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Lumia 950 & Windows Mobile 10 Review

Yesterday I upgraded to a Lumia 950, having been happy with my previous Lumia 930 and Lumia 1020. I should firstly point out that I was not running the Developer Preview on the 930 so this was the first time I had used Windows Mobile 10 (apart from playing with it for a few minutes in the Microsoft store). Here is a little summary of my experiences.

First impressions were really good, I like the hardware with the removable back cover and battery. Despite what some other reviews say the back cover is not made of cheap plastic, the material feels similar to the Lumia 930, although that probably means it will get marked and scratched very easily. Removing the back cover the first time to put the SIM card in is unnecessarily difficult. Microsoft would be better shipping it with the back cover detached, as that is the only time most users will need to take the back off. However the fact the back can be removed easily and the battery swapped was a huge selling point for me. Every phone I have owned prior to the Lumias, I used to carry spare batteries for.

Unfortunately after setting it up and doing a restore, my experiences with Windows Phone 10 were much less impressive. The first impression I got from the sample I tried in the Microsoft store was that it was slow, although I put this down to it being a shop model with 100 apps open simultaneously and not being rebooted for a month. Unfortunately there’s no other way to put it: the 950 is slower than the 930 in doing just about everything. The 930 (and 1020) had great performance but the 950 seems to constantly lag. Some things are just completely unacceptable, especially for such a high-end phone, like it still not being finished when left overnight to do the restore and reinstall apps. It also gets incredibly hot under CPU load, probably fine in normal usage but the temperature it had attained after doing the restore was unbelievable. It was the hottest I had ever felt a phone and would definitely reduce the life of the battery. Not good enough.

The restore was the worst experience I have had of an upgrade/restore, much worse than various WP8 and WP8.1. Apart from taking all night, numerous apps didn’t reinstall and had to be done manually, and there were a ton of updates in the Windows store that needed to be done on top of that. Oh and then the OS needed to do an update, instead of checking that first, making the process even more time consuming. Heaps of things were missing, all the music except the ringtone (because it’s not synced to OneDrive), the WhatsApp chat history, all Skype for Business call records and chat history and all photos. To be fair some of these are probably the fault of the apps but I still think they are worth mentioning as the upgrade process makes no mention of what won’t be restored. I don’t sync everything to OneDrive because there isn’t enough space.

Still none of the above was a huge deal, because the bits can be manually restored by syncing with the computer. The music is particularly annoying because the Windows Phone App for Desktop frankly is pretty bad and it loses the sync settings (which music you want synced) whenever you change your phone or laptop, and I’ve never discovered a way to save them. Again in fairness Windows Phone App for Desktop is much better than competitors’ apps like iTunes or Blackberry Desktop but it should be better.

Both of my email accounts kept coming up with “your settings are out of date” numerous times, even though they weren’t, and they had been saved and updated several times. The default notification settings didn’t work at all, and there are two different places you have to set email notifications so it’s confusing and unintuitive.

Then came the deal breakers. The first one might sound trivial but it is a huge deal to me. In the revamping of Outlook Mobile, Microsoft have removed the ability to set a complete flag on email messages. You can set a follow-up flag, of course, but not a complete flag. The iOS mail client and the Blackberry 10 one both have the same limitation, but is it now considered a feature because they’ve copied the competition? I dumped Blackberry at BB10 because they also took this feature out (it existed up to BB7.1). It is absolutely essential for me to be able to keep track of email and removing a feature that has existed since Windows Mobile 6, due to a UI refresh, is just beyond ridiculous. Oh by the way I don’t mind the new hamburger menus in Windows 10, they don’t seem to be a great improvement but I guess the UI paradigm is familiar to users from mobile websites and it works OK. But the swipe paradigm also worked well, so the hamburger menus just seem to be another case of following the herd.

