Nokia Lumia 925 (T-Mobile) review

The Nokia Lumia 925 is a good-looking and well-built Windows Phone, but can't push itself to the top of the smartphone ranks.
Photo of Nokia Lumia 925 (T-Mobile)

All Windows Phones aren’t alike. It’s become clear recently that Nokia is pulling ahead of other Windows Phone makers with its array of exclusive imaging, media, and navigation software. While many of these apps will come to all Windows Phones eventually, they’ll come to Nokia first.

The Nokia Lumia 925 is a prime example of the challenges facing Windows Phone. It’s handsome and well-built, and Nokia is clearly trying to pile on the software to both differentiate and fill in Windows Phone’s gaps. But iOS and Android are so far ahead in terms of third-party apps (and, in Android’s case, mapping) that it’s hard for Windows Phones to break out beyond people enamored with the platform’s elegance and simplicity. The Nokia Lumia 1020, with its 41-megapixel camera, might do so; the 925 doesn’t quite.

Physical Features, Call Quality, and Networking
The 925 is the first metal-framed Lumia, with the screen and polycarbonate back fitting into a smooth metal surround. At 5.1 by 2.8 by 0.33 inches (HWD) with a 4.5-inch, 1,280-by-768 AMOLED screen, it’s shorter but slightly chubbier than competitors like the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S 4, and HTC 8X, which unfortunately makes it just a little less ergonomic for small hands. It’s very tightly built, though, and the materials will please people who prefer metal phones.

Voice quality here is good, but not as good as on the Galaxy S 4. The noise cancellation is far from perfect, and in a call from a noisy area, some background noise came through. It didn’t drown out my voice, though. Other transmissions allowed a bit of wind noise and got thready from time to time, but they were never incomprehensible. The earpiece and speakerphone volume are both solid enough for even noisy areas (although the speakerphone is a bit tinny), and the phone paired and worked well with both Jawbone and Plantronics Bluetooth headsets.

The 925 supports T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling feature, which automatically makes calls over Wi-Fi if there’s no cellular network available.

Voice dialing is fine, as long as you stick to dialing numbers; I didn’t have much luck at all with voice commands or dictation.

The Lumia 925 works on T-Mobile’s new, radically expanded LTE network, which now covers 116 cities. T-Mobile LTE is a great value for the money, if you can get it, offering similar (and sometimes better) speeds to Verizon and AT&T for up to $40 per month less. It’ll also work on 3G networks overseas, but T-Mobile’s roaming rates are so prohibitive that you don’t want to leave the country with any T-Mobile smartphone.

The phone also has 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 3.0 (not 4.0), and GPS. The GPS locked in quickly and accurately, but I had some issues with the Wi-Fi—specifically, when changing networks, I sometimes had to reboot to restart DNS.

We had serious trouble battery testing the Lumia 925; after three tries, the best result we got was 6 hours, 50 minutes of talk time, which is on the short side of acceptable.

Performance and Apps
The Lumia 925 runs Windows Phone 8 with Nokia’s “Amber” update, on the same dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 processor we’ve been seeing in Windows phones since last year. Performance, unsurprisingly, is similar. The Windows Phone UI speeds along, but page loads in the Internet Explorer browser drag a little when compared to Chrome on the latest Android super-phones.

There are a lot of great little advances in Amber, which is coming to other Lumia phones but appears first on the 925. For instance, “Glance” is a subtle, low-key clock that pops up when you wave your hand over the screen, so you don’t have to wake up your phone to check the time. Data Sense lets you monitor whether you’re about to go over your data cap. There’s a touch-screen mode designed to be used with gloves. I was happy to see that Nokia includes a utility (under Settings) to clear out temp files and other detritus, as they’ve begun to clutter up my HTC 8X.

T-Mobile and Nokia have added a ton of apps to the 925, with more optionally downloadable. I’m hesitant to call this bloatware, though, as Windows Phone is desperate enough for differentiators that we’ll take whatever comes.

