Lumia 950XL Review–Almost Great

First Impressions: Great display, impressive camera, responsive.

During the recent promotion where Microsoft offered a free Lumia 950 with the purchase of a 950xl I had debated buying the Lumia until the last day of the promo and found myself driving an hour away to the nearest Microsoft Store in Delaware to see the 950xl up close to help me determine if I should make the plunge and upgrade.

I spent about 10 minutes in store comparing the 950xl to my existing 640 and it was an easy enough choice that the cost of the upgrade with the free 950 was worth taking a chance on.  I considered the rumored Surface phone is still close to a year away and I hadn’t had anything close to a premium phone since the Nokia 920 years ago so made the purchase.

So after spending close to a week and a half with the device as my primary phone here are my thoughts. 

OUT OF THE BOX EXPERIENCE:
This was one of 2 major drawbacks I have found with this phone but this is remedied once updated.  The out of the box experience was dismal at best.  The phone ran extremely hot and the battery drain was alarming eating up close to 20% battery life per hour of use. 

I was out for the day when I purchased the phone so as soon as I returned home I reset the device, hooked it up to my WiFi and went through the setup again.  Upon booting up there were over 40+ apps that needed updating through the store.  This process took well over an hour and then I was able to download updates for the phone.  After another hour and a reboot the phone was operating smoothly, heat issues and battery drain completely gone. (*** This issue occurred with the Lumia 950 as well so appears to be a common issue with the initial builds of Windows Mobile and the 950/950xl ***)

My major issue with this is that a normal user who purchases this phone may not be willing to wait the time it takes to apply the updates to their phone that fixes these issues.  I was surprised Microsoft let these phones out into the retail market with the number of issues I experienced.  They should really consider instructing their associates to apply updates in store during purchase. 

PROS:
1) Runs great AFTER updating Windows to the latest builds.  This was a glaring issue right out of the box as the phone would run extremely hot, and had noticeable glitches which were apparently fixed in later versions of Windows 10.
2) Display is beautiful.  Great colors and clarity.  The 5.7” screen size is a noticeable upgrade in comparison to the 950’s 5.2”.
3) Windows 10 is progressing nicely at this point on the mobile side.  The operating system (Build 14332 Insider) and user interface have undergone several refinements.  Features I wanted such as Call and Message Blocking are working as expected and integrated into the OS.
4) Camera takes impressive photos and videos.  Have tested it in several situations including low light and nighttime and overall the results are stunning.
5) Phone is speedy and responsive opening apps and navigating.  The CPU and 3GB Memory really help especially when compared to previous Microsoft and Nokia Lumias.  Even in comparison to my girlfriend’s iPhone 6s the speed is discernible.
6) 32GB onboard storage with a Micro SD slot capable of holding up to a 200GB card should provide more than enough capacity for photos and media for the near future.
7) Wireless charging – never had a phone that was capable before but now that I do can’t imagine being without it.

Now to point out some of the negatives (which honestly aren’t much but could be just enough to persuade some users not to make the upgrade).

CONS:
1) As stated previously the out of the box experience was horrendous but can be remedied with updates to the phone’s operating system.  Still needs to count against the device as it should run much smoother upon first turning it on.
2) The App Store long the bane of Windows Phone users has improved but still lacks.  I am not a huge app person so affects me a little less but even I would like more apps available that the other platforms have.  That being said I have to give props to these financial apps which I use regularly for being available on Windows 10 (Wells Fargo, Paypal and Paypal Here and American Express).  They are all polished and offer more than enough functionality.  Thank you!
3) The overall build of the device was my next major complaint and one that could affect my perception of the phone enough to go with the Lumia 950 as my main phone in the near future.  Neither phone is particularly aesthetic from the factory.

The back plates provided by Microsoft are uninspired and there are some quality issues with the overall feel of the buttons.  Both feel a little cheap at first touch.  The Lumia 950 however is solidly built and doesn’t suffer the major issue I have with 950xl.  The back plate on the xl squeaks terribly upon handling.  It’s as if the parts were not machined correctly during production because the 950 has a solid feel to it without give or creaking while handling the case.  The xl back plate issues are prevalent enough a quick search online will find numerous complaints with some suggestions on how to alleviate the noise.

I solved the majority of my noise issues by buying a Mozo leather back plate (which has improved the aesthetic of the phone) but even that suffers from minor noise imperfections.  Placing some small slivers of sticky notes in the lower half of the case seems to have fixed the majority of any noisy areas that were left but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed still.  The issue I have is that for a $649+ phone this type of build issue shouldn’t exist.  I don’t recall any phone except the lower end Lumia 521 I have suffering from an overall build quality that felt flimsy and produced audible noise in basic handling.

CONCLUSION:
The phone is overall a nice upgrade from recent Lumias that have been released which isn’t much of a surprise because Microsoft has basically only worked with lower to mid-level specs for some time.  For the $649 price point the back plate issue would have been a deal breaker for me and I would have returned the phone.  Getting the Lumia 950 for free bringing the overall cost down to about $325 per phone makes the issue somewhat more palatable so I have kept the phone and am only debating whether or not to use the 950 as my main phone or not.  The 5.7” display may be the deciding factor if I keep the 950xl in operation.

I like the phone, a great deal, after updates to Windows 10 it runs great. The storage is fantastic to have after coming from an 8GB 640 and the other features such as dual sim, wireless charging and the camera make the experience much more enjoyable.  More apps are needed however but that issue is relegated across the entire windows mobile platform.

If I didn’t receive the deal I did I would have been fine with the 950 at the $549 price point.  The overall build and back plate feel much more solid.  The buttons on the 950 are a little flimsy feeling but nothing that breaks the user experience.  The $649 for the build quality of the 950xl would have been an issue. 

The 950xl is almost a great phone, just not at the price point.  I am assuming the “Surface” phone will be what the 950xl should have been.

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