I’ve been waiting for this phone for a long time. My previous phone was a Lumia 920 and I got it when that phone was pretty new. That phone is a bit dated now but still works well. I’ve always liked that 920 and the Windows 8.1 Phone OS. In this review, I won’t focus on the official specs of the Lumia 950. There are plenty of places you can look them up and other reviews that focus on the specifications. This review will be based mostly on my thoughts and impressions. My device is an unlocked Lumia 950 in black. I purchased it directly from Microsoft at the Store. I’m at AT&T customer but since I am off contract, I wanted to keep it that way. I’ll also include my thoughts on Windows 10 Mobile since that is installed on the 950.

Windows 10 Mobile

Coming from Windows Phone 8.1, Windows 10 Mobile is a big change but still familiar enough to make for a smooth transition. The new OS is far more polished and the UI is refreshed a lot in great ways. Since I did not participate in the Insider program, this is really my first look at the OS. I’m sure I will have more thoughts later. Here are some of my first thoughts.

I have always like the actions available to me by swiping down from the top if start. But that menu is much improved now with an expandable/collapsible set of features available. Settings is much improved. Searching settings is a great feature and makes it very easy to use.

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I’ve always been a fan of Cortana and she is working great on Windows 10. So far there are no new surprises with Cortana but I look forward to seeing how it integrates with Windows 10 Mobile. I did have some trouble setting up Quiet Hours. From the phone you can easily turn Quiet Hours on or off but no way to schedule them. But of course, I forgot that Cortana handles that for me!

Another nice feature of the OS is the ease of which you can set where files get stored. Configuring the use of a SD card is easier than ever. I guess I should get around to actually popping in an SD card.

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My only real issue with Windows 10 Mobile is that I don’t think it is done. I have a feeling they rushed this out the door. Is that a big problem? Not really. But often (in my first day) various settings screens would open and then close immediately. So it is a nuisance. But my assumption is that these items will be patched quickly. I don’t mind the minor inconvenience since, as stated, I have been waiting forever for this phone.

Continuum

wp_ss_20151126_0010One of Windows 10 Mobile’s most exciting feature is Continuum. It sounded really cool to me but I admit I was skeptical for two reasons. First, I was unsure how good the experience would be. And second, I’m not sure how useful it would be to me. Well of course I tried it out right away! I already have a ScreenBeam Mini 2. It was super easy to get my phone connected to that via the Continuum app. I also have a little Bluetooth keyboard that goes with my Dell Venue 8. For the mouse, I chose to use the phone as a touchpad. I figured this would give me an idea of usage while “traveling light”. I could always upgrade to a Microsoft Display Dock and better mouse and keyboard. My first thoughts on Continuum – it works really well! There was a slight lag when typing but that was expected with my setup. Basically, it really felt as if I was using a “regular” computer. I played with email and Word and a few other things. The experience was really good. Now, for the big question… will I ever use it again? So far the only answer I have is maybe. I certainly wouldn’t shy away from it. But since I have a lightweight Surface Pro 3, it is not often that I am without a great device to use. And why would I travel with a separate keyboard in my bag vs. my Surface?

Hello

Windows Hello is Microsoft’s new login mechanism. Since childhood I’ve dreamed up using a Retina Scan to log in to a bank vault or some secret location. Windows Hello seemed as close as I would get for a while. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a let down to me. It seems to work but it is just too awkward and slow. I have heard this works much better on other devices. Hello does recognize me but not all of the time. But mostly, it just seems strange holding the phone up to my face and waiting. If it could recognize me really fast at arms-length it would be awesome but that does not work. I’ll be fair and play with it more but I have a feeling this will be turned off on my phone soon.

