10 Unique Unavailable Points (UUPs) of the Lumia 950

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I do, from time to time on AAWP, update older articles. This is what's happening here, because the smartphone world changes fast and context is everything - what I was proclaiming back in February 2017 to be 10 USPs (Unique Selling Points) are still as valid as ever, but the 'Selling' part of the acronym is proving more and more galling.

Zebra Wood back

As you'll all know by now, Lumia 950 and 950 XL phones are getting hard to buy now, in October 2017. Microsoft stopped their manufacture mid 2016 as part of their dismantling of all the old Nokia manufacturing infrastructure and (very) sadly didn't replace it with some kind of OEM contract construction. Meaning that the supply chain gradually started to run out. 

Back in February, when I originally tackled this feature, you could still find the Lumia 950 and 950 XL new on the likes of Amazon, and at bargain prices. Today, you're lucky if you find third party sellers with new hardware still in stock and the rarity (and class) of the handsets is now being realised with sometimes sky-high prices.

Meaning that when you, as a Lumia 950/XL and Windows 10 Mobile connoisseur, spot a new or mint condition handset in a clearance bin or second hand outlet, you should snap it up. You really can't lose out since even if you don't end up using and enjoying it then you can always sell it on and will probably make a profit(!)

None of which changes the original USPs of the Lumia 950 design, except that the acronym should perhaps now be UUPs - Unique Unavailable Points!

And the points are becoming more unique as time moves on and as smartphone design gets ruined refined, with the recent launches of the Apple iPhone X and Google Pixel 2 XL showing the directions that Apple and Google want the phone world to take. Even if an awful lot of users dont necessarily agree...

So, as written before (and with tongue only very slightly in cheek), in a sea of 2017 increasingly featureless glass slabs, here are ten Unique (Unavailable) Points of the 'old' Lumia 950 and 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. So.... cool. And practical. You can still buy these Mozo backs, by the way - I checked. 

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.

I've checked online and it's still easy enough to buy original Lumia 950 and 950 XL batteries, for example on Amazon UK, expect to pay £20 or so - anything much less than that and the battery is probably a copy or fake.

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 or 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 Apple iPhone or Google Pixel or Galaxy phone and you'll either have a mono mix or a distorted mess.

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. And, despite new challenges from the iPhone 8 Plus and Note 8, the Lumia 950 camera remains top of the pile in my testing.

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. The 'double press to start the camera' approach on many Android phones is a software kludge by comparison.

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. In my tests, the Lumia 950 / XL flash is the brightest around.

8. Headphone jack

Who'd have though that this would become a USP when the Lumia 950 and 950 XL were launched back in 2015? But with more and more flagship phones (iPhone 8/8/X, Pixel 2, HTC U11) now stupidly omitting a simple headphone jack in favour of Bluetooth audio or (usually proprietary) data port solutions and DAC 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 deal.

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 in particular 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 and 950 XL run 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 (away from the Pixel bleeding edge). 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. 


Comments welcome then. The Lumia 950 and 950 XL are very different and very interesting beasts, I contend, even today.

Lumia 950 XL running Redstone 2