Nokia Lumia 925: The best Windows Phone yet
But is it good enough to win back the market?
Review According to Nokia, the new Lumia 925 is its "third flagship" phone at the moment. It hasn’t retired the other two Lumias (the 920 and the 928) which continue to sail proudly alongside the 925, with all their flags fluttering.
However there are times when one must wave a pedantic arm from the back of the class where the naughty boys sit, and utter the two words all teachers dread: “But s-s-s-sir…”
My knowledge of all things nautical is based upon the profound observation, taught to me while being dandled on my father’s knee, that “at sea, things happen slowly”. Watching ships crawl along the North Sea coast confirmed the fundamental truth of this – and there wasn't much more you really needed to know. It has also proved true in the reporting of Microsoft’s progress with Windows Phone, where things happen slowly, too.
Now to the multiple flagships. In my dictionary a fleet has just one "flagship" at any one time, the ship that carries the fleet’s admiral or commander. Since the Editor of this esteemed organ is a former naval officer who commanded his own Royal Navy vessel, some things cannot pass unnoticed.
Nokia’s explanation is that all three, um, "flagships" sit at the top of the range, and each has its own USP. And in any case, one of them is only available via one carrier in just one country, limiting its availability. What’s not in doubt is that the new Lumia 925 is the lightest and most svelte of the three by some distance. It’s the swankiest ship with the swankiest flags – and possibly the most attractive Windows phone anyone has made to date.
Nokia has won plenty of plaudits for its newer low-cost Lumias this year, and deservedly so. The 520 and 620 are available on either side of £100 contract-free, and that kind of money barely buys you a three-year-old iPhone. Yet they offer a slick and reliable experience superior to anything in the price bracket. The 620 even pulled off something pretty unusual in a cheap phone – a handset with character and charm.
Crouching wowser, hidden chargin'
But the fortunes of Nokia’s high-end devices have been rather different. Nokia must show something more than "good value" for its years of multibillion-euro expenditure on R&D boffinry; it needs to include a bit of "Wow". This it delivered with last year’s Lumia 920, a phone boasting eye-catching low light photography, rock-steady video recording and stunning live audio capture.
The 920 also boasted Qi wireless charging and Nokia rolled out a range of nice wireless charging accessories. But all this Wow came at a cost: the sturdily built behemoth tipped the scales at 185g encasing a 4.5-inch display… and 90° corners.
And while some cherished the dense, rugged mass for its resilience but for many consumers and carriers it was too much. In addition, Nokia opted to give carrier exclusivity to EE in the UK for its first few months, limiting the appeal to enthusiasts. EE could only offer 4G LTE in a few locations and its tariffs until recently, were punitive.
The Lumia 925 attempts to cram the "Wow" into a much slimmer, lighter and more modern-looking package – the 920 has gone on a crash weight-loss programme.
Design and construction
Flagship number 3 borrows the guts of the 920, offers a tweaked camera and stunning OLED display of the same size. The new phone is around the same weight of the Galaxy S3 and S4, something the market is evidently comfortable with. At 139g, it’s 46g lighter – and believe me, you appreciate every gramme.
The 925 also breaks with recent Nokia industrial design practice of using dyed polycarbonate shells in a range of strong, eye-catching, sorbet colours. This has undoubtedly been good for differentiating Nokia from its rivals – you can spot a Lumia at the other end of the bus.
But not everybody wants to make a statement and many professional and business users are looking for something, well … business-like and professional, possibly. Just as you don’t see too many fluorescent Minis in the executive car park, it isn’t surprising DayGlo Lumias haven’t caught on with professionals, either.
The 925 certainly makes amends. It uses an aluminium frame and harks back to the Nokia designs of 2010 – the late OPK*-era, or the “Years of Madness” as it’s called round here. Premium phones such as the N8, E7, C7 and the C6-01 made classy use of sleek anodised aluminium bodies and while they may have been panned for their Symbian software, they looked handsome, felt like Volvos, and picked up design awards.
The Lumia 925 uses a polycarbonate shell back cover to keep the weight down, and it’s a much more business-like and subdued design that still manages to feel expensive. It certainly sends the message "professional", rather than "urban attention seeker". For my money, this year’s most stylish phone is the HTC One, but Nokia deserves praise for dispensing with design dogma, and turning out something so elegant.
I should advise, and it’s a matter of some urgency if you’re in the market for one of these devices, then get your protection in first. The screen picks up scratches alarmingly easily, even though it's nominally using the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. Nokia is using a thinner (2.5D vs 2.25D) glass than on the 925 but that shouldn’t affect its resistance to surface scratches. Other reviewers have also picked up on this. Perhaps the Gorillas were out for the afternoon when this batch rolled out?
Good casing is also essential.
What do you get?
The 925 packs in the much-praised camera unit of the Lumia 920, with an additional lens for daylight photos. Like the 920 it also has a sealed battery and no SD card slot. The latter is one of the few negative points to consider, as the European exclusive for the 32GB model has been given to Vodafone and so all other carriers must settle for the 16GB model. 32GB is available SIM-free, but at a price. “I’d like to have it but the compromise wasn’t worth it,” Nokia’s Kevin Shields told us in an interview explaining the design decisions.
Space matters here rather more than on a premium phone from last year: it’s a phone many will want to buy for its superb video recording, which at 1080p HD quality, but this will fill the phone quickly. With Windows Phone 8GB gobbling up 2.5GB out of the box, you may have to be more careful than you would otherwise be with a 32GB model. The processor, memory and battery capacity are all the same as the 920, which means there should be some juice left at the end of the day.
The 925 loses wireless charging, which is a shame. It feels like a Roman indulgence to splurge on a couple of Qi charging pads, but once you have a few around the place, trust me, you’ll never look back. It changes the experience of owning a phone in quite a subtle way. With one in the car and one on your office desk, for example, the phone is almost always topped up. Wireless charging can be added via a £20-£24 clip-on plate, but this rather spoils the clean lines, adding 22g to the weight and 4mm to the depth of the phone. Take advantage of price cuts and retail bundle offers – Three and Carphone Warehouse are throwing in a free charging stand and a clip-on cover with Lumia 925 pre-orders – and you only really need two. With the Nexus 7 and Galaxy S4 also adopting wireless, it’s a reasonable investment. Alas Nokia appears to have hit pause on wireless charging as it tries to slim down the phones. Only the Verizon-exclusive 928 this year has Qi built in.
Nokia chose to use an AMOLED display here, rather than the in-plane switching LCD of the 920. Personally, I’m a huge fan of these displays, which have an eerie sci-fi quality for me: the blacks are so black they seem to absorb the surrounding light - it’s like carrying a tiny black hole with you.
OLED screens also complement Windows Phone quite naturally, throwing the text into clear relief, and allowing more colours of the limited palette to be used as the accent highlight colour – I find the Cobalt, for example, is too dim to be the accent colour on an IPS LCD but pops out of an AMOLED screen. The drawback of OLEDs was poor outdoor visibility, but this is bright and perfectly legible outdoors, the screen is specified to 600 nits and I had no problems, the brightness control is now very smooth.
I wouldn’t be too distressed if I never used an other IPS display again, but your mileage may vary.
Performance was superb, and there’s no indication that the chipset inside was mature even last year. The only lags evident were with Nokia’s Smart Camera app, which is doing a lot of work (more below), and which is not mandatory. Windows Phone 8 is far more efficient than Java-based power-guzzlers of Android, the experience is smoother and much less cluttered. Call quality was excellent, and the use of the aluminium frame as an antenna didn’t result in any iPhone 4 style death grips.