The "XL" moniker might make you think the only difference is it has a bigger screen. Erm, not quite. Sure, the XL's Quad HD AMOLED display comes in at 5.7 inches diagonal, but it also packs a slightly snappier (on paper, anyway) 2.0GHz Snapdragon 810 chipset -- again paired with 3GB of RAM. I say "on paper" because Windows Phone was always one of those platforms that never needed a lot of horsepower to provide slippery-smooth performance -- that's mostly the case here too, although that speedier silicon should help when you connect the phone to a display via a dock accessory and get your Continuum on. That's probably where the liquid-cooling tech (originally seen in the Surface Pro 3) comes in -- lashing these things to a big screen must certainly be pushing these to the limit, although not many Microsoft staffers were keen to dig into detail here. I didn't mind the 950's lightness so much, but the 950 XL feels similarly airy... and lacking in the sort of material gravitas that older high-end Lumias were known for. I know, I know: I'm probably alone in loving slightly heavy phones, but at least the 950XL is surprisingly easy to hang on to thanks to its weight and despite its bigger screen. Oh, and the icing on the cake? Both phones have expandable memory slots and removable batteries.
A bombastic Continuum demo drew cheers during the presentation, and for good reason -- the ease with which these phones basically turned into tiny computers was near-astonishing. Connecting the phones to a display with the help of a tiny adapter box let the multiple Universal apps preloaded onto the phone -- think Word, Outlook and the like -- breathe easier with more screen real estate. The jury's still out on how many normal, phone-shopping consumers will want to turn their phones into mostly capable desktops, but you know what? Continuum really, properly works. Neither Lumia is equipped to seriously replace a laptop thanks to the feature, but it's a welcome touch for when you need just a little more room to get things done.
Microsoft has plenty to be proud of here: After cooking up a mobile platform that seemed destined for very little, Windows 10 feels like a really meaningful step forward. What remains to be seen is whether people shopping for smartphones will take a chance -- even a deserved one -- on Microsoft's mobile comeback. For Microsoft's sake, and for the sake of the competition that'll push all players to do a little better, I hope they do.
Get all the news from today's Microsoft event right here.