(There's also the new iPhone 12 Pro, which is identical apart from metal used and the extra telephoto camera/Lidar - and an extra £200. So let's stick with the 'cheaper' £800 device.)
As usual, I've shaded in green an obvious 'win' for either device, and 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||Apple iPhone 12|
|Date first available||November 2015||October 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!)||£799, has to get the win by simple virtue of being available and supported|
|Dimensions, form factor, weight||
145 x 78 x 8mm, plastic chassis and replaceable backs (plastic/leather/wood etc, from Mozo, as modelled here!), 150g, bezels are comparatively small
|147 x 72 x 8mm, 164g, aluminium frame, glass front and back, sealed as per modern smartphones. Slightly narrower but heavier than the 950.|
|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. If spare parts were all still available, all this would get a win here, but I notice that the likes of Replacebase have stopped listing replacement Lumia 950 screens, so it's all a little bit moot in 2020...||
IP68 water and dust proofing gets the win overall, though the all-glass construction does mean that a case is mandatory. It's also worth noting that this generation of iPhones has 'Ceramic Shield' glass, in theory 4x tougher than traditional Gorilla Glass. We'll see...!
|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'. No more updates, though, so we're at End of Support.||
iOS 14.2, gesture navigation, with on-screen 'home' indicator.
|Display||5.2" AMOLED (1440p at 16:9 aspect ratio, matching most video media), Gorilla Glass 3, ClearBlack Display polarisers help with outdoor contrast, excellent viewing angles. Screen area is approximately 75cm2
Glance screen available (in various colours) for always-on time, day and notification icons, plus some detailed info from a specified app.
|6.1" 1170p OLED, 19.5:9 ratio, HDR10, screen area is roughly 90cm2, so more screen real estate in a similar form factor, which is always good and gets the win, despite the lack of always on display (though a tap with a finger always lights up the screen).|
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.
5G, LTE, NFC (just for payment), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac/ax, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.0 (all uses). A tough one to score, given 5G, but I think in 2020 I'd still rather have all the Continuum functionality available.
|Processor, performance||Snapdragon 808 chipset, 3GB RAM, decently smooth on the Fall Creators Update though still slower for almost everything than on the Pixel. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
||Apple A14 chipset, 4GB RAM, very fast at everything compared to the Lumia, things just happen instantly.
|Capacity||32GB eMMC internal storage, expandable via (cheap) microSD to extra 256GB||Starting at 64GB internal storage goes up to 256GB, non-expandable. Tempting to let the Lumia win because of microSD but then if you know you want to keep a lot of media you'd just buy a more capacious iPhone etc.|
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, no auto-focus
12MP, f/1.6 main camera, dual pixel PDAF, OIS, 1/2.5" optical format
Dual LED flash. Imaging shootout coming soon, so joint winners here for now. Should the wide angle lens automatically mean an iPhone win? I'm not so sure.
12MP, f/2.2, 1/3.6" front camera, no auto-focus
|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, includes Dolby Vision HDR at up to 30fps, optically and digitally stabilised and high quality stereo audio capture.|
|Music and Multimedia
|A very average mono speaker by modern standards, though as ever you can trade volume for fidelity in a simple tweak on Lumias.
|Stereo speakers, or at least 'faux stereo', with bass mainly coming from the bottom component and just mids and top end coming from the earpiece speaker. Still, it makes a satisfying sound for a phone, when watching YouTube or Netflix etc.|
|3.5mm headphone jack driven by a dedicated Qualcomm DSP chip, plus Bluetooth A2DP+AptX, so great wired and wireless headphone audio too.||3.5mm audio was ditched by Apple a while ago, and indeed they don't even ship an adapter/DAC in the box anymore. Happily these are only a tenner on Apple's site. Bluetooth audio is just A2DP, but good enough for most people.
|Navigation||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, and these get the win here.
Apple Maps is pretty good, with real time traffic coming from TomTom (at least in the UK), though you have to be online all the time since only limited areas are cached.
However, in the App Store, Google Maps is available and now the gold standard in phone navigation, offering true real time navigation around real time, low-level traffic issues, along with offline maps that auto-update. So just use this!
|Cortana/Voice||Cortana was now mature and well integrated, though functionality has been falling away and it no longer functions at all in most parts of the world.||Siri is baked in and works superbly, especially responding to 'Hey Siri' even in noisy environments. Google Assistant knows more about you, but Siri is still pretty damned helpful.
|Battery, life||Removable 3000mAh battery, and the ability to change cells gets the win here, plus USB Type C Power Delivery (up to 3A, so 15W) and 1A Qi wireless charging built-in also helps enormously. However, a Lumia running Windows 10 Mobile will now discharge in 24 hours even if you don't use it much, so this remains a caveat.
Sealed 2815mAh battery, easily gets through a day, though depends on the use case for the phone. The Lightning port supports 20W (4A) charging, though in 2020 you need to find your own (Type C) mains charging source for the provided Lightning to Type C cable (or use some old Lightning accessories!)
There's also (up to) 15W Qi wireless charging for top-ups around the home or office, which helps a lot. Still, all this can't compensate for just swapping in a new battery in 10 seconds.
|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, for easy restoration on a new or factory reset phone.||Apple's iCloud Photos does very well to backup your data and settings, and well enough to archive all photos, but the latter is a bit confusing to a newcomer and I'd recommend doing what I've done with iPhones and simply install the Microsoft OneDrive application. This then archives all photos as it used to on Windows phones, and you also get all your old OneDrive files and images accessible, etc. (Office 365 status-permitting!)
|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 isn't trivial, though see here!||Plugging into a PC gives immediate basic Windows Photos importing, or you can use iTunes for more control of syncing media to and fro. Ditto on Mac, though things are a bit more integrated, plus you also then get AirDrop which 'just works' over Wifi to move big files backwards and forwards quickly without wires.|
|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.||Face ID works superbly well, as always, for unlocking and paying for things, though with the caveat that in these pandemic times you have to lower your mask to authenticate. Or, you know, use your PIN.|
|Applications and ecosystem||Windows 10 Mobile has most (though not all) mainstream apps and services 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.||The might of Apple and iOS's app ecosystem - everything is available and almost always in first party form. Plus a surprising amount built in (or a tap away) from Apple, including their Office suite (Pages, Numbers, etc.) and their photo and video editing suites. And the Garage Band recording suite.|
|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.||iPhones traditionally get longer than average support in terms of updates, with five years being common. So the iPhone 12 should still be receiving OS and security updates in 2025.|
Adding up the green 'wins' (for fun?!) gives a resounding 13-5 win to the much newer device, unsurprisingly. Not that a new iPhone in 2020 was ever going to lose here, though I would advise anyone thinking of jumping to the iOS camp and who prizes imaging to think about the larger size of November's iPhone 12 Pro Max - the larger main camera, improved telephoto and all round polish should be fairly impressive. Watch this space.
Your comments welcome, anyway.