Smartphone head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs OnePlus 3

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When it comes to 2016 specifications at the flagship level, we're talking screens up in the 5.5"+ region, fast processors, killer cameras, and so on. Microsoft's Windows 10 Contender is the Lumia 950 XL and seemed relatively competitive until I put it side by side here with the very latest bargain du jour, the OnePlus 3. How do the two flagships stack up, blow by blow?

Lumia 950 XL and OnePlus 3

Side by side on a bright window ledge - so also showing the abilities of the two displays. There's not that much between them in terms of contrast in the photo here, but the Lumia's screen is definitely clearer and shaper to the naked eye...

Each device, as usual, has its strengths and weaknesses, but these two aren't that apart in the overall scheme of things. As usual, I've shaded in green an obvious 'win' for either device, I honestly have no idea which way this one's going to go (as I start to compile the feature)... Any row where a winner would be totally subjective is left uncoloured. Or, where both devices are utterly excellent but in different ways, I've given both a 'green'(!)

[By the way, if you're viewing this feature on an older Windows Phone then the table may well cause you problems. Try viewing in landscape mode? Failing that, go view this on a laptop or tablet and then roll on Windows 10 Mobile across the board on all the older phones!]

  Microsoft Lumia 950 XL OnePlus 3
Date first available December 2015 June 2016
Current price, availability £368 (SIM-free in the UK, inc VAT, via Amazon UK) £309, SIM-free, shipped direct from OnePlus in Asia
Dimensions, form factor, weight

152 x 78 x 8mm, feels relatively light, thanks to all the plastic, though I did go and put a slightly heavier leather Mozo case on...(!) Polycarbonate, replaceable back/sides (hosting NFC and Qi coils). Weight is 165g

Anecdotally, I much prefer picking up and handling the Lumia, see right for why...

153 x 75 x 7mm, aluminium unibody with antenna bands top and bottom, 158g

Anecdotally, I disliked the thinness and sharpness of the phone body - it was hard to pick up from a desk without dropping, and it always felt slippery. But hey, premium is premium, right?

Operating system, interface Windows 10 Mobile, (dismissable) virtual controls
Android 6.0.1, reimagined with Oxygen OS additions. No surprises for an Android user, relatively 'stock' and with little bloatware??. Capacitive controls, though they're only backlit dots and it's up to you what they do (within reason) - or you can have virtual controls on-screen. Nice to have the choice, though.
Display  5.7" AMOLED with ClearBlack Display (CBD) polarisers, QHD resolution, Glance screen. Gorilla Glass 4 5.5" 'Optic' AMOLED 1080p resolution, 2.5D glass, decent contrast outdoors but it doesn't quite match Nokia's CBD. Gorilla Glass 4
Connectivity Up to LTE (all bands), Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, nanoSIM, Continuum connectivity to use external displays as secondary screen, independent of the phone display (with full universal application resolution handling) Up to LTE (all bands), NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, dual nanoSIM
Processor, performance Snapdragon 810 chipset, 3GB RAM, pretty fast for many operations, though transitions and general Windows 10 interface cruft/refreshes do get in the way sometimes. Snapdragon 820 chipset, 6GB RAM, very fast, as Android typically is, with minimal transitions. Have to give the win here on speed.
Capacity 32GB plus microSD up to 2TB 64GB internal storage, no expansion
Imaging (stills)

20MP PureView f/1.9 1/2.4" BSI sensor, Phase Detection auto-focus, dedicated camera shutter button and launch key, genuine 2x lossless digital zoom (in 8MP oversampled mode), OIS. 'Rich Capture' produces customisable HDR shots and 'dynamic flash', with triple LED illumination. Outstanding shots in most light conditions, with just focussing issues in low light as an Achilles heel.

