Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

It's been just half a year since Nokia revealed its first Windows Phone 8 device, and we've already got another flagship to review. The Lumia 925 marks a departure in design for Nokia -- it looks nothing like its predecessors, barring an expanse of screen and some capacitive Windows buttons. This time around, the phone is housed in an aluminum frame, making it Nokia's first metal smartphone since those heady Symbian days. This, alongside some hardware repositioning and (minor) specification changes has been enough for the Lumia 925 to weigh notably less than its 920 forebear -- and we think it's enough to feel in your hand. As we juggled the two Windows Phones ahead of this review, our first impressions were that the 925 was also much easier to hold, despite only a negligible difference in thickness.

This, alongside some hardware repositioning and (minor) specification changes has been enough for the Lumia 925 to weigh notably less than its 920 forebear

Arriving in three comparatively restrained monochrome hues (white, black and grey), Nokia's returned to OLED for its display tech, although it's the same 1,280 x 768 resolution as the rest of the 920 series and includes the company's anti-reflective screen technology for good measure. Its new Smart Camera app debuts on the Lumia 925, standing alongside the stock app and offering up some interesting new picture-taking options.

Otherwise, it's an awful lot like the Lumia 920, at least on paper: there's the same lauded 8.7-megapixel camera sensor (with an extra lens element), the same dual-core 1.5GHz processor and the same OS (albeit with some beta goodies). Nokia reckons that the phone is geared towards a different buyer than those who bought the Lumia 920, but alongside Verizon's recent US-only Lumia 928, is there enough to get fans that skipped on last year's model to buy this time around? And is there enough to persuade you not to hold out for what's on the horizon?

Gallery | 33 Photos

Nokia Lumia 925 review

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Nokia

Nokia Lumia 925

Pros

  • Entertaining, addictive new Smart Camera functions
  • Improved camera results
  • Thin and light, well-built
  • Vivid AMOLED display, option to adjust color profile

Cons

  • Lacks built-in contactless charging
  • Disappointing app selection, still
Summary

The Lumia 925 is better than the 920 in most, but not all ways. Nokia clearly made sacrifices for a slimmer design, but we think they're worth it.

Hardware

Slim, understated and -- dare we say -- a whole lot more Android-esque, the Lumia 925 doesn't look like any other Lumia. Were those vibrant colors not pulling in customers, or is Nokia simply trying a different tack?

The Lumia 925 feels a lot safer, design-wise, and, well, a little blander than what we've seen before.

The company has said that the phone is aimed for people that wanted something that stands out a little less, but we've got mixed feelings on the current grey / black / white palette, even if it does go well with the new metal look. In the grand scheme of contemporary smartphone design, the Lumia 925 feels a lot safer, design-wise, and, well, a little blander than what we've seen before. However, it's another well-made phone, and to be clear, we particularly like the finish on the matte white model.

Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

There's an almost ceramic texture to the phone that improves the grip and also lends it more of a flagship feel. And about that feel: we mentioned in our Lumia 920 review that Nokia's first Windows Phone 8 device was a bit cumbersome, a bit too heavy. Well, this one isn't. The Lumia 925 has shed around a quarter of the weight of the 920 (139g versus 185g), but that has also required some sacrifices: the new model arrives with 16GB of storage (down from 32), and no built-in wireless charging. If you're looking for some contactless charging, you'll need to purchase a cover that adds that functionality.

While thinner (a "volumetric" 8.5mm vs. 10.7mm) than the Lumia 920, the 925 fits so much better, so much more comfortably, in our hands. It's not quite as thin as Nokia would like you to believe -- if you line up both phones and take into account the camera protrusion, the two are pretty close. But once you grip the 925, you'll understand it isn't at all clunky like its predecessors. The frame itself is fashioned out of lightly textured aluminum, with machined buttons in the typical Windows Phone places. The 925's camera button has a strongly discernible two-stage depression, so you'll know when you're focusing with a half-press or capturing a photo with a full depression.

Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

All the ports (micro-USB and headphone) now belong on the top edge, as well as the micro-SIM tray. If we had any complaints about the phone's build, we'd argue it isn't quite as polished as the Lumia 920. We loved those micro-drilled holes for the speaker and mics, and the micro-USB port that sits just below the surface of the Lumia 925 lacks the black outline we've got on our yellow Lumia 920. The headphone socket, oddly, does get that treatment. Within the plastic backing panel, you'll find Nokia's most recent imaging pride and joy: its 8.7-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilization, arriving with what appears to be an identical dual-LED flash (no xenon here, sadly). The camera unit protrudes slightly, but the lens is fortunately slightly recessed within the plastic that surrounds it, offering some protection when resting on flat surfaces. There are some loudspeaker grille holes at the bottom, although the position does blast the sound into your hands if you're holding it in portrait mode. Above that is a trio of contacts for that optional contactless charging cover. The phone itself is sealed, so there's no access to either the 2,000mAh battery or any slot for microSD expansion.

