The Nokia Lumia 925 is a new flagship model from the Finnish company bringing a selection of updates, mostly in design, to the company's Lumia 920 that's only about 6-months old. It lands with rumours swirling about yet another high-end handset on the horizon, the so-called Nokia EOS, slated to launch in July.
That puts the Lumia 925 in something of an awkward position. Those who went for the Lumia 920 now potentially find themselves on a contract with a handset that's just been bettered. Those who are hesitant about committing will certainly want to delay a month to see Nokia's next device too.
So what does the Nokia Lumia 925 have to offer and should you be rushing out to buy this latest Windows Phone 8 handset?
It's in the design that Nokia has really made changes over the Lumia 920. That's great from our point of view, because it was the design of the 920 that we liked the least. For a flagship product it seemed awkwardly conceived: too big, too bulky, too heavy. Sure, many were happy with its portly stature, but Nokia obviously wasn't. The Lumia 925 slims down admirably.
The Nokia Lumia 925 measures 129 x 70.6mm but it now weighs 139g and is only 8.5mm thick, quite a departure from the 920, which was 185g. In the hand we love the feel of the Nokia Lumia 925. The metal body brings the phone almost into line with the HTC One, although you feel the metal only around the edges, as there's still a polycarbonate plate in the back.
We quite like the colour contrast on the white model: the white back looks good against the silver of the anodised aluminium body, but having spent some time with the grey model, we don't think that colour pairing works. It reminds us of the bad old days when you had to pay extra to get body coloured bumpers on your car, leaving you with a mishmash of colour tones.
Perhaps that's to convince you to buy a cover, as that's what you'll need to do to enable wireless charging, something that's been sacrificed to get that slimmer and lighter design. Adding one of Nokia's covers will bring the colour back too, and for many, it's the extravagant use of colour that makes Nokia's phones distinct.
Nonetheless, the Lumia 925 feels great in the hand. The dimensions are such that it's easy to manipulate and use, although we found that the position of the camera on the back means we often put our fingers over the lens. There is, at least, a raised bump around the camera so you can feel exactly where it is.
Hardware and performance
As we said, much of what the Nokia Lumia 925 offers is the same as the 920 and, as this is Nokia and Windows Phone, you'll rather predictably find that there's a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor under the skin with 1GB of RAM. There's 16 or 32GB of internal memory, depending on how lucky you are (and it seems like luck), as in the UK, Vodafone scored an exclusive on the 32GB model handset. There's no microSD card slot as you'll find elsewhere in the Lumia line. That luxury seems reserved for cheaper phones.
There's a 2000mAh battery inside powering the whole thing and thanks to that sealed body, you won't be able to access it for a quick change. The standby times are pretty impressive, but like all top-tier smartphones, if you're a heavy user, you'll soon find yourself looking for a charge before the day is out. We managed to get most of the way through a working day, but found the battery levels were looking alarming mid-afternoon, as is often the case on devices of this size and power.
Those clip-on charging covers, so you can drop your device on to a wireless charging pillow, look attractive but, ironically, once you've added one you're back to a thicker device again.
All the connectivity you'd expect is here, including NFC, Wi-Fi, GPS and so on, along with LTE for those who have the network support for faster mobile data. Nokia has made pains to point out that this is its first metal-bodied phone, but also to state that reception hasn't been affected. We found that to ring true, with no problems connecting to wireless networks.
When it comes to calling, the quality is good, with plenty of volume and no reported problems from callers. We did encounter a SIM problem, however. At first we put this down to a faulty device and called in a second device as it wasn't recognising any SIM card. The second device accepted one SIM card, but complained about others - all of which work across other devices. It may be nothing, but it's worth keeping an eye on other reviews to see whether this is an isolated case or not.
Arriving with the same hardware as the Lumia 920 means that the performance and the experience of using the 925 is very similar. In fact, it's similar across Nokia's range of Windows Phone 8 handsets, however the Lumia 925 arrives with the latest software, which is yet to land on other devices, so it feels like there are now more options and more control, with the option to tweak the display colour profile, for example.
This display on the Nokia Lumia 925 is actually very nice. It's AMOLED, which we like on Windows Phone, especially with the dark background as the inky black matches the bezel and sets off Windows Phone 8's live tiles with great contrast.
We're still at the stage, however, where Windows Phone doesn't give you the resolution that you'll find on Android. Here the 4.5-inch display gives you 1280 x 768 pixels. That's a high resolution and unless you set it alongside something with a superior display, like the HTC One, you'll be happy with the performance.
While talking about the HTC One, the difference you'll immediately notice is that the Lumia 925's display is warmer, most noticeably, the whites aren't as clean. You can, however, change the saturation of the colours as well as the colour temperature, so you can get the display to look the way you want. There's some awkwardness with these added settings, as the regular Windows Phone display settings sit under "brightness", then Nokia's additions are further down the list under "display+touch", so as options are added, you'll be hunting around more to find Nokia's extras.
Where the display performs well is outdoors. Not only does the touch respond to nails and gloved hands, but it's also bright enough when needed to cut through bright sunshine. We were first suspicious because the glossy display - topped with Gorilla Glass 2 - is reflective, but the display delivered when we had it out in bright sunshine. On some Windows Phones we've found that the auto brightness wasn't aggressive enough, Nokia seem to have nailed it on the 925.
Viewing angles are reasonable, but there is some noticeable colour loss when viewing at an angle, so things look a little green if you're watching a video with your 925 flat on a tablet, for example.
In many ways there isn't too much to say about the software experience that you don't already know if you're familiar with Windows Phone 8. Unlike Android, Windows Phone's basic functions across things like the browser, people, or music are the same. There's some differences beginning to appear, as Nokia brings some changes with the 925.
There's the glance screen, for example, that will show you the time on the standby screen. You can awaken the phone with a double tap on the display, rather than pressing the button on the side, which is much more convenient than before. The FM radio has also been enabled, so as long as you have headphones connected, you'll be able to tune in. The interface is very basic, an area where Microsoft certainly needs to add some functionality if it's to be taken seriously.
Beyond that Nokia continues to work hard to bring enhancements to Windows Phone. Some you'll find are exclusive to Nokia, some will spread across the ecosystem. You'll find Here Maps and Here Drive in place, giving you the option to download maps locally and get driving directions, which are very good.
But many of the enhancements, including those rolling into the camera which we'll deal with next, won't remain exclusive to the Lumia 925, as the "Amber" update will bring these features to the rest of the Lumia line, and things like the FM radio will be enabled by a Windows Phone update for other devices (so long as the hardware is present).
So in many ways, the daily experience of using the Nokia Lumia 925 is rather predictable, as much of what you do is defined by Microsoft's mobile OS. Nokia's additions bring more to this device than any other making it the best that Windows Phone has to offer. However, with Nokia's additions sitting as bolt-ons to the foundations laid by Microsoft there isn't the same degree of inegration that you'd find on Android. To a certain extent we're starting to feel that Nokia's drive for innovation is being constrained by the limitations that this platform offers, but that's a separate issue.
Of all the things, it's the camera basket where Nokia seems to be putting most of its eggs. It was the big push on the 920, as it is in the 925. Technically, it's the same 8.7-megapixel PureView image sensor that the Lumia 920 offers, although the Carl Zeiss lens has an added element that's designed to improve the performance and bring sharpness.
In that sense, the camera story follows the lines of wanting to be the best in the business, but its the new features that Nokia is really pushing. Windows Phone has some limitations in what you can do with the camera interface: manufacturers can't just change everything to suit their requirements. The result is a separate side section, which Nokia calls Lenses, that gives you a whole range of features.
The real newcomer here is Nokia Smart Camera. It's designed to be a one-shot, capture everything solution, letting you take a burst of photos then quickly alter the results to get the exact shot you want. It works well, and the interface is mostly simple to use, and yes, it's a powerful tool.
But it's not without issue. While we appreciate the ability of capture the Best Shot from the run of images it's taken, Smart Camera itself isn't without delays. You press the button and capture is denoted by a filling ring on the display. But once it's done, you have an animated flick through of those captured images. The whole process therefore takes longer than it needs to and when it's an action moment you've used it to capture, it feels like you're being delayed along the way.
That aside, once you have those images, you can then create your action shot, remove unwanted objects and so on. It all works well, once you're in the process, and if you're sold on the Nokia Smart Camera approach to taking photos, you can set it as the default option to launch on a long press of the camera button on the side of the handset.
Although we first did exactly that, we soon reverted to the regular camera. As fun as Nokia Smart Camera is, when you're after the best quality still shots, the regular camera uses a higher resolution and gives you access to more regular shooting options. It also lets the phone take a longer exposure, with lower ISO, because it's not trying to get that burst of shots.
The camera is very capable however. In normal shooting conditions, the Nokia Lumia 925 will give you shots with great colour and detail. The low-light performance is excellent too, within reason, giving you the edge when it comes to capturing that shot indoors or in gloomy conditions.
Not only do the physical properties - the wide aperture lens, stabilisation, etc - contribute to this, but also using the flash as a focus-assist, to make sure the subject is actually in focus. People might not like that, as the flash is extremely bright and will dazzle them, but when taking shots of an object, the Lumia 925 will at least get a good grip on the subject.
Noise levels in low-light conditions are mixed. Colour noise can be a problem although it mostly seems to be smoothed away, but we're impressed with how relatively clean whites can be. Next to some rival devices, the Lumia 925 will give you a better result, just because white backgrounds, like a wall, aren't as severely mottled in low light conditions.
All in all, it's a great performer as a camera shooting in the normal camera mode. Nokia Smart Camera is fun to play with, but in real world use, we found that switching from one to the other just started to take too long. Although there's an interface button to move you to your selection of lenses, we found ourselves backing out and moving from one side to another, rather than just taking those photos. It feels like those options need closer integration, it make things more seamless and intuitive for the best user experience.
The front-facing camera, surprisingly, doesn't seem to have been lavished with the same attention. We found that all our test selfies came out a little green: not a very flattering result, as we always looked rather ill.
Nokia's strengths shine through the Nokia Lumia 925. The new focus on design brings Nokia into the flagship fight, with a handset that's slim, strong and great to hold. It's competitive on the spec sheet and lands with more software enhancements than any other Windows Phone 8 device, at the time of launch that is.
But as we said at the beginning of this review, the Lumia 925 sits in a strange position. It's incrementally better than the Lumia 920, a better performer, but one that's lost the convinence of wireless charging. If you're happy with the Lumia 920, then we're not sure you'll be bothered with rushing out to upgrade to the 925, especially once all the software updates roll out this summer. There are some ecosystem drawbacks, naturally, with the selection of apps being a step behind Android and iPhone, but there are more high profile apps launching every week.
And then we have the next Nokia waiting in the wings. We'll have all the details on 11 July, but we suspect that this will be a bigger device, once again, to accomodate the enhanced camera. If photography is absolutely key, then you'll want to wait to see what Nokia has to offer next.
But if you're after the best Windows Phone 8 handset around right now, then pick the Nokia Lumia 925. It's a great handset to live with and there's a lot to love about it.