5MP front camera

16MP, f/2.0 1/2.8" BSI sensor, OIS, Phase Detection auto-focus, single LED flash. The usual Time lapse, HDR and panorama modes (for Android). Image quality good, but doesn't seem quite up to that from the Lumia 950 XL, unsurprisingly - camera head to head coming shortly.

8MP front camera

Imaging (video) 4K, digitally and optically stabilised, with 'Best photo' 8MP grabbing built-in, plus Rich Recording and quad HAAC microphones for high quality stereo capture - and surround sound possibly arriving in an update 4Kp video capture, with OIS though, plus stereo audio capture (I haven't tested gig level volume though)
Music and Multimedia Decent mono speaker, loud but lacking in bass and depth, 3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+APT-X, DLNA Good mono speaker, louder than the 950 XL's, and better fidelity. 3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP, DLNA
Navigation  Windows 10 Maps includes most of the best of HERE Maps/Drive, uses the same data, adds a degree of live traffic awareness, plus public transport. Includes full offline maps with automatic updates. 

Google Maps and navigation is truly excellent, with better offline capabilities in the last year, and with great live traffic integration and dynamic re-routing (which get it the win here). Oh and there's also HERE Maps, if the user knows to go look for it.

Cortana/Voice Cortana is now mature and well integrated, and with a surprising degree of 'assistance'. Chattier than Google Now, so getting a slight win here. Google Now and voice queries are good and on a par with Cortana overall. See my round-up feature. A little too ready to pass things off to Google search queries, if I'm being picky.
Battery, life  Removable 3300mAh battery, easily gets through a day (on latest firmware), plus USB Type C (up to 3A) and Qi wireless charging built-in. Gets the win here because of the power and battery options, not because of life per charge! Sealed 3000mAh battery, easily gets through a day. USB Type C charging only, at up to 4A though, with proprietary 'Dash' charger (death to chargers which only work properly with one phone!)
Cloud aids Windows Photos syncs across all signed-in devices, subject to your OneDrive tariff, should you have thousands of images in the system Google Photos syncs across all Android devices, genuinely infinite storage (with an allowance for recompression/optimisation by Google)
Biometrics  Iris recognition ('Windows Hello') works well unless you wear varifocals(!), but takes a few seconds in real world use Fast fingerprint scanner in the middle 'home' position on the front of the device - this can power on the screen and unlock the phone in one touch
Applications and ecosystem  Windows 10 Mobile now has just about every mainstream app covered, aside from Snapchat and Tinder. Niche/boutique apps are often an issue, though... Also anything to do with Google services! Fully covered, from A-Z, these days. Any application of any significance in the mobile world is available for Android. 
Upgrades and future Windows 10 Mobile will be updated through 2016/2017, as part of the global Windows 10 ecosystem. Production devices can expect updates every few months, Insiders every few weeks. Should see a few updates at least - OnePlus aren't the speediest in terms of updates though - patience sometimes needed!

Lumia 950 XL and OnePlus 3

From the rear - and yes, my Lumia 950 XL still has that lovely Mozo red black cover on! Nice as this is, it can't really compete for 'premium' with the metal build of the OnePlus 3...


A narrow 8-7 win for the OnePlus 3 then, plus it's at least sixty pounds cheaper to buy. Setting the bar for value for money in the world of 2016 smartphone flagships - everything's going to be compared to this when it comes to what you can purchase on a particular budget. Some of the 'wins' above are quite slender, mind you, so that scoreline could be interpreted with figures +/-4 for each device. From a pure hardware perspective, the Lumia 950 XL's strengths are its display, its camera and its flexibility, while the OnePlus 3 basically knocks it out of the park in most other areas. Especially for the £309 price tag.

Back in the real world, it's all  bit academic, since no one's likely to switch from a previous Android or iOS 'phablet' to the Lumia 950 XL and Windows 10 Mobile, so this generation of Lumia is very much playing to the existing userbase of Windows Phone users... and maybe to a few Windows 10-using smartphone first timers. But I thought the comparison worth doing anyway!