Melded into the aluminum frame is Nokia's new antenna system. The primary one resides in the bottom of the phone, with two more antennas in the top edge. Those black stripes then separate these antennas from the rest of the aluminum body -- Nokia says it's ensured that the antenna "maximizes use of radio bands," whether on GSM (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900), WCDMA (850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100) or LTE (Bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 20) -- check out our performance section to see how it fared.

Display

Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

With the Lumia 925's 4.5-inch AMOLED WXGA (1,280 x 768) display, we're offered something to compare against the existing Lumia 920, a phone that went for an IPS LCD over OLED. You've probably already heard our complaints about OLED, with the primary one being that bluish tint affecting whites and other shades -- and its something that still pervades this phone's display when viewing it at off angles. However, Nokia's attempted to amend this by adding a "Lumia Color Profile" option. We had ours largely set on enhanced colors and neutral white balance. You might recall a similar choice on Samsung smartphones using AMOLED from the Galaxy SII and onwards, but there's not just a handful of profiles here -- Nokia leaves the settings in your hands to adjust. Also nestled within the same settings option is the familiar high-sensitivity touch option that lets you use gloves or tap on the screen with your nails.

We prefer the AMOLED option over IPS LCD, in part because the black frame surrounding your Windows Phone home screen is nearly indistinguishable from the bezel

We prefer the AMOLED option over IPS LCD, in part because the black frame surrounding your Windows Phone home screen is nearly indistinguishable from the bezel, at least head-on. Better still, AMOLED's "black" pixels don't require any energy, meaning there's likely to be a minor battery-saving benefit for anyone who goes for the black Windows Phone customization over the white one. Viewing angles are great, and at wider angles, the screen brightness diminishes less on the 925's OLED compared to the IPS screen of the 920.

Nokia's coined the phrase PureMotion HD+ to describe its high-response screen and in practice, it means a display that doesn't blur much as you're scrolling through sites. For outdoors, there's a ClearBlack layer to aid readability, plus a high-brightness mode when you're desperate to browse the web outside. In another effort to slim down, the phone's Gorilla Glass 2 screen has shrunk to a 2.25D curvature (compared to the 2.5D curve on the Lumia 920). This lesser angle means not as much glass is used, which helps the phone shed mass in the form of both grams and millimeters. Even so, there's still more than enough curve to make swiping the screen a comfortable experience.

Camera

DNP Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

The hardware has been left largely unchanged since the Lumia 920, with an 8.7-megapixel sensor, ISO up to 800 and 1080p capture at 30 fps, all through an f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lens. Within that lens, there's been some improvements, however, although nothing quite as progressive (or impressive) as optical image stabilization or lossless zoom. Alongside noise-compression algorithms and software-based tweaks, Nokia's added a sixth glass element to the five-lens Carl Zeiss setup seen on the rest of the Lumia 920 series. We've been promised that this would improve the sharpness of images -- something we did indeed notice during our five days of shooting.

Gallery | 29 Photos

Nokia Lumia 925 sample images

Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

In addition to this review, we've been testing out the 925's camera against its 920 and 928 stablemates -- expect to see a full comparison very soon. For now, when pitted against the HTC One and the Lumia 920, the Lumia 925 offers generally sharper images than its Nokia sibling, while color balance and image reproduction (recording what was in front of our eyes on the screen) was better on the 925 over HTC's UltraPixel camera. Check out our sample below, and you'll see that while both Nokia phones use the same sensor, those behind-the-scenes improvements yield sharper images, and (at least in this example) better light metering. In the shot below, for instance, you'll notice finer detail on the pinecone texture. Hopefully it's that glass lens component at work.

Image

Against the HTC One in low light, both devices delivered good results. If we had to call a winner, the Lumia inches past the One, with a more reliable white balance and finer detail, due to its higher megapixel count. We concentrated on shooting in the evening and in darker situations to demonstrate (again!) the quality of photos you're able to snap with Nokia's smartphone camera. We were delighted with some of the results. Nokia even set up a special photo session with performance group Limbo for journalists to put the company's new phone through its paces -- and that's where our sample video comes from.

