Microsoft's Lumia 950 is now officially available for purchase from AT&T and from the Microsoft Store. We've been using one since Monday, and while we're still not ready to publish a full review, we wanted to bring you some early thoughts on the smartphone. There's a lot of potential here, and a lot that we think Windows fans are going to like.
Still, there are some areas where the phone needs improvement, particularly on the software side. And, no, we don't just mean the minimal selection of apps that Microsoft has long struggled with. Let's take a dive in to the Lumia 950 now, and five important things we think you should know about.
Still limited app selection
I didn't expect this to change overnight, but it needs to be addressed. One of the major shortcomings of Windows Phone, now known as Windows 10 Mobile, is its severely limited selection of applications. You won't find popular ones that are widely available on other platforms. Instagram is still in beta, for example. Periscope doesn't exist at all (at least in any real usable fashion, but you'll find ripoffs that don't work properly.) Some are starting to make their way into the platform, though.
Slack has a really great beta available, for example. Microsoft expects developers to see that there are now 1 billion Windows users, and to port their apps to Windows 10 Mobile using new tools. That should help improve the problem over time, but it isn't solved yet. And, while we're on the topic of developing apps that span platforms, I find it odd that Microsoft's own Skype application doesn't scale to work properly in Continuum. One would think Microsoft would fix this if it expects other developers to do the same.
Camera is great
We have another post coming with samples I snapped from the Lumia 950's 20 megapixel camera, but here's a quick spoiler: it's pretty darn good so far. That's no surprise since Microsoft continued with Nokia's PureView technology and included ZEISS optics.
Some shots I've snapped over the past several days have turned out great, both in low light and good lighting conditions. Also, the triple LED flash keeps skin looking human, instead of pale and zombie-like. And speaking of the flash, I love that you can toggle how much flash effect is applied. This means that after a photo is taken, you can choose if you want the flash on or off in the image, or somewhere in between. It's pretty cool. I haven't spent a lot of time with the 4K video recording, but that's another area I'll address in my review.
Overall, the camera is looking to be a highlight of the phone so far.
Continuum needs a lot of polish
Continuum is the chief reason I've been so excited for Windows 10 Mobile, but I'm disappointed in its current form. I connected the Lumia 950 to two different HDTVs using a Continuum dock included with my review unit. There wasn't much lag in performance visible through this method – as opposed to using a wireless HDMI dongle also provided – but the experience wasn't up to snuff. The Edge browser was too slow for me to use with multiple tabs open, trying to move back and forth while writing a story. It seems that the tab wants to reload itself each time I accessed it, which made things worse.
Also, I tried to write part of my BlackBerry Priv review using Word, thinking that this could be an awesome new way to get work done. After all, Microsoft suggests that that's what Continuum is all about. Unfortunately, the entire Lumia 950 unit crashed and rebooted itself while I was working. I think I'll be working elsewhere until whatever bugs exist are ironed out.
And in case you don't read every section of this post, I want to reiterate how strange it seems to me that Microsoft's own Skype app doesn't support Continuum mode. I hope it's added soon, since it would be a really great addition once Continuum's bugs are worked out.
Windows Hello is awesome
Let's move back to something positive: Windows Hello. This is the feature that allows you to unlock the Lumia 950 just by looking at the screen. You'll need to setup a backup pin first, but once that's ready you can use Windows Hello.
The phone scans your eyes for a few seconds and then uses that information each time you look at the display to unlock the device. It's still in beta, but it works really well for me. Sometimes I had to move the phone closer to my face to get it to register, but it worked probably about 90 percent of the time if you want a rough estimate. I'm definitely excited for this to progress and make its way to other devices.
Still probably the best Windows Phone yet
Despite some of the issues I've run into, this is still probably the best Windows Phone yet. Well, the Lumia 950 XL – a slightly modified big brother with a larger screen and a faster processor – might actually be the best, but I haven't spent time with that.
This is good news for Windows Phone fans who have been waiting for a new flagship. I don't want to spoil thoughts for my review just yet, but I really like the screen, the design, the camera, and the idea of what Continuum and the app store can eventually offer.
I think it's really important to keep in mind that some of these bugs I ran into can probably be addressed with software updates. And the app situations has the potential to improve quickly, but only if developers are willing to port their apps. That hasn't always been the case in the past.
We'll be back soon with our full review.