Over a year on: the Lumia 950 XL is still a champ

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It’s been about a year and three months (give or take) since I first received a Lumia 950 XL, and it’s been a story of love, hate, indifference, and now acquiescence. I’ve been using the 950 XL for what feels like a long time, and in-between my initial excitement back in 2015 to my usage in the past few weeks, I’ve been dabbling in the world of Android. It’s not that I suddenly disliked Windows 10 mobile or anything like that; I do still love using it, and as a platform, I still think it is very enjoyable to use, and I still scratch my head when I think of how it failed in the marketplace. But time moves on, and needs must. Having a phone running Android isn’t as “fun” as Windows 10 mobile, but it’s more capable in certain ways, and having apps available that were never (and won’t ever be) available and that are also slick and easy to use, has been very satisfying. Cameras have also been very impressive, and while I still believe the best photo quality comes from a Nokia or a Lumia, I’ve been astounded at just how well the camera chops have come a long way on particular Android flagships. I’ve had quite a few Android devices in my sweaty palms, including the BlackBerry Priv, which I very much enjoyed using, a couple of Samsung S7s and Edges, and more recently the LG G5.

While I was all prepared to use my LG G5 while abroad, I was somewhat forced to use my 950 XL instead of the LG G5. (Yes, I know you said it was unlocked, T-Mobile, but unlocked surely means more than just being able to make calls… no data at all? That’s not unlocked, you T-dingbats). The 950 XL has always worked beautifully with the networks of foreign lands, and this trip was no exception. So while my G5 was powered down and hidden away in a drawer in my parent’s house, my 950 XL was powered up with my UK sim card and off I went on my UK and Spanish adventure.

Using the 950 XL over a year on from when it was first released is like using a totally different phone. Back in December 2015, I wasn’t impressed very much, and the software was still at a stage that just bellowed beta. My 950 XL went back after a couple of weeks, and then I purchased a new one around six months later, last summer. This has been a good experience, and the software has been polished so much you can see your face in it. Things work the way they are supposed to work, and while not all is 100% perfect (find me a smartphone that is) it’s more than doable.

I was able to easily keep up with friends on WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, and read my books on the Kindle app, listen to music on the Spotify app, and generally chug along the way I was chugging along when I had an Android device in hand. Of course, the thing I was looking forward to most while travelling with the 950 XL was being able to take incredible photos, and for the most part, the pictures it produced weren’t too shabby at all. I wasn’t overly impressed with the 950 XL’s reluctance to process photos quickly after snapping them, and worse, at times photos didn’t even appear in the gallery. This was the biggest disappointment for me – sometimes it wouldn’t matter and I could just try again and then (for some reason) the photo would appear, but on some occasions, the moment had passed by, and there was no second chance. The photo not appearing the gallery was a killer. However, something that I didn’t know at the time was that, upon rebooting the phone after switching it off at night, all of the photos I’d taken were all present and correct in the gallery. Hmm, not brilliant, but not the end of the world either. I must point out at this stage that my 950 XL doesn’t run on the production version of Windows but on the Release Preview. Still, it’s a fairly stable build, and one that shouldn’t allow these kinds of bugs to occur if you want my own personal opinion. It’s not as if I’m on the Fast ring or anything – I’m not that daredevil! Windows 10 Creators Update is only a few days away, so I hear…

So, after careful consideration, and after weighing up the pros and cons, and remembering just how much I enjoy using Windows on a phone for my day-to-day stuff, despite it being a little slower in some places (Facebook and Messenger… slow as molasses!) I decided to sell my LG G5 and use my 950 XL exclusively upon my return to New York.

And it’s been a week and so far it’s all been pretty good. Yes, there have been moments when I’ve looked at the thing and called it names unrepeatable in this post because it’s done something stupid; it has a nasty habit of throwing me straight back to the Start screen after I tap the Photos tile on more than one occasion. Some photos are yet to appear in the gallery, even after rebooting this time, and I am missing some core apps. On Android, I was able to download apps for anything, and some apps have been very useful to me during my time with Android. The MTA’s eTix app for purchasing Long Island Rail Road tickets has been a godsend since we moved out to the middle of nowhere, and the ability to buy a ticket on my phone and just show the conductor the purchase screen as he/she wanders past has been very useful. Now I’m back to waiting in line at the ticket machine to purchase a paper ticket like it’s 1979… and risk missing a train while doing so.

I also miss the speed and general fluidity of regularly-used social apps such as Instagram and Facebook. Twitter kind of has me covered though; I was using Gravity Forever on Android, and now I’m back to using Tweetium on my 950 XL, and both apps for both platforms, in my opinion, are excellent alternatives to the stock Twitter app. There are plenty of apps, however, that just work fine on both platforms, and I’m happy to report that Spotify is still a great, reliable app on Windows, playing my playlists without a hitch. It’s not as fully-fledged as the Android version (there’s no crossfading, for example) but for listening to your music, it’s hard to beat. I also have Uber and now Lyft has joined in the fun, and the standard Podcast app that came with the phone still works wonderfully for all my podcast listening. Poki (Pocket) still syncs well with my Pocket choices for offline reading, and I can still keep track (haha) of my steps with the FitBit app, which still works excellently. However, I’m still not overly impressed with how Microsoft seems to have tinkered just a little too much with what was once an excellent Map app. Now it behaves erratically; the other day I wanted to find a Fed Ex store, and despite my hitting the location button, the results for the nearest Fed Ex store kept coming back to me as being in Stamford, Connecticut. Hardly, down the street and round the corner. Google Maps on the Android phones I’ve used just can’t be beat if you ask me. But I hardly use Maps if I’m completely honest, so this is a small and minor annoyance.

Here are a few photos that my Lumia 950 XL helped me make quite tasty:

So after a great trip with some great photos and lots of reading done via the Kindle app, my 950 XL came through a winner and a trooper. I’m going to continue to use it as my daily driver for a while yet, and I’m hopeful that the upcoming Creators Update will provide even more usability improvements. That said, I do have my beady eye on the new LG G6 that went on sale today. That looks like it could be a gorgeous, capable phone that might actually do it all. Watch this space!

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