Review: Microsoft Lumia 950

Likes
• Light weight
• Lightning fast
• Awesome camera
• Dedicated camera button

Dislikes
• Random key presses
• Reboots
• Average battery

Introduction

So I finally have it, my Lumia 950. With the arrival of Microsoft’s first flagship handset, running their latest mobile operating system, things could really shape up and get interesting. The real question is, can Microsoft’s latest device hold its ground, especially when the competition is already fierce?

In all honesty, if you’d have told me 6 months ago that I’d be using a Windows device as my daily driver, I’d have laughed myself to death. I hated Windows 8 and disliked Windows Mobile just as much. The whole thing just seemed to be a mess, but after trying the Insider version of Windows 10 Mobile, my ice cold heart started to melt. A few months later and I’m wielding a Lumia 950.

So, let’s take a look at my thoughts and impressions.

Look and Feel

The first thing you’ll notice about the Lumia 950 is how nondescript it looks. A plain black slab with rounded corners. There’s no metal, but I don’t mind, the plastic shell feels durable with its matte finish, and it’s replaceable. On the rear of the device you’ll find a silver windows logo, camera hump, and triple LED flash. At the top is a single 3.5mm headphone jack, then left side has nothing, the bottom has a USB C port, and then the right side has volume rocker, power/lock button, and a camera key!

So all in all, it’s pretty plain, but it looks smart. The Lumia 950 resembles something I’d expect to see if the HTC HD7 and the Samsung Galaxy S2 had a baby. It feels light weight and comfortable to hold, and as I mentioned above, the back is replaceable and there are already some awesome looking rear cases hitting the market. Check out the Mozo shells as an example.

The display! Oh it’s gorgeous. It’s bright and the viewing angles are insane. This is one of the best displays I’ve seen. The quality is absolutely fantastic. I always hear people talk about the quality of blacks on the screen, and until using the Lumia 950 I hadn’t really paid any attention. In the dark the blacks blend in completely, leaving nothing but the colours on the display. It makes for a pretty interesting illusion when you’ve just got a Windows logo hovering above your hand when the phone boots up in the dark. Out of all the displays I’ve seen on a phone, this has to be the best I’ve seen.

Camera

The Lumia range have always been known for their fantastic camera’s and the Lumia 950 is no exception. The device is capable of capturing amazing photos with very little effort, but if you’re into playing with camera settings then you’re in luck!

There are a range of settings that you can customise, allowing for better manual shots to be captured. Also, for those who really seek quality, you can capture in both JPEG and DNG formats.

When using the Lumia 950’s camera I was impressed by how well the automatic settings worked. The auto focus was pretty good at finding it’s target, and macro photography works well with this device. I’ve used plenty of mobile phone cameras and when it came to close up shots they always seemed to struggle at close range, the Lumia 950 however performs great here.

The addition of the camera shutter key is a welcome one. It not only allows you to load the camera quickly just by clicking the button, but it also allows for better photography. You can hold the phone in a more natural position which will help minimise shake, and just click the button, there’s no need to try and get your finger on the screen. There are also two levels to the camera shutter key, a light press will focus the camera, and a second harder press will capture the photo.

The camera performs well in low light situations, with images coming out with very little noise compared to other smartphones (I’m looking at you Xperia Z5!) and for those truly dark situations you have a triple LED flash. Now, like most phone camera flashes this one isn’t great, with a tendency to light things up too much, draining colour from the subject, but it does perform better than most others. I would have preferred a Xenon flash like the Lumia 1020 had, but then I also like not having a huge camera hump.

I love playing with cameras, and the Lumia 950’s is a pleasure to use. From my experience it blows the competition out of the water, even the Xperia Z5 range.

Windows 10

I think it’s safe to say that regardless of the hardware Microsoft threw at their latest handset, unless they got the operating system sorted then it was destined to be a sinker. So how is it? A pleasure to use is the answer!

