First look: Microsoft's Lumia 950 with Windows 10 Mobile

I've had Microsoft's new Lumia 950 phone in hand for the past three days. Here are some initial impressions the first flagship phone Microsoft has delivered in two years.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Today, Microsoft's Lumia 950 smartphone goes on sale at AT&T in the U.S. and in Microsoft's Store.

I've had one of these new loaner phones in hand for the past three days, courtesy of Microsoft. As I've been traveling in the U.K. this week, I haven't had a chance to do a lot of typical real-life use with the device, and have only used it on wi-fi. But I thought I'd provide a quick first look, with a more detailed post in a week or so.

The Lumia 950, along with the coming Lumia 950 XL, are Microsoft's first new "flagship" phones in roughly two years. Microsoft is positioning the new handsets as phones for those of us in the 1.5 percent who are still Windows Phone fans, both consumers and business users.

The 950 is a 5.2-inch phone with a Snapdragon 808 processor inside. It's not a metal phone; it's got polycarbonate casing which feels a bit plasticky. Being a Lumia Icon user who was more than willing to trade a metal body for a lighter phone, I am fine with polycarbonate.

The phone feels light, at .33 pounds, or 150g, and well-balanced. The backs (which come in white or black) are replaceable and some nicer-looking cases are already available from third party providers.

The screen on this phone is really great for reading, with a 2560X1440 resolution. Connecting to wi-fi is a lot quicker and more reliable than it is on my Icon (which I've also been using on wi-fi when I've been able to get on here in the U.K.).

The rear-facing 20 MP PureView camera with ZEISS optics on the 950 takes good photos, including low-light photos. So far, I haven't noticed that the device takes noticeably better photos than my Icon does. There's also a 5 MP front-facing 1080p camera on the device.

The 950 loaner device I have has Windows 10 Mobile 1511 (a k a Build 10586) preloaded. Microsoft made a preview build of Windows 10 Mobile 10586 -- rumored to be the RTM release -- available to its Insider testers earlier this week.

I have not been running any of the Windows 10 Mobile preview builds on my Icon, so Windows 10 Mobile is brand-new to me as a Windows Phone user. Coming straight from Windows Phone 8.1 OS to Windows 10 Mobile, I've found the new OS to be largely familiar, though a bit more hamburger-menu-happy.

I have not had a chance to try out the Continuum feature that's available for the 950, which allows users to turn the phone into a PC by enabling it to be connected to a large-screen display, keyboard and mouse. That's one of the big features Microsoft is touting as a differentiator for these phones. Continuum support will only be available for brand-new Windows Phones, not existing Windows Phone handsets.

I have used Windows Hello on the 950, which uses iris-scanning technology to enable users to log in without having to use a password or PIN. I've had Hello work about half the time I've tried using it to log in. I've found it more annoying than not, as I usually get the "Move Closer" message and end up bobbing my head around to try to get it to recognize me and log me in. (I've found Hello similarly cumbersome on Windows 10 and am not using it there.) Hello, to me, seems like a technology that has that wow factor, but is more trouble than it's worth for me.

Microsoft will be selling the 950 and the 950 XL unlocked in its Store, though we don't have availability dates for either handset bought this way. I'm still hearing neither phone will work on Verizon, though I've seen some rumors that there's a chance that Verizon may at some point activate these devices. I'm not holding my breath on that one, though.

If the 950 were on Verizon, would I get rid of my Icon for it? Probably, as I am still a Windows Phone fan. Would I jump from Verizon to AT&T to get it? I'll have more to say on that once I get to try AT&T again once I'm back home in New York City.

Editorial standards