Head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs Sony Xperia 5 iii

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Last year's Xperia 5 ii (read as 'mark 2') was almost a perfect match in terms of specs and expectations for a classic 'Nokia/Windows phone' user - excellent audio, excellent imaging, not too large or heavy, fully water and dust proof, and so on. But we now have the brand new Xperia 5 iii, sporting internal upgrades plus (nominally) the same dual-focal-length telephoto camera from the Xperia 1 iii - let's hope it performs better at its upper zoom factor than the flagship did! Here's the specs breakdown, anyway. [Note that this is cross-posted to AAS as well, as it's a modern equivalent to the best of the old Nokia Nseries, I contend...]

Lumia 950 XL and Sony Xperia 5 iii
Lumia 950 XL and Xperia 5 iii

Why the hype from me over the Xperia 5 series? Well:

  • in a world fixated on auto-everything for imaging
  • in a world where the 3.5mm headphone jack and decent wired audio is a rarity
  • in a world where storage is fixed and if you run out then it's tough - you need to delete stuff or buy another phone
  • in a world where phones are getting larger and larger, and less and less pocketable

...the Xperia 5 iii is refreshing device:

  • Imaging can be full automatic, but only within one lens - if you want a different effect then you manually - and creatively - choose it.
  • The 3.5mm jack was missing from the Xperia 5 original, but Sony has rightly recognised user demand and actually brought it back (for the ii range, last year). Bravo.
  • The Xperia 5 ii has microSD support for easy storage expansion (unless you use two SIMs)
  • The phone is refreshingly small, despite the stated screen diagonal.

Readers from last year may spot that I nicked the previous paragraphs from my 'mark ii' commentary - raising the very valid point that if you don't need the slightly more flexible camera system, or the more integrated camera software, then you're possibly better off buying last year's Xperia 5 (the 'ii') if you can find it second hand or on clearance (Sony itself doesn't do 'offers' very often!)

As usual, just for fun and curiosity, I've shaded in green an obvious 'win' for either device. Any row where a winner would be totally subjective is left uncoloured. Or, where all devices are utterly excellent but in different ways, I've given each a 'green'(!)

[By the way, if you're viewing this feature on a phone then the table may well cause you problems. Try viewing in landscape mode? Failing that, go view this on a laptop or tablet!]

  Microsoft Lumia 950 XL Sony Xperia 5 iii
Date first available November 2015 September 2021
Current price, availability No longer officially for sale, though it's often on clearance prices if you're lucky and at outrageous profiteering prices due to rarity (if you're not!)

£900 inc VAT, so a little pricey. I honestly don't know how Sony justifies this - with no wireless charging, it should be £800 absolute maximum and preferably £700.

Still, this is Sony, and it's perceived as a premium brand. Sony fans pay whatever is asked in order to buy-in, etc.

Dimensions, form factor, weight 152 x 78 x 8mm, plastic chassis and replaceable backs (plastic/leather/wood etc, from Mozo, as modelled here!), 165g, bezels are comparatively small


157 x 68 x 8mm, 168g, slightly taller and much narrower. Though similar weight and heft.
Durability No specific durability metrics, though the fact that the back comes off will help enormously for water damage, i.e. taking out battery and cards immediately, drying out the internals, even unscrewing the motherboard from the guts of the phone. I'm old-school here! All damage to the back or corners is trivial through replacement of the rear, but the screen's exposed, of course. The plastics used should absorb shock and, anecdotally, I've never bothered putting a case on any Lumia. Just saying. I think that fact is significant. IP68 certified for dust/water, which is great, and a Sony flagship staple. Glass front and back do require a case though - and there's not one in the box, so do prepare/allow for this. Plus the Lumia's parts aren't always available anymore, which also has to be taken into consideration. Overall a cased Xperia gets the win, I think.


Operating system, interface Windows 10 Mobile, (dismissable) virtual controls, as needed, now officially updated to W10 Fall Creators Update (Redstone 3, Autumn 2017) with security to 'January 2020'.