Size and Weight

I really like the size of this device. I’m coming from a Lumia 920 and I expected the 950 to feel a lot bigger. But it doesn’t. It is bigger but it doesn’t really feel bigger so that is great. Part of that may be due to the weight – this phone is much lighter than my 920. Part of its lightweight nature is due to the material used for the back of the phone. I’ve read many reviews that claimed that the plastic back made the phone feel cheap. I couldn’t care less about that. I really think this is a non-issue. To me, the phone is lightweight – that is a big plus. Also, the back is removable and replaceable so I assume you can get a more expensive back for it if you are so inclined. I’m happy as is. Also, I find it funny that many reviewers suggest that the back material feels cheap and users won’t like it. But many users will get a case for their phone anyway. So why would they care? While the size of this device may not feel much bigger, I have a ton more screen real-estate. I can fit so many icons on the start screen. I am really loving that. For me, the size is great. I feel like the size combined with the resolution makes for a great user experience and fits a lot of information on screen.

Setup

wp_ss_20151126_0009Setup was basically pretty easy. I logged in with my Microsoft Account and I was given the option to copy my old phone’s apps and settings or start from scratch. I chose to copy. So it took a while to install all of my apps but that is to be expected. My start screen looked really funny at first because my Lumia 920 didn’t support as many tiles as the 950 does. I can fit a ton of tiles and it doesn’t look crowded. It looks really cool, I think. Organized and slick. After the initial setup process I spent some time arranging the start screen, configuring email and calendar accounts, and more. Really a very simple process. The only problem worth noting, in case it helps someone else prepare, was the need for a Nano SIM card. My old phone’s SIM card was not compatible with this device. So while at the mall I went to the AT&T store. As much as I dislike that store, it was pretty quick and easy. The staff quickly got me set up with a new SIM Card at no cost.

 

 

 

Screen

As stated earlier, I won’t get into actual specs. I’ll just tell you that this screen is beautiful. As important as the insides of the device are, the screen is what you see, what you use. Touch feels great. Details look sharp and the colors are crisp. The screen is bright. Of course, I haven’t had a chance to try out the 950 in a variety of locations, like the beach for example, but my first impressions are that the screen is beautiful.

Camera

The camera is probably the feature that I was most excited to try. I’ve been trying to read up on the features and capabilities as much as possible and I need to continue doing so. I really want to get the most out of this camera. I had heard good things about the camera’s ability to take low light shots. I took a few pictures inside with no flash and dim lighting. I really was shocked at how good the resulting images were. This is really impressive. I’m very impressed with Rich Camera. With this feature, the camera actually takes multiple pictures and allows the user to to adjust the images later. Wow… again I am really impressed. I definitely need to play around with the camera. I’m also excited about the Living Image feature that takes a bit of video before a picture. Sounds like you can use that to make really nice montages and slide shows.

Apps

Yeah, Windows 10 Mobile is short on apps. We know that already. However, the new mail, calendar and other default apps are really nice and much improved.

Other

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This phone comes ready for 2 SIM Cards. I only have 1. I find it a bit annoying that the phone and text tiles each have a little “1” on them to indicate which SIM card they are for. But I keep seeing the “1” thinking I have 1 text message waiting for me. I’ll probably get used to that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of 2s, the phone came with 2 USB-C cables. One that is USB-C to full size USB. Another that is USB-C with a power plug on the end. That was a small but added bonus. I love the idea of a removable battery. And of course, allowing for SD card expansion is a great thing.
selection of cases and back. My 920 had hardware buttons for “back”, “Home” and “Search”. The new phone does not. The 950 has software buttons for these actions. That is taking me a bit of time to get used to but I have a feeling that this is a better set up.

Summary

Well, this should be no surprise to anyone who knows me. I love this phone. Some may say that there are better phones out there. Certainly there is an issue with available apps for Windows 10 Mobile. But I’ve been “All In” with Microsoft stuff for a while now. I am holding out hope that the platform gets more popular and the apps come. The truth is, I’m not desperate for any apps (right now). Having a Windows based phone is great for me because it works and syncs well with my home pc, my Surface Pro 3, my usage of One Drive, OneNote, and now my new Band 2. If you have a Windows Phone already, I wouldn’t hesitate from getting this device.