Most notably, there’s a whole bunch of camera enhancements: Cinemagraph, Blink, Panorama, and Nokia Smart Camera add many of the gimmicky photo modes you find on the Galaxy S 4, and Nokia Pro Camera (coming soon) will give you an unmatched level of manual control over your camera settings.

Nokia also includes its suite of location-based apps: Nokia Maps, Drive+, City Lens (an augmented-reality app), and Nokia Transit, for instance. I love Nokia Transit’s clear layout of public transit options, but all of these apps are far inferior to Google in terms of searchability and the quality of their POI database. Scanning around my neighborhood with City Lens, I get far too many pop-ups for closed restaurants.

Nokia Music and T-Mobile TV add to Windows Phone’s array of streaming media services, but the platform is still lacking any way to download video. Nokia Music is a Pandora/Slacker competitor; T-Mobile TV is more important, with an array of streaming, big-name TV channels. Unfortunately, it costs $10-15 per month.

Multimedia
The 925 has 14.68GB available and no memory card slot. Music and video get automatically reformatted for the phone when you transfer them using Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 connector software on Windows and Mac PCs. It can’t handle all formats, though: While it processed all of our videos, WAV and AIFF audio files got left out, as did anything DRMed. Since the media has been reformatted, it all plays perfectly on the phone. There’s also an FM radio, if you have headphones plugged in.

Nokia one-ups HTC’s Beats Audio with a fully-tweakable equalizer under Settings, but you definitely want headphones or a Bluetooth headset; the built-in, back-ported speaker is painfully harsh and tinny. There’s also no way to output your video onto a TV.

Nokia prides itself on low-light camera performance, but in our tests, the 8.7MP camera (which defaults to taking 7-megapixel pictures) did much better outdoors. This is a good smartphone camera, but no ground-breaker. Outdoors, the camera has excellent dynamic range and manages to balance a bright sky and dimmer foreground well. Indoors, things get noisy and grainy, and in low light, some details in bright areas get blown out. I was also able to shoot before the focus locked in, which is really annoying. The 1-megapixel front camera gets very noisy and struggles with low shutter speeds in low light. Video modes were less problematic, with a smooth 30 frames per second at 1080p indoors and out.

Conclusions
There are a couple of ways to slice the Lumia decision here. If you’re attracted by Windows Phone, right now you want to go with a Nokia. That gives you the Lumia 521 and 925 on T-Mobile, the Lumia 928 on Verizon, and the amazing Lumia 1020 on AT&T. The 1020 obviously stands out with its massive, 41-megapixel camera. The 928 and 925 are very similar; with Verizon you get better nationwide coverage, and with T-Mobile, much lower monthly rates. The 521 is only for those with severely constrained budgets.

How about the 925 versus other T-Mobile Android and iOS smartphones? If you’re a relatively basic smartphone user and the iPhone feels too teeny for you, the 925 is a great choice. Windows Phone is simpler, clearer, and more secure than Android, while still remaining fun and configurable. But the platform is handicapped by missing apps, whether they be buzzy games like Candy Crush Saga or entire categories like downloadable video. I’m a Windows Phone user myself, but the huge library of Android apps helps keep the Samsung Galaxy S 4 at the top of our recommended list for T-Mobile.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM, UMTS, LTE
Screen Resolution 1280 x 768 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 5.01 x 2.77 x 0.33 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g
Video Camera Resolution 1080p Rear
720p Front-Facing
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 Dual-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider T-Mobile
Total Integrated Storage 29 GB
High-Speed Data EDGE, LTE, HSPA+ 42
Weight 4.9 oz
Screen Type AMOLED PureMotion HD+
Operating System as Tested Windows Phone
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 8.7 MP Rear
1.2 MP Front-Facing
Colors Available Black
Gray
White
Screen Pixels Per Inch 334 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700, 700
microSD Slot No
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4.5 inches
Bluetooth Version 3

Verdict
The Nokia Lumia 925 is a good-looking and well-built Windows Phone, but can't push itself to the top of the smartphone ranks.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc