Opinion: In the Year of Compromises, Microsoft Nailed Flagship Hardware

Opinion: In the Year of Compromises, Microsoft Nailed Flagship Hardware

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This year, we’ve seen OEMs fiercely put out flagship after flagship in an attempt to squeeze the last drops off the premium market, as the battle transitions to middle-range and affordable devices.

When looking back, it’s clear that manufacturers tried to up their game: Samsung split both of its traditional flagships into two; LG introduced the V10 to sate consumers’ lust for powerful phones in the Fall; the Nexus line, too, has been split into two; HTC put out the M9, the M9+ and other variations, and is now coming up with the widely-rumored A9; Sony brought their two yearly flagships, but divided the Z5 with a premium variant too; OnePlus is also allegedly coming up with a second phone for the year; Motorola broke up its Moto X flagship into two as well. So this year was not just one of arguably disappointing phones, but one of flagship overabundance — something which we have criticized manufacturers for time and again, but on the low-end.

Despite many new hardware features, flagship packages became less alluring

Yet despite all of this, the overall feeling amongst enthusiasts is one of disappointment, claiming something is lacking. Be it because of missing originality or because of the feared plateaus, the overall trend surfaced over virtually all publications through their numerous hands-on and reviews. Interestingly enough, this comes during a time where many advances and adoptions are still being made: USB Type C, fingerprint scanners, and even 4K-resolution screens. So why can’t these big, premium and feature-packed smartphones catch anyone’s attention for too long?

Compromises, of course. We’ve seen them in various places and in various phones from Android OEMs. But if there is a release that sparked my interest, it is one outside Android. Microsoft’s Lumia series has always been, in my opinion, rather boring and stale (mostly because of the OS, but also because I’ve personally been exposed to middle-range Windows handsets). Yet the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, announced just a couple of days ago come with specification packages that are not just impressive, but tempting. And if you follow my articles, you might have noticed that I am not easily impressed, and that I tend to really dislike Microsoft products and software on the whole.

Flagships might be “dying”, but the companies behind each platform are full of life

Yet the Lumia 950 and 950 XL look extremely compelling. High resolution AMOLED displays? Check. Latest Snapdragon processors? Check. Big, removable batteries? Yep. Expandable storage? You got it. Promising camera hardware? Sure! 

RAM? You get 3GB, which I imagine should be enough for Windows 10 Mobile. Need more future proofing? USB Type C, with USB 3.1, and it allegedly charged 50% in just 30 minutes as well. And unlike Google, that was not used as an excuse to omit wireless charging. The prices are also not bad at $549 for the 5.2-inch Lumia and $649 for the 5.7-inch Lumia XL.

These Lumia phones bring most of the things enthusiasts wanted out of 2015 flagships, and in two form factors

To be frank, I think this is as good as it gets in 2015 so far. Omitting Samsung’s processors and the extra gigabyte of RAM that many Android phones adopted, there is not much one could complain about in these hardware packages, except the base storage. But if we take into account that this will be running Windows 10 Mobile, likely specifically optimized far better than Android, those stop looking quite like the compromises on our beloved 2015 phones. If there is one thing that surprised me time and again about the Lumia phones I’ve handled, it’s how decently they performed for being middle-range devices. Assuming the software can make the best out of these specifications… then Windows lovers are in for quite a treat.

But that is the specific problem and the source of envy on my part — these will be running Windows 10 Mobile, and I would not move from Android to that. As tempting as its productivity-oriented features are, and as good as Continuum sounds, I rather stick with Android. Windows 10 Mobile can also run Android apps, though, meaning those who do not value Android’s openness as much as I do have another alternative. Support and app availability won’t be perfect, but that’s another option Microsoft put in place. Now that they’ve accustomed Android users to their offerings through their relentless Android app campaign, I suspect plenty of consumers wouldn’t mind the switch.

But that’s not what I want — I am far too invested in Android, and not just economically. Frequent readers might have caught some of my praises to Android’s openness and how software like it can benefit all of us. To me, Microsoft’s Mobile OS is ideologically alien, and omitting the personal distrust I have for the company, I also don’t consider it a platform where I can get precisely the experience I want.

So despite the infinitesimal probability of me getting such a phone, I still want to give credit where credit is due. Good riddance, Microsoft: your hardware line-up, from the Lumias to the Surface passing through all the neat gadgets you have in store, is looking excellent. Competition is ramping up in mobile tech, and each company should be putting out their best. Flagships might be “dying”, but the companies behind each platform are full of life. And that’s a great thing to see, because as the old saying goes, “competition is always good, but winning is always better“ — and we are the winners here, even if indirectly!

What do you think of Microsoft’s latest hardware? Would you want Android on such a phone? Sound off in the comments!

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