The big Microsoft experience
The Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, as suggested in the name, is an extra large smartphone. It’s fronted by a 5.7-inch Quad HD display, which is not only great res, but also one of the brightest and most powerful I’ve ever seen.
The handset has a detachable plastic back, which reveals a removable battery. This offers a real perk for those who might find themselves away from the plug socket for a few days, as a new and fully charged battery can easily be inserted in place of the one that’s running low.
I haven’t had to do this during my week with the phone, as the battery life is very good, but it’s a great option that a lot of phones don’t offer.
Under the battery is the SIM card tray and space for a microSD card. Microsoft say you can use an SD card of up 200GB capacity (on top of the adequate 32GB phone storage), but a memory card that big comes at a big cost. Top tip - before you go splashing out, you should check out OneDrive’s cloud storage, which gives you an additional 15GB for free.
Of course, the biggest news about the new Lumia range is that they all run on Windows 10. The brand new operating system is finally on Microsoft smartphones, and it’s by far the best yet.
One of my favourite updates, which might sound a little dull in the grander scheme of things, is the settings menu. I used to find Windows 8’s version to be cluttered and confusing, whereas now, it’s a lot more clean-cut. I can actually find the things I need.
The Action Centre has also seen a refresh (accessible by swiping down from the top of the screen), now holding messages and emails a lot like Android and iOS. They can be dismissed with a quick swipe to the left or right and launched by individually selecting.
Finally Cortana, my old mate and Microsoft’s virtual assistant, is still on board, but now better than ever. For one, she’s always listening, so even if the phone’s locked and you say “Hey, Cortana” she’ll be there in a flash. It’s a lazy function, but one I’ve found myself using to launch music when the phone and my Bluetooth speaker is out of arm’s reach.
The next thing I tried out was Continuum – a cool new Windows 10 function. I’d heard some good things about it but to be honest, I needed it explaining a few times.
Basically, Continuum transforms your mobile into a full-scale desktop computer, by using something called a Display Dock (pictured right). It’s not difficult to set up - I plugged my phone into the Display Dock, then into the HDMI port, and I was up and running. My TV was now a PC.
One of the smart things about Continuum is that it automatically scales apps up. So with Word, for example, I got the full-sized version on my TV screen rather than a stripped down mobile version.
You can also keep using your phone for other things while Continuum’s running. If you get a phone call or an email, it won’t automatically show up on the big screen.
It’s all pretty clever stuff, and I was really impressed with it. I don’t have a PC, so I could see myself using Continuum a lot for presentations and the like at work.
The Lumia 950 XL’s 20MP PureView camera is one of my favourite features. The photo quality is really sharp, it gives you full manual control, and there’s a triple-LED flash to make sure photos are bright and colourful.
I’ve tried the camera out in a few different scenarios, but the big question mark for me hovered over evening photography. A flash is great indoors, but outdoors, there’s only so far the small LED bulbs can reach.
Close up it looks great, illuminating people and objects really well. And in longer-range shots, I was pleasantly surprised too. The optical image stabilisation goes a long way to steady the shots, meaning that lights don’t blur as much as they would without.
For those of you out there who have more of an idea about photography than just ‘point and shoot’, you can manipulate all of the 950 XL’s manual photography options, including white balance, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. If you’ve ever used a DLSR this will be a big plus, but it’s not the hardest thing in the world to figure out as all the settings are applied to the screen in real time, so you can see what you’re changing.
Finally, let’s talk about Microsoft’s next level security. Loads of smartphone manufacturers have jumped on the fingerprint sensor bandwagon, but not Microsoft. It’s gone straight past the fad and onto something even more secure – iris scanning.
I was a little dubious about this - it sounds too futuristic. But, to my surprise it works – and is very efficient. I wear glasses sometimes, and it asked me to take them off when scanning my eyes the first time round. But even after replacing them, it hasn’t failed to recognise me.
You have to get quite close to the screen for it to see you, but this will only get better with time.
All in all, my week with the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL (order yours here) has been awesome. It is pretty big, but I’ve got pretty big hands. Of course, if you want the same great Windows 10 experience in a smaller size, check out the Lumia 950 here.