It has been a few days now since Microsoft’s seismic hardware event, and the tremors are still being felt. After biding its time for an exceptionally long period, Redmond has finally shown the fruits of its labor to the world, and how lovely they are. There is of course an elephant in the room: mobile.
That is to say, although Microsoft has had a fantastic event, which took place at the end of a string of equally fantastic events. Google revealed the Pixel C, and two new Nexus devices that look very promising. Apple has, somewhat predictably, once again broken records with its new mobile offerings, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and 950 XL both look very promising, but they have a lot to prove.
Both companies are seeking to dominate the mobile space with their respective offerings, and despite their differences, both are aimed at roughly the same audience.
So how does the new Lumia 950 compare with the iPhone 6S?
Since the iPhone 4, Apple has produced devices with what it calls “Retina” displays; these are screens that come with a pixel density of 300 DPI or slightly over, supposedly at the limits of what the human eye can accurately interpret. Initially, this was simply a reflection of what could be accomplished with a 3.5 – 4 inch screen. However things have changed since 2011.
Now, pushed by the likes of Samsung, screens with a resolution of 2K and above are expected on high end devices, and in this respect the iPhone 6S simply does not deliver. With a 5.2 inch QHD screen, the Lumia 950 completely outdoes the iPhone 6S when it comes to sheer pixel power, with the latter sporting a 4.7 inch,(roughly) 720p screen.
Moreover, the 950 packs AMOLED tech. This screen technology, now finding its way into premium television sets, operates in a different way to the iPhone’s comparatively less advanced LCD screen. An AMOLED panel boasts infinite blacks, superb contrast and (generally) increased power efficiency when compared to LCD, although the latter is often preferred by those who prefer a more neutral color palette.
Maybe it is the case that, like with many other things, Apple is simply waiting for the technology to get to the ‘right’ place before committing to it, or maybe it is sticking with a 720p screen for the sake of battery. Regardless, the Lumia 950 wins.
The processor divide, unlike with screen technology, is far more equal, even if not so much on paper. Microsoft’s Lumia 950 comes sporting one of the chips of choice for manufacturers in 2015, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808. A hexacore 64-bit offering, it is less powerful than the Snapdragon 810, but still very powerful.
In Android devices also sporting the chip, such as the LG G4, performance has been reported by many as perfectly adequate for a flagship device, if not world beating. There is of course an important factor to take into consideration, Windows 10. Although the mobile version of Microsoft’s operating system may be well along the way to completion, the Lumia 950 is yet to be released, and as such how well they will play together remains something of an unknown quantity.
The iPhone 6S comes sporting Apple’s dual core 64-bit A9 chip, which the firm claims is significantly faster than last years offering. This of course comes with the usual slew of optimizations, both from Apple itself and from third-party app developers, meaning that the phone simply flies along — indeed some have claimed it can be too fast in some regards.
Storage options are varied between the two devices. The iPhone comes in 16, 64 and 128GB flavors, while the Lumia 950 has 32GB as standard, expandable by MicroSD card by up to 2TB, when such cards arrive.
In this area, there is too much that only field test will conclusively prove, but for the purposes of brevity and clarity, it is a draw between the two.
This is another difficult area. In some regards, iOS is the undisputed victor over Windows 10 Mobile, with a vast number of high quality apps, a proven developer scene and excellent name recognition. On the other hand, Windows 10 Mobile (previously Windows Phone) sports a vast number of baked-in features that iOS does not, and the potential to grow very quickly. This is of course due to the implementation of ‘universal apps’ by Microsoft.
What this means is quite simple in practice. When a developer creates an application, say for the desktop, and publishes it to the Windows 10 Store, the existing software framework that Microsoft has in place makes it theoretically very easy for the said developer to port their program quickly for use on mobile. This, in addition to the work that Redmond has done to make it easy to port apps from either iOS or Android may also mean that apps could flow in force to the Windows Store. For the moment, this is all up in the air, and things may yet go either way.
At this point, going into further detail is unnecessary, asides from one very significant point: Continuum. Microsoft has set the tone, intentionally or not, for the summer of mobile, ‘productivity’ has been key. With everyone trying to take a bite out of the enterprise market, a host of different solutions, from oversized iPads to stylish Galaxy Notes have been found to the problem that cannot be defined. As might be expected for Microsoft under Satya Nadella, its solution is somewhat left-field.
Continuum is a unique feature that, when paired with a dock, a wireless keyboard and mouse and a screen, allows both the Lumia 950 and 950 XL to function as pared-down PCs. Expected to be something of a big deal in emerging markets, this is also pitched as something of a deal clincher for many on-the-go executives. How effective it will prove to be in selling phones is another matter altogether, however it it resolutely something that the iPhone 6S cannot match.
That isn’t to say that the iPhone 6S isn’t without tricks of its own. Continuing in a fine tradition of small but significant innovations, Apple has included ‘3D touch’ in the phone. Essentially, this is right click for the iPhone, allowing for different levels of interaction, and bringing a great deal of promise. Though the enhanced functionality it provides is currently limited to a few core Apple apps, as third-party developers pick up the ball and run with it, it can be expected that the potential is vast.
