Flagship head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs Samsung Galaxy S9

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It's a fair cop - I'm comparing a 2015 phone with one from 2018, so it's not a fair fight. Yet in the interests of showing Windows 10 Mobile users/fans one of the more likely Android phones that they might like to move to in the next 12 months, here's a blow by blow comparison of the ageing but classic Lumia 950 XL against the brand new Galaxy S9. And yes, an imaging comparison is next...!

Lumia 950 XL and Galaxy S9

Although there's life left in Windows 10 Mobile in terms of updates and support, new hardware is thin on the ground, plus repairs and spares for older hardware are becoming tricky - so it makes sense for everyone to be aware of the best of the rest, flagships from other platforms. And with the Galaxy S9 in for review for The Phones Show, it seemed appropriate to put up a direct comparison.

As usual, I've shaded in green an obvious 'win' for either device. Any row where a winner would be totally subjective is left uncoloured. Or, where all devices are utterly excellent but in different ways, I've given each a 'green'(!)

  Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Samsung Galaxy S9
Date first available November 2015 (can you believe that the 950 XL is now 2 years old??) March 2018
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!) £739, for this standard version from Samsung (a '+' model, larger with extra [2x zoom] camera is also available at extra cost)
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 comparatively small

148 x 69 x 8mm, curved glass front and back, melded with aluminium chassis, bezels even smaller on all sides than on the Lumia, 163g. Oh, and a huge fingerprint magnet!
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. I'm old-school here! Damage to the back or corners is trivial through replacement of the rear, but the screen's exposed, of course. IP68 for liquid and dust, but needs a case 24/7 because of the curved glass front and back - and hyper-expensive repairs. Really.
Operating system, interface Windows 10 Mobile, now officially updated to W10 Fall Creators Update (Autumn 2017). Dismissable virtual controls, as needed, for more content on display. Giving the Lumia the win here, for this, but also as this is AAWP and hey, I prefer the interface. Sue me! Android 8.0, virtual controls on screen almost all the time though, so you do lose some room for content by default. There's an advanced setting whereby you can double tap a small dot to lock  the controls 'on' or 'off', but I'm not sure most users would find this. 

5.7" AMOLED (1440p at 16:9 aspect ratio), Gorilla Glass 4, ClearBlack Display polarisers help with outdoor contrast, excellent viewing angles

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

5.8" Super AMOLED 1440p screen at 18.5:9 aspect ratio, Gorilla Glass 5, always on time date and notification icons, contrast excellent in most light conditions.

Screen area is approximately 85cm2

Both displays are excellent, so a joint win here!

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 ecosystem-wide UWP apps on external displays as secondary screen, independent of the phone display.

LTE, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.0 (all uses), Samsung DeX system is similar to Continuum, with the advantage of windowing but the disadvantage that the applications are 'still' just Android.

Another joint win in this category.

Processor, performance Snapdragon 810 chipset with 'liquid cooling', 3GB RAM, faster than it's ever been now on the Fall Creators Update. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
Exynos 9810 as shown (Snapdragon 845 in the USA) with 4GB RAM. Lightning fast at everything, from app launching to resumption, very impressive.
Capacity 32GB internal storage, expandable via microSD to extra 256GB 64GB internal storage (in the variant being considered), plus microSD to extra 400GB
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

12 MP f/1.5-2.4 (dual aperture), 1/2.5" '2L3' sensor (with 512MB DRAM integrated), OIS, dual pixel auto-focus, dual LED flash, multiple exposure combination software.

8MP front camera

Both FABULOUS phone cameras and yes, there's a shootout coming very soon here on AAWP.

Imaging (video) Up to 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. Up to 4K video capture, with EIS and OIS, audio quality excellent, also in stereo. Haven't tested gig-level audio yet though.
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+AptX, so great headphone audio too.

Front facing 'stereo' speakers, i.e. earpiece used to push out mid range and high frequencies from the left channel, while the bottom speaker handles bass and right channel. Decent volume, though, overall. 3.5mm headphone jack (becoming unusual on Android flagships, so welcome here), A2DP+AptX, so great headphone audio too.


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, though we haven't had map updates for over a year - sob!

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. Maps can be cached and maintained offline as needed.
Cortana/Voice Cortana is now mature and well integrated, and with a surprising degree of 'assistance', though it doesn't seem to be improving at the same rate as Google Assistant.  Google Assistant is baked in and works well. Ditto Bixby, though this is more geared to gimmicks like Bixby Vision and voice control of applications. Bixby has its own button, though this can now be disabled if you want.
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 Power Delivery (up to 3A) and Qi wireless charging built-in.
Sealed 3000 mAh battery, easily gets through a day. Charging is Quick Charge 2.0 compatible (so 9V/2A tops) through the USB Type C port, plus there's Qi charging as well.
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. Google Photos, once installed, does a great job of organising photos and syncing them across all signed-in phones and tablets. You lose some quality in the free backup service, but it's not obvious - plus you can pay for full quality uploads if needed.
Biometrics  Iris recognition ('Windows Hello') works well unless you wear varifocals(!), but takes at least a second (including an animation!) in real world use, even with the latest OS update. There's also no official way of paying in shops using this, at least not in most of the world. Fingerprint sensor (on the back) works well, and very fast. Works well with Android Pay and/or Samsung Pay (you choose which you want). There's also face unlock and iris recognition, working together as 'Integrated Scan'. Too many options, or are more options better here?
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. Most things can be done via Edge, though 'not quite' as slickly as with dedicated applications. Maybe the new PWA era will save the day? The might of Google and Android's app ecosystem - everything is available and almost always in first party form. 
Upgrades and future Windows 10 Mobile will be updated monthly through 2018, of course, as part of the global Windows 10 ecosystem, albeit on the 'feature2' mobile SKU for 'Fall Creators Update'. End of updates is scheduled for Spring 2019, with a possible nominal extension to Autumn 2019. Samsung's update record is OK, especially at the flagship end of the spectrum, though expect a delay of up to six months between each Google Android platform release and a Samsung version being rolled out.

950 XL and Galaxy S9 - back view/cams


The winner is somewhat obvious, being objective. Adding up the green 'wins' (for fun?!) gives the two and a half year old Lumia 950 XL seven to the new Galaxy S9's thirteen, which is a runaway winner. Which may sound odd as a verdict for AAWP, but I'm nothing if not objective when comparing smartphones - if you want a little more subjectivity then see my feature here.

The usual caveats apply about totally different ecosystems, 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 (theoretically) more durable and (self?) repairable than the S9, yet without any waterproofing at all, and with a question mark over the availability of Lumia components in 2018.

Overall though, the Galaxy S9 is a magnificent piece of smartphone hardware. Apple spoke of 'courage' when ditching the headphone jack in the iPhone a few years ago - though I'd class this as 'lunacy'. Samsung is much more 'courageous', in my opinion, for sticking with the 3.5mm jack AND expandable storage AND a notchless screen when manufacturers all around are sheepishly following Apple for their flagships. And, for a Lumia 950 or 950 XL owner, used to all these hardware concepts, the Galaxy S9 is perhaps the flagship to consider in 2018.

Comments welcome! Does the S9 appeal to you as a jumping off point from Windows 10 Mobile into Android?