Android 11, July 2021 security, gesture controls available, or navigation buttons on-screen (the default still, oddly, in 2021). A fairly standard lightly skinned Google interface throughout, with just two major bits of bloatware - Call of Duty and Asphalt 9, both of which can be disabled before their 5GB of updates flood in(!!). Or perhaps these are nice 'includes' for a serious gamer?

Display  5.7" AMOLED (1440p at 16:9 aspect ratio, matching most video media), Gorilla Glass 4, ClearBlack Display polarisers help with outdoor contrast, excellent viewing angles. Screen area is approximately 88 cm2

Glance screen available (in various colours) for always-on time, day and notification icons, plus some detailed info from a specified app.

6.1" 1080p 120Hz OLED display, 21:9 ratio, Gorilla Glass 6, screen area is roughly 87cm2

Excellent colours and contrast, right up with the Lumias, but gets the win here for the high refresh rate - I can't see the different but then I'm relatively old(!) Young eyes will immediately see smoother scrolling.

There's an 'Always on' 'Glance' display with time, date and battery status (off by default, but trivial to toggle on to 'smart' or 'always' modes).

Connectivity LTE, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 4.2 (all uses).

Continuum connectivity to use a wide range of first and third party UWP apps on external displays as secondary screen, independent of the phone display. Includes the NexDock 2, transforming the Lumia into a Windows 10 S laptop, effectively.

LTE, 5G, NFC (all uses), Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac/6, integral wifi tethering, Bluetooth 5.2 (all uses). Hard core geeks will say 5G trumps a Continuum desktop, but I disagree - it gives the Lumia a whole extra world of  interesting connection options, as with modern Samsung (DeX) devices.


Processor, performance Snapdragon 810 chipset, 3GB RAM, faster than it's ever been now on the Fall Creators Update though still slower for almost everything than on the Android phone. Multi tasking and app resumption is excellent though, at least with all the modern UWP apps
Snapdragon 888, 8GB RAM, lightning fast at everything
Capacity 32GB internal storage, expandable via (cheap) microSD to extra 256GB 128/256GB, microSD expansion is present and correct
Imaging (stills) 20MP PureView f/1.9 1/2.4" BSI sensor, Phase Detection auto-focus, dedicated camera shutter button and launch key, 1.5x lossless digital zoom (in 8MP oversampled mode, and lossy digital after that), OIS. 'Rich Capture' produces customisable HDR shots and 'dynamic flash', with triple LED illumination. Outstanding shots in most light conditions, with just focussing issues in low light as an Achilles heel. Dedicated camera shutter button and launch key, main specs:

12 MP, f/1.7, 1/1.7", main camera, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
12 MP, f/2.3, 70mm (2.9x telephoto), f/2.8, 105mm (4.4x telephoto), 1/2.9", Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
12 MP, f/2.2, 124˚, ultrawide, 1/2.55", Dual Pixel PDAF

The Camera application, notably, has both Basic and Alpha modes, the latter with mocked up DSLR 'Alpha' interface. Pretty cool, though there's a bit of a learning curve involved if you've not done DSLRs for a while!

An imaging feature is next, don't worry.

5MP front camera 8MP, f/2.0 front camera, way better than the Lumia's.
Imaging (video) Up to 4K, optically (and optionally digitally) stabilised, with 'Best photo' 8MP grabbing built-in, plus Rich Recording and HAAC microphones for high quality, gig-level stereo capture. Up to 4K video capture, with '5 axis gyro' EIS, (human or pet) eye tracking focus mode (20 times a second), high quality stereo audio capture. You can capture video in the regular Camera app or in an extra 'Cinema Pro', pre-loaded with complete control over focus and lighting, plus preset image grading. Again, very cool. And, overall, gets the win.
Music and Multimedia
A tinny mono speaker by modern standards, though as ever you can trade volume for fidelity in a simple tweak on Lumias. Very good stereo speakers, both with front facing apertures, top and bottom. Decent fidelity and loud. Dolby Atmos too, but it's not really needed uness you're watching specific Atmos content. A Dynamic Vibration system uses a large haptics engine to pulse with loud bass frequencies and this is surprisingly effective.
3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP+AptX, plus a decent internal DAC, so great wired and wireless headphone audio too.  3.5mm headphone jack, A2DP, AptX, AptX HD, all very similar in volume and quality to the Lumia (i.e. very good). The specs advertise 24-bit audio, but the DAC is - I suspect - just the Snapdragon 888's, so in practice it's not class leading (as the LG flagship's - or the Windows-powered Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro - were), i.e. there's no dedicated DAC or power amp. Still great to see the jack in 2021 on a 'modern' design though.
Navigation  Windows 10 Maps is now pretty mature and impressive, especially once you've learned the live traffic routine trick! Offline maps save a lot of data bandwidth for those on tight contracts or anyone in a low signal (data) area. But it's all looking a little neglected in 2020 compared to the bells and whistles in Google Maps. And even live traffic is now becoming erratic.


