For the last three weeks I have swapped my beloved iPhone for a very shiny Nokia Lumia 925, which I’ve had on loan from Nokia to try out. It’s been an interesting test, starting with incredible frustration over not being able to find anything or type simple words using the keyboard, to actually feeling a teeny hint of sadness as I reset the phone back to its factory settings and packed it away in the box.
I know full well that Apple has got me these days. But like so many other people I know, I still have a Nokia 6230 in the man drawer that works perfectly well – just in case. Nokia was my phone manufacturer of choice back in its heyday, but it didn’t keep up with the tech when smart phones went mainstream.
First Impressions Count
The Nokia Lumia 925 is a lovely looking phone, there is no denying that. I have been using the white version, with its large 4.5” bright and super sensitive touch screen and dual core processor. It comes with Windows Phone 8 installed, which looks great and is very easy to personalise just as you want it with colours and icons and sounds and everything else. I spent that first evening mucking about with the settings, which are very easy to find and change, and working out how to use it. I found it not to be as intuitive as iOS but once I’d remembered this was a Microsoft OS and I needed to see it as a computer that seemed to make things easier!
My first full day of use involved the battery getting down to less than 10%… twice. That’s right, three charges in one day. As you all know that the first day of using a new phone involves constant checking, changing, clicking, snapping, downloading, playing, watching and browsing. I used email, Twitter and Facebook constantly; I took loads of photos; I installed some apps; I connected it to wifi, and to mobile data in weak and strong signal areas on a three hour car journey; I listened to some music; I watched a video; but still, three charges in one day is pretty poor – and I’m an iPhone user!
I will happily admit that since that first weekend, as my use became a bit more normal for me, the battery life has settled and I didn’t have any days when I ran out of power. First impressions count, though, and I didn’t leave the house without my trusty Duracell portable charger from then on, just in case.
After losing some of my muscle memory caused by using my iPhone for so long I found I started to get on with the Nokia rather well. It was so frustrating to begin with, constantly pressing the wrong buttons and ending up with sending illegible texts and bizarre tweets. It took a good few days, but I did eventually remember what it was about Nokia phones that I found so excellent all those years ago. The predictive text software is brilliant; rather than autocorrect you get a list of suggested words as you type that you can select. It also learns phrases that you type regularly and you can end up writing whole sentences without actually typing anything out yourself. It learned names too, and added those to its suggestions when relevant.
I must also say that I think the screen is rather lovely. It is so very clear, with excellent definition and excellent colour. It is easy to read when in bright sunlight, although the auto-brightness is very sensitive, getting brighter and dimmer very quickly in comparison with my iPhone and perhaps even when it wasn’t necessary. If you look at it even slightly at an angle everything looks blue which I thought was very odd, but I checked and apparently that is normal with this kind of screen – it’s simply a case of looking at it straight on all the time.
I found the built in speaker not bad at all; I enjoyed listening to music from the Nokia Mix Radio, which is free to stream and came up with some great tunes within the genres I requested. Setting up and using email was a doddle, and once set up it is also very easy to switch email accounts on and off, which meant I could easily stop receiving work notifications at the weekend.
The touch screen functionality is very good, it was accurate and sensitive, reacting to the lightest of touch. It is not a capacitive touch screen so you don’t need special gloves or a proper stylus to use this, which I like in some circumstances as it’s very convenient, but it also means that when it and my gloved hands were both in my pocket I ended up tweeting! One thing that got to me throughout my test of this phone was that I never did get used to the buttons along the bottom. They are touch screen icons the same as the rest of the screen, but I was constantly catching either the back button or the search button with my hand when typing or using the camera or pretty much any other app, which immediately takes you away from what you actually want to do. The number of times I’ve had the camera held up to take a photo, touched the back button with my hand and lost the moment are countless. Frustrating. I tried holding the phone in all sorts of different ways, but was not able to find a way that meant I was both holding the phone securely as well as avoiding those sensitive icons.
The biggest problem I see with the Nokia, and in fact all Windows phones, is the lack of applications.
There is a very long list of apps that I’m used to using daily that are simply not available, and in some cases I couldn’t find anything that made for a suitable alternative. For example my favourite image manipulation app, Snapseed, is not available for Windows phones, and my twitter app of choice, Echofon, also is not available. You can’t get Sky+ so I couldn’t control my Sky box from my phone, there is no BBC Radio Player and I couldn’t actually get BBC iPlayer to work at all. Both Google Hangouts and Google Authenticator are missing – I found a third party alternative to Authenticator (which I need to be able to log into many things, including my blog) but it is annoying having to use third party (and sometimes poor) alternatives? Oh, and discovering there is no ‘The Simpsons: Tapped Out’, my favourite game, was such a disappointment!
