Nokia Lumia 925 Review

The Nokia Lumia 925 for AT&T is one of Microsoft’s’ latest smartphone offerings. It runs the Windows Phone 8 (soon to be 8.1) operating system, features a 4.5″ AMOLED display, snaps 8.7 megapixel photos with a PureView camera and is encased in a solid aluminum chassis. With these top-of-the-heap specs, can the 925 compete with the likes of the iPhone, Galaxy S4 or the HTC One? Read on to find out.

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Design

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The Lumia 925 features one of the cleanest and most beautiful designs I’ve seen on a smartphone since the iPhone 5. The phone is wrapped in a solid aluminum band that gives it a premium look and feel. And although the back is made of a cheap-feeling black polycarbonate, the overall aesthetic of this phone is stunning.

The weight of the phone is another asset that can’t be overlooked. At 4.9 ounces, the 925 falls into the sweet spot of smartphone palm-ability. Even though it measures in at just over 5 inches tall, the 925 is extremely functional thanks to it being only .33 inches thick–making it the thinnest phone Nokia has made to date. That thinness, coupled with some smooth edges makes for a great feeling smartphone.

Positioned on the right hand side of the Nokia Lumia 925 you’ll find the volume rocker, power/lock key and camera button. Thankfully, all of them work great and feel good when pressed. They also blend right in with the smooth aluminum band, so if you’re not used to a Nokia device, finding them sight-unseen may take a few tries.

Walking around with the Lumia brought the occasionally looks, but it was when I was around friends and cohorts that I really felt the love for the look of this device. The Lumia brings an industrial design mixed with a welcoming feel, making it a perfect form-factor for almost any buyer. The design of the 925 is definitely one of it’s high marks and sets a new bar for mid-range smartphones, and perhaps even some high-end ones.

Display

Lumia 925 display

Coming from an iPhone 5, I was pleasantly surprised at how big the screen of the Lumia 925 is. At 4.5 inches (measured diagonally), the AMOLED “PureMotion HD+” screen accommodated my big fingers quite well. I could move my thumb from the bottom-left of the screen to the top-right without any strain or repositioning of my hand, which speaks to the great design of the phone yet again.

Getting back to that “PureMotion HD+” screen, I experienced bittersweet results. On one hand, if you are used to the rich pixel-density of an iPhone screen, then you will feel right at home with the 925 as it touts 334 ppi (pixels per inch). On the other, the AMOLED display left something to be desired. Viewing angles were just OK, and when trying to use the phone outside on a sunny day the screen was almost unusable. If you use the Lumia indoors a lot, then this might not be a factor to you; the “clear black” technology lives up to its name, as you can barely make out the edges of the screen when the phone is on.

If you do a lot of heavy web browsing or reading, then the display should be great for you, as text shows up crisp and bright. However, Images are sometimes overblown in the color department–a common effect of AMOLED screens–and seemed almost hyper-real. While this may be unnoticeable to some users, my eyes picked up on it right away, so it has to be taken into account.

Covering up the display is Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2, the de-facto glass for most major smartphones today. I use my regular phone fairly heavily, so I put the 925 through the same everyday rigors. Not surprisingly, the 925 survived without a scratch through constant pocket removals, a few dunks in the coin-laden catch-all on my dresser, and the occasional drop on my car floor.

Overall, it’s a competent display with a tough exterior. Perhaps in the next iteration, Nokia will opt for a LCD to make this screen really shine.

Performance/UI

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I’m not going to sugar-coat it: Windows Phone takes a great deal of time to get used to, especially if you’re coming from iOS (the iPhone operating system). From the moment you slide-up the screen and the bright “live-tiles” fly in, there is a feeling of trepidation. The big and small tiles seem inviting, but a quick swipe to left reveals all the apps on the phone, something users may not pick up on at first. Any app can be “pinned” to the home screen with a long press, and in addition, the app can then be resized to fit the width of the screen or a small fraction of it. Other customization include changing the color scheme (I chose Cypress Chronicle gold) and being able to set a custom lock screen image.

lumia 925 ui gifOnce the navigation and other small quirks are figured out (long-press the back button to open multi-tasking, long-press the windows log for a siri-like voice search, quick press the back button to switch to a previous app), Windows Phone 8 flies. The Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ S4 processor (dual-core) and 1 GB of RAM really make the 925 feel like an ultra-productive device. I experienced minimal lag when using the UI, and almost none when perusing the photo album or a fully loaded web page. However, some third-party apps tend to bog the otherwise speedy system down.