Google Maps is now the gold standard in phone navigation, tied in with many other Google services and offering true real time navigation around traffic issues, even at local level, along with offline maps that auto-update.
Cortana/Voice Cortana was in theory now mature and well integrated, though functionality has been falling away and most attempts to rouse her end in failure in 2020. Google Assistant is baked in and works well, far superior to the dying Cortana in 2020, due to the investment that Google has put in over the last few years.
Battery, life  Removable 3000mAh battery, and the ability to change cells are a positive here (and you CAN still buy decent spare batteries), plus USB Type C Power Delivery (up to 3A, so 15W) and 1A Qi wireless charging built-in also helps. However, a Lumia running Windows 10 Mobile will now discharge in 24 hours even if you don't use it much, so it's a win here with caveats!
Sealed 4500mAh battery, gets easily through a day, with charge to spare. Type C port supports 30W wired charging via Power Delivery standard. Notably, there's no Qi charging, which is understandable given the thickness, but also annoying at this price and hands the Lumia the win. Just saying...


Cloud aids Windows Photos syncs at full resolution and quality across all signed-in devices, subject to your OneDrive tariff (stingy, unless you have Office 365 - most of us do, hence the 'win' here), should you have thousands of images in the system. Plus Windows 10 backs all your media, application data and settings to a separate backup folder system, tariff-free on OneDrive, for easy restoration on a new or factory reset phone. Google Photos does a great job of organising photos and syncing them across all signed-in phones and tablets, albeit at 'reduced' quality (re-compression server-side). 
File compatibility As with all Windows phones, plugging into a Windows PC gives full drag and drop to the phone's user file system. Plugging into a Mac is more problematic, though seems to work under Catalina. Plugging into any PC gives immediate MTP file access, plus this works on a Mac on all OS versions, with Google's Android File Transfer utility, for drag and drop of all user files. Seamless and lightning fast.
Biometrics  Iris recognition ('Windows Hello') works well unless you wear varifocals(!), but takes a couple of seconds (including an animation!) in real world use. There's also no official way of paying in shops using this. The side-power-button-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor is foolproof and reliable, unlocking instantly. Works to authenticate transactions too, as you'd expect, with Google Pay or in the Play Store.


Applications and ecosystem  Windows 10 Mobile had most (though not all) mainstream apps and services covered, though some are dropping away now - see my guide! Often third party clients are involved, mind you, there are companies who hate Microsoft so much that they simply refuse to write for Windows, it seems. And 'long tail' niche/boutique apps are hard to find for real world companies and shops. The might of Google and Android's app ecosystem - everything is available and almost always in first party form. 


Upgrades and future Windows 10 Mobile is now effectively out of support. From now on, it will be useable but with more and more service caveats applying. Still, 'end 2019' was a full four years since the Lumia 950 XL was launched, so it's hard to complain. Sony has a good track record at supporting its phones, so let's assume that this will get good support through 2022 and 2023. And hopefully through 2024. Impressive, but expected nowadays.

Lumia 950 XL and Sony Xperia 5 iii


Adding up the green 'wins' (for fun?!) gives a 14-4 win to the much newer device, which is about as expected and rather overwhelming. Readers coming in from AAS may well note the Xperia 5 iii as a phone to consider since it takes photography, videography, and media playback all seriously. Albeit at a (high) price!

Lumia 950 XL and Sony Xperia 5 iii