Optical image stabilization really kicks in here, making your video footage look more like it came from a dedicated video camera rather than some slender smartphone. Nokia's audio recording skills also manage to deftly capture the often raucous band playing along, while the autofocus was able to keep the performance sharp despite some challenging lighting.

Nokia's new Smart Camera is worth talking about too, as it offers up new ways to capture and share what you see around you. It's the replacement for the burst-shot Lens app Smart Shoot, and Nokia promises that the brunt of the features on display here will appear on its other WP8 phones, so if you've already invested in a Lumia, please do read on, because you'll be getting similar photo-tinkering goodness very soon.

Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

You can access the Smart Camera app either through its very own icon or through the Lens sub-menu on the standard camera UI. In fact, there's even a third way -- you can recalibrate the physical camera key to launch into Nokia's new smart iteration rather than the standard photo / video app. This then takes you into a sparse camera UI, where you can review previous shots, swap to different Windows Phone Lenses and use a touchscreen capture button. Once you've focused, a circular timer will show the duration of the burst photography. After a few seconds of thinking time (we'll come back to this unfortunate flaw) you'll be offered up a Best Shot, chosen by a man in a room Nokia's imaging algorithms as the best of your 10-shot burst collection.

Sometimes it's spot-on (it's better with crowds of faces). Other times it fails to grasp what you were looking to focus on. Sure, that brick wall may look crisp with good lighting, but you were trying to capture someone flying past on a scooter. That's when the second feature kicks in: swiping down once offers up Action Shot. This was by far our favorite, as it's capable of combining 10 images against a fixed backdrop. You can then select several frames, superimposing them on top of each other. There's a fade toggle that lets you select one primary image, with additional layers then slightly faded out. Better still, the interface is uncomplicated. Once you understand that the background needs to remain fixed, you'll be able to produce some eye-catching results.

Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

The results aren't always perfect -- you'll often get some awkward ghosting when the camera can't quite detect the object in motion, but it's the standout addition for us. Motion Focus (seen on our Tube shot) is another new option, which detects your moving object, then blurs the surrounding area. There's a choice of a low- and high-blur effects, but expect light sources to sometimes ruin the illusion. Change Faces tries to ensure group shots come out with everyone's eyes open. You can tweak a picture person by person, selecting everyone's best smile from the 10 shots captured. Lastly, Remove Moving Objects, er, does what it says it will -- erasing that car that spoiled your beautiful cityscape. Again, like the Action Shot, you'll need to have taken a set of static shots, and the Lumia will then work out what you might not want in the photo. One of the biggest drawbacks for us is the several-second load time necessary to get Smart Cam up and running. It defeats the point of capturing something in motion if the 925 is languishing trying to get the app open. We're hoping Nokia makes it a priority to shave the app's start-up time, because it deserves the attention.

Software

Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

Windows Phone. It's still not there. Readers will convene on the comment section at the end of this review to say they don't need the likes of Google+, Dropbox and Instagram, but these omissions represent a larger picture. These app makers aren't particularly bothered that they're missing out on Windows Phone, and as such, it's likely that future apps you do want won't make it to Microsoft's OS, even if they're already available on iOS and Android. So, it's pretty much the same ecosystem situation as we outlined in our Lumia 920 review, except Spotify's now made it to WP8 and you can expect to see a Halo game or two in the future.

Gallery | 34 Photos

Nokia Lumia 925 screengrabs

Windows Phone. It's still not there.

Right, so that part's covered. Now on to the highlights. The superb Nokia Here maps are... here, as is Nokia Music and its accompanying free offline playlist feature. New additions include an FM radio tuner, which, like Android versions, requires some headphones to double up as an antenna. Also present is Data Sense, no longer a Verizon-only feature and offering up a similar experience (and statistics) to apps found (again) on Android -- a measurable way of keeping an eye on your data consumption. There's also the still-beta Glance screen that came installed on our review device, with Nokia giving a nod to its Symbian past with an always-on clock. There's even a very stylish red iteration you can choose during night hours, although we'd love to see Nokia expand on what sort of information is displayed here, beyond charging status and time. There's now the ability to wake up the phone with a double tap -- a Meego feature that's reappeared. It's a nice little trick, although having to then swipe upwards to unlock the phone seems a little redundant.

