Windows Phone has a small but faithful fan base. Here’s our top pick of the few phones currently available.
So you’re a real maverick, huh? Microsoft’s mobile-phone platform, Windows 10 Mobile, is a little orphaned right now. While the company works busily on its rumored Surface Phone (an early 2018 arrival is the current speculation), there haven’t been a lot of Windows Phone devices or apps released in the past year, and Windows Phone’s US market share hovers around one percent.
Still, though, the OS is worth recommending to those who value ease-of-use or need to fit into Microsoft-centric enterprises. The Windows Phone OS is simple to use, with big, bold tiles, and its lack of brand-name apps won’t bother folks who are just looking for basic smartphone functions: Web browsing, email, texting, calling, photos. Windows Phones are also very easily managed by IT departments.
If you’re shopping for a Windows Phone, make sure it’s running Windows 10, not 8.1. Ideally, you’d also like a phone that supports Continuum, a Windows feature that lets you use your phone like a desktop PC with the appropriate docking station.
The best Windows Phone available in the US right now, taking both price and performance into account, is the Alcatel Idol 4S, which we didn’t anoint when we first published this a few weeks ago because we had some questions about its availability. Alcatel and T-Mobile have assured us that it’s going to be available going forward, though, so we’re enthusiastically recommending it now. The $469.99 Idol 4S balances a fast, current Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with a reasonable price. It works with Microsoft’s Continuum, and it’s the first Windows Phone to support VR, although there isn’t much content out there. However, it’s exclusive to T-Mobile.
The best value Windows Phone right now is the unlocked Microsoft Lumia 950 (at right), which has the latest version of Windows 10 Mobile and supports Continuum. If you shop around, you can find it for between $249-$329, and it’s compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile, and cheaper carriers that use those networks. We tested the Lumia 950 when it was released in late 2015, and it’s had several software upgrades since we first saw it as buggy and laggy. It also cost $600 when we reviewed it. At $300, it’s a pretty amazing deal.
The far more expensive HP Elite x3 (at left) is the best bet for enterprise users, because of HP’s enterprise support policies. The Elite x3 has the fast Snapdragon 820, an absolutely gorgeous 6-inch AMOLED screen, and powerful front-facing speakers. Don’t think of the x3’s cost as being purely about the phone; it’s also about features like HP Workspace, which virtualizes Win32 apps in Continuum mode so you can run all of your business-critical Windows apps on the device.
For a smaller, less expensive new option, the Lumia 550 may fit the bill. It has a 4.7-inch screen and works on AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s networks, along with budget providers such as Ting, Simple Mobile, and US Mobile. The major downside? Its Snapdragon 210 processor is quite slow, and performance will lag on anything but the most basic tasks. There’s no way to use Continuum here.
The two other Continuum-compatible phones out there right now are the Lumia 950 XL and the Acer Liquid Jade Primo. The 950 XL is much like the 950, just slightly faster, physically larger, and more expensive. We prefer the 950 since it’s easier to handle. And the Liquid Jade Primo has a lower-resolution screen than the 950, but right now costs a little more.
Many of the other, older Windows Phones out there right now use the old 8.1 version of the operating system, although some also offer upgrades to Windows 10. We don’t recommend those any longer; even if they got one upgrade, we’re not convinced they’ll be fully supported into the future.
The full array of Windows Phones available in the US can be found at the Microsoft Store. If you aren’t tied to Windows Phone, check out our list of the Best Android Phones and the Best Phones overall.
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