First in line
Last Wednesday, I attended the Microsoft Lumia release event in Stockholm Sweden. I showed up roughly an hour before the event opened and happen to arrive at the exact same time as the first Lumia fans. Except for some light rain, we had a great time sharing experiences on using Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile as Insiders. Just after 7 PM, the doors were opened and the store was quickly filled with people buying Lumia Phones. There were also some wraps, beer sand sodas, but who had time for that when new hardware got handed out?
I ordered a white Lumia 950 XL, paid the SEK 6995 and got handed the two precious little parcels. One bearing the text Microsoft Lumia 950 XL and the other read Microsoft Display Dock (HD-500). Now there were no time to lose, lI had to get out of there and find some where to unbox my new devices!
Setting the stage – my expectations
But before I tell you about my experience with the new Lumia flagship phone, I want to set the stage by telling you a little bit about my previous phones and how I use them. I'm not really a phone geek, but I spend a lot of time using my phone each day. I commute roughly an hour in each direction every day and I try to be as productive as possible. When I rarely miss an opportunity to start my laptop and do some work while on the bus, but it's often too crowded for me to be comfortable using my laptop. I often end up using my phone instead. I read up on all things that interest me, listens to podcasts, watches videos on Microsoft Virtual Academy or YouTube, read and write email, stay up to date with Twitter and also read (and sometimes comments or at least takes notes on) documents for work. One of the most used apps on my phone is OneNote, it is just great for typing down abstracts and notes for blog topics, PowerShell script ideas or just planning my day. This being said, I use my phone a lot, but I'm not a heavy app-user. As long as I have the Office suite, a decent browser and some audio/video streaming apps for YouTube and the like I'm happy. I've been a loyal iPhone user from 3G up to 4S but replaced my iPhone with a Nokia Lumia 925 in 2013 and haven't looked back since. Sadly I accidentally crushed my 925 early this summer and replaced it with a Lumia 735 while waiting for the next high end version of from Microsoft.
The first thing I noticed when picking up the phone is how light and well balanced it is. After being accustomed to the quite small 735 I was worried that the extra inch of screen size would require me to hold the phone with both hands. So far I have not had any problems with that at all. The next thing I notice is how well build the phone feels. I've read about the cheap plastic feel some people experience and I do not share their experience at all. The back of the phone comes off easy and clicks back in place with a perfect fit. The phone feels as well built has any.
New keyboard features
During the setup process I make good use of a new little nifty feature in Windows 10 Mobile, the arrow keys integrated in the keyboard. Just in between Z and X is a little blue dot. Touching the dot will reveal four arrows that will work in a joystick-like manner letting me navigate through text. This is a feature I've been really missing in Windows Phone 8.1! Also note the graphics on the SPACE key below. Swiping on the space key lets me switch between my keyboard layouts and pressing down on the space key and moving the finger up and down lets me move the keyboard around on the screen. Both quite small details that really makes a change for the overall impression.
Pictures or it didn't happen
Once set up, the first thing I did try out was the camera. The physical camera button is back again and didn't really realize how much I've missed it until now. I pressed the camera button and being used to the Lumia 735 where it takes around five seconds to start the camera and another few seconds to autofocus and take a blurry picture, I was amazed! I do realize I'm used to really low standards, but this camera is fast! Clicking the camera button twice will start the camera, autofocus and fire of a shot in under a second. OK I didn’t actually time it, but it really happens in no time at all. And the pictures look really good! I'm not an experienced photographer in any way, but this is a camera that absolutely can compete with my Sony NEX-6 for everyday photos.
Windows Hello with Iris scanner
Once I was satisfied with the camera I set out to explore the new Windows Hello feature that lets you unlock the phone by letting it scan your eyes. Sounds like science fiction? It's not. The first time I set up the Iris scanner it asked me to hold up the front facing camera in front of my eyes. I had to hold it there for a few seconds while feeling mildly uncomfortable. The optimal distance seems to be just close enough to not really be able to focus on the screen without straining the eyes. Once the process was complete I tried to unlock my phone a couple of times with varying results. After giving up I got back in to the menus for Sign-in options and clicked the button that said “Improve recognition”. This lets me scan my eyes over and over again in different light conditions and different angles. After doing five-six extra scans I was satisfied and tried to unlock the phone again. Worked like a charm! And it kept working all day, even worked in total darkness!! I'm once again amazed! It took between one and three seconds for the phone to recognize me and unlock screen. I probably unlocked the 50 times without any problems.