Not all the changes are for the better, however. Getting your Google account to work on the Lumia 925 also takes a little bit of extra work. Google Mail uses an outgoing SMTP email server, rather than the system still used on the Lumia 920. Technicalities aside, this means that the phone only polls for new mail every 15 minutes -- and that's the shortest interval. Meanwhile, on our companion 920, the phone downloads new content as it arrives. Google says it'll support its sync service for Windows Phone until the end of July and has said that "it's now possible to build a seamless sync experience using open protocols (IMAP, CalDAV and CardDAV) for Gmail, Google Calendar and Contacts." Unfortunately, that's not yet how it works on the Lumia 925. With some help from Nokia, we did manage to figure out a workaround through the phone's advanced setup for email, which downloads new content as it arrives, but it's unfortunately more complicated than it should be.

Battery life and performance

Nokia Lumia 925 Nokia Lumia 920 HTC Windows Phone 8X
WPBench 216 227 221
Battery rundown 3:55 2:55 2:30
SunSpider 1.0(MS) 905.4 903.2 914 (on 0.9.1)
AnTuTu (*GPU test off) 11,819* 11,457* 11,775
SunSpider: lower scores are better

Running on the same dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor seen on its predecessor, the Lumia 925 copes just fine flipping between apps in the multitasking menu, or pulling up media-dense websites. Running SunSpider 1.0 to test Internet Explorer on the new phone resulted in a decent score of 905.4ms, which is nearly identical to the 903.2ms we got on the Lumia 920. The Lumia 925 does a good job handling what's typically a pretty mediocre workload -- there's no GTA 3 here to push that Snapdragon processor to its limits, and the majority of games or apps available on Windows Phone can, if available, run on any mid-range Android device.

There's also 1GB of system memory, a standard feature on most top-end WP8 phones, alongside 16GB of storage. While you could argue that's half of what was delivered on last year's Lumia 920, 16GB is still relatively ample -- but we'd have paid a little more for the option of some microSD expansion. If Nokia can craft a micro-SIM tray, why not offer something elsewhere on the phone's perimeter for more data storage?

If Nokia can craft a micro-SIM tray, why not offer something elsewhere on the phone's perimeter for more data storage?

With the same battery, processor, resolution and screen size (if not technology), we expected a battery rundown to offer comparable times to the Lumia 920 on th same 2,000mAh battery, and we were right. As we've played with it over the last five days, we noticed that real-world use was actually longer than what we were expecting from a Nokia Windows Phone. Whether that's due to the AMOLED display (and how it handles black output without expending much power) or that always-on clock that meant we weren't as obsessive with powering the device on all the time, we were able to last a good day and a half on a single charge.

There's no contactless charging built-in; you'll have to pay an as-yet undecided amount for that pleasure, but it could be worth the investment. The covers are lightweight, although they (like most phone cases) do ruin the cleaner lines of the base hardware, adding to the thickness of the phone. But we like our Lumias with at least a bit of color, and a big chunk of red or yellow certainly helps there. During our speed tests on an EE 3G connection, we found that the Lumia 925 did in fact perform better than our polycarb-clad 920. Presumably due to the work done on the antenna, the aluminum model typically bested it by 1 Mbps on average. Speeds on HSPA+ circled around 6 Mbps down, and just shy of 1.5 Mbps up, in line with other smartphones on other networks. The Lumia 925 also gave us reliably clear, stable voice calls -- as we pretty much expect from Nokia.

Wrap-up

DNP Nokia Lumia 925 review lots of changes, but not much difference

Nokia has fixed several of the biggest complaints leveled at the Lumia 920. In fact, the Lumia 925 feels like a Windows Phone pitched at people who think they're going to buy an Android phone next. The colors and design are more understated; the hardware is thinner and lighter, and arguably just as impressive as the HTC One or the iPhone. Our complaints about the Windows Phone ecosystem still stand, and we don't see that changing much in the next six months. Despite that, Nokia has improved on the software to ensure that while the Lumia 925 stands out from the rest of the series at launch, all of its smartphones will benefit from notable improvements like the Glance screen and the Smart Camera app. It's good news for Lumia phone owners, but makes the 925 a trickier sell over the 920, which is now £150 cheaper off-contract in the UK. Not to mention, the extra storage and built-in contactless charging you're losing when you choose the 925 instead.

There's yet another shadow hanging over the 925: EOS.

Additionally, there's yet another shadow hanging over the 925: EOS. Nokia has unabashedly used its imaging pedigree as a major selling point, and we've constantly pointed towards the lossless zoom-capable 808 PureView camera sensor as what we want to see on its Windows Phones. The rumors suggest we're swiftly approaching its arrival and we'd recommend readers wait and see exactly what Nokia's got planned before putting down money for the Lumia 925.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.