Flagship head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs iPhone 8 Plus

Published by at

2017's iPhone is now here and, not least due to its imaging prowess, the inevitable comparison with the Windows 10 Mobile champion, the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, is also here. First in this general head-to-head and then in a dedicated imaging contest, coming early next week...

Lumia 950 XL and iPhone 8 Plus

What the media is getting in a tizz about is, of course, the controversial dual pigs eared monstrosity 'future of smartphones' iPhone X, available in a month or two. That's a comparison for early November here on AAWP, no doubt. In the meantime, there's the 'standard' new Plus model of iPhone for 2017 and it's quite a big update in terms of internals.

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!]

  Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Apple iPhone 8 Plus
Date first available November 2015 (can you believe that the 950 XL is now nearly 2 years old??) September 2017
Current price, availability No longer officially for sale, though it's often on clearance prices if you're lucky and at outrageous profiteering prices due to rarity (if you're not!) £799, SIM-free, for the 64GB model from Apple.
Dimensions, form factor, weight

152 x 78 x 8mm, plastic chassis and replaceable backs (plastic/leather/wood etc, from Mozo, as modelled here!), 165g, bezels are comparitively small, shorter and much lighter, yet with larger display

158 x 78 x 7mm, aluminium chassis with curved glass front and back, 202g, quite a bit 'taller', thanks to the large bezels
Durability 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 of the rear, but the screen's exposed, of course. IP67 for liquid and dust, but a case will be required for drop protection, with glass on all sides, however toughened it is...
Operating system, interface Windows 10 Mobile, (dismissable) virtual controls, as needed, now officially updated to W10 Creators Update (Redstone 2, Spring 2017) iOS 11, solid state multi-function home button plus '3D Touch' pressure sensitive screen for context-sensitive actions

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, plus some detailed info from a specified app.

Screen area is approximately 90 cm2

5.5" 1080p resolution at 16:9 aspect ratio, IPS LCD, 'ion-strengthened glass'

Screen area is approximately 83 cm2

Connectivity LTE, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 4.2 (all uses). 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
LTE, NFC (but only for Apple Pay, sadly), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0 (again slightly restricted to Apple-approved comms), integral wifi tethering, single nanoSIM
Processor, performance Snapdragon 810 chipset with 'liquid cooling', 3GB RAM, faster than it's ever been now on the Creators Update though still slower for almost everything than on the iPhone. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
Apple A11 Bionic chipset, 3GB RAM, very fast, Apple always do an incredible job in terms of TLC and optimisation. Have to give the win here on speed.
Capacity 32GB internal storage, expandable via microSD 64GB internal storage (in the variant being considered, 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

12MP, f/1.8 1/3" BSI sensor, OIS, Phase Detection auto-focus, quad LED flash, plus separate f/2.8, 1/3.6" sensor with 2x zoom optics. Terrific possibilities, and great photos, thanks to the A11's image processing power, competitive with most of the best of Lumia. Shootout coming soon!

7MP front camera, f/2.2 also very good

Imaging (video) 4K, optically (and optionally digitally) stabilised, with 'Best photo' 8MP grabbing built-in, plus Rich Recording and HAAC microphones for high quality, gig-level stereo capture. 4K video capture, with EIS and OIS, and yes, the 2x zoom works in video mode. Mono audio recording though and this loses it equality here.
Music and Multimedia 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. Infamously, no headphone jack, though you do get a Lightning port-to-3.5mm adapter in the box (don't lose this!) Stereo speakers, the right hand one outputting through the phone's bottom. Decent volume and fidelity, almost industry leading, but can they make up for the lack of 3.5mm jack? Depends on your priorities, so no winner here.

Windows 10 Maps is now pretty mature and impressive, especially once you've learned the live traffic routine trick! Offline maps save a lot of data bandwidth for those on tight contracts or pay-as-you-go.

Apple Maps uses traffic and map data from TomTom, it seems, in addition to its own resources. There's no offline maps facility, though.
Cortana/Voice Cortana is now mature and well integrated, and with a surprising degree of 'assistance'. Apple's Siri is sassy and usually helpful, but (just as with Google Now and Cortana) still hands anything remotely tricky off to a web search. Still early days for digital assistants?
Battery, life  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.
Sealed 2675mAh battery, gets through a day, thanks to the low power cores in the A11 chipset plus iOS's good standby characteristics. Charging is via Lightning port and nominally only 1A, though other higher current sources should work (we're still waiting for official fast chargers?), plus there's now Qi wireless charging too.
Cloud aids 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. Recent photos auto-sync to iCloud, backups in general ditto, so if you want to, there's a complete image of your phone ready to restore at any point. Apple do this very well, as anyone who's had to restore an iPhone will have found.
Biometrics  Iris recognition ('Windows Hello') works well unless you wear varifocals(!), but takes a couple of seconds (including an animation!) in real world use. There's also no official way of paying in shops using this, at least not in most of the world. Fast fingerprint scanner in the solid state home 'button' unlocks the phone in one touch/press and also allows TouchID authorisation for 'Apple Pay'.
Applications and ecosystem  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. And 'long tail' niche/boutique apps are hard to find for real world companies and shops. Fully covered, from A-Z, of course. Any application of any significance in the mobile world is available for iOS. Including most of the Microsoft core applications, like Outlook and Office.
Upgrades and future Windows 10 Mobile will be updated through 2018, 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 'Creators Update' ('feature2' branch on mobile, Windows 10 version '1709') is scheduled for October 2017, extending the effective guaranteed support until Autumn 2019. Apple push system and security updates regularly - the iPhone 8 Plus should be updated until at least the end of 2019. Going beyond the necessary, there are usually new features and new UI improvements too - as iPad owners found with iOS 11, for example.

Lumia 950 XL and iPhone 8 Plus


Wait for it... Adding up the green 'wins' gives the two year old Lumia 950 XL nine to the new iPhone 8 Plus's seven. I'll get shouted down with accusations of bias, of course, given that this is AAWP, but I've tried to be as honest and objective as possible. As evidenced by similar features in the past with Android flagships often edging out the Lumia. The usual caveats apply about totally different ecosystems, of course, and going where the services and apps you need live - you could argue that the 'Applications and ecosystem' row should have double or triple weighting, for example! Plus several of my scorings can be argued either way, such as me rating the 950 XL as more durable and repairable than the iPhone, yet without any waterproofing at all. 

Still, that the Lumia 950 XL is still right up, in my eyes, with the two-year-newer iPhone 8 Plus, is actually somewhat remarkable and, not for the first time, I bemoan Microsoft's decision to kill production. All of this shows, yet again, that the Lumia 950 XL remains competitive if you're not too worried about boutique applications - the camera is still class leading, the screen's excellent, and there are a ton of real USPs in 2017.

Comments welcome - have I been fair overall? iPhone fans will say no, Lumia fans will say yes, but all input welcome here, as usual!