Since the launch of the Nokia Lumia 920 in November 2012 the Finnish manufacturer has released no less than 4 other Windows Phone 8 devices encompassing the whole price range from the low end to the high end. The Nokia Lumia 620 and 520 have been best sellers thanks to great feature sets and most importantly low prices without a contract. Unfortunately people lusting for a high-end Windows Phone 8 device only had one choice; the Lumia 920.
Nokia’s first handset featuring Optical Image Stabilization is a great phone but its sheer size and weight can be and has been a turn off for many potential adopters. I’m the first to admit that this phone isn’t for everyone. Sure, it’s top notch but the Lumia 920 is heavier than a more powerful, feature rich and bigger Samsung Galaxy Note II. Want a handset with OIS? Well your only Windows Phone choice would be the Lumia 920 (or 928 on Verizon) or the HTC One on Android (with a frankly subpar implementation of it).
The solution was to develop the Nokia Lumia 925. I was admittedly a bit skeptical about it because the first leaked pictures of the handset made it look like an ugly mess and I couldn’t figure out why Nokia would waste time and resources developing a device so similar to the 920 when the Nokia Lumia 1020 was going to be their next high-end handset. The answer is relatively simple: thickness and weight. Once you have handled a Lumia 925 there’s simply no going back to a 920. More importantly the Lumia 1020 is as tall and wide as the Lumia 920 but slightly lighter so the 925 does really have its place in the stable.
Here’s how both handset physical dimensions compare:
|| Nokia Lumia 920
|| Nokia Lumia 925
|| 10,72 x 130,3 x 70,8 mm
|| 8,51 x 129 x 70,6 mm
This makes a whole world of a difference in terms of usability and ergonomics while also appealing to a broader range of potential users who were afraid of the sheer volume of the 920.
As you already know the Lumia 925 is also Nokia’s first handset since the venerable N8 to be mostly made of aluminum which helps with the weight and also robustness of the product. The back is still polycarbonate but one thing is for sure; this is, in my opinion, the best build Nokia handset ever. I’m dead serious here.
I’ve had a ton of Nokia handsets throughout the years and went through tens of Lumia devices in the past months which all had one little thing that made me question Nokia’s QA process. Sure the Lumia 920 had the awesome zirconium hardware buttons et all but the body creeks when press in certain places, depending on the phone some had a huge air gap between the LCD and the glass resulting in light bleed from the backlit LCD and loss of brightness, dust under the front camera because the module was not sealed etc… The Nokia Lumia 925 has none of this. It’s so tightly build that you think that it’s made of one piece even though it isn’t. Nothing moves, cracks, wobbles. It’s perfect in terms of build quality.
There are a few down sides; the use of an aluminum frame makes the handset really slippery in the hand similar to the old Samsung Omnia 7 so you must pay attention to this when you pick it up. There’s also the lack of wireless charging coil built into the device to make it slimmer and lighter. I’m never been a big user of this feature but it’s clearly the future and once you have a charging pad at home going back to a device that doesn’t support it natively can be really annoying. Let’s not talk about the wireless charging back cover that it simply a pain to take off and makes the phone nearly thicker than the 920. As a matter of fact I’m not sure why exactly did Nokia take this out given that handsets slimmer than the 925 like the Galaxy S4, Nexus 4 & HTC 8X managed to have it built in. The Nokia Lumia 1020 will unfortunately also require a back cover to wirelessly charge.
On the hardware front the other major difference between the Lumia 920 and 925 is the use of and AMOLED WXGA (1280×768) panel instead of and IPS LCD. As far as I know this is the same screen first introduced on the Nokia Lumia 928 a few weeks earlier.
My biggest issue with the Lumia 920, besides its size/weight, has been the poor viewing angles thanks to the “gigantic” air gap between the glass and the LCD panel which caused the light to refract/reflect inside resulting a huge loss of brightness when the screen was looked at from an angle. The AMOLED screen fixes that and also provides perfect blacks which is something really appreciable on Windows Phone. Sure it’s a PenTile matrix sub-pixel arrangement but frankly this isn’t really an issue given the screen’s PPI unless you stick it to your face. To put it simply the advantages of the AMOLED panel far outweighs it’s cons (PenTile..).
