best natural colours.

For 4K (or HD), 30fps, video recording in MP4 or H.264 is easy with video zoom, optical image stabilization, continuous autofocus, video light (using the flash LEDs), and Lumia’s Rich Recording (four microphones) gave excellent sound.

The front camera is 5MP, f/2.4 wide angle and capable of HD video recording. It takes great selfies and Skype video calls.

Finally, I compared it to reference shots taken on the iPhone 6S Plus and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ cameras. The iPhone was a distant last, Samsung mostly nipped at Lumia’s heels, and Lumia gave exceptional colour, clarity, focus, and tone.

Rating: I judge a smartphone camera on how it performs in full automatic point and shoot mode – a 10 out 10. This camera re-establishes Lumia 950XL and its PureView technology as the leading camera by far.

Live Images

The camera deserves special mention for its support of live images – similar to iPhone 6S it will take a still shot and capture a few moments before and after the actual shot. So you see several animated frames making up the still picture. Unlike the iPhone, however, any Windows 10 app will play the animated image – very nice.

This feature, and lossless zoom, are courtesy of using a higher MP sensor and recording a slightly lower MP picture – I believe it is called oversampling.


It has dual antennas so you should be able to get excellent reception wherever you are. I got four bars in locations most smartphones get one or two.

It has not been tested for Telstra’s Blue Tick yet but I suspect it will be fine as most previous Lumias have received this rating. For your information, the LG G4, Huawei P8, and Samsung Galaxy S6 and Note 5 series have a Blue Tick.

The phone app marries in with Contacts (both the standard contact app and Outlook) for caller ID. But this phone app has gone further than any I have seen integrating multiple sources – social (Facebook, Twitter, Skype and more) as if they are just contact options.

I particularly like the flexibility that this device offers, Conference call; HD Voice call; Skype video call, Skype voice call; Call Management: Call waiting, Call history, Call forwarding; hands-free speakers; Speed dial; Call recording; and seamless upgrade to video call.

The noise cancelling microphones, in-call volume and speakerphone volume are excellent. Independent tests put it well ahead of the iPhone and Samsung.

Rating: 10 out of 10 – it’s a great phone.

Out of the Box

Phone, removable battery, USB-C 3A charger (same as the one supplied with the optional dock), and a USB 3.0 male to USB-C cable. Missing is a set of mic/buds.

Carefully prise off the back cover (that has the Qi charge coil in it), insert a nano-SIM and the battery. There is also a slot for a microSD card (up to 200GB).

My review unit was made in the former Nokia factory in Vietnam. It feels solid, well-made, and the body is built from matt black polycarbonate that has a good grip factor. The removable back means that you can access a growing range of clip on fashion covers.

It measures 151.9 x 78.4 x 8.1mm and weighs 165g. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ is 154.4 x 75.8 x 6.9mm and weighs 153g. This is a little thicker to support the removable battery and the six lens camera.

Battery, fast charging and wireless

The 3340 mAh battery will provide at least two days of reasonable use – as a phone and Wi-Fi or carrier connection for email, occasional SMS and internet search. Constant Bluetooth use reduces this by about 30%. The endurance rating is 62 hours which is not as good as the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ at 83 hours. The latter will also give two days of average use.

But with fast charge you can go from zero to 50% charge in 30 minutes. Qi Wireless charging is more about trickle and on-demand charging — leave it overnight and it will intelligently charge — no overcharge.

Rating: 9 out of 10 simply because the Samsung lasts a little longer – both have Qi and fast charge.

Display – the best I have ever seen yet the standard start screen is decidedly dull

The 5.7”, Super AMOLED, 518ppi display is the best I have ever seen yet its magnificence is hidden by a dull Windows 10 default colour scheme. It is protected by Gorilla Glass 4.

It has Nokia’s ClearBlack technology – basically a glare reducing polarisation filter that works well with the auto-light sensor to give good readability in all light conditions.

I played with start screen images, colour schemes and more, removing every vestige of the Windows 10 defaults and got some awful combinations but in the end the screen is not about themes but about displaying precious photos or videos.

It is time to mention the start screen tiles. I am a fan of the live tile system – it is clear, simple and highly customisable. There is room for 15 big "live" tiles (able to continuously update) – three across by five deep. These can be doubled in size (weather, for example) or turned into quarter size potentially giving 60 tiles on the start screen. The screen will scroll down if you exceed this number.

