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Microsoft Lumia 950 XL review: This capable phone lacks the sparkle of a true flagship

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The Good The Microsoft Lumia 950 XL has a pin-sharp, vivid display, plenty of power, expandable storage and a solid camera.

The Bad The app selection for Windows phone is still very limited and the phone's design feels plasticky.

The Bottom Line While the Lumia 950 XL has the specs you'd want from a top-end phone, the Windows 10 experience offers no compelling reason to switch from iOS or Android.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 7

Microsoft launched the Lumia 950 XL and its little brother, the Lumia 950 to usher in the new era of Windows 10 for mobile. The 950 XL is the larger of the two phones, packing a 5.7-inch display, but bringing few features of its own.

Just as you'd expect from the flag bearers for Microsoft's latest mobile software, the phones are stuffed with the latest technology on offer. The 950 XL has a pin-sharp high-res display, a powerful octa-core processor and a great 20-megapixel camera, but it's all let down by the software.

While Windows 10 for mobile is a refreshing change from iOS or Android, and it's pretty straightforward to use, it's plagued by the same issue that faced Windows Phone 8 before it: apps. The app store is still woefully understocked compared to Android and iOS, and app developers rarely put any effort into bringing new releases to Microsoft's mobile apps first.

This could change with Microsoft's universal apps which theoretically can work across the mobile and desktop versions of Windows 10. App developers then would have a much larger audience to develop for and would therefore be more keen to bring their apps to Windows sooner.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

App issues aside, the Lumia 950 XL is a perfectly capable phone, and if you're already a Windows Phone user who isn't keen to switch operating systems it's the most powerful Windows phone you can buy right now, even slightly more so than the 950. Windows 10 for mobile needs a lot of work however before it becomes a compelling choice over Android or iOS -- at this rate, that doesn't seem likely.

You can pick the Lumia 950 XL up now in the UK for £530, in the US for $649, and for $1,129 in Australia, all directly from Microsoft.

How much bigger is the 950 XL over the 950?

Quite a bit, as it has to squeeze in that larger 5.7-inch display. The XL measures 152mm long and 78.4mm wide (5.9 x 3-inches), versus the standard 950's 145 x 73.2mm (5.7 x 2.8-inches). You'll notice the extra size of the XL when you try to stretch your thumbs across to type -- it's not a phone for one-handed use. If you prefer your phones a little more compact and easier to hold, the smaller 950 might be better for you.

What other design elements should I know about?

There's a minor cosmetic change to the camera unit -- the 950's has a silver ring around the lens, while the XL has a black disc -- but otherwise both phones look identical. They have the same removable plastic back panel, which feels every bit as flimsy here as it does on the 950. It's a very plain design, as well, and certainly not one that will pique much interest in gadget fans. If style is your chief concern, look toward the curving glass and metal of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Beneath the plastic back panel is a microSD card slot, which supports cards up to 200GB. The battery is removable and the phone charges using the latest USB Type C -- features shared on both the 950 and the XL.

How good is the display?

Both the Lumia 950 and 950 XL share the same 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution. As the XL's screen is physically bigger, however, it means those pixels are spread out over a wider area, reducing the pixel density. While the XL has a pixel density of 513 pixels per inch, the smaller 950 has that beaten with 564 ppi. It's not a difference that you'd ever notice though.

The XL's display is crystal clear, lending high-res photos and videos a satisfying level of clarity. Black levels are deep, resulting in good contrast too. Its larger size helps show off photos and videos in a more immersive way, but both screens are great for everyday essentials.

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