There’s something great about the simplistic look of my home screen. It’s easy to navigate to every app or service I use on a regular basis and the home screen doesn’t feel crowded despite having almost every app I use pinned to it. Love them or hate them, Live Tiles are back, and for the first time ever I find myself preferring this over the competition. My folders are organised, becoming one big live tile, for example, all of my office applications are in one folder, with the Live Tile cycling what is on display so I can see all the apps in the folder at a quick glance.

Windows 10 is lightning fast, with apps opening quickly and multi tasking working like a dream. The settings menu’s have been cleaned up, making individual options a lot easier to find now, unlike previous iterations in which it was sometimes impossible to find a setting you needed.

The Action Centre has also been improved, resembling Windows 10’s desktop counterpart. Pull down from the top and you’ll see your notifications, and just above these you’ll find your 4 most commonly used settings. Hit the expand button and you’ll find more quick settings, enabling you to toggle features quickly without digging deeper. These quick settings can be customised, allowing the user to chose which quick options you can add to your Action Centre.

As is always the case with Windows Mobile, the Lumia 950 comes with a host of Office Applications. We’ve got Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook. These apps have all been massively improved and are a pleasure to use, even on the smaller screen. Outlook allows you to pin your individual email accounts to your home screen, letting you get to the email account you want faster, rather than having to fish through the app. Of course, these apps all become even better when you hook your Lumia 950 up to a monitor and use Continuum (More on that later)

So, it all seems pretty great right? Well, just remember that Windows 10 Mobile has literally only just launched for consumers, so you will find issues. So far my phone has rebooted every couple of hours (although this seems to have stopped since a software update last night) and certain apps seem to go a little mad, or just not work properly (I’m looking at you Groove Music!). I’m sure there will be updates landing quickly, but it’s worth taking into consideration that you will face issues during this early stage.

Despite these issues, the overall feel of the operating system is great. I absolutely love it. Is it for everyone? Probably not, but if you want something that looks and feels professional, is productive and easy to navigate, then Windows 10 Mobile is worth a look.

Windows Hello and Continuum

Windows Hello is perhaps my favourite feature of my Lumia 950. There’s just something fun about lifting my phone up and having it scan my eye to unlock! I mean, who wouldn’t have fun with that?

Once I got over the gimmick I found myself impressed by how accurate the scanner is. You can train it multiple times in the settings, which obviously helps increase accuracy. Windows Hello works in darker conditions, it works at arms length or right next to my eye, and it works at angles so you don’t need to stand like a statue, you can just unlock your phone naturally. If you switch between wearing glasses, then have no fear, Windows Hello recognises my eye with or without my glasses.

Now, there are two big problems with Windows Hello. The first is that it makes me unlock my phone like Derek Zoolander, I always seem to stop and strike a pose. Hopefully this will end soon! The other issue is that almost everyone who has seen me use this feature has immediately asked “What happens if you lose both of your eyes?”, this is normally followed by me being given some pretty insane hypothetical situations that I have to come up with solutions for.

When Microsoft announced the Lumia 950 they also revealed Continuum. This made me weak at the knees, and seeing it in action still has me really excited. As I mentioned above there are plenty of productivity apps and once they’re loaded up in Continuum they look just like their desktop counter parts. This is quite frankly awesome!

It’s in the early stages right now and doesn’t allow for multiple apps to run in windowed mode which is a shame, but hopefully with future updates Continuum will become even more similar to the Windows 10 desktop we are all becoming used to.

One thing that I feel is worth mentioning is that Continuum works with pretty much all forms of display adapters, both wired and wireless. I originally thought it would only work with Microsoft’s Display Dock, but then I paired my 950 with my Amazon Fire TV and BAM! Continuum worked. You can load Continuum with Miricast devices, standard HDMI adapters, basically anything that will pair your phone with a display. Pretty handy.

I won’t go into a massive amount of detail regarding Continuum as it deserves it’s own article, and also I need to spend more time with it before I can form any more opinions.

