|Introduction and Specifications|
|We're inching closer to the end of an era. Now that Microsoft has acquired Nokia's mobile phone unit, we'll soon see Microsoft-branded handsets rolling out in place of Nokia's own hardware. The company has made a heroic attempt to fight the tide of Apple's growing popularity coupled with the surging share of Android, but currently, Windows Phone holds only around 5% of the global market in smartphones. By and large, the Lumia line has looked fairly uniform to date, relying on polycarbonate frames, bold colors and stand-out camera features to differentiate itself.
The Lumia 925, despite being one of the final Lumias to ship with Nokia's branding, stands as one of the first in the range to truly carve a different path on the design front. It's the first Lumia to roll metal into its design, and while you'll still recognize it as a tried-and-true Lumia at a glance, there's no question that it's cut from a different cloth. Speaking of which, let's have a look at what's inside.
In many ways, the Lumia 925 stands as a gentle refresh of the Lumia 920. It adds a bit of metal to its construction, slims down the overall package, and includes a nice boost on the camera front. Do these additions make it worth the $100-on-contract asking price, and moreover, is Windows Phone 8 truly ready to compete with the latest iPhone and the bevy of high-quality Android phones hitting the market? Read on to find out.
|Design and Build Quality|
|If you've ever handled a Lumia, you essentially know what you're getting here. There's a big, bold, glossy display with no hardware buttons on the front, a curved, ergonomic chassis, and a bulging camera module in the rear. Traits such as these have defined the Lumia range over the past couple of years, and all of the token characteristics are here on the Lumia 925 as well.
That said, the Lumia 925 does veer off course slightly by introducing a metalic band around the edges, while a soft-to-the-touch polycarbonate battery cover covers almost the entire backside. Up top, there's a micro-SIM slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a micro-USB 2.0 port for charging and syncing. There's nary a switch nor socket on the left side, while the right edge is home to the camera shutter button, the on/off power button, and a volume rocker. The bottom edge is clean of ports as well.
The face of the phone is deep black and glossy, with a 4.5" AMOLED WXGA (1280x768) ClearBlack display dominating the area. The screen uses a slab of sculpted Gorilla Glass, and it also boasts "sunlight readability" and touch support for gloves and fingernails -- both of which are nice additions indeed.
On the rear, there's an 8.7MP PureView camera with optical image stabilization, autofocus, 1080p movie capture, and a high-power dual LED flash. Nokia's ace in the hole here is the accompanying Nokia Smart Camera software, which enables burst shooting and all sorts of new capture modes to make the most of low-light situations -- the kinds of areas where most smartphones falter.
At just 129mm x 70.6mm x 8.5mm, the Lumia 925 is markedly thinner than the Lumia 920 and Lumia 1020. We never really had any issues with the heft of prior Lumia phones, but now that we've handled the 925, the prior units do indeed feel overly bulky. This one's sleek, sexy, and barely a burden. As we've come to expect from Nokia, the build quality is exceptional. It truly feels like a premium product in the hand, with every corner and every accent polished in a way that only Apple and few others have managed to match.
Interestingly, Nokia supports contact charging with the Lumia 925, but you'll have to spring for an optional rear cover to make that kind of magic happen. Also, presumably in order to make the 925 thinner, there's only a 2,000mAh battery on-board.
After a week of use, it's easy to say that the Lumia 925 is among our favorite phones to handle, hardware-wise. Nokia has nailed the design execution yet again, and the slim frame of this particular device has really won us over. But then again, Nokia's soft spot has never been the hardware.
|Software and User Experience|
|Windows Phone 8 is the operating system on-board, but it's important to focus on what version we're looking at. The software release is labeled 'Lumia Amber,' which was initially revealed back in August. It's one of the most monumental WP8 updates to date, bringing a standby clock to the ClearBlack display, an improved camera imaging experience, a built-in FM radio player, performance improvements to Internet Explorer and Xbox Music, and of course, the introduction of the Nokia Smart Camera app that we referenced in the opener.
Another brilliant feature that ships with Amber is double-tap to unlock. In the Android world, this feature is presently reserved for LG's G2; it's one of our favorite features, as it enables us to get into the phone without awkwardly stretching for an out-of-the-way power button.
Outside of that, it's the same Windows Phone 8 experience that we've discussed in our prior Lumia reviews. You can resize and reshuffle icons on your home pane, but there is still no way to create folders for apps. For power users, this might be an issue. There's still no real support from Google, so don't expect a Gmail app, or anything beyond a simple Google Search app.
The People hub, while useful in collecting updates from a variety of social networks, is fairly limited in terms of usability. You'll still need to rely on dedicated Facebook, Twitter, etc. apps to truly exploit the functionality of each -- if you're just looking for glanceable updates where you don't plan on having too much input back, it's fine. Otherwise, it's a bit lacking.
The Nokia HERE suite of mapping and routing products are excellent. The offline mapping system is amongst the best in the mobile universe, and it's one of the key differentiating factors that works in the phone's favor.
