Microsoft Lumia 950 review – The Verge
What really sets the Lumia 950 and Windows 10 apart from the Androids and iPhones of the world is its Continuum feature, which is an attempt to turn your diminutive phone into a full-fledged PC. To do that, you need Microsoft’s $99 Display Dock (or a Miracast dongle), a mouse and keyboard (Bluetooth or USB), and an external display, such as a monitor or TV. Plug your phone into the dock, plug in or pair your peripherals, and plug in your display, and boom, all of your phone’s content is now on the big screen. And it’s not just a blown up version of your phone’s display: Continuum recognizes that the monitor has a different screen size and resolution from your phone and presents something like a desktop, complete with Start menu and Action Center. It really looks just like Windows 10 on a PC. You can use your phone as a trackpad if you don’t have a mouse handy, or you can use it completely independently of what you’re doing on the big screen. You could, for instance, play a movie on the big screen to entertain the kids and then go back to your phone to work on email.
Open an app in Continuum, such as Outlook Mail or the Edge Browser, and it will adjust itself to fit the larger screen. There’s no windowing here, but you can do basic multitasking and switch between apps with Alt-Tab. I enjoyed using it to blast through my inbox, compose Word documents, and even do some light web browsing. Most of the time it performs really well, though the web browser is where Continuum really shows its limits, as it’s now trying to load full desktop pages, complete with all of their ads and media, as opposed to mobile-optimized versions. Open up a couple of tabs and you’ll be in a world of hurt with slow scrolling, page reloads, and all of the other problems that were solved on the desktop years ago but are still very real on our mobile devices.
Continuum only works with a handful of apps
But the larger problem with Continuum is that it only works with a handful of apps, the vast majority of which are, unsurprisingly, made by Microsoft. Sure, it’s great for going through my email in Outlook or writing a document in Word, but I can’t put Slack on the big screen, seriously cramping my productivity. Nor can I blast Netflix up there when I want to sit back and watch Master of None for the thousandth time. Microsoft’s promise of Windows 10 was that it would enable “universal” apps that work across your phone and desktop, but that reality is still not here, and it’s the thing that keeps Continuum from fulfilling the dream of replacing your laptop with your phone.
I’m also not convinced that toting around all of the necessary accessories to make Continuum work is any better than just carrying around a small laptop, which is guaranteed to be far more powerful and capable. There might be some enterprises out there that see this as the perfect “thin client” solution, where a user only has to have a phone to get their work done, but the practical applications for the rest of us just aren’t here.
Continuum also magnifies Windows 10’s biggest issue, which is the same problem Microsoft has contended with for years. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the platform still doesn’t have many of the apps that are hugely popular on Android and iOS. When I’m using the 950, I can’t manage my email with Gmail or Inbox, I can’t check in on my friend’s Snapchat accounts, I can’t pair any of the cool new smartwatches to it, and I can’t pay for my lunch with a tap of my phone. Worse yet, the apps that are here are woefully inferior to their iOS or Android counterparts. (I’m looking directly at you, Instagram and Twitter.) These might not be dealbreakers for someone that is buying a $150 smartphone, but the 950 is meant to be the best that Microsoft has to offer, and I guarantee these things will be problems for those looking for a high-end device.