Unfortunately there’s a rendering issue that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere yet that can be a real pain if not fixed quickly: V-Sync seems to be disabled. Nope, I’m not kidding folks. When using the Lumia 925 in portrait mode (90% of the time in my case) horizontal panning causes screen tearing. I don’t know if this is a GDR2 issue or AMOLED controller driver problem on Nokia’s part but this should be taken care of as soon as possible.
Now let’s talk about my favorite hardware feature of the Nokia Lumia 925; the 8.7mp Optically Stabilized PureView camera that was first introduced in the Nokia Lumia 920. Both handsets pack exactly the same sensor but one small addition was made to the Lumia 925’s camera module: a 6th lens to help improve the clarity of the pictures. Most importantly the 925 comes pre-loaded with the Lumia AMBER update which features major improvements to the camera algorithms in addition to the Windows Phone 8 GDR2 update. Now the question is: Are the improvements to the image quality the result of the additional lens, the software tweaks or both? This is a question that I unfortunately can’t answer until the Nokia Lumia 920 receives the Amber Update later this month so we can compare both handset’s camera modules.
At first sight the pictures taken with the Lumia 925 look for the most par identical to those originating from a Lumia 920. I would even say that the Lumia 920 has at times a slightly better color reproduction, white balance and exposure (shot’s taken with the 925 can look colder and brighter with the same stings). It’s only when you look at the pictures at 100% zoom that you will notice a major difference in noise reduction and compression artifacts (zoom on the trees!).
As you can see in the samples above the shot taken with the Nokia Lumia 925 (left) are clearer and more detailed than the same shots taken with the Lumia 920 running its current GDR1 firmware. On the other hand I find the exposure to be a lot better on the 920. As I said earlier; is it mainly because of the software updates or the 6th Zeiss Lens? Nobody knows for sure. The fact is that right now the Nokia Lumia 925 is most probably the best camera phone on the market besides the Nokia 1020.
Low-Light performance is slightly improved compared to the 920 thanks to the ability to shoot at ISO 3200 (the 920 will have this ability with the Amber FW too) but shots are still overexposed in my opinion. It would really be great to have manual control over the exposure and thankfully this is what Nokia is going to give to all Lumia PureView smartphones (920; 925, 928) later this summer when it releases the Nokia Pro Camera application which will launch on the Nokia Lumia 1020 first.
Click on the images to zoom (note that they are untouched and in full resolution so they may take a little while to load and will undoubtedly screw with the website’s bandwidth. But I wanted to give you the real deal so you can compare accordingly.)
Here you can see how the Lumia 925 stacks up against my Sony NEX 5 (14.MP picture shot with the 18-55 Optic). Pretty good don’t you think? I was really surprised to see how close they look like. The NEX5 obviously produces better pictures thanks to a gigantic 14.2MP APS-C sensor and huge optics compared to the Lumia 925 but the phone can mostly take care of most of your Point & Shoot needs now without any problem what’s so ever. Ironically the Nokia Lumia 925/920/928 has better Optical Image Stabilization than my Sony NEX 5 when shooting videos.
The Nokia Lumia 925 is also the first handset to feature the Nokia Smart Cam application which will be made available to all Windows Phone 8 handset with Amber update later this summer. You all probably already know what this application is all about so I won’t go into too much detail here but will instead just tell you that this is a really nice complement to the great camera feature in the phone. Nokia Smart camera can be setup as the default camera of the OS and launched by the press of the camera HW button on the phone. The only major down side here is that you will only be able to shoot picture at 5MP max and always in burst mode which will then have to edit within the app. I frankly find it more convenient to slap the app’s tile on the screen to quickly launch it instead when needed.
The action shot is probably the most impressive effect and also the most effective one to demonstrate the ease of use of the whole experience.
As you will see in my short review video above the Lumia 925 also brings new Nokia exclusive features to Windows Phone via the Amber update which also means that they will then be available to all Lumia WP8 device later this year. The first one is the glance notification which was originally available on Nokia’s S40 and Symbian handset a couple years & more recently the Nokia N9.
