Head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs cutting edge Sony Xperia '1 mk II'

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In the latest of my series of looks at alternatives to a favourite Lumia flagship, I bring you a head to head with the brand new Sony Xperia 1 II (said 'one mark two'), claiming pro-level imaging (including an optional DSLR-like interface and pro-grade video shooting tools). There's an awful lot packed into this £1000 Android handset, so let's get started... (And yes, an imaging shoot-out is next!)

Lumia 950 XL and Sony Xperia 1 II

Lumia 950 XL and Xperia 1 II

Lumia 950 XL and Sony Xperia 1 II

As usual, just for fun and curiosity, 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'(!)

[By the way, if you're viewing this feature on a 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 Sony Xperia 1 II
Date first available November 2015 June 2020 
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!) £1100 as I write this, though most users will get this on a contract, I suspect. Still, very expensive!!
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

165 x 71 x 8mm, 181g, much taller and much narrower. 
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, even unscrewing the motherboard from the guts of the phone. I'm old-school here! All damage to the back or corners is trivial through replacement of the rear, but the screen's exposed, of course. The plastics used should absorb shock and, anecdotally, I've never bothered putting a case on any Lumia. Just saying. I think that fact is significant.

IP68 certified for dust/water, which is great, and a Sony flagship staple. Glass front and back do require a case though - and there's not one in the box, so do prepare/allow for this. Plus the Lumia's parts aren't always available anymore, which also has to be taken into consideration. Overall a cased Xperia gets the win, I think.

Operating system, interface Windows 10 Mobile, (dismissable) virtual controls, as needed, now officially updated to W10 Fall Creators Update (Redstone 3, Autumn 2017) with security to 'January 2020'.

Android 10, June 2020 security, gesture controls available, or navigation buttons on-screen (the default). A fairly standard lightly skinned Google interface throughout, with just one major bit of bloatware - Call of Duty. Or perhaps this is a nice 'include' for a serious gamer?


5.7" AMOLED (1440p at 16:9 aspect ratio, matching most video media), Gorilla Glass 4, ClearBlack Display polarisers help with outdoor contrast, excellent viewing angles. Screen area is approximately 88 cm2

Glance screen available (in various colours) for always-on time, day and notification icons, plus some detailed info from a specified app.

6.5" 1644p (4K) OLED display, 20:9 ratio, Gorilla glass 5, screen area is roughly 99cm2

Also excellent viewing angles and better outdoors in the sun than the 2015 screen on the Lumia. But - perhaps significantly - nowhere near as clear as other AMOLED-using current 2020 contenders (latest flagship iPhones, Samsung, Huawei, etc.) This is an issue sometimes when shooting photos and videos in the sun.

There's an 'Always on' 'Glance' display with time, date and battery status (off by default, but trivial to toggle on).


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. Includes the new NexDock 2, transforming the Lumia into a Windows 10 S laptop, effectively.

LTE, 5G, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac/6, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.1 (all uses). Hard core geeks will say 5G trumps a Continuum desktop, but I disagree - it gives the Lumia a whole extra world of  interesting connection options.

Processor, performance Snapdragon 810 chipset, 3GB RAM, faster than it's ever been now on the Fall Creators Update though still slower for almost everything than on the Android phone. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
Snapdragon 865, 8GB RAM, lightning fast at everything
Capacity 32GB internal storage, expandable via (cheap) microSD to extra 256GB 256GB, microSD expansion, though that internal storage will be fine for most users
Imaging (stills)

20MP PureView f/1.9 1/2.4" BSI sensor, Phase Detection auto-focus, dedicated camera shutter button and launch key, 1.5x lossless digital zoom (in 8MP oversampled mode, and lossy digital after that), 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.

Dedicated camera shutter button and launch key, main specs:

12 MP, f/1.7, 1/1.7", main camera, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
12 MP, f/2.4, 1/3.4", PDAF, 3x telephoto, OIS
12 MP, f/2.2, 124˚, ultrawide, 1/2.55", Dual Pixel PDAF

An imaging head to head is next, don't worry - this one should be very, very close! 

Of note is that you get two camera applications, a regular one and a 'pro' one, the latter with mocked up DSLR 'Alpha' interface. Pretty cool.

5MP front camera 8MP, f/2.0 front camera
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 '5 axis gyro' EIS, (human or pet) eye tracking focus mode, high quality stereo audio capture. You can capture video in the regular Camera app or in an extra 'Cinema Pro', pre-loaded with complete control over focus and lighting, plus preset image grading. Again, very cool. And, overall, gets the win - I get the feeling that the Xperia 1 II was conceived as a videographer's phone.
Music and Multimedia
A tinny mono speaker by modern standards, though as ever you can trade volume for fidelity in a simple tweak on Lumias. Terrific matched stereo speakers, both with front facing apertures, top and bottom. Decent fidelity and loud. Dolby Atmos too, but it's not really needed uness you're watching specific Atmos content.
3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+AptX, plus a decent internal DAC, so great wired and wireless headphone audio too.  3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP, AptX, AptX HD, all very similar in volume and quality to the Lumia (i.e. very good). The specs advertise 24-bit audio, but the DAC is - I suspect - just the Snapdragon 865's, so in practice it's not class leading (as the LG flagship's - or the Windows-powered Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro - were), i.e. there's no dedicated DAC or power amp. Still great to see the jack in 2020 though, and it sounds good.

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 anyone in a low signal (data) area. But it's all looking a little neglected in 2020 compared to the bells and whistles in Google Maps.

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, even at local level, along with offline maps that auto-update.
Cortana/Voice Cortana was in theory now mature and well integrated, though functionality has been falling away and most attempts to rouse her end in failure in 2020. Google Assistant is baked in and works well, far superior to the dying Cortana in 2020, due to the investment that Google has put in over the last few years.
Battery, life  Removable 3000mAh battery, and the ability to change cells are a positive here (and you CAN still buy decent spare batteries), plus USB Type C Power Delivery (up to 3A, so 15W) and 1A Qi wireless charging built-in also helps. However, a Lumia running Windows 10 Mobile will now discharge in 24 hours even if you don't use it much.

Sealed 4000mAh battery, gets easily through a day, with charge to spare. Type C port supports 21W wired charging via Power Delivery standard. Plus 11W Qi wireless charging. The 21 and 11 numbers are a little odd, maybe Sony's been doing some 'rounding up'!!!

Gets the win here, despite the sealed battery, because the OS doesn't drain anywhere near as fast as W10M!!

Cloud aids Windows Photos syncs at full resolution and quality across all signed-in devices, subject to your OneDrive tariff (stingy, unless you have Office 365 - most of us do, hence the 'win' here), 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, for easy restoration on a new or factory reset phone. Google Photos does a great job of organising photos and syncing them across all signed-in phones and tablets, albeit at 'reduced' quality (re-compression server-side). 
File compatibility As with all Windows phones, plugging into a Windows PC gives full drag and drop to the phone's user file system. Plugging into a Mac is more problematic, though seems to work under Catalina. Plugging into any PC gives immediate MTP file access, plus this works on a Mac on all OS versions, with Google's Android File Transfer utility, for drag and drop of all user files. Seamless and lightning fast.
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.

The side-power-button-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor is foolproof and reliable, unlocking instantly. Works to authenticate transactions too, as you'd expect, with Google Pay or in the Play Store.

Applications and ecosystem  Windows 10 Mobile had most (though not all) mainstream apps and services covered, though some are dropping away now - see my guide! 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.

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 is now effectively out of support. From now on, it will be useable but with more and more service caveats applying. Still, 'end 2019' was a full four years since the Lumia 950 XL was launched, so it's hard to complain. Sony has a good track record at supporting its phones, so let's assume that this will get good support through 2020 and 2021. And possibly through 2022. Nice.

Lumia 950 XL and Sony Xperia 1 II


Adding up the green 'wins' (for fun?!) gives a 15-3 win to the much newer device, which is about as expected and rather overwhelming. From what I've seen in my first day with the Xperia 1 II this could very well be a great Lumia replacement, albeit an expensive one. 

I'll have an imaging comparison up very shortly, don't worry!