The App Gap

Whenever anyone talks about Windows Mobile, the ‘App Gap’ always seems to get thrown in there. Now, let’s be honest, there is a lack in applications for Windows mobile, but with universal apps working across all Windows 10 devices, it looks like the future could get brighter. For me, the app issue isn’t a big one. Everything I need and use on my phone I can download, with only a few apps that I’d like missing from the store.

However, there is one huge and glaring issue, and that’s maps! Here Drive is no longer the default sat nav app, which is understandable, but what really breaks my heart is that the application is no longer available to download. This wouldn’t be an issue, but Microsoft’s own maps app just isn’t as good.

Oh well! Things will get better, especially with universal apps, and to be honest there are already plenty of apps available.

Battery

One thing that I loved about my Lumia 640 was the battery. I was getting about 3 days of usage so I was hoping that the Lumia 950 might deliver similar results. Sadly it doesn’t, in fact, it’s one of the let downs on this device. Now, it’s not bad by any means, I get at least a solid day, we are talking at least 24 hours, but I wouldn’t like to try and get all the way through the second day without a charge.

One of the benefits is how fast this device charges. I plugged it in for about half an hour and came back to find the battery had almost completely charged from practically being flat. Now that’s impressive, I only wish the battery lasted a little longer, but it’s certainly not below average so it will do!

Conclusion

Well, that’s a brief overview of my thoughts on the Lumia 950. I absolutely love it and I can’t wait to see what comes with future updates to the software. This isn’t a phone for everyone, and probably shouldn’t be one that users who absolutely love their applications should get just yet, but this is definitely worth keeping an eye on. If Microsoft can deliver on their promises to get more apps onto their platform then they stand a very real chance of gaining market share in the mobile sector.

My only concern is how poorly Microsoft have handled the launch of the Lumia 950 and 950 XL. They confused potential buyers with where and who they could buy the phone from, there was also a lack of launch date and a huge delay between announcement and actual launch. To top it off, in the UK right now this device is still pretty much vapourware. It’s almost impossible to find in any stores which makes adoption… Well… Impossible! Fingers crossed Microsoft will pull their fingers out and give this device the support it deserves.

So, would I recommend this phone? Yes! Absolutely. I will be using this phone as my personal device and would put this head and shoulders above the competition in so many departments. It feels great and the camera is superb. If you’re a fan of the Windows ecosystem then this could be your next mobile purchase.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

Introduction

The Nokia Lumia 1020, a beast of a handset wielding a monster of a camera. Some would say it’s crippled by its operating system, whereas some truly enjoy the Windows Phone ecosystem. I decided to give it a try, taking the phone for a spin and giving Windows Phone a chance on a high end handset. So what did I think?

Look and Feel

The Lumia 1020 is a big phone, but it feels nice in the hand. It has curved edges with no horrid sharp corners like some phones have, making it much more comfortable. The polycarbonate shell looks fantastic and promises to keep your phone looking smart throughout it’s life.

Despite Nokia getting the curves and the look right, the phone is chunky. One major area that makes this device uncomfortable to hold is the camera lens. Granted, its one of the phones best features, but it comes at a cost, sticking out of the back of the phone and making it awkward to hold in one hand.

Camera

There’s a lot to say about the camera on the Lumia 1020, but I can sum it all up with just one word, wow. This device takes the best pictures I have taken on any smartphone currently on the market. The picture quality is absolutely outstanding and the range of shooting features really is impressive.

The biggest thing for me that really stood out is the xenon flash. There are no situations where it’s too dark to take a picture with the Lumia, the flash helping to capture brilliant photos even in extremely low light conditions. The pictures aren’t void of life, or washed out like they are with a standard LED, and this feature has really come in handy.