I know most apps are developed by individuals and companies and not by OS makers themselves, but the fact that so few are currently available really puts me off. Without the backing of the app developers Microsoft is going to struggle to encourage people to ditch iOS and Android devices. I am sure that will come in time, but at the moment it is a sticking point for me.
Some of my regular-use apps are available. WordPress deserves an honourable mention: I like the Windows phone version of their app, well done WordPress. Instagram, too, is just about there – the beta version is a little bit buggy but it is very nearly there – and it is good to see Dropbox and OneNote, Amazon Mobile and BBC News.
There are also some brilliant apps that come pre-installed on the phone. Creative Studio, Nokia’s answer to Snapseed, is great fun to use (more on that shortly), and HERE Maps and HERE Drive+ are very good; I was impressed. But why isn’t there a built in PDF reader? It seemed very odd I had to install a reader to view PDFs sent via email, it just seems like something any device like this should do.
Nokia makes big claims about the camera on this phone, and that was the reason it sent this particular Lumia to me to try out. But I’m sorry to say that actually I’m not blown away by it. There is one reason really: the colour balance in the photographs is far from accurate.
The fact is that I want – I expect – my photographs to look realistic. If I want to add filters and change the colours afterwards then that’s fine, I’m not averse to a bit of post-production, but what I want as an original image is something that is as close to what I saw with my own eyes as possible.
This is very noticeable in images taken in low light – so at this time of year, most of the time! Take these shots taken in my kitchen, for example. First is the Nokia Lumia. It’s sharp and clear, but not the right colour. It’s so blue! Below it is a photo taken on an iPhone 5S – it is much more accurate colour wise, and equally as sharp.
It seems to be the way the Nokia deals with white balance. Much of the time it gets it wrong, so you end up with photos that are either too warm or too cool. This is not a problem in daylight (I got some lovely shots outdoors, see the bottom of the review), it’s when you’re inside under artificial light or have a mixture of light sources (eg window and “big light”) that the issues arise. You can get around it to a small degree by setting ISO, white balance and exposure settings yourself – I love the fact that I have a bit of control over those things with the Lumia – but even the white balance is limited to a number of pre-sets that may not be right for particular lighting conditions, and certainly none of which correctly captured images in my kitchen taken under the LED GU10 replacements. The simple fact that I have to resort to manual settings on a phone just to capture a reasonable image means I may as well get my proper camera out which would be just as quick.
Having said all that, there are also things about the camera that I like very much, and I think should make other manufacturers sit up and take notice. The first is very simply the shutter button. It works just as a proper camera does – press half way to focus and all the way to take the picture. This, to me, makes taking good photographs much easier; no tapping the screen to focus, or relying on the phone to know when you are ready to take your snap. That shutter button meant that when I was taking photographs I would get myself stood properly too – none of this one handed quick snap stuff (it’s actually not very easy to take a quick snap!); I used both hands, concentrated on the framing and focus and then shot. It means that when you use the phone’s camera you hold and use it like a point-and-shoot, rather than like a smartphone that has a camera built in.
It is very good at close-up images. I loved the depth it created with the aperture settings in Close-Up mode, and how it can focus when you’re right on top of the subject. I have used the Lumia 925 to take quite a few blog photos and, once I’ve amended the colours so they are as they should be, I am very pleased with the quality of the shots.
Apart from the main camera application there are also a number of “lenses” to play with. Nokia Smart Cam is fun – it takes 10 shots in a row and then uses those to do some funky enhancements like create movement or get the best facial expression. Using that turns the quality down a bit though, which is a shame. There’s also a built in panorama feature, which works very simply, and something called “bing vision” which is an image recognition app.
Also built in is Nokia Creative Studio, which is an image manipulation app with features and filters to enhance your images before sharing them online. It includes some very handy adjustments such as red eye reduction and focus object (throwing the background out of focus to emulate a large aperture), as well as some fun-to-use ones such as colour pop and tilt shift. It’s quite a powerful app that took up many hours of my time over the last three weeks.
Splodz Blogz Verdict
The question I have been asked a number of times during this test is “will you be buying one”. I’m afraid to say the answer is no, not just yet.
The Nokia Lumia 925 has a lot going for it. The screen is fantastic, it is nice to hold, the predictive text works wonderfully and it is easy to personalise, amongst other things. But it also has a little way to go before I could consider moving allegiances – the lack of apps is the biggest thing, and the camera still needs a bit of work in my opinion.
Nokia has made excellent strides into the smartphone market with recent devices – and let’s face it, it had a lot of catching up to do – and I genuinely look forward to seeing what it comes up with next.
Note: All photographs displayed are as-shot (apart from cropping) – I have not edited colours or added filters.