I read a lot of reviews of the Microsoft Surface before I got my own device. The reviews were somewhat varied with majority giving high scores on the hardware, opinions across the spectrum on Windows RTand everyone agrees that the apps aren’t all there yet. Anyway, here is my take on it…

Basically, the Surface with Windows RT is awesome. It is not perfect, but it is awesome. I’ve got the 32GB version with a touch cover (keyboard). I chose the touch keyboard over the type coverfor a few reasons. One reason is that I like the way keyboard lays flat on the device when used as a cover. I also like it because it won’t get dirt inside it and it is spill proof. Also, when flipped behind the surface, I don’t have to worry about the keys getting caught on stuff and popping off (keep in mind I have not ever heard of this happening yet). The touch cover works great and took less time to get used to then I expected, having read many reviews. I’ll admit that typing on the type cover was easier and more natural. If they were cheap, I’d have gotten both. But they are actually quite expensive. However, having a keyboard/cover is the way to get the most from the Surface.

So what is a Surface and why is it different? We have an iPad in the house, I bought it for my wife. She loves it. The kids love it. I’ll admit that a I like it – but I don’t love it. From reading below, you should understand why I don’t love the iPad. The Surface suites me much better and solves most of my issues with he iPad. The iPad is a content consumption device. It is a very good one, I should add. However, the Surface is designed for people who both consume and create content. This is a big plus for me.

Ecosystem

I run Windows 8 on my laptop, my phone runs Windows Phone 8, I have and Xbox and now I have my Surfaces with Windows RT. I have a desktop PC at home running windows 7 but it will be upgraded any day now (sorry, I am lazy). It is incredible how well these devices work together. I sync a lot of data with SkyDrive, it has been working very well for me. I have access to a lot of files across all my devices. This works especially well for photos taken with my phone. I’ve also been making a very strong push to use OneNote a lot over the past months. I have easy access to my OneNote notebooks on whichever device I use. OneNote is even pretty good on the phone too! I am actually writing this blog post on my Surface in OneNote.

Apps and Games

I think every review of the Surface and Windows RT agree on one point – there aren’t enough apps. Although that isn’t such a big problem if you are like me, I really don’t have time for all of that. I use a few apps and I play a few games. Here is what I use my tablet for, I’ll discuss apps along the way. By explaining how I use my Surface, you will see how I come to my conclusion about the device.

  • Email – reading and writing. OK, the Mail app on Windows RT sucks. It is easy to use but it is too simple and missing many of the features that users of Outlook are used to. I can’t say enough how much I think this is a major mistake by Microsoft. One of the biggest strengths of the Microsoft ecosystem is that it is a natural for professionals. As I mentioned above, the synchronization features of the Microsoft ecosystem are excellent and I can use my new tablet for almost everything (short of software development until the Surface Pro comes out). However the Mail app is one of the biggest stumbling blocks because it really is too basic. I am really hoping that Microsoft fixes this quickly. If Microsoft wants business professionals to use a Windows RT tablet vs. an iPad, Outlook would have been a great feature to offer!
  • General Web usage The new, touch friendly, version of Internet Explorer is working just fine for me. I’ve quickly gotten used to it and I am quite happy.
  • Watching Movies (especially during travel) I watched a full length movie the other night and the experience was excellent. The picture was very sharp and the sound was great too.
  • Taking notes and staying organized I mentioned above that I am using OneNote a lot these days. I love the RT version of OneNote! I only wish they used the same text formatting tools into the Mail app.
  • Social Networking Where the heck are the native apps for Facebook and Twitter? I can only assume they are coming soon. And yes, I know there are a few Twitter apps out there but as of this writing, I haven’t found one that works well. For now I am using the web version of TweetDeck . It’s quite nice and could be I’ll find I don’t need to replace it with a native app at all.
  • Viewing photos and home movies So far, my experience in this area has been excellent. Images look great on the Surface.
  • Research/Learning. For work purposes, I read a lot of blogs. I also watch a lot of videos, especially on sites like PluralSight. All of this can be done through the browser but I would much rather use native apps for this.
  • Word/Excel These apps aren’t touch friendly but they are the full-blown versions. That is very powerful software to have on a tablet. They work adequately well in “touch” mode, good enough to get by. For instance, if I’m on the couch of in bed reviewing or making simple edits to documents everything is fine. But if I am doing serious editing or creating documents, I use my keyboard, seated at a desk or table. In that mode, the experience is so good, I seems as if I am using a full blown laptop!
  • Writing Blog Posts As stated earlier, I am actually writing this post in OneNote. That is because I’m sitting comfortably without the keyboard attached, so OneNote is better than Word in this mode(I think). Admittedly, this post would be written faster if I were using the keyboard but this is sort of an experiment. In any case, I’d be much happier using Live Writer, a very popular blog post editor (made by Microsoft, by the way). A good Windows RT blog editing app would make my life easier!
  • Games Yeah, I play a few games here and there. Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, etc. I’ve never paid for one though. My kids, on the other hand, play a lot of games (free ones). For them, the selection is a little light but getting better daily and there are plenty of good games to waste spend your time on Smile.

