Summarizing my phone problem:
- Microsoft broke its promise to provide a Windows upgrade path for my existing phone, a Nokia Lumia 920.
- Bank of America dropped support for the Windows 8 version of its app.
- Bank of America dropped support for the iPhone 4, which I had been using to make deposits.
- No Windows phone from the last couple of years impressed me.
- Microsoft's "flagship" Lumia 950 was not a premium phone except in price.
- Battery life on my four year-old Lumia 920 was terrible.
I bought another Windows phone, the Microsoft Lumia 950. Summarizing why:
- The price dropped by half and AT&T was willing to finance it. It was suddenly affordable.
- Bank of America's Windows app is a Win10 Universal app and thus works on Windows 10 phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. I confirmed that the app could use the camera on the 950, which was not the case on my recently deceased tablet.
- The back of the 950 is easily removable and the battery can be replaced with no tools (it just pops out).
- 32GB in the base model, with a micro-USB slot for memory cards.
- I'm very fond of the tiled interface for Windows phones.
- The seamless integration of Windows phones into the Microsoft stack is a huge plus.
That's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. Many Windows phone users with whom I'm acquainted switched back to iPhones some time ago, so I'm in for some ridicule over the next few months.
But now that I've started an article, let me "review" the phone by comparing it to the Lumia 920 and discussing why I don't think the 950 is a premium phone.
I continue to think that the overall quality and build of the Lumia 920 was excellent. A lot of that opinion comes from the fact that the phone did not need a case. Both my wife and I used cases for about three months but discarded them because both the cases broke and showed extreme wear after that very short period of time. Without a case, the phones show almost no wear after nearly four years - they still look great and they have not been coddled.
The feel of the phone is very good. Yes, the phone is thicker and heavier than a comparably sized iPhone and many Android models. Both my wife and I valued that heft. It kept the phone securely in the outside pocket of my wife's purse and in my shirt and pants pockets. Both of us liked the curved back of the phone, which fit so nicely in our hands.
Time will tell, of course, but the 950 seems less sturdy. Both my wife and I agree that a case is necessary. Despite the fact that the phone is a year old, we have a very wide choice of cases via Amazon, all at excellent prices. Prices for cases for older phones often drop after a year.
Overall, both my wife and I agree that the phone has respectable quality so far and may match many contemporary phones from other brands. I just don't think it measures up to the 920. The 950 doesn't have the full quality feel of other premium phones, but it's good enough.
The Lumia 950 battery is removable. Huge. Assuming that new batteries will be available a year or two from now, the ability to swap out the battery gives me some confidence that I can use the phone for four or more years, which is one of my goals. I may buy a battery now and swap batteries every month to stretch the life of each. The battery is also 3000 maH, 50% more than the 920.
The 950 includes 32GB of storage, same as the 920. It's all I need. However, the 950 also supports a micro-USB card of up to 200GB, way more than I expect to need on this phone even four years from now. I will put respectable 64GB cards in both phones at about $20 each, which allows a fall-back for photos and videos.
The connection of the 950 is USB-C as opposed to the micro-USB of the 920. USB-C is reversible, a convenience. I was pleasantly surprised that the phone came with an extra USB-A to USB-C cable (the AC adapter has a built-in cable). Had I known about the extra cable, I would not have needed to buy a new car charger because my old charger had an extra USB-A jack. The new charger has a coiled cable, so it was worth it anyway.
The camera in the 920 was pretty good but it's clear after just minor use that the 950's cameras are much, much better. Most of the 950 reviews I've read heap praise on the main camera.
Win 10 provides the Hey Cortana feature. It works extremely well and is perfect for driving.
Maps and driving solutions were provided by Nokia apps on the 920 on Windows Phone 8/8.1. These apps were later named Here+. Those apps were discontinued for Win8 last year and the 950 includes Microsoft's branded apps. So far, they work well. Improvements in the UI for the mapping and directions features are welcome.
Physically, the 950 is one ounce lighter than the 920 and just slightly bigger, mostly taller. The extra size accommodates the slightly larger display.
I've often said that I liked the tiled interface on Windows phones very much. (Google must think so, too, because it's new Pixel phone adopts a few of Microsoft's features such as the infinitely vertical scrolling start screen.) Nothing about Windows 10 has changed my mind about tiles although specific changes to some of the first-party (aka Microsoft) apps are annoying.
The Lumia 920 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus dual-core processor running at 1.5GHz, 1GB of RAM and the Adreno 225 GPU. The phone runs smoothly for most tasks, including light gaming. I don't do heavy gaming on the phone and thus can't speak to that level of performance. With 1GB of RAM, there is sometimes some latency when switching apps.
The Lumia 950 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor running at 1.8GHz, 3GB of RAM and the Adreno 418 GPU. This would seem at first glance to be a significant upgrade in power but the 808's cores are not all equal. Two of them are ARM Cortex-57 and the other four are ARM Cortex-53. The -57 cores are high-performance while the -53 cores are power efficient. I'm not yet sure how the cores are used in practice by Windows 10 but after reading some ARM and Qualcomm documentation it appears that the 808 might deliver quad-core performance or even less.
