Nokia Lumia 625 review
The Nokia Lumia 625 adds another carriage to the runaway Lumia train - there's barely been pause for breath between Nokia's latest Windows 8 smartphones of late. So what does the middle-spec Lumia add to the lineup?
Well, the 625 is something of a contextual oddball. It breaks new ground in the Lumia series as it pushes the screen size up and out a larger to 4.7-inches - ok, we know it's only 0.2-inches larger than its nearest Lumia brothers - yet it's surrendered resolution and quality for the sake of landing at the right budget. It's an affordable phone, after all.
Is the Lumia 625 both big and beautiful, or is this Windows Phone 8 budget beast simply big and dumb?
In general we've praised Nokia for its Lumia design efforts thus far - except the chunky Lumia 920 - and the Lumia 625 doesn't rock the boat in this regard. Nokia has stuck to its conventions with the design.
Bright colours, polycarbonate body, rounded corners: the 625 may be formulaic in its design but, and just like the rest of the Lumia line, it avoids feeling cheap. Affordable, yes - not cheap and nasty.
It may well lack the premium feel of the metal Lumia 925 - the model that's the precursor to the 625's very existence - but it manages to remain solid enough to escape the flex and creaks that sometimes plague larger, more budget smartphones.
READ: Nokia Lumia 925 review
In the hand, and for daily use, there's really nothing that lets the Lumia 625 down when it comes to the quality of the build. All the buttons range down the right-hand side when looking to the screen, their response is precise, the coloured cover fits tight to the body, while a 3.5mm headphone socket resides on the top and a Micro-USB to the bottom.
The 4.7-inch display, however, dictates that this is a large device. It measures 133.2 x 72.2 x 9.2mm - a touch fatter than the Lumia 925 - and weighs in at 159g, which is getting towards the weightier end of the smartphone scale. Not that it's going to feel like a brick, but it's not small either.
The overall result is a handset that's nice to use. As with other Lumia smartphones, the curved edges make this bigger phone pleasant to grip, while the bright cover brings colour to a smartphone world that's still predominantly black or silver. It's no custom Moto X, but the orange version we had in for review had plenty to shout about. It's quite the beacon.
Defined by display
With a 4.7-inch display, the Lumia 625 not only offers the biggest display in the Lumia pack, but it's also the largest in the Windows Phone 8 family too. In reality it isn't a huge increase over the 4.5-inches that many other models offer, but it does a least put WP8 on a par with larger Android handsets, in terms of physical size at least. Inch for inch it's the same size as the HTC One, for example.
READ: HTC One review
But when it comes to displays, size is only half the picture. The Lumia 625 has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, the very same resolution that Windows Phone 7 launched with back in 2010. That gives it a pixel density of 198ppi, which is low by current standards. Sit this next to the 720p display of the Lumia 925 and you don't need to have 20-20 vision to spot the difference - it's almost grainy by comparison. Not so good.
But the Windows Phone user interface copes well on small displays and lower resolutions. The Windows live tiles, thanks to their minimalist nature, don't need to be packed with detail, so in many areas this lack of pixels doesn't really matter all that much. But it's something that becomes more obvious once you get into the browser where your favourite websites lack the sharpness that you really want. You can see the pixels on the display, so anyone who has used a sharper device might find the whole thing looks a little soft.
Windows Phone 8 fills the display on the 625 as it does on other devices through the range. Although you're given more space to play with, the experience isn't enhanced, it's just expanded. You can't fit more rows of apps in, the keyboard still seems to eat up the page when it comes to tapping in messages and the menu takes just as long to scroll through.
Where you will enjoy the larger display is when watching video or viewing your pictures. Yes, they aren't as sharp as some other available devices, but when you're watching a movie, that perhaps doesn't matter so much.
Technically the display isn't as good as other devices further up the Lumia ladder either. The colours aren't as bold, the whites aren't as bright, the blacks not as deep and the viewing angles aren't as good. But some of that has to be accounted for in the price of this handset, so it's acceptable to a degree. It is half the price of the Lumia 925, after all.
Big it is, but the 625 isn't a glittering showcase of how Windows Phone 8 can - and, presumably, will - cope on larger displays. So we don't really see the necessity for the size increase, particularly in this model.
Beneath the surface
Under the Lumia 625's bright orange coat - or whichever luminous Lumia colour you've chosen - there's a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chipset alongside 512MB of RAM. That does't make for the fastest Windows Phone experience, but at the same time you don't get the feeling that the phone can't keep up with what you want it to do. The slightly lower specs mean that some apps might not be available: Halo: Spartan Assault, for example, was nowhere to be seen.
Storage is catered for by 8GB of internal storage - which is plenty at this price point - but expansion via microSD card is also possible. Buy a card up to 64GB in size, peel off the phone's rear cover, and it's easy to pop in the extra gigs of storage space. Definitely worth doing for the stacks of additional music and movies that you can store.
On the connectivity front the Lumia 625's big sell is that it embraces 4G LTE, so it's ready to feed you fast data straight out of the box.