I’ll sum it up like this. I need the following apps and I’ll be all set: Facebook, Twitter, Live Writer, Google Reader, PluralSight, and Outlook. My guess is that a few of them will be coming around pretty quickly. This post is not meant to be a review of all apps in the Store and I do want to add that there are MANY great apps and games in the Windows Store.

Portrait vs. Landscape

One of the biggest differences between the iPad and the Surface is that the iPad is meant predominantly for portrait mode and the Surface is meant to be used in landscape mode (both can be rotated). A lot of reviewers took issue with this. Not me. I quite like the wide screen and I think it is big plus for Surface. Plus the kickstand is a real bonus. It puts the device at a perfect angle for typing, reading, or watching movies.

User accounts

This is one of my favorite features of the Windows RT tablets. I can’t believe that Apple hasn’t implemented this feature yet. One of the biggest use cases for this is obvious if you have kids. My son loves to play games on tablets (and phones too) but I am always worried that he’ll delete something important by mistake. With full access to a tablet, he could even send messages to any of my contacts, just by making a few random clicks. Not with Windows RT! I’ve created an account just for my son on my Surface and I’ll probably do the same for my wife. My son even has a picture password for his account (just for fun).

Picture Password

I like this feature a lot. Picture Password lets you log in by executing a series of gestures over a picture on the lock screen. This is very convenient when you are in tablet mode (without a keyboard). More important than how good it is (quite good, actually) is the fact that Microsoft is thinking outside of the box. Just because we’ve been using PINs or passwords for years doesn’t mean we always have too. Keep being creative.

Family Safety

Family Safety is really cool. I wish I knew about it sooner. I’ve got it set up for my son’s account. Family Safety blocks his access to websites that are not appropriate from him. It sends me reports of everything he does on the computer or tablet so I know what games or apps he uses and for how long. I can even set up time limits and curfews for him. This is the kind of thing I will get a lot of use out of as my kids grow older.

I don’t think Windows RT is without it’s flaws

  • I don’t find switching between desktop and tablet mode as troubling as many other people do. But I agree that it doesn’t quite make sense, things should be more seamless. But I can deal with it.
  • You can’t join the Surface to a Domain. This won’t be the case with the Surface Pro but still, why not? This seems like a stupid thing, Microsoft.
  • No Outlook. Again, the Pro will have Outlook. But again, this is just stupid.

Non Issue

Camera I want to point out that I agree with many reviewers who say that the camera on the Surface stinks. It does… but who cares? I’ll use it for Skyping and little else, I imagine. My phone has an 8+ megapixel camera in it. Why would I want to hold up a bulky tablet to take pictures?

Summary

I could go on about pros and cons of this device and Windows RT. But having used this device for a while, I can easily say that I really enjoy it. Surface with Windows RT is a great tablet. You just have to get used to people calling it an iPad. If you are already using Windows on your other devices, you’ll find that this tablet will fit into your life really well.

And now I’ll wait to get my hands on a Surface with Windows Pro, due out in a few weeks!