Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL - a Personal View of Their Design

On the subject of the long-awaited Lumia 950 and 950 XL I do wish that more care had been taken about the design of the new flagships. Just to make it really, really clear I am talking about the physical form of the phone not about the beautiful and feature-filled Windows 10 Mobile OS.

It isn’t that the new Lumias are bad-looking but after all that wait I had hoped for something rather better than “not bad-looking”. On first view they look like good, solid, sturdy, workhorse mid-range smart phones. As they are priced to compete with the iPhone 6S plus or the Galaxy 6 whatever it is called now they won’t do half as well as they deserve. I don’t want to let MS off the hook here. It is not as if they haven’t had time to work on this. We are talking years of development.

New smart phones have to take the first part of that name in its other sense too and smart phones now have also to serve as fashion items. Sheer styling is one of the many, many reasons for the ubiquity of the iPhone. They are beautiful tech objects. Whether you like living in that walled garden or not when you fork out all that money for an iPhone you become the owner of something very, very much better looking than “not bad”. The functionality of the new 950 and 950XL will be fantastic. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. I have also the nagging feeling that the design was also handed over to a tech department where it should have been hived off to a team with whose sole brief was to design a beautiful smart phone.

I have to confess to being a little disappointed about new Lumias and I do recognize this is a strange thing to say when they have hardly been on sale but I’ll have a go at explaining my odd view.

I think this really is Microsoft’s last chance to make it in the mobile world and I say this as a very big fan of Windows mobile.

What Microsoft could or should have done is hand say a Huawei P6 or P7? (I’m trying here to reach back in time to when I guess Microsoft were designing the 950 and 950 XL) to the design team and told them something like ‘Make the new Lumia flagships look like these or even better.’

Instead, I have the feeling Microsoft concentrated on getting the internals and software just right and I’m guessing the new Lumia 950 & 950 XL will have superb functionality so outclassing other flagships such as any Android top of the range and the new Apple iPhone 6S Plus. All that said, this is just not enough these days. Flagships have to look the part too because Microsoft are trying to sell in a market where styling is all important. Smart phones are also fashion items made to be bought and carried by normal people. Ignoring for a moment what version of Snapdragon the new Lumias will be carrying and most people will ignore this, if you stand a Huawei P8 next to a Lumia 950 XL the difference in sheer stylish elegance will be all too apparent.

In other words I think it is time for some brushed aluminium to make its return to the Lumia world as in the 830 and 930. (There's a ‘stop press’ here with the rumour dated Oct 3rd that " Microsoft is allegedly working on a new metal-frame "affordable flagship" so the prudent advice might be to watch this space.)

You should never let tech teams design chassis’s or the externals of a phone. This is the equivalent of letting husbands choose wallpaper.

The UI of Windows Phone for me is streets ahead of that of iOS and Android but needs the right showcase. I hope I’m wrong with my faint praise for the ‘not bad’ styling of the new Lumia 950 & 950 XL models and that they fly off the shelves and prove me hopelessly mistaken on all I’ve said above.

Browsing around on the internet I’ve noticed one or two people making reference to the fact that a third party manufacturer has already launched some new backs for the 950 and 950 XL and these backs have an aluminium band so ‘solving’ the flagship look ‘problem’. Hmmm. To labour my already over-laboured point; it’s a shame, I think, that some manufacturer believes that the new models need doctoring on launch and have even launched their own product line to cater for this. The Lumia 950 and 950 XL are top of the range flagship phones, after all, going straight up against the top of the range Android and iPhone offerings. A market for third party backs shouldn’t really exist, methinks. The very fact it does tells its own story.

Personally, I intend to wait a year till the Lumia 950 XL reaches an affordable price for me. Windows Mobile has by a country mile the best interface of all mobile phones, in my opinion. I would like to see it thrive.

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