The next one was with Office Mobile. Between MSDN and a non-profit organization I do some work for, I actually have two Office 365 subscriptions. For some reason one of them wasn’t picked up and I had to set up the MSDN one on my phone to get access to the full features of Office Mobile. Charging a $9/month fee to not have crippled Office apps on a phone is beyond ridiculous, and Microsoft fully deserve the considerable bad press they’ve got on this one. It’s fine if you already have a subscription, but when you buy a $900+ device that is touted as having these business features, you expect them to be included. So I had to set up the MSDN Office 365 account to get the Office features to work, and what an incredible pain that was. Firstly, it’s not linked to a Microsoft account (password), so there are two registration steps. Then, to get Windows Mobile 10 to recognize the license, you have to unlink all accounts from Office on Windows Mobile, and re-link the one with the license, as a “work account”. You’re limited to two accounts, too, and they appear to not be linked to the accounts on the device at all. After restarting the app a few times and fiddling it might eventually pick up the license. You also have to do it three times, separately for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. What a fabulous idea it was to split up the WP8.1 Office app (which worked fine, by the way) in Windows Mobile 10.

In the new “improved” Office apps on Windows Mobile 10 they’ve also removed the ability to access files from SharePoint on-premises. I doubt this is an oversight, it is a deliberate attempt to try to force customers onto Office 365 and it is just not acceptable, especially when it worked fine in the previous version. I would particularly like to point out that there are good third-party apps for both iOS and Blackberry (and I’m sure there are for Android too) that allow access to SharePoint on-premises. So it is the absolute least that you would expect for a Microsoft device, to work with their own products, when the previous version did! The Office apps even go to the point of bringing in the file history, but when you click on a file from SharePoint on-premises it comes up with a strange error message. The file management app and the file management within the Office apps seemed flaky and it was hard to figure out how to just delete a file. It all seems half-baked.

The OneNote app didn’t impress me much either, in general I found it harder to navigate than the WP8.1 version (to the point I actually thought my notes weren’t syncing), and when you go to the “Add Another Notebook” screen it hung for minutes before coming up with an incomprehensible error.

Skype for Business also doesn't have the new Windows Phone 10 UI (unbelievable considering how long Windows Phone 10 has been in preview) and I presume it still has the same hopeless bugs where push notifications don’t work properly unless the app is kept open and active. They've also added a new bug, causing it to not work with BMW Bluetooth.

There are a few other annoyances too, like the swipe-down gesture to access the notification screen doesn’t seem to work as well as it did on the 930 (I counted seven attempts on one occasion), unless you do it in exactly the right place. Windows Hello iris recognition, while in Beta, doesn't work well enough to be useful, and I don't wear glasses or contact lenses. The USB-C connector is not really an advantage for me because I have no intention of using a display dock, but I now need to get a whole new set of expensive cables. It also won’t work with the micro-USB BMW adaptor/aerial coupler thing in the car, as you can’t seem to buy Micro-USB to USB-C adaptors in Australia (and they are possibly dubious anyway due to being not standards-compliant).

All up this was a huge disappointment, and all of the above was from one morning of playing with the device. I hate to think what else I’ll find after using it for a week, if I can put up with it for that long. It is without a doubt, the worst phone I have ever bought. I have never felt so angry with any phone, let alone after just using it for a few hours. Microsoft should be ashamed of this very poor effort. I really wanted to like the Lumia 950, but I am seriously considering switching back to the 930 at the moment. Microsoft have just got to be able to do better, and frankly, this product does not feel like an upgrade form WP8.1, which really was a pretty good product. Most people who know me well would consider me to be practically a Microsoft evangelist, but in my opinion, Windows Phone 10 is something they should be ashamed of. It is hardly going to help increase market share, but it's also managed to annoy the existing loyal users.

I also recently had an incredibly painful experience with upgrading to Exchange 2016 (which is just unbelievably buggy) so I’m thinking of holding off considerably longer before upgrading my machines to Windows 10 at this point. It will definitely need some very thorough compatibility testing considering the reputation it has developed. I thought Microsoft had learnt their lesson from Vista and Visual Studio 2005 which were notoriously buggy products when first released. Obviously I was wrong.

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