The one exception is gaming. Again, I don't do heavy gaming but I do play some simpler things. I happened to be playing the puzzle game Flow at the time I switched phones. Flow kept up with my inputs on the 920 but on the 950 it could not. Flow is a game in which "pipes" are laid between points on a grid. Pipes are drawn with one's finger by dragging the pipe from point to point. On the 920 the pipe arrives at the destination point right along with my finger. On the 950 the pipe lags visually. In fairness, the 950 has a much larger screen with double the pixels. Thus while logically drawing one of Flow's pipes is the same, at least double the pixels must be drawn.
For normal daily activity the 950 performance is a little better than the 920 and more than acceptable. For graphics, my impression is that the overall system is slower.
The biggest weakness of the Lumia 920 was power, in every respect. Power management was flat-out bad. The phone would often get very hot when charging wirelessly with the Nokia Qi pad and I believe this affected battery capacity. The phone would randomly beep while on the charging pad, apparently signaling the start and stop of charging. But this would happen before a charge was complete. The charging behavior so annoyed my wife that she stopped using the pad and only charged via cable.
It was always hard to get a full day out of the 920 and this got progressively worse as the battery aged. In the past year I bought a 6000mAH external pack and carried with me when I was away from the office just in case the 920 got dangerously low. That proved useful.
So far, the 950 is a breath of fresh air. We are getting a full day's use of the phone and that is naturally the result of having a very fresh battery. Charging via the USB-C cable is faster than wired charging of the 920. Wireless charging works without any annoyances (yes, the Nokia pads work). Wireless charging does heat up the phone a bit but just lukewarm, far from the extreme heat with the 920. Some games heat up the phone more than wireless charging does but less than the same games on the 920.
One of my simple tests is to charge the phone fully, restart it and leave it disconnected from power overnight. The restart assures that the phone is running nothing but the core features and no other apps. In the morning I look at how much battery is left. For the 920 it is about 40% while the 950 is at 90%. Certainly the 920's battery is older with two-thirds the capacity, but the 920 has never done particularly well on this ad hoc test.
With the understanding that the 950 is not quite a premium phone, it has very few cons. There are a number of things that bother me.
Phone manufacturers, especially Apple, are obsessed with thinness. I am not. I'd rather have a thicker phone with more battery. While it's always nice to have the latest and greatest, I'm more interested in functionality, practicality and longevity than I am in fashion.
The Lumia 950 is not aggressively thin but it is thinner than it needs to be. One reason I say that is the rear-facing camera's bump. Camera bumps are the reason phones will not lay flat. The recently announced Google Pixel has been praised by some pundits for being thicker and avoiding the bump, which suggests that the trade press may be coming to its senses (they probably noticed that the iPhone Plus models have more battery life). I will solve the 950's bump problem with a case.
One little thing, more of a hurdle than a problem, is Windows 10. Key apps have changed, mostly for the better. But these changes have resulted in something of a learning curve, which I did not expect. I was annoyed to find that the camera app was different, so much so that I thought I was taking some pictures the other day and didn't get them. This will smooth out with a little practice, but the phone made a liar out of me because I told my wife that everything would be the same.
One immediately noticeable and annoying change is quiet hours. I'm sure I'm like many people in that the phone is with me all the time, even at night. Windows 8.1 provided a quiet hours feature that allowed the phone to be silenced during a user-specified period of time (like 11pm to 7am). The quiet feature automatically turned on during those hours. With Windows 10, quiet must be turned on and off manually and the time period cannot be specified, apparently fixed at midnight to 6am.
The absence of a rational quiet time feature points to a deeper problem. Windows 10 is designed as a single system that runs on any device. A quiet time feature makes less sense on a desktop or tablet and I think quiet time feature fell into the lowest common denominator shredder. This is a mistake - the phone needs purpose-built features that make sense even if they make no sense for a desktop/laptop/tablet.
My Overall Opinion
There are many pros and almost no cons where the Microsoft Lumia 950 is concerned, at least for my usage. Of course, that's what I thought about the Nokia Lumia 920 until about two years in, so much more experience with the phone is needed. I am satisfied for now.
With the phone, that is. I'm not satisfied with Microsoft. I've written in this space that I thought the Windows Phone was dead and Microsoft still isn't doing anything that makes me think otherwise. It is a very peculiar situation. Microsoft's market share in phones is getting down into unmeasurable territory. I'd feel a lot better about my purchase if Microsoft's phone roadmap was a little more visible. I do worry that there is no roadmap, that I'm using the last Windows phone.
I'm happy with the Lumia 950. It solved all the big problems I was facing with the aging 920, was affordable, and brought my pocket device up to Windows 10. If I am in a dead end, at least the phone will cover the gap nicely.