The Nokia Pro Camera app enables you to have more control over your photos than any other phone platform. All of the conventional manual camera controls are there at your fingertips, and if you're simply looking to snap a great shot without a lot of fuss, automatic mode is but a swipe away.
Voice searching and controlling, however, is hit or miss (as it is with Siri and practically every other voice-guided system these days).
The 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon manages to power the OS well, and we were pleasantly surprised with how quickly we were able to whisk in and out of apps. Being limited to just 16GB of internal storage with no microSD expansion slot will be a drawback for some, but at least you'll get 7GB of free SkyDrive storage with the phone. Too bad there's no Google Drive app, but you will find a few other third-party options such as Dropbox, Box.net, etc.
Over the years, Windows Phone's app ecosystem has slowly-but-surely progressed. Microsoft itself has built a number of high-quality first-party apps, which are likely to be appreciated by new smartphone users due to their ease of use. In fact, for many mainstream consumers, the Windows Phone experience is so intuitive and accessible that it's definitely a strong suit for the platform now.
|Battery Life Testing and Camera Samples|
|The 8.7MP PureView sensor on the rear of the Lumia 925 doesn't hold a candle to the 41MP monster on the Lumia 1020, but honestly, it gets mighty close to showing off similar results in real-world use. A lot of that has to do with the Lumia's Amber software update, which fine-tunes the camera, as well as the Pro Camera app, which enables the use of full manual controls.
The Lumia 925 managed to capture shots with next to no shutter lag, and we love that there's a dedicated physical shutter button along the right edge. Have a look below at some of the unedited samples straight out of the phone.
Battery life has historically been an area where Lumia phones haven't stood out. Typically, they've slotted themselves somewhere in the middle of the pack and the Lumia 925 continues that trend. The 2,000mAh battery is slightly smaller than the 2,100mAh battery situated in the Galaxy S4, while larger than the 1,440mAh battery within the iPhone 5. Notably, it uses the same size battery as the Lumia 920 and Lumia 1020, but we have to wonder if that was a wise decision. At least the 925 is pretty darn slim; other Nokia phones don't have much of an excuse.
We utilized WP Bench's Battery test, to measure the Nokia Lumia 925's battery life under heavy workload, that keeps the screen on and loops a CPU intensive task in the background. Here, it squeezed out just over four hours. That's stronger than the Lumia 1020, but a bit short of the Lumia 900.
In a typical day -- surfing the Web, making a few calls, sending 10 to 20 texts, checking in on Foursquare and just generally keeping tabs on the world -- we managed to squeeze around 13 hours out of the device. This is with quite a bit of screen and data usage, too. Average users should easily get through a full day's use on a single charge.
|Benchmarks: CPU & Web Browsing|
|Due to the limitations of Internet Explorer within WP8, we weren't able to run our full gauntlet of mobile speed tests as we usually do with Android handsets. That said, we want to make clear that the Web browsing experience with the Lumia 925 is very good. Surfing was brisk and fluid, and we like Microsoft's decision to place the address bar at the bottom of the screen, not top.
Considering performance metrics in the SunSpider test, our Lumia 925 notched a 899.8ms, which competes favorably with nearly every other smartphone we've tested to date. IE10 doesn't necessarily feel like lightning when browsing -- it feels about on par with the iPhone 5 and most Android flagships -- but these numbers sure paint a good picture.
|Benchmarks: Graphics & Gaming|
Performance-wise, the Lumia 925 sits right about where the Lumia 1020 and 920 found themselves. The harsh reality is that Windows Phone hardware, at least internally, has evolved very slowly. We're seeing new phones, but the same 'ole numbers.
|Summary and Conclusion|
| The Lumia 925 is perhaps Nokia's most refined and comfortable-to-hold handset to date. It hits all of the right notes from a design standpoint, and it looks and feels like a premium product despite having a mid-range price. The 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon is plenty powerful for Windows Phone 8, and daily use was never hampered by lag or instability. Overall, the 925 is a fairly tight package, offering near-Lumia 1020 levels of camera performance in a far thinner (and lighter) package.
For many average consumers, the Windows Phone platform has matured to the point that it satisfies most all key feature and usage model requirements. It handles basics quickly and smoothly, and it's intuitive and not immediately overwhelming in terms of settings and options. That said, there's still no denying that the smartphone market as a whole has never been more competitive. There are a number of lower cost, off-contract Android devices on the market now, with which some users will find it compelling to have access to an ecosystem that (at least for now) is more robust and active than the community attached to WP8.
You'll Find the Nokia Lumia 925 for $99 on contract
Ecosystem aside, the Lumia 925 is yet another phenomenal piece of hardware from Nokia. For the everyman, the Lumia 925 is likely to please, but power users and those entrenched in other ecosystems will likely find themselves wanting more from the Windows 8 Store. If, however, all of your favorite apps are available on the platform, there's a lot to like. Windows Phone is streamlined and stable and Nokia clearly knows how to build a quality handset.