Facebook and Twitter are always lagging when trying to scroll, as are webpages in the browser that don’t seem to load all the way. I also experienced repetitive lag when jumping in and out of the camera app–something that I truly wasn’t expecting. This camera transition lag even forced the 925 to reboot once.

Photo Oct 21, 10 41 46 PMA favorite feature of the Lumia that I haven’t seen on any other smartphone is the discrete time display. If you choose to enable it, a small time code will appear on the screen, even when the phone is locked. From here you can give the screen a double-tap to wake it, which is nice feature if you are one-handing the phone and can’t reach the power button.

With Windows Phone 8.1 literally around the corner (the developer beta is out now), I have no doubt Microsoft will work hard to fix these strange bugs. Until then, users might be caught off-guard by the occasional stutter, which can be annoying but in my opinion doesn’t tarnish an otherwise swift operating system.

Battery

All day battery plus more. That is the tagline that should accompany the Lumia because it lives up to that type of hype. And for a power iPhone user who usually sees 7-10 hours before having to plug-in, that’s a breath of fresh air.

I even forgot to plug the 925 in one night with less than 50 percent battery remaining, and it still got through the next workday with no issues. The 2,000mAh battery on this phone is a workhorse. I’m not quite sure if it’s a combination of the software and battery, but either way I was thrilled with the performance.

I only have one complaint about the Lumia’s battery: it’s non-replaceable. Like it’s HTC One and iPhone counterparts, the battery is sealed in the unit to give it that pleasingly slim ascetic. Unfortunately, this means that users will not be able to buy spare batteries or replacements.

Even with this caveat, the 925’s battery is one of the industries best. It sips on power while not compromising on performance, and still manages to look trim in the process. Nothing but praise in this category.

Apps/Ecosystem

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For the entertainment-minded individual, the Lumia 925 is an outstanding phone for multimedia. It comes with 16GB of internal storage, but there’s just a little over 11GB free for your apps and media. Music tracks sound fine through the rear-facing speaker, and Windows Phone 8 offers plenty of possibilities for syncing or streaming various media types. Videos really pop on the Pure Black screen, and having that extra half-inch, compared with the iPhone, is exceptional for watching movies.

Applications are a mixed bag on this phone, a story a love, hate and frustration. Nokia enriches the Lumia line with proprietary apps, although the navigation ones have been renamed HERE (HERE Maps, Drive+, Transit and City Lens). I’m not particularly a fan of the navigation, although the City Lens (which augments your surrounding view with places of interest) is a nice touch. Nokia has made these apps available to other Windows Phone manufacturers, therefore diluting one of the elements that makes its handsets stand out from the crowd.

lumia 925 browser gifI enjoyed using most of the other standard Windows Phone apps like messaging, Xbox games, calendar and internet explorer. What frustrated me more than anything was the email integration, especially with Gmail. No matter what I did, the app refused to load any more than 10 emails at a time. And forget about searching–it was in a word, abysmal. However, if you are an Outlook user, you will have no qualms about this service, as Microsoft makes sure to give a smooth experience. My inbox was always up-to-date with emails and I could search as far back in my archives as my heart desired.

The problem with Windows Phone is the comparative lack of big-name apps compared with Android and iOS. I found myself missing my heavily used favorites such as Vine, Flipboard (announced as coming soon), Instagram (also coming soon), Snapchat, and every Google made app–especially YouTube. The lack of marquis cross-platform apps found on iOS and Android really hurt not only the reputation of Windows Phone, but he usability as well. That being said, if you are deeply integrated into Microsoft services like Skydrive, Outlook, OneNote and Office, then you will be right at home. Not surprisingly, Microsoft services just flat-out work in Windows Phone; every app talks to each other and is fully integrated into the platform. Although I was disenfranchised by the lack of popular third-party apps, I could definitely see a Windows power user falling in love with this ecosystem.

