Don't switch off, cables are something we all need in the smartphone world. Moreover, at least two of these have unique features that might well have you reaching for your wallet: reversibility and indestructibility. No, really....
Recent Reviews - Hardware
There's something you should know about the Display Dock and Continuum. The hardware component itself is beautifully made (think Apple Mac build quality) and the concept really, really cool. Truly your smartphone could be your entire computing experience. Except that the software that ties everything together and that should make Continuum a reality is currently (December 2015) only in early beta, at best. So what follows contains a lot of disappointment, albeit mingled with glimpses of genuine utility and hope. Appropriately, for Christmas!
Following on from my review of the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 950 in each of the review parts so far ('1' for each), and from my camera head to head with the older Lumia 930 and 1020, here's the second review part, common to both devices of course, since the camera units are identical, with just some back end processing differences that I note below. Summary? With just a few caveats, these are the best imaging smartphones to come out of the Nokia/Microsoft stable yet.
The smaller sister device to the Lumia 950 XL reviewed five days ago, the Lumia 950 is lower-specced (slightly) but feels more of a product that can be recommended to more friends and colleagues, being more solid (no creaks), more manageable in the hand... and quite a bit cheaper. In fact, taking into account its unique selling points, I'd say that the Lumia 950 is the most bang per buck at this 'sweet spot' form factor in the smartphone world right now. For Windows Phone (and W10M) fans, I'd go further - this is the Holy Grail, the one device with everything we've been asking for.
The next generation of Windows Phone is here, in terms of software and hardware, in the shape of the Lumia 950 XL running Windows 10 Mobile. Now, we've covered the software side of things here ad infinitum on AAWP over the last year, thanks to the Insiders Programme - and almost everything here works identically to the Insiders preview builds on the likes of the Lumia 930. But there are some new tricks, everything's faster and - most of all - we have genuinely competitive hardware to run it all. Arguably for the first time in Windows Phone's history.
In a crowded marketplace, it's always good to carve out a niche - and this is what Microsoft did in the wearables space with the original Band, reviewed here. The idea was to do a lot more than a humble 'fitness band', yet stop short of a full smartwatch. As a result, the Band could be a big aid to your life while keeping a multi-day battery life. It was clunky though - and now we have the Band 2, in theory more comfortable, more durable and better in every way. We're well away from 'prototype' territory this time round, and it remains the smartest thing you can hook up to a Windows Phone, in particular...
Bluetooth keyboards have gone into and out of fashion over the years, but they're definitely in vogue at the moment, thanks to the use of tablets and 'phablet'-style large-screened smartphones, where a wireless full size keyboard can turn the device into a mini-laptop. Microsoft's new offering is ultra-premium and rather quirky, not least because of the early state of Windows 10 Mobile, but has a few unique features and is worth a look if the price doesn't put you off.
The search has been on for several years for a replacement for the (now no longer produced) Proporta Pocket Power, an all in one, no cables needed, truly credit card sized emergency charger - and, right up at the premium end of the market we now have a candidate, offering full 2A output and able to deliver around 700mAh at 5V in about 20 minutes. While only around a one third charge for today's smartphones, that this fits unobtrusively in your wallet in a card slot makes this a terrific (if slightly pricey) accessory to get you to the end of a long day. Coming in deluxe packaging, with extras, it's also just about the perfect gift for a smartphone owner, as I explore below.
Even if you do the usual 3.7V/5V maths to calculate the actual power available at the voltage your smartphone needs it (i.e. the 5V level), you still end up with well over 15,000mAh of useable charge from this new 'Executive' power bank. Add in a unique backlit LED readout, triple output jacks and a torch function and you've got a really, really interesting mobile accessory.
Microsoft's own reviewer's guide for this, the Band, talks about it being 'the first device powered by Microsoft Health', and this is the key to understanding the accessory itself. Introduced initially in the USA at the end of last year, there was a feeling that it might never reach the rest of the world in that form, since the Band was quite clearly a 'version 1' and with many flaws. That it has made it to the UK in late April 2015 is handy because it means we get to play with it - and appreciate it, but don't be fooled that the Band is attempting to be a serious mass market product yet. Wait for 'Band 2', slimmer, lighter, tougher and cheaper.