Review: Nokia Lumia 925 for T-Mobile
The 925 has two creative hearts beating in its chest. The first belongs to Microsoft in the form of the Xbox Hub. The Xbox space and the Windows Phone Store together form the user-facing front through which Microsoft would like to sell you music, movies, TV shows, books, games, and apps. The Xbox Hub is always changing and being refreshed with new content. Any of the content purchased through the Hub can be played back or otherwise consumed with some basic apps on the 925. If you want to sideload music, you'll need to do so via USB and the Windows Phone desktop software, since there's no microSD support.
Nokia owns the other creative heart in the 925. Nokia Music — which is exclusive to Nokia's Windows Phones — is separate from Xbox. It has its own store through which music can be purchased, and offers a wide variety of streamed radio stations, personalized recommendations, and the ability to browse through local concerts. I like the concert discovery tool.
T-Mobile Live TV is the only other media service on the 925. It requires an active cellular connection to work and offers streamed television content. Using it over LTE is dramatically better than over HSPA+ (duh). I find the service works poorly over HSPA+. I would only recommend the service to owners who 1. don't mind paying $10 per month for it, and 2. have good LTE coverage.
Nokia hasn't done anything to change the behavior of the base camera software, but that doesn't mean it hasn't tried hard to help its Lumia smartphones — including the 925 — stand apart from other WP8 handsets.
The camera launches with a long press of the dedicated button, even when the phone is locked. It’s dead-simple software that takes but a moment to figure out. The menus and controls — which are laid out in a clean interface — are all self-explanatory and work well. The base software only allows users to change the most basic settings, such as exposure, aspect ratio, and so on. In order to get really creative, you have to use Lenses.
The 925, like all WP8 phones, supports Lenses. Lenses for the camera are third-party plug-in apps that perform specific actions with the camera. This is where Nokia's work to differentiate its phones stands out. Nokia offers several of its own lenses, which are not available to other WP8 devices. A half dozen were preloaded, and they include Cinemagraph (for making animated GIFs), Panorama, Blink Shot (for burst shots), Bing Vision (for image search), CNN iReport, and PhotoSynth (Microsoft's panorama app).
Using any of the Lenses requires a few extra steps, but that's not unlike other devices that offer special shooting modes.
There's also an entirely separate Nokia Smart Cam app. This camera application is meant to do some fun and creative things in the vein of Samsung's Galaxy S4. If you wish, you can set this camera app to be the default camera app. In short, it fires off a burst of shots. You have to hold the camera steady while capturing the images. You can then use different tools within the app to create unique end results. For example, Action Shot lets you pull the subject from 10 separate images and paste them into a single image to show them running and jumping. Or you can blur the background while freezing the motion of the subject, and so on. There are a handful of other tools to let you put your own stamp on images.
The Lumia 925's 8.7-megapixel camera takes incredibly sharp and accurately exposed photos. The bulk of the images I captured looked very good. The one problem I noticed was white balance inconsistency. The 925 tended to skew photos toward the yellow end of the spectrum. This can be corrected after the fact on your PC or with Nokia's Creative Studio, but it would be nice if the 925 got white balance correct the first time around. Still, the images turned out mostly well.
The video produced by the 925 showed similar problems to the still camera. Focus and exposure were good, but white balance ranged all over. If you look at the sample below, you can see that the results lean towards the yellow end of the spectrum and then change as I pan the camera around. Hopefully this is something that Nokia can adjust with a software update. Beyond that, the video looks good.
Microsoft thinks photos are fairly important, so images you capture with the Lumia 925 aren't stored in a gallery app, they are added to the Photo Hub. The Photo Hub doesn't just hold your camera roll, it sinks its hooks deep into your social networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. This means you always have lots of photos to look at, many of which aren't yours.
I found it quite easy to shuffle my images between albums, as well as post them to social networks or send them up to Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud service for safe keeping. You can also bookmark your favorite albums (your own, or those of your friends) so they can be found quickly later.
The Picture Hub has only bare bones editing features, which include crop and rotate images. If you really want to edit your photos, you need to use Nokia's exclusive Creative Studio app.
Creative Studio lets users apply various filters and effects to change the tone/appearance of their photos. Creative Studio also includes the ability to blur the background, or use a tilt-shift adjustment tool to give photos a unique look. As far as tilt-shift tools go, it works pretty well. Creative Studio has a pretty good feature set for those who like to tweak their images after the fact.
T-Mobile has made it a pleasant habit to keep bloatware off its Window Phone handsets. The 925 ships with My T-Mobile, and T-Mobile Live TV. That's it. Everything else is either stock Windows Phone or made by Nokia. Speaking of which there are probably a dozen Nokia-branded apps on board. Any of the apps can be deleted, and there's plenty of storage space available for downloads from the Windows Phone Store.
I was able to pair the 925's Bluetooth radio with a range of devices with no problems. Calls did not sound all that great when sent to either my car's hands-free system or a regular Bluetooth headset. Quality was the biggest problem; volume was fine. Music sounded quite good through my stereo headphones, though. I was also able to send files to other devices without issue.
Browsing the internet was almost always a good experience on the 925. Internet Explorer 10 and T-Mobile's LTE go together well, and the 925 does a fine job of making web sites look spiffy on the bright display. While IE10 is good at displaying web content, the app itself isn't as feature-rich as the stock Android and iPhone browsers. There are alternative browsers available in the Windows Phone Store. Browsing the web over T-Mobile's HSPA+ network was slightly less awesome, but still enjoyable.
The 925 has a nice digital clock on the lock screen. It displays the day of the week and the date and it’s easy to see outdoors. The 925 also shows the time when the screen is off. A white clock floats around the black display (this is an age-old Nokia screen saver trick). It's nice that the time is always visible, even when the device is across the room. You can turn this off if you want.
The GPS radio of the 925 itself performs perfectly. It pinpointed me quickly and accurately no matter where I was.
Nokia's HERE navigation suite is an incredibly powerful set of tools that not only helps map out directions, but lets you search your surroundings. HERE Maps offers a wealth of features that go head-to-head with the best that Google Maps offers on Android handsets and the iPhone.
Some of the associated apps include HERE Drive and HERE Transit. These are individual apps that perform specific functions. HERE Drive plots point-to-point driving directions, while HERE Transit helps manage mass transit route planning.
HERE City Lens (formerly Nokia City Lens) is an augmented reality application for finding nearby points of interest. It works in concert with the camera. You pan the camera around and the app shows you what's in the vicinity. It’s easy to pick one of the shops or restaurants it finds and pull up more information and/or details about it.
Some of the useful tools on board most Windows Phones - the 925 included - are SkyDrive, Office, and OneNote. SkyDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage service. All WP8 devices have access to 7GB of online storage for free (you can pay for more if you want). It is accessed online via your Outlook/Hotmail account. You can set SkyDrive up to automatically upload your photos for safekeeping, as well as store documents and so on. Office needs no introduction. On the 925, you can open/edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, as well as sync them to your personal (or corporate) computers. OneNote is Microsoft's extensive note-taking and -managing app. It functions similarly to EverNote.