Camera

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The 8.5 megapixel camera on the Lumia 925 is without question the number one reason to buy this phone. Nokia is labeling this camera as a PureView shooter, and although it doesn’t have the hype of it’s larger siblings 41 megapixel camera (the Lumia 1020), the 925 holds it’s own in the camera phone wars. The 925 features four camera apps to help the user get the best quality photo possible: Pro Cam, Smart Cam, Panorama and Cinemagraph.

lumia 925 cameraNokia’s Pro Cam app allows the user to have full manual control over the image; but it has some deficiencies. For what it’s worth, the interface isn’t the most intuitive; but once you get the hang of it it will come like second nature. The app allows the user to fully control ISO, white balancing, shutter speed, focusing, and exposure compensation. By design, phone cameras do not have variable apertures with the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Zoom, which is more a camera than a phone anyway. I was able to take exceptional photos with this mode that rivals even the iPhone 5S’ much-lauded camera.

The low light performance of the 925 is like that of most modern point and shoots. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that it can be a bit better. A portion of this has to do with the fast aperture lens on the phone despite the fact that real point and shoot cameras have real glass in their lenses and not plastic the way that the phone does. The camera tends to smudge details, but not a lot. I was able to take good, not great shots under the aforementioned low light conditions.

Panorama mode performs as well as any comparable third-party app might, but it’s nice to have that functionality at the tap of button instead of digging through the app drawer. Cinemagraph mode takes a series of quick shots and turns your photo into an animated GIF, which I found fun in practice but tedious to use outside the app.

Perhaps the best integrated camera app is the Smart Cam, which takes a series of pictures and blends them together for a bevy of post processing options. With one Smart Cam photo, I was given an action shot, a blurred shot, a “change faces” shot, a “remove moving images” shot and a “best” shot. The best shot is the picture that Smart Cam determines is the best quality, while the blurred shot is sort of an artistic motion blur of your subjects. “Remove moving objects” shot allows you to remove oblivious people who walked through you shot, and the action shot is a stop-motion of your subjects. My personal favorite is the change faces shot, which allows the user to pick from 10 different faces your subject made and seamlessly place it on their body. This mode is great for young kids (or high-energy adults) who can’t seem to stay still for a picture.

Accessories and Price

The Lumia 925 can use it’s NFC chip (near field communication) to interact with things like a bluetooth speaker and content-sensitive surfaces, like at retailers. The NFC capabilities also enable the Lumia 925 to wirelessly share multimedia to other phones with NFC built-in.

Although not included, a snap-on wireless charging case can be added to the 925. This enables the Lumia to charge wirelessly on any Qui (a wireless standard) charging surface or station, including products built for Android phones. The case snaps on with little effort and adds some flair to the device, with available colors in red, yellow, black and white. The cases are $34.

As of this writing, the Nokia Lumia 925 is $99 on-contract through AT&T, and $429 unlocked. In my opinion, this price-point makes it a great budget option over the likes of the iPhone 5S, Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

Wrap Up

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In the week and a half I spent using the Lumia 925 as my primary phone, I found myself wanting more from this beautiful Windows Phone. The Lumia 925 is an excellent phone. Actually, there really is nothing wrong with the phone as it is. However, I really wish that it were either an Android based device, or that Microsoft would make a strong push to get more apps into the store. If the company did one of those things instead of faltering in third place behind Apple and Google, this phone would be blowing many others out of the water.

One of the biggest selling points about this device is the camera; and indeed the amount of control that one gets is really nice. It is one of the best camera’s that I’ve used, but for what it’s worth I’ve seen comparable pictures from my iPhone and the HTC One. If Windows Phone were more advanced, I’d probably be leaning a bit more towards it. That said, if you’re not tied down to Android or iOS, or you are an avid Windows user, then the Lumia 925 is an excellent choice for you. And for the average college student, this phone makes an even stronger case: It’s $99 and comes loaded with Microsoft Office.

With the 925, Nokia has provided the best casing and design for Windows Phone to shine on, and if you’re happy with the tradeoffs then you won’t be disappointed by this very capable mid-tier smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 925

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