Every tile can be moved, removed, resized and you can also turn contacts and other information into tiles. I like being able to press a tile to call the wife. It leaves Android and iOS for dead in terms of flexibility.

If you swipe left it reveals an alphabetic listing of all apps and features. In all its extremely logical and clean.

Rating: If you like live tiles (and you will) rather than skeuomorphic or flat icons — and I do — then it’s a 10 out of 10.

Under the bonnet

Qualcomm’s 2015 flagship Snapdragon 810 is used – 4 x 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57 and 4 x 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 cores with 3GB RAM, 32GB storage and support for USB storage devices too. Basemark tests put it on par with the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 series.

The 810 processor received a bad rap for overheating which led to smartphone manufacturers having to throttle back the chip, with lots of power wasted. Microsoft uses an innovative liquid cooling system (more a closed loop liquid heat exchanger) that gives it access to the full power without the heat issues.

This is as good as it gets until we see the 820 (in the new Samsung S7 perhaps) in next year’s flagship Lumia/Surface.

Wi-Fi AC dual band MIMO is impressive and gave me a "ludicrous speed" – over 800Mbps connection to a Netgear Night Hawk X4S AC2600 router over 30 metres away. I have a 100/3Mbps internet connection and it constantly achieved that via the router.

Using Telstra 4G I got 100/9Mbps – this is a seriously fast 4G device (Telstra does not support Cat 6 in my area yet).

It has Bluetooth 4.1 LE, GPS/GLONASS/BDS, FM radio, NFC, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, sensor core and more. The sensor core is akin to Apple’s M9 coprocessor and enables always on and context awareness.

Rating: The best hardware in any current a flagship phone. 10 out of 10.


There is a lot of talk about iOS and Android – most of it is fearmongering. Android is fine for consumer use if you have free or preferably paid AV/Malware protection. Apple will not let AV companies into the orchard so you rely on it to keep you safe and every AV company says iOS is the next hacker attack vector.

Windows (desktop) has, since its inception, had viruses and malware. It will continue to do so but so far W10 has slowed, if not stopped, hacks and virus.

W10M has an abundance of security features that should make it the safest consumer and enterprise OS bar none – including Blackberry.

  • General security features: Device lock, PIN code, Device lock passcode, Regular signed firmware updates, Track and Protect via internet, Application certification, Application sandboxing, Backup and restore via Internet, Browser integrated anti-phishing, Remote device lock via Internet, Remote device wipe via Internet, Secure boot, Signed OS, Consumer VPN, Windows Hello beta
  • Enterprise security features: Mobile VPN, Remote lock and wipe, Hardware accelerated device encryption, Mobile device management, Remote security policy enforcement, Data protection under PIN lock, Secure identities
  • Supported security standards: TLS v1.0, TLS v1.1, TLS v1.2, SSL v3.0, Suite B ciphers
  • WLAN Security: EAP-TTLS/MSCHAPv2, WPA, WEP, EAP-AKA, PEAP-MSCHAPv2, WPA2 (AES/TKIP), WPA2-Enterprise, WPA2-Personal, EAP-TLS, WPA-Enterprise, EAP-SIM, WPA-Personal

From what I can see this is the leader by a long way. In addition, it can patch OTA (over the air and independent of the telco) to ensure that vulnerabilities are swiftly addresses.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

And the winner is – whatever you like!

The Lumia 950XL (and for the most part the smaller 5” 950) are an excellent foundation for the launch of Windows 10 Mobile.

It has been too long between drinks – the old Windows Phone had lost its gloss and market share. Microsoft took its time to get everything right — two years at least — and this gave Apple time to launch the much needed larger 6S and Plus and for Samsung to consolidate its lead in the Android world. In football parlance it is hard to regain the ball after you have dropped it.

In fact, while the Windows Phone 8.1 tile menu system is part of the inspiration for W10, the familiarity stops there. Underneath the surface this is a serious, 99.9% different, Windows OS that I am happy to assert is the most feature-rich, secure mobile OS of all – straight out of the box.

On the plus side, it is a delight to use, it is very Windows 10 like, the camera is awesome, and the hardware is top draw. On the negative side is the app issue.

