It’s barely been six months since Nokia unleashed the far-too-heavy Lumia 920 on the world, but we’ve already got a replacement: the Lumia 925. Sleeker of body and more well-endowed in the camera department, it’s an evolutionary update that seeks to solve the Lumia 920′s flaws. But is it actually any good?
4.5 inches of Gorilla Glass, polycarbonate and aluminium, powered by silicon and made by a paper-mill company.
People who want a smartphone, but are too cool to have anything mainstream. Linux without the nerdiness. Also, wannabe smartphone owners who are after a decent snapper. The camera on this thing rocks.
For the first time, Nokia’s used metal as the cornerstone for the design of a Lumia device (excepting the US-only 928). The 925 has an aluminium band wrapped around the outside of the phone, with the front covered by Gorilla Glass 2, and a single piece of polycarbonate on the back. Gone are the days of garish postbox-red Lumia phones, however; your choices here are grey, white and black.
Yes, the Lumia 925 feels more grown-up than the 920, and thank Jesus it’s lighter — you may remember that the 920 takes its design inspiration more from a lead brick than a phone. However, in putting on an adult suit and tie, the 925 has lost a lot of the charm of the 920. That phone felt like some kind of sculpted, chiseled work of art. It felt different. The 925 is more just playing along with everything else. I mean, aluminium edges, flat one-colour front and back? Hardly ground-breaking.
Functionality-wise, it’s the same as pretty much everything else out there. No removable battery, which will annoy some people; and no microSD card port, which is even worse. Instead, you get 16 or 32GB of storage (though the 32GB version is a Vodafone exclusive for now). Buttons-wise, there’s a volume rocker, two-stage camera button and power button down the right-hand side; the microUSB charging port, micro-SIM tray and non-micro headphone jack are along the top, leaving the left and bottom of the phone blemishless.
Are you familiar with Windows Phone 8? No? Read this. Now that you’re au fait with all things WinPho, it’s easy to understand what it’s like to use the Lumia 925. Like all Windows Phone devices, it’s smoother than a greased curling stone on particularly slippery ice.
Despite the internals being less than stunning — dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM — the Lumia 925 hums along pretty well. Navigating around the OS is a joy, as ever, and even the more intensive Windows Phone games like Drag Racing hum along pretty sweetly.
However, for all the good stuff, there’s still a giant app-shaped elephant missing from the room. Even though holdouts like Spotify are slowly trickling onto Windows Phone, deal-breaker services like DropBox and Instagram are still declining to build an app. Worse, some of the apps that are on there are pale imitations of their Android cousins: pretty enough, but buggy and cathartically slow — the Facebook app’s particularly guilty of this.
You get a fair few Nokia services on the Lumia 925 by default. The most interesting are probably the music and mapping services. The maps are provided by Nokia’s own Here maps service, which is kinda like Google Maps but with worse information. Where it excels, however, is in the augmented reality interface.
The City Lens app lets you overlay the real world with information. It’s a cool gimmick, but truth be told won’t get used much in the real world. In the middle of a city, if you have no idea where you’re going, it can help you narrow down a location to the last 20 metres, when your conventional map is already zoomed all the way in.
Nokia Music is also worth a passing mention. It’s a streaming radio service, like the US-only Pandora or Apple’s upcoming iRadio. You can choose a mix based on a particular genre or a particular song, and then either stream it or save for offline playing. It’s a free service, and the only catch is that you can only skip six songs per hour. For bloatware, it’s refreshingly bloat-free — no need to sign in or sign up for a free trial.
The Lumia 920 had one of the best shooters on any smartphone — especially in low light. The 925 doubles-down on that, whacking in an extra lens element (which is good, apparently), an f2.0 lens, image stabilisation, the whole shebang. The wide aperture means more light makes it through to the sensor, and the image stabilisation helps you take longer exposures.
In practice, it means the night shots are what-the-hell-is-going-on-here good. Nokia arranged for us to attend some kind of extreme-circus event in a dark tent, and while the nearly-topless men doing freakishly cool things was confusing on more than few levels, it also gave the perfect environment to test the 925′s camera. You can see the sample shots below — detail is good, there’s no blur (even though aforementioned topless man was dancing around like crazytunes), and the dynamic range is superb. It’s worth reminding you: this photo was taken in a really dark room. Think fairly hardcore-nightclub levels of lighting.
Sadly, the performance back in the real world isn’t quite as amazing. Big, well-lit landscapes look good, but more difficult colour rendition — like this flower — is more challenging for the 925.
Don’t think for a second it’s a bad camera, though. Bar Nokia’s 808 PureView (and the rumoured upcoming Pureview EOS phone), the Lumia 925 has the best phone camera out there right now.
Courtesy of the SkyDrive instant-upload, you can see all the images taken with the 925 here.
Although the camera hardware is the best thing about the 925, the worst thing is the camera software. That’s because in a horribly complicated twist, there’s two camera applications on the 925: the in-built, bog-standard camera app, and Nokia’s Smart Camera app.
The standard app does everything like you’d expect — you can take stills, video, play with the exposure, all that guff. The Smart Camera stuff is different. When you’re in Smart Camera and you press the shutter, the phone takes 10 stills. Using those stills, you can then do all sorts of post-processing, from choosing the best shot, to creating “Action Shots”, remove moving objects, or mess with people’s faces in a group shot.
That’s all well and good, but having two camera apps makes things way too confusing. Worse, the Smart Camera effect keeps all 10 frames on the phone, which is a total killer for storage — each photo is 15-20 megapixels, as opposed to the five or so you’d expect for a normal shot.
- The screen is utterly great. At 1280×768 pixels, it’s a little less high-res than the latest crop of Android smartphones (see: HTC One), but the smaller screen size means that the PPI is more than high enough. In real-world use, it’s sharp, detailed, and impressively readable in sunlight. Even better, if you’re the sort who is prone to complaining about a particular colour hue on a screen, the 925 lets you adjust the colour balance and profile to get things just right for you. The blacks are creepily black.
The touch screen can also be used with gloves and keys, which is great for the winter/people who love scratching their screens.
- Battery life is pretty much the same as the 920. You’ll happily get through a day of hard use, and could stretch it to two if you’re gentle. However, on a video rundown test, it’ll go flat in 8 hours, which is only a shade better than the Lumia 920, and still well short of other smartphones.
- There’s a new feature called Glance Screen, which faintly shows a clock on the screen when the phone’s in standby. It’s…yeah. You can turn it off.
- You can buy covers which clip onto the 925 and give you both a splash of colour, and the ability to wirelessly charge the 925, if that’s your thing.
- There’s an FM Radio, which is great for listening to Tragic FM or Radio 4.
Windows Phone is still Windows Phone. That is, if you’re a power user used to the mod-cons that come with iOS or Android, Microsoft’s offering probably isn’t for you, and therefore the Lumia 925 equally isn’t for you.
But if you’re not going to miss things like Chrome and Dropbox, then the Lumia 925 is absolutely one of the best things you can buy. Sleek, responsive, and with the best smartphone camera you can buy (on a real phone), there aren’t any real negatives. Yes, the design is more mainstream than on the 920; while that’s bad for anyone looking for something different, mainstream works for a reason. The only thing holding Nokia back now is the software.
Nokia Lumia 925
Processor: Dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon
Screen: 4.5″ 1280×768 AMOLED
Memory: 1GB RAM
Storage: 16/32GB, non-expandable
Camera: 8.7MP rear camera, 1.2MP front camera
OS: Windows Phone 8