The hour and sound profile can be displayed on the screen while the device actually in sleep mode. This is handy feature especially for devices equipped with an AMOLED screen (928, 925, 820) who don’t consume any power when the screen displays black. The only downside is that the proximity sensor is always on to detect if the phone is face down or in a pocket so it can turn off the glance mode. This does consume power and from my own experience with the 925, enabling Glance mode does indeed put a dent in the daily battery life.
Nokia has also recently added a third glance which is called Peek and allows you to turn on the glance mode simply by waving/placing you hand over the phone and its proximity sensor.
The second feature is double-tap to wake up. As you have already guessed, this enables you to wake up the phone by tapping twice on the screen. It’s nice and can come in handy but frankly not always reliable. If you tap too fast it doesn’t work, too slow it doesn’t work either. Sometimes if you fingers are a little bit greasy it doesn’t wake up etc..
Last but not least: Lumia Color Profile. This is a life saver especially for a device with an AMOLED screen. Those panel are usually badly calibrated and have extremely saturated colors. The Lumia color profile lets you choose between more neutral or vivid color saturation and also tweak the color temperature.
Audio quality during calls is clearer on the Lumia 925 compared to the 920 but anything coming out the headphone jack is unchanged which is not a bad thing given that it was already pretty good on the 920. The loudspeaker is not a s loud as on the Lumia 920 and its position on the back of the phone isn’t going to help given that I usually don’t have my phone face down when I listen to music.
Now let’s talk about the bad things. First off the Nokia Lumia 925 only features 16GB of internal non-expandable storage. Yes this is a real disappointment for a high-end device especially given its price and the fact that its predecessor had double the storage. This is frankly the only thing that can prevent me from totally recommending this phone. Sure it isn’t as bad as it may seem but 16GB really isn’t enough once you start shooting pictures, recording 1080P videos, installing apps and games (which are now well over 500MB each…GameLoft I’m looking at you!) syncing music and videos. This is unless you are in the UK and want to get a 2 years contract on Vodafone UK which has an exclusive deal on a 32GB version of the Lumia 925. Oh well…
The second slightly annoying issue with the Nokia Lumia 925 is heat. If you thought that the Lumia 920 got hot really fast when doing intensive task get ready for more of the same. The aluminum frame on the 925 is more conductive than the full polycarbonate body of the 920. The result is that the Nokia Lumia 925 gets even hotter than its predecessor.
Another small issue I have with the Lumia 925 is the apparent lack of V-Sync. I didn’t really noticed it at first but did find that there was something not quite right but couldn’t really figure out what. After 2 days of use I finally noticed that there was screen tearing when panning left-right in portrait mode. This happens in any app, every time even though the frame rate is mocked at 60FPS. Is it a bug in the AMOLED controller drivers, GDR2, something else? Only Nokia can’t answer this question for us.
My verdict is quite simple this time around: The Nokia Lumia 925 is the best Windows Phone ever conceived. It will probably hold this crown even after the Nokia Lumia 1020 is released and until the real successor of the 920 is announced simply because Nokia’s 41MP PureView handset will still be a bit bulky as it has roughly the same dimensions as the 920 while its weight sits between the 925 and the 920. The 1020’s camera is undoubtedly better than what we have here in the 925 but as you can see in the pictures I took; Nokia’s stylish handset will simply be the second best camera shooter just behind the Lumia 1020 which is nothing to be shy about. To top it all Nokia is going to introduce full manual control for the camera of the Lumia 925 and all other PureView handsets which should fix most of the over-exposure issues that plague some of the shots and also enable full stereo rich recording in addition to Bluetooth 4.0 support pretty soon. Let’s not forget all the exclusive Nokia application and games and most importantly the Here suite of mapping applications which have all been recently updated (Here Drive +, Here Maps, Here Transit). I was at first really skeptical about the introduction of a re-styled Lumia 920 but Nokia has really surprised me with this device and fixed most of the negatives of its big brother. It’s just a shame that its marketability and aura is going to be greatly overshadowed by the newly launched (in the US only right now) Lumia 1020 because both devices are in my opinion targeting slightly different users.