The more you use it — and I mean use it in a productivity sense — the more you realise that iOS and Android are mobile operating systems and W10M is a very tightly integrated part of the Windows 10 ecosystem. After just a few weeks use I now see it as a logical extension of my Surface tablet and Windows desktop.

I think corporate adoption of the 950 and XL will be a no-brainer. Here it will take sales from iPhone, if only for the security and manageability W10M offers. And Microsoft is more likely to sweeten the deal to get 100% of the ecosystem.

I think consumer adoption will be challenging. To a large degree that depends on what the 40 or so OEMs do with their versions – price, colour, features etc., and if App developers can be motivated to pull their fingers out and get the number of Universal Apps up. Or that a Universal App works on Xbox and every Windows device – buy once and use many – so there is a longer term game play.

Personally I will continue to use it if only to be able to present a counterpoint to those journalists that are Apple aficionados or FanDroids. I have really enjoyed the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ (and possibly the upcoming S7) and I have some comfort knowing Samsung/Android is there, just in case.

Microsoft has delivered in spades and then some!

iTWire smartphone paradigm – a fair rating system

iTWire has established Australian paradigms for:

  • Flagship phones – Apple iPhone 6S/Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Note 5 series, LG’s G4, Sony Xperia Z4, HTC One M9, Lenovo Moto X, and Microsoft Lumia 950/XL series. Huawei, OPPO, Xiaomi, ZTE and others have entrants in this category.
  • Mid to high range – Huawei P8/Max, OPPO R7/Plus, Xiaomi, ZTE, Samsung A, LG L&F series, Moto E/G, Lumia 6XX. This may include Note/Phablets with Pen support
  • Mass market – Huawei Ascend Y/G series, OPPO N, ZTE
  • El-cheapo <A$100

Note the following specifications are indicators only of what comprises the majority of offerings in their respective categories.



Lumia 950LX

Rating out of 5 (+ or – may be used)



Note/Phablet 6”+



Screen type and quality




Pixel per Inch




Glass (equiv)

Gorilla 4

Gorilla Glass 4



HD to QHD (4K)




64-bit, 8 Core, Big/Little e.g.

Qualcomm 8XX or similar

Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810

Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 Quad-core 2 GHz Cortex-A57

GPU Adreno 430


Memory RAM









up to 128GB

Up to 200GB plus external USB HDD storage (Windows file system compatible)



Global bands. Cat 4+

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)



If available provides 2 x 4G slots

Available in some markets


Telstra Blue tick rural


Not tested but highly likely to obtain the Tick



AC dual antenna

Wi-Fi AC, dual band, MIMO










Mapping software and maps

At least one free mapping system – Google or HERE





4.1 LE





Ambient light




All plus things like

heart rate



Sensor Core

Iris scanner



Ambient light






(Assumes Micro USB or Lightning)


At least a day


USB-C cable
USB-C 3A charger


Fast charge and/or Qi


Qualcomm fast charge
50% in 30 minutes
Qi charge standard


Camera Rear

16MP+ <f/2.2, OIS, A/F, Twin flash, BSI sensor, 4K record

20MP, f/1.9, 26mm wide angle, IOS, A/F, triple LED flash, BSI sensor, 4K record


Camera Front

>4MP+ HD

fill flash

5MP, f/2.4


Screen to body ratio (higher better as it affects dimensions) or keyboard


151.9 x 78.4






Looks – highly subjective

Premium build and finishes

Uses matt black polycarbonate (Nokia style)



>150g (or 30g per inch of screen size)

165 (under target weight for 5.7” screen)


Operating system

Latest version with upgrades for at least 2 years e.g. 5.x and 6.x updates

Windows 10 Mobile
Free upgrades for life of the device


User Interface (UI) Bloatware

Does the UI add value, ability to customise

Live Tiles user interface is highly customisable


Video, Audio codecs

Full suite

Full suite – some issues with AC3 (Apple) codecs



Premium head buds and mic

Not supplied



Curved screens, HDMI out, voice/gesture control, docking, machine learning, payment systems, something different

Continuum dock (option)
Windows Hello iris scan





IP or ruggedized


No – fine for normal use



2 years+

1 year


Service in Australia

Very important








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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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