In a sea of 2017 glass slabs, TEN Unique (Selling) Points of the 'old' Lumia 950 XL

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Mobile World Congress 2017 is upon us then. Which means Rafe Blandford is prowling the halls (with his various hats on). And every manufacturer under the sun is bringing out unibody metal-and-glass touch slabs with near ubiquitous feature sets. Which, as a contrast, got me pondering about the Lumia 950 XL, whose USPs seem to grow monthly!

Now you'll remember that I recently wrote about the flexibility of being able to change the 950 XL's back cover whenever needed - or indeed whenever you simply fancied a change of style, look or feel. But I'd like to expand this as part of a definitive list of Unique Selling Points - made somewhat ironic by the fact that Microsoft no longer officially SELLS the device, but hey, you can usually find a unit if you shop around, and usually now at clearance prices.

So... in today's smartphone world, we have a sea of iPhone and Samsung copies, with nearly everything from the mid range upwards sealed and inaccessible (even the new Nokias, released yesterday), with good (but not excellent) cameras and so-so microphones. Heck we even have one such device in the Windows 10 Mobile stable now in the 'Alcatel IDOL 4S with Windows 10', all premium glass and metal.

Yet the pragmatist in me then picks up the 'old' Lumia 950 XL and realises that 99% of today's smartphones are very much the 'emperor's new clothes'. Is the Lumia 950 XL (and the smaller 950) then the 'real thing'?

Well, no smartphone is perfect, least of all these Windows 10 Mobile phones - for reasons which we've covered here a hundred times. But it's worth highlighting that, as all-glass/metal launches happen at a rate of knots as MWC gets going, the Lumia 950 range is starting to stand out as a dramatically different 'alternative', not just in terms of its OS and uI but also in terms of its hardware and feature set.

So, as promised then, (and with tongue only very slightly in cheek) in a sea of 2017 glass slabs, here are ten Unique (Selling) Points of the 'old' Lumia 950 XL:

1. Dropped phone or damage? Just replace the back

The back just pops off and you can replace it. Panic over.

2. No need to stay with plastic - go with leather or wood!

As already featured, backs are available even with genuine wood or leather laminates. Soo.... cool. And practical.

Lumia 950 Xl with Mozo backs and replaceable battery

3. Battery 18 months old and down on capacity? Just buy a new one.

This was again already featured, several times in fact, but this is also a huge USP in 2017. Almost every smartphone from mid-range upwards is now unibody and sealed. So when the battery's dying you've got to send it off for repair or servicing. You also get the flexibility of buying a spare battery and keeping it charged in your coat pocket or similar. OK, so you may only need it once in a blue moon when there's no charger to hand, but I'll bet it'll save the day eventually.

4. High Amplitude stereo microphones

When shooting video, there are phones which record in stereo (as opposed to mono), and there are those with High Amplitude microphones, capable of recording live music without distortion. But very, very few, have both - and the Lumia 950 XL is one such. Take it to your next AC/DC concert and you'll have a crystal clear video with perfect audio. Try that with your Google Pixel or Galaxy S7 and you'll have a distorted mess of a soundtrack.

5. Oversampling camera

The PureView oversampling system remains unique to Nokia/Microsoft - and it's still a great idea, taking one photo but combining pixel data to reduce from the native 16MP (in 16:9) sensor to 8MP output - with 'purer' results and almost no digital noise. Granted, the new Google Pixel gets close to this by shooting multiple photos and then combining them, but the PureView system was the original 'computational photography' system and it works brilliantly.

Inside the 950 XL

6. Camera shutter button

Sony are just about the only other company, I think, to use physical shutter buttons on their smartphones. It sounds like a little touch (no pun intended!) but sometimes a mechanical two-stage shutter button is just the best way to work, and the most natural. Plus you get to quick-launch the camera with a long press of this button, even with the screen starting in a powered off state.

7. Triple LED flash

Yes, the iPhone 7 has a form of four-LED flash, but the vast majority of other phones these days still have single or dual LED flash, and every extra bit of light matters when you're working in dim conditions indoors.

8. Headphone jack

I wasn't going to include this - heck, who'd have though that this would become a USP when the Lumia 950 XL was launched back in 2015? But with more and more flagship phones now omitting a simple headphone jack in favour of Bluetooth audio or (usually proprietary) data port solutions and adaptors, having an 'old fashioned' headphone jack, into which you can insert any of the 10 billion sets of headphones in the world, for direct stereo audio, now seems like a huge selling point.

9. Optional virtual controls

Virtual controls (typically 'back', 'home' and 'multitasking'/'search') were something that came in a couple of years ago in the phone world, yet Microsoft is virtually alone in providing a way to swipe the controls away when you want to work in an application with the maximum amount of screen real estate. The system works really well (the screen frontal area on the Lumia 950 XL goes up insanely high without the controls shown) and it's genuinely frustrating on an Android phones when you try various swipes to dismiss these controls and find that they're fixed in place most of the time and that you have to live with them.

10. Secure Windows!

Something of an obvious differentiator, but perhaps one of the most important - the Lumia 950 XL runs Windows 10 Mobile and not Android. While the latter has far more third party applications, it also has far more security holes and update issues. Windows 10 Mobile, with 30 years of desktop development behind its kernel and middleware, and also by virtue of being a smaller attack surface for malicious entities online, is currently a far more secure bet. Plus some people/companies might even want Windows on their phone if they're seriously into Microsoft services on other form factors. (See also the comment below - we can add in Continuum capability, expanding operation to an independent secondary display - this is also unique to Windows 10 Mobile.)


Comments welcome then. Never mind the shiny stuff being announced at MWC 2017, viva la Lumia 950 XL, still a superb (and very different) beast, even today.

Lumia 950 XL running Redstone 2