Flagship head to head: Samsung Galaxy S8 vs Lumia 950 XL

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Yes, the new Galaxy S8 won't be on sale for another month yet, but it represents the current cutting edge of smartphone technology. Which is why I thought it worth doing one of my tabular head to heads with the faithful old Lumia 950 XL - how does a device 18 months older stand up, spec by spec?

Galaxy S8 and Lumia 950 XL

Samsung Galaxy S8 and Lumia 950 XL...

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 a smaller-screened phone then the table may well cause you problems. Try viewing in landscape mode? Failing that, go view this on a laptop or tablet!]

  Samsung Galaxy S8 Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
Date first available April 2017 November 2015 (can you believe that the 950 XL is now nearly 18 months old??)
Current price, availability £689. Available by end April 2017 £315, SIM-free, from Amazon UK, still available, though doubtless not that much longer
Dimensions, form factor, weight

149 x 68 x 8mm, aluminium frame, curved glass front and back, 155g.


152 x 78 x 8mm, plastic chassis and replaceable backs (plastic/leather/wood etc, from Mozo, as modelled here!), 165g

Durability Waterproof and dustproof, but will definitely need a case because of the mass of oleophobic glass.
No specific durability metrics, though the fact that the back comes off will help enormously for water damage, i.e. taking out battery and cards immediately, drying out the internals. Damage to the back or corners is trivial through replacement, but the screen's exposed, of course.
Operating system, interface Android 7.1 plus Grace UX, virtual controls
Windows 10 Mobile, (dismissable) virtual controls

5.8" AMOLED (1440p at 18.5:9 aspect ratio), Gorilla Glass 5, will have excellent visibility in all lighting conditions. Glance functions, too (some functionality TBD after a hands-on)

Screen area is approximately 13.2 in2

5.7" AMOLED (1440p at 16:9 aspect ratio), Gorilla Glass 4, ClearBlack Display polarisers help with outdoor contrast, Glance screen available (in various colours) for always-on time, day and notification icons

Screen area is larger than the S8's, despite the 'diagonal' metric, it's approximately 13.9 in2

Connectivity LTE, Dual SIM option (if microSD slot not used), NFC, Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5, DeX connectivity to use external displays as secondary screen - has multi-window but restricted (reworked Android) app set (mainly from Microsoft - ironically, plus Adobe), it's something of a hack in comparison to Continuum and genuine UWP apps. IMHO. LTE, Dual SIM option, NFC, Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 4.2. Continuum connectivity to use a wide range of first and third party UWP apps on external displays as secondary screen, independent of the phone display, this gets it the win here by a whisker!
Processor, performance Snapdragon 835 chipset, 4GB RAM, very fast indeed Snapdragon 810 chipset, 3GB RAM, faster than it's ever been under Redstone 2 builds, though still slower for almost everything than Android 7.1 on the ZTE. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
Capacity 64GB internal storage, expandable via microSD (if dual SIM not used) 32GB internal storage, expandable via microSD regardless of SIM options
Imaging (stills)

12MP f/1.7, dual LED flash, 1/2.5" sensor, Phase Detection auto-focus across whole sensor (so very fast), OIS, multi-frame processing in most modes.

8MP front camera

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


Imaging (video) 4K, optically (and optionally digitally) stabilised, mono audio track. 4K, optically (and optionally digitally) stabilised, with 'Best photo' 8MP grabbing built-in, plus Rich Recording and HAAC microphones for high quality stereo capture.
Music and Multimedia Bottom mounted mono speaker, pretty loud, wins this by a nose. 3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+APT-X Decent mono speaker, loud but lacking in bass and depth, though you can trade volume for fidelity in a simple tweak. 3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+APT-X, so great headphone audio too, but it can't make up for the weedier speaker overall.
Navigation  Google Maps is now the gold standard in phone navigation, tied in with many other Google services and offering true real time navigation around traffic issues.

Windows 10 Maps is now pretty mature and impressive, though at least one rung down from Google Maps in terms of live traffic awareness and re-routing.

Cortana/Voice Most Android phones have the excellent Google Now built-in, but this has a new Samsung-only assistant called 'Bixby'. It seems odd that this exists rather than using the Google one, but time will no doubt tell whether it's as good. I'm dubious.... Cortana is now mature and well integrated, and with a surprising degree of 'assistance'.
Battery, life  Sealed 3000mAh battery, one day should be easy enough with that 10nm chipset, plus USB Type C fast charging and compatibility with Qualcomm's Quickcharge 4.0. Qi and PMA wireless charging built-in. Removable 3300mAh battery, and the ability to change cells gets the win here in my book, the 950 XL easily gets through a day (on latest firmware), plus USB Type C (up to 3A) and Qi wireless charging built-in.
Cloud aids Google Photos, once installed, does a great job of organising photos and syncing them across all signed-in phones and tablets. Plus backup space is free forever, with only a few caveats... Ditto for general set-up backup, with a number of Samsung backup extras an alternatives, no doubt. Windows Photos syncs across all signed-in devices, subject to your OneDrive tariff (stingy, unless you have Office 365), should you have thousands of images in the system. Plus Windows 10 backs all your media, application data and settings to a separate backup folder system, tariff-free on OneDrive.
Biometrics  Fingerprint sensor (on the back) is augmented by iris recognition (as on the 950 XL) plus face recognition as well. You pick the ones you want to use in Settings. Iris recognition ('Windows Hello') works well unless you wear varifocals(!), but takes a few seconds in real world use.
Applications and ecosystem  The might of Google and Android's app ecosystem - everything is available and almost always in first party form. Windows 10 Mobile now has just about every mainstream app covered. Often third party clients are involved, mind you, there are companies who hate Microsoft so much that they simply refuse to write for Windows, it seems.
Upgrades and future Samsung have a good track record of delivering OS updates, albeit delayed by six months or so behind the cutting edge. Still, the S8 should be good through 2018 and into 2019. Windows 10 Mobile will be updated through 2017, of course, as part of the global Windows 10 ecosystem. Production devices can expect updates every month, Insiders every few weeks. The 950 XL is part of the Insider program if needed, the next major update is in April 2017 and is dubbed the 'Creators Update'. Not that it affects the phone too much, other than fixing bugs under the hood and improving general performance. See here for my 'what's new'. 'Redstone 3' is scheduled for H2, 2017 and I'd wager that the 950 XL will again be upgradeable, so updates should continue into 2018.


Adding up the green 'wins' gives the new Galaxy S8 eight (appropriately!) to the Lumia 950 XL's seven. A close run thing then, though the usual caveats apply about totally different ecosystems and going where the services and apps you need live. That the Lumia 950 XL is up with the 18-month-newer Galaxy S8, proclaimed by Samsung to be the 'future', is somewhat remarkable and, not for the first time, I bemoan Microsoft's decision to kill production.

Of particular note above is the switch by Samsung to a 18.5:9 display, i.e. it's longer and narrower. This makes for an easier-to-handle phone, but does mean that there's less screen real estate overall, no matter what Samsung's marketing will say - there's simply less in terms of screen area. Plus the vast majority of Internet-hosted media is in 16:9 aspect ratio and I'm not convinced that enough content creators will get behind crafting 18.5:9 material, which means users will either have parts of their picture chopped off or have to suffer black bars and a smaller image.

Maybe I'm being a bit grumpy about a phone I've never even held - but it does show, yet again, that the Lumia 950 XL remains very competitive - especially, I contend, with Redstone 2 (Creators Update) onboard.

Comments welcome - have I been fair overall?