The Competition: The Nokia Lumia 925
It's been about a year since I've used a Windows Phone 8 device as my primary handset and in technology terms, that's a long, long time. I need to write that using the Nokia Lumia 925 was not my choice, either; I needed a Windows Phone 8 device for a work project and I would have been happier with a low end model.
However, let's take a look at the 925. This is the former champion of the Lumia range, usurped by the Lumia 1020 at the end of 2013. It features a 4.5″ AMOLED screen, a 1.5 GHz dual core processor, 16 GB of internal storage, a 2,000 mAh battery and an optically stabilised 8.7 MPixel camera, all housed in a large mixed aluminium and polycarbonate chassis. The Lumia 925 runs Nokia's Black version of Windows Phone 8, which is a couple of updates newer than the Windows Phone 8 version on the 620 I've already reviewed.
I need to write that I'm unconvinced of the blend of plastic and metal for the design. It feels good to hold but when you look at the back of the handset, you can see where the (non-removable) polycarbonate back doesn't fit very well. The Lumia 925 doesn't have the same build quality of the iPhone or HTC One, in fact, it's nowhere near. It also heats up quite noticeably even with moderate use, too, which I've never experienced with other Windows Phone devices.
The screen is a good size and it’s also crisp, colorful, bright and responsive. Nokia have used their extra sensitive screen technology so you can use it wearing gloves or fingernails, too. There’s the option to turn the device on with a double tap, although the device warns that this may reduce battery life.
The camera can take some great pictures but for all the clever technology and reputation that Nokia cameras have, I'm disappointed with the results. The capture is slow, autofocus is slow and the hardware button requires a hefty prod to take a picture, which often results in camera shake. I have taken some beautiful pictures but a great many blurred, fuzzy pictures. This is partially down to my technique and tapping the screen yields much better results, but it’s a point of frustration: there’s a button on the chassis to use for pictures, so why is it so difficult to use?
I've written about the Windows Phone user interface in my older review, but to explain that the home screen is structured around live tiles, which you can customize where they go and how large they are. Live tiles are in many respects similar to widgets and I like how they work.
The search soft key on the bottom of the device is only to activate Microsoft Bing; if you want to search in an application, you need to look for a search icon in that application. Is Microsoft so desperate to get people to use its search engine that they have an exclusive Bing-only button on their Windows Phone 8 devices?
It's difficult to judge the Nokia 925 from a productivity perspective without considering the Android competition, but in most respects the Lumia is comparable but less flexible: the keyboard is good, the web browser is excellent and the email client works well, too, even if the default synchronization settings are infrequent.
Microsoft have enabled Google Contacts and Google Calendar synchronization, so it's easy to get my information into the device and that's a good thing. You can't use Gmail in push mode but you can at least synchronize your account every fifteen minutes, although there's quite the battery hit if you do this.
Microsoft integrate Office into the Windows Phone 8 platform and it works well with the Office 365 subscription service. This is the Microsoft equivalent of Google Documents, allowing you to edit documents online and collaborate with colleagues. It's a good quality productivity suite let down by reliance on Microsoft's cloud system, as I found it impossible to work with my Google Drive or Dropbox accounts. I didn’t want to commit to SkyDrive, either, so instead I manually copied files to and from various cloud services that I use. It’s unlikely that this situation will change going forward, just as QuickOffice wants to use Google Drive as cloud storage.
Another problem for the Lumia 925 is how close it feels to the Lumia 620 despite using more powerful hardware and the software enjoying a year of development. Yes, the 925's screen is significantly larger but the interface and applications run at the same speed that I can tell. The camera should be better but often isn't.
And then there's battery life. With the device set up with my Gmail and Live accounts, plus Office 365, battery life is acceptable if I use the default synchronisation settings. It's a little better than my Nexus 4 but not quite as good as my HTC One. It doesn’t matter that the 925 isn’t actually doing much whereas my Android devices are connected to the Google Now.
Unfortunately, doing anything productive with the device involving Office 365, the email account or the web browser is very hard on the battery. Maybe it’s because having a white background works the AMOLED screen very hard, maybe it’s because Windows Phone 8 isn’t as optimised as Android 4.x or perhaps my unit is faulty, but under like-for-like conditions when I’m using the device for writing and research, the Nokia Lumia 925 cannot match my Nexus 4’s battery, let alone the Moto X, which also has an AMOLED screen.
You can activate low power mode to disable background updating and dim the screen, which helps, but then the 925 becomes a dumbphone.
After my positive experience with the Nokia Lumia 620 I was expecting more from the 925. The larger screen makes editing documents and spreadsheets easier, but the battery life suffers with anything other than lightweight use and this limits how useful the handset is.