But there are a few other minor hardware culls compared to the pricier Lumia models: there's no compass - that means Nokia Here maps won't be as adept - and no City Lens app, either. NFC (near field communication) has been scrubbed too, so you won't be able to tap-to-pair. But you can still enjoy regular Bluetooth 4.0 LE devices, so not all is lost.
Performance, calling and battery
We've mentioned that the Lumia 625 isn't the most powerful Windows Phone smartphone and that translates to a less snappy performance performance compared to the top handsets. Inevitable, really.
But we're not talking about the sort of difference in response as you'd find between budget and flagship Android models. The impact in Lumia land is that you miss out on some features you might get elsewhere, but the day-to-day experience is still good overall. We found some annoyances, such as WhatsApp repeatedly failing on us and BBC iPlayer failing to launch, but otherwise the performance was solid elsewhere.
We found the call quality to be good too. No problems hearing callers, no reported problems on the other end and good reception in the areas we were testing the device. We didn't venture out into the untrodden hills, as such, but the signal reacted just as we'd expect.
Then there's the all-important battery life which we found to be pretty good as well. There's a 2000mAh battery sealed into the device - enough juice to keep the 625 running through a full day without having to stop and charge. We put that down to the more limited specs which don't draw as much power as some of the more beefed-up devices.
With Nokia making a lot of noise about its smartphone cameras in the Lumia 925 and the Lumia 1020, the 625 arrives with less hurrah. There's a 5-megapixel camera on the back, supported by a single LED flash, and there's a 0.3-megapixel camera on the front.
Like all Windows Phone devices, there's a dedicated hardware button on side to launch the camera an take shots; as this is a Nokia phone you have access to a range of Nokia "lenses" to provide some variety - think panoramas, animated shots and the like, if that stuff happens to float your boat. There's also the Nokia Smart Camera on the Lumia 625, which mashes together a collection of smart features, such as best shot, motion focus and the ability to change out people's faces.
The camera performance is average, however. In respectable outdoor conditions it will give you good results. Where you'll really see the difference between the 625 and some of Nokia's higher spec smartphones is that as soon as the light dips, the results appear much noisier. That's pretty typical of any given smartphone, it just happens to be that the Lumia 925 has so much more going for it when it comes to low-light conditions.
Focusing is fast enough - as assisted by the LED illuminator when in dim conditions - to keep those pictures sharp, but we found noticable lag between pressing the shutter button and the image being captured.
Then there's the front-facing camera that isn't especially impressive. It's fine for video, but if you're looking for that perfect selfie, then using the rear camera is a better option in our view, even if it does take a couple of attempts.
On the video front, the Nokia Lumia 625 serves up a welcome surprise: rather than restricting the quality of capture, it gives you options for 720p and 1080p. That's something that the Lumia 620 didn't offer, meaning the 625 isn't holding back. Shame that the screen's playback won't give you the benefit of all that detail though. Oh well.
Software and entertainment
The Nokia Lumia 625 lands with much of the polish that Nokia brings to Microsoft's mobile platform. There are plenty of additional extras with a concerted effort from Nokia to get big name apps onto Windows Phone. The app space is improving all the time and there's been a lot of work to bring all the essential apps over.
But WP8 still isn't truly A-list - it's still catching up. There's no Instagram to be found in WP8, for example. So in many cases you'll be looking on as those with iOS or Android phones enjoy the latest and greatest apps and you're left wanting.
But if apps aren't the most important thing in your world, then you'll find that Windows Phone 8 is well specified. The day-to-day experience is improving all the time. We still think the notifications system is lacking, but there's an increasing level of sophistication in Windows Phone 8 that we like.
On the entertainment front there's plenty on offer, whether it's from Xbox or Nokia. The audio quality through headphones is good, but the external speaker isn't so praise-worthy - the narrow slit at the back doesn't give great quality sound when turned up and we found it all too easy to cover with a finger by accident, especially when gripping the phone while watching video.
As we've previously said, video playback is great on the large display size, even if it lacks the impact that you'll get from a higher resolution display. But in that there seemingly lies the raison d'être for the Nokia Lumia 625: it has a big screen and it's affordable.
With each Nokia Lumia device we examine we find a lot to love. Nokia's design is solid throughout much of the Lumia range, the specifications see Windows Phone 8 ticking along without complaint and the Finnish company is certainly bringing improvements to the platform - including more all-important third-party apps.
But as the Lumia 625 represents Windows Phone's foray into larger screen displays, it feels as though it's missed a trick; it's just an odd compromise. We've enjoyed using the 625, but we find ourselves missing the display quality that you'll find elsewhere. The display, large as it is, isn't that good and we find ourselves questioning why Nokia has chosen to step up in physical size without the quality the match - shouldn't that have happened higher up the range first, before the more budget 625 made it to market?
Even though the 625 is all about budget, it's a long way removed from its precursor, the Lumia 925, and the love we have for it feels proportionally distant. We love the Lumia 925, but we can't say we love the Lumia 625 so openly.