September was a crazy month as far as mobile phones are concerned, and apart from a slew of new launches, also witnessed announcements that could have far reaching impact on two of the most iconic brands of this industry — Nokia and BlackBerry. And while experts and analysts had predicted these eventualities, it’s difficult not to think of either of these brands without nostalgia, especially Nokia. For most of us, the very first cellphone we ever owned carried this name… a name as synonymous with mobiles as Xerox is to photocopiers. It may be too early to say how things will be moving forward post its acquisition by Microsoft, but we won’t be exaggerating when we say that Nokia as we know it is dead.
These thoughts weigh heavily upon our minds as we pick up the Lumia 625, possibly one of Nokia’s last few smartphone offerings, and take it through our review grind. The Lumia 625 is a mid-range smartphone and boasts the largest screen this range has seen so far. 4.7-inches may not be that big a deal for those who’ve seen the large-screen juggernaut rolling through the smartphone segment, but still forms the mainstay for this particular device.
Design and hardware
The Lumia 625 comes clad in a colorful polycarbonate shell so typical of Nokia’s recent launches. Thinner than the Lumia 620, but larger due to the screen size, it’s smooth to the touch and feels solid in the hand. The fascia consists of the screen, Nokia branding on top along with the front-facing snapper, and the back, start and search keys at the bottom. Flip the phone over and you’ll be greeted by a colorful expanse accentuated with the camera lens, a flash, Nokia lettering in the center and an opening for the speaker closer to the bottom.
The changeable rear shell mates with the main unit so seamlessly that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Lumia 625 has a unibody design. In fact, figuring out how to pry it open turned out to be quite a task till we figured out the trick. It basically requires putting pressure at the bottom, while using your finger as leverage placed in the middle part of the back to reveal the innards. The shell itself, available in a multitude of hues, features the same dual-layer construction that gives it a semi-transparent look and the Nokia lettering in the center almost looks like it’s floating. However, if you’re looking for a removable battery — don’t, since it’s not user-replaceable. Removing the shell only gives you access to the micro-SIM and microSD slots that are stacked one on top of the other.
As far as placement of ports and controls is concerned, that’s also fairly typical — with the 3.5m audio socket on top, microUSB port at the bottom, and the right littered with a volume rocker, a power / sleep key, and a two-step shutter release for the camera. Full marks to Nokia for the build — since it doesn’t feel flimsy in any way and maintains the solid build we’ve always associated with the brand. That said, don’t even think of carrying this device to a black-tie event or the boardroom if you want to be taken seriously, since the colorful chassis, as solid and cheery it may be, still looks toy-like. On the other hand, it can definitely score you second looks on a night about town or while at the pub or a party. Worth pointing out that one-handed usage isn’t a problem at all and the device feels quite comfortable in the hand, though it’s pebble-smooth exterior does render it prone to slippage.
At 4.7-inches, this is the largest screen yet on a Lumia, and forms the backbone of an otherwise middling spec sheet. Even Nokia’s flagship smartphones such as the Lumia 925 and the Lumia 1020 rock 4.5-inch displays, and understandably, all communications concerning the 625 shout themselves hoarse about this. The large IPS LCD screen is covered by Gorilla Glass 2, and is certainly useful when it comes to activities like gaming and movie-watching. However, the advantage soon turns on its head when we discover that it sports a measly resolution of 480 x 800, giving it an underwhelming pixel density of just about 200 ppi. This translates into coarse text, jaggy fonts, and colors that lack punch. Furthermore, there’s no ClearBlack coating, so even the black levels aren’t great.
Unlike its sibling, the Lumia 1020, that eats megapixels for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or even the 925 that boasts superior imaging prowess, the Lumia 625’s main shooter isn’t something it shouts about — quite understandable since the aforementioned devices are in a completely different league. The 5-megapixel snapper on the Lumia 625 can be activated directly by long-pressing the hardware shutter key, and the default camera app covers the basics such as scene modes and control over settings like ISO, exposure and white balance. It’s also capable of shooting full HD video.
As is the norm, it also gives access to various ‘lenses’ — apps that enhance the functionality. Nokia’s Cinemagraph comes pre-installed, and so does Smart Cam… a feature brought in by the Amber update that comes loaded on this device. (More on the Amber update in the software section). Smart Cam shoots multiple images and lets you choose the best one to save, apart from letting you edit and use Eraser mode to remove unwanted objects from shots or cook up an action shot of a subject in motion.
As far as image quality is concerned, you’ll find it pleasing enough in daylight, with accurate colors for the most part. However, there’s some loss of detail, especially when you zoom in… and low light shots are noisy. The videos are pretty decent too, as long as you make sure there’s good lighting. Overall, the camera does the job as far as social shenanigans and casual photography is concerned, but won’t rattle the big boys when it comes to performance.