Again, this is a tough one to call, but for the moment, given how important apps are to the mobile experience, the iPhone wins, however the war is not yet over.
For many years, the iPhone range has been touted as possessing the best cameras available on the mobile scene. That is if you listen to the tech press of course. Sporting a very naturalistic approach when it comes to white balance and sharpening, the iPhone is designed to be simple but powerful, theoretically allowing anyone to become a decent photographer.
Of course the Lumia range comes from another perspective altogether. Nokia was the first, building crazy phones with massive imaging sensors and sporting powerful lenses to match. Lumia Camera, the imaging app developed by the Finnish firm, has also proven to be something of a success, being the camera app to beat when it comes to easy manual controls. This was all before the acquisition of Nokia’s Devices and Services division by Microsoft however, and the massive lay-offs that followed.
Redmond’s pedigree in the imaging field has yet to be proven, and as the Lumia 950 (and the XL) are the first Windows 10 Mobile flagships, a lot is riding on their success. Sporting 20MP sensors with a nice wide f1.9 aperture, 4K recording and triple LED flashes, things are certainly looking promising.
The iPhone 6S sports a host of advanced features too, with a 12MP f2.2 sensor, ‘True Tone’ dual-LED flash and 4K recording. Though the sensor has remained the same as in previous iterations, it also seems to be the case that the 50% increase in megapixel count over the previous generations has not had too much of an impact on noise performance.
Overall, given the general improvements in mobile camera tech since the release of the Lumia 930 back in 2014, the Lumia 950 is unlikely to be bad. Indeed, like many other excellent mobile sensors, it will probably be roughly on a par or even better than the effort on the 6S; certainly it boasts optical image stabilization (as little as this means on such a small camera) which should theoretically mean for slightly better low light performance.
Also, the Lumia 950 sports a dedicated camera button, something which can be very useful in a number of different situations. Both the iPhone 6S and the Lumia 950 sport 5MP front facing cameras, meaning they ought to be very evenly matched in the selfie stakes.
Ultimately, as with many of the other choices between the two devices, it boils down to a question of control over simplicity, whichever you prefer will inform which device is better for you.
The Lumia 950 comes equipped with a 3000 mAh battery, which in isolation is excellent, however when paired with the pixel dense screen ought to make endurance acceptable rather than astounding. Thankfully, the unit is removable, meaning that road warriors needing to eke out out a few more hours of use can simply ‘hot-swap’ in a fresh unit, in addition to making use of the excellent battery saver mode found in Windows Phone.
As for the iPhone 6S, things are a little different. Unfortunately for many fans of Apple, the size of the battery in the latest iPhone has been reduced from the previous year, from 1800 mAh in the iPhone 6 to 1715 mAh in the newer model. Even with the new low power mode and battery optimizations that come with iOS 9, the battery life of the 6S has widely been reported as around adequate at best.
Ever since the fingerprint scanner first debuted on the iPhone 5S, biometric identification has become something of a big deal, and now be found on a whole host of Android devices as well. Given that Microsoft has been out of the flagship game for so long, no Lumia has yet sported the technology. Again, Redmond has gone left field.
While every one of its competitors has been focused on perfecting the fingerprint scanner (and the sensor found in the 6S is said to be excellent), the Lumia 950 sports Windows Hello. For the layman, what this means is simple, the phone reads your eyeballs. Retina identification, once the preserve of the CIA and the Mission Impossible franchise, promises to revolutionize mobile security.
The Lumia 950 is expected to be priced at around £500 ($549 in the USA), while the iPhone 6S costs £539, £619 and £699 for the 16, 64 and 128GB variants respectively ($649, $749 and $849).
It is often said that those who support Apple are religious in their fervour; if that is the case then it is almost certainly the same for the firm’s detractors. The iPhone 6S, for all of its quirks and flaws, is the best iPhone ever to be made, until next year. With a best-in-class app store, a proven camera, innovative 3D touch technology and a familiar design, it is already the device of choice for millions.
Yet, the Lumia 950 is equally appealing, but for a different subset of the population. Microsoft has reinforced the message that this is a phone for the diehard Windows fans of the world, and in this it has delivered. Bringing features galore, and heaps of promise, the future is arguably looking brighter for Windows Phone than at any other point this year.
For anyone who wants to try something different, for the Windows Phone faithful, for those who need a powerful mobile computer and those who are already tied into the Microsoft ecosystem, the Lumia 950 is an excellent choice. Yet, for anyone simply wanting something that works and recognises the name, or those wanting the very best apps and a powerful mobile device, the iPhone 6S is also a great choice; ultimately it is a matter of personal preference, especially given that the two devices are priced very similarly.
Which device will you be picking up? Let us know in the comments below.Further reading: Apple, Lumia 950, Microsoft