Then I got home and wanted to demonstrate my new cool phone for my wife. Suddenly it just wouldn't recognize me. I tried adding more scans but it didn’t help. Tired and a little bit disappointed I gave up for the night. The next the I still had the same problem until I got my morning coffee. I'm not sure if it was my mood, the effect a strong cup of coffee has on the eyes in the morning or just plain luck, but that day the phone kept recognizing me all day. I added a new eye-scan every second hour or so until I went to bed. After that it has been working every time for the last four days. Once this started working I realized it's a feature I absolutely need on all my phones in the future!
Other details in Windows 10 Mobile is the ability to search in All Settings as well as in All Apps, this is a feature I've been missing in Windows Phone 8.1. The Office Suite works as expected and the new Outlook mail and calendar apps are great! One problem in the calendar however is when I enable week numbers, the header for months with long names makes the Today-button disappear of screen which is a bit annoying. The option to group tiles on the Start screen in groups just like I could on my old iPhone is also a nice addition that I didn't realize I missed until now.
I've written this long post that started with me buying a new phone with a display dock without even mentioning the dock, or the ability to connect the phone to an external monitor to have a more computer-like experience. Shame on me! Of course I've tried the docking station! First, the unboxing. The box that the display dock came in is exactly the same size as the box for the phone. If I was surprised by how light the phone felt, I really got surprised when I realized how small and heavy the dock was. It fits in the palm of my hand and reminds me of a smaller version of Apple TV. The dock is made in metal, is really heavy for its size. It has three USB ports, a HDMI port and a DisplayPort in addition to the two USB type C ports, one for power input and one to connect your phone.
I connected a monitor using HDMI and keyboard and mouse using USB. It should work to connect keyboard and mouse using Bluetooth, but I didn't have any to test with. Once connected to the dock, the phone opens up an app that works as a touchpad and the monitor looks quite like it does on a laptop. Only universal apps can run on the monitor, everything else has to run on the phone. There are not many universal apps available at the moment, mostly the built in apps, the Edge browser and the Office apps. The experience in Continuum is nice, I can't wait for universal apps for Citrix, VMware Horizon View and Remote Desktop, that will make my phone the ultimate thin client.
I've mainly been using Edge and OneNote in Continuum. Watching Netflix works like a charm in the browser, but HBO Nordic doesn't work since it requires Silverlight. OneNote works great, I've actually written this whole review switching between typing on the phone, typing in a USB keyboard in Continuum and dictating to the phone.
Some things I do miss in Continuum however are a virtual keyboard. Not being able to type without connecting a physical keyboard is a problem if I want to use my phone to present at meetings for example. Also all apps in Continuum runs in full screen, I did not find a way to put two apps side by side. And a last thing I dislike is if I turn the screen off on my phone, the monitor also goes black. I don't know how high the risk is for the screen burning in on the phone, but I can hardly imaging it being lit up with a static image for hours is healthy.
Browsing the Edge of the internet
Windows 10 Mobile also includes the browser Edge which works quite alright. I've found one page that makes my phone reboot each time I visit it which was quite annoying and sometimes when I enter a page it takes a few extra seconds after loading the page until the keyboard appears when I click a text-box, otherwise I haven't really found any problems.
I've been using my phone quite heavily today, probably three hours streaming podcasts, 90 min watching video, syncing emails all day, been talking for roughly an hour in total and kept myself up to date on social media. I got a warning that battery was down to 10% 15 hours after I removed it from the charger. After charging for 40 minutes the battery indicator says 60% and the phone is burning hot. Quick charge or whatever they call the new USB type C feature is really quick!
This ended up being a quite long post. All in all I'm very satisfied with my new Lumia 950 XL, it is really a great phone.