The Nokia Lumia 625 runs Windows Phone 8 with the latest Amber update out-of-the-box, and the UI experience is no different as compared to any other Windows Phone device — an aspect that’s possibly its biggest advantage as well as a put-downer. It’s an advantage since you already know what to expect, but a slight disappointment that there’s nothing new to experience. The OS uses a simple approach that works out quite well, especially for first-time smartphone users and is a cinch to learn. If you haven’t tried a WP8 device before, the UI essentially makes use of two screens — the Start screen and an alphabetically sorted app list. The Start screen is an array of tiles that can be customized as per your own requirements, depending upon the apps you use most frequently and would like to appear right up front. Many apps allow for live updating tiles that refresh and display updated info whilst connected to the internet, and you can customize their size and placement as well. The other customization options include a custom lockscreen wallpaper and choosing from one of the built-in colors for the tiles.
The People hub is WP8’s killer app, and aggregates updates from contacts pulled from your online accounts including Facebook and Twitter. Support for these social networks is baked right into the OS, so you don’t even need to download the apps. Kid’s Corner is another notable feature offered by the OS — letting you create a special zone for kids so they have access only to a limited set of apps and games. First-timers should also note that there’s no way to classify or arrange installed apps into folders. There’s no proper file manager either, but we do miss a centralized area that aggregates notifications.
The Amber update, which, as we mentioned earlier, comes pre-installed on the Lumia 625, brings with it a slew of improvements and features such as FM radio, Smart Cam and the Data Sense app that monitors data consumption and lets you restrict background data usage. Another feature of the Amber update is Glance Screen — a feature that displays the clock even when the device is locked, but that isn’t supported on the 625.
The standard suite of apps includes the mobile version of Microsoft Office. As usual, Nokia crams the device with quite a few ‘signature experiences’, and possibly the most notable (and useful) is the Here Drive app that offers worldwide offline turn-by-turn navigation completely free of cost. In addition, there’s Nokia Music as well, letting you stream and download music for free for six months. Since Nokia is touting the 625’s movie-playing abilities, thanks to its large screen, it has also included an app called ‘Your Movies‘ which is exclusive to this device. The app features about 3,000 movie titles spanning Hollywood, Bollywood and regional titles, and apart from letting you stream, also lets you download full movies for offline viewing free for a period of 90 days. You can choose between standard or high quality, and the app even lets you download in the background, but for some reason, the device needs to be connected to a power source before it will let you proceed with the download. Other pre-installed apps include BigFlix, Zomato, BookMyShow and Flipkart eBooks.
As far as Windows Phone 8 as a platform is concerned, the app choice it offers has certainly grown manifold since the last time we took a closer look at it, but it cannot match up to what the app storefronts on iOS and Android have to offer. Before you let this affect your decision though, do note that most of the basics such as Skype and WhatsApp are covered, and there are third-party apps for stuff like Google Maps, Instagram and Vine as well. We do miss a few things — a native suite of Google Apps for example. Do feel free to take a peek at our recommendations for a few useful Start screen utilities for WP8 if you’ve just got yourself a Windows Phone device and are wondering where to start.
Performance and battery life
The Lumia 625 rocks a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor under the hood with 512MB of RAM and Adreno 305 graphics. The built-in storage is 8GB, augmentable via the aforementioned microSD slot. First-time users should note that the memory card can’t be used to store apps, and is used purely as a media repository for music, videos and images, accessed via their respective apps. Connectivity options cover dual-band Wi-Fi, A-GPS, and Wi-Fi hotspot, but there’s no NFC unlike the Lumia 620. Thankfully, WP8 isn’t a resource-hogging platform, and even with a processor that may seem like a wimp compared to some of the chips used by its Android-based rivals, the Lumia 625 doesn’t display any signs of lag and works quite smoothly.
Call quality is satisfactory, though the built in speaker does leave something to be desired. Do note that since the Lumia 625 has just 512MB of RAM, it’s incompatible with a few apps and games that need more RAM to work with. This includes games such as The Amazing Spider-Man and Order & Chaos by Gameloft, and these won’t show up in the results if you search the app storefront on the device. However, the games we tried play smoothly, even Temple Run, which had launched with a 1GB RAM requirement but has since been updated to make it compatible with devices that have 512MB RAM as well. It seems that Windows Phone 8 doesn’t stress the battery too much either, since the sealed 2,000 mAh battery keeps the Lumia 625 going for a full day comfortably even with medium to heavy use, and can even be stretched into the second day if your usage is light.
The Nokia Lumia 625 comes at a price of Rs 19,999 (~ $324), which puts it into the mid-range segment. It does have its share of lows — with the low-resolution screen possibly being the most notable, but quite a few things work well in its favor. The build quality is superb, the camera and overall performance are decent, and the better life is extremely good. Nokia’s software offerings such as Here Maps and Your Movies are highly useful as well, and carry enough weight to tilt the balance in its favor. Truthfully however, it’s a tad difficult to recommend this device whole-heartedly considering you can get Android smartphones with much higher specs for around the same price, such as the Micromax Canvas 4 or the newly-launched Gionee Elife E6. That said, if you’re upgrading from a feature phone, or are looking for a no-fuss secondary phone, the Lumia 625 definitely deserves a second look.