Battery

Here’s where things take a turn for the worst. I’m used to smartphones and their tendency to drink battery, however the Lumia may as well be a landline phone! At best I’m lucky if I can squeeze 12 hours from my device, and that’s with relatively low usage. For anyone who needs a phone to last the day then look elsewhere, or at least stock up on battery packs.

What I liked

There are a few things that really impressed me. Obvious the camera is right up there, but the Nokia Here Drive feature offered amazing sat nav. It has a whole host of features and hands down blew every other devices built in GPS out of the water.

What I disliked

The battery! This is by far the most disappointing aspect of the Lumia 1020, ruining an otherwise great phone. I’ve tried all sorts, lowing my brightness settings, turning off most of my wireless functions, but no matter what I do, the battery is just poor.

Conclusion

So I thought I would hate this phone, only enjoying the camera, but oddly I’ve found myself growing very attached. The camera is great and I’ve even grown to like windows phone, something I never thought would happen.

The major things people need to consider when deciding if you want this device is the size and the battery. Phones are getting bigger, but they are also getting slimmer. The Lumia is big and relatively fat. The battery will most likely be a deal breaker for most people. Luckily I work with chargers all around me, but if I didn’t have constant access to the mains then I don’t think I could put up with this phone despite how much I love everything else about it.

If camera and price are at the top of your list, then give this device some consideration. If portability and battery are at the top, then turn away now.

My new Lumia 1020

I’ve recently switched to a Nokia Lumia 1020 running Windows Phone 8.1 and so far I really like it. I’ve had a hate hate relationship with all Windows products over the last few years but after seeing a demonstration of the new features on 8.1 I decided to give it a go.

As always I’ll write a full review after I’ve spent more time with the device but I’m pleasantly surprised so far. It’s well built and feels premium and the camera is fantastic.

CES 2014

So CES is just around the corner and I must admit I’m intrigued to see what this years show has to offer.

I’m sure we will see a whole range of wearable tech being shown off with manufacturers battling to be the first to get this right. So far no one has really brought a product to market that has had a large market appeal so 2014 could prove to be exciting for wearables.

Tablets have my attention. I’m tired of the increasing specs and what I really want to see is something with a larger screen. Samsung are rumoured to be working on something around the 12 inch mark. With bezels getting smaller there’s so much more room to increase screen size. We’ve seen it happen with mobile phones so fingers crossed that will translate into the tablet market.

My Top 10 Gadgets 2013

Below is a list of my top 10 favourite gadgets that I used throughout 2013. I got to play with a whole load of different toys and enjoyed most of those. Check out my thoughts below and click the links for more details in Amazon.

1: Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch 

 

Recently I took the plunge and upgraded from my 11 inch Macbook Air and I’m very glad I did. The Macbook Pro is a stunning machine. Its fast, responsive and above all the screen is beautiful.  

I’m no Apple fan boy, far from it in fact, but I’ve got a place in my heart reserved for MacBooks. So far my pro has served me well and is a fantastic step up from my Macbook Air. I love the larger screen size and the retina display is to die for. 

The device just feels premium and is everything I could ask for. For what I need, the Macbook Pro Retina is perfect and I would recommend it above everything else. True love has been found in 2013. 

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 was my personal phone for the best part of 2013 and I loved it. I recently changed to the Sony Xperia Z1 and find that I miss the screen size and stylus from my Note. Even it’s cheaper plastic finish isn’t enough to put me off, in fact its a bonus, making the device light weight. The Note 2 is easily my favourite phone that I used in 2013. 

Sony hit a niche market with this product. The camera on my phone is one of the biggest features I use and now with the QX10 lens I don’t really need to worry about the camera quality onboard my chosen phone. The device has god battery, is small and compact and relatively easy to use even for an amateur like myself.  

The zoom is absolutely fantastic and snapping pics in low light conditions is amazing. The lens far exceeds any dedicated camera built into a smart phone that I have used so far and that includes the Nokia Lumia 1020. 

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So I felt it was time to upgrade my graphics card in 2013 and I’m glad I did. This was the first year that I played some big name single player games from start to finish and actually enjoyed them. Games like Bioshock Infinite ran like a dead dog on my previous card but after installing my GTX 680 it ran like a dream. 

Nvidias physx also added a little spice compared to my previous AMD card. Its nothing to really shout about but there were a few noticeable differences in certain games that caught my eye, the biggest being in Planet Side 2 with its oddly beautiful teleporter effects. 

2013 was the year that I returned to dedicated portable gaming hardware thanks to Pokemon’s lure. I had always used a tablet or phone for casual gaming, singing the devices praises and condemning portable gaming hardware, saying how redundant it was. It wasn’t until I returned to true hardware controls that I realised how wrong I had been. 

The 3DS is a lovely size and very comfortable to hold. Its got a great sized screen and has a pretty good catalogue of games. I’m glad I made the move back to a portable console and couldn’t be more impressed with this device. 

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I have a love hate relationship with Sony. I want to love their products but I’ve always been unlucky in the past with all my Sony branded products going faulty. So with great reluctance I gave up my note 2 and got myself an Xperia Z1. 

Am I glad I did? Kind of. The camera is hit and miss, half of the time it takes better quality photos than I’ve ever taken before, the other half it captures horrid blurs. It feels so solid and premium unlike most Android devices which is a welcome change and the waterproof feature actually works! Its beyond fast, responding like lightning and very rarely lagging. 

The downside is its huge and my device is already faulty which is a real shame. I’ve had it exchanged and the second unit was faulty so it appears my bad luck with Sony has continued. 

The Nexus 7 is my tablet of choice at the moment. Its a relatively low cost, yet powerful device. Sporting pure Android with no manufacturer interference leaves the Nexus running blazingly fast. 

Its light weight and feels great in the hand, its rubberised back and sides stopping it from sliding all over the place and making it easier to grip. The screen size is both a positive and a negative, small enough for light browsing, gaming and work but too small for anything more. 

Overall I’m impressed with the Nexus and have so far enjoyed using it on the train to work.  

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Ah the iPad mini. This would easily be my device of the year if it wasnt for a certain software update. The iPad mini feels and looks fantastic. The screen size is perfect for on the go work and gaming. Its not too big and not too small, the best tablet size I have used. The battery life was good and it ran smoothly, never skipping a beat. 

So what changed? iOS 7 landed, turning my iPad mini into a horribly slow device. My iPad was so slow it had become unbearable to use. I understand that older Apple hardware begins to run terribly slow as new software updates land but the iPad Mini was still a current device at the time of iOS 7. In my opinion this was a terrible move by Apple. 

I miss my iPad mini as it was easily the best tablet I have ever used. After the way Apple destroyed my device I don’t think I’ll be taking the plunge and updating to the latest model. 

My first Windows 8 tablet. There is huge potential from these hybrid devices but I still don’t feel like any manufacture has gotten dit right so far. I really enjoyed my time with the Ativ Smart PC Pro but it ultimately felt like a jack of all trades. As a tablet it was average and as a laptop it was average. 

The keyboard dock was plagued with disconnection issues and as tablet the device was just too big and bulky. The thing that really killed my experience was Windows 8 which offered a very jarring experience. Modern UI and desktop mode just don’t fit together at all killing any seamless experience you would expect from a device such as this. 

The concept is sound and the potential is massive but I can’t help but feel that these hybrid devices are just lacking. 

So I mentioned already that I have a love hate relationship with Sony and the same applies with the Xperia Tablet Z. I loved the feel of it. Its so slim, with a beautiful screen and gorgeous matte finish. Its probably the nicest looking Android tablet out there. 

However its incredibly slow. Almost everything I did on the device was laggy unless I installed a custom launcher. Web browsing was poor and just navigating menus was slow. I’m not entirely sure what Sony did to this device to make it respond so poorly! Needless to say my time was short lived with this device.