Nokia has rarely been out of the headlines in recent months. From whispers of its impending collapse to rumours of a complete switch to Google's Android operating system to news of its multi-billion dollar takeover by Microsoft. Whatever the case, nobody can claim that the Finnish firm hasn't actively been trying to break up Apple's and Samsung's domination of the smartphone market. Its impressive and wide-ranging Lumia line-up of smartphones have flooded the market, and are really making a case for switching from the likes of iOS and Android over to the less-celebrated Windows Phone.
I've spent the last seven days with the Nokia Lumia 625, a recently-released smartphone built especially for the money-conscious. As an owner of the Lumia 900, I was particularly keen to get to grips with this handset to find out if Nokia has managed to iron out some of the shortcomings of its slightly older mobile siblings.
My first impressions of the device, in all honesty, weren't overwhelmingly good. I'm a big fan of the sharp, colourful, bold look of most of the members of the Lumia range, but the 625 left me with plenty to be desired. The combination of the black front face with the bright orange sides and back aren't particularly my cup of tea, and the rounded corners don't help it in the visual stakes particularly much either. Nokia offers the handset in bright green, yellow, black and white too, so this is just a minor taste issue.
It's undoubtedly a bulky device, measuring in at 133.3 x 72.3 x 9.2mm and weighing 159g, but I quite like that. To quote fellow ITProPortal writer Desire Athow, "It's reassuringly heavy." In comparison, the iPhone 5S (which I believe is too light) weighs 112g and the Galaxy S4 is 130g.
The first real issue presented itself as soon as I picked the device up. Its plastic shell is surprisingly slippery and tough to grip, and I very nearly plopped it straight out of the box and onto the floor. True, my hands aren't exactly large and I don't have the best track record when it comes to coordination, but the 625's plastic case takes some getting used to.
At first sight, it looks like the phone only carries a microUSB slot and headphone jack, but this is thankfully not the case. The orange (or whichever colour you may have) polycarbonate shell is actually (easily and neatly) removable, and beneath it lie microSD and microSIM slots.
In terms of usability, the 625 runs Windows Phone 8 which, despite its often negative press, is in my opinion an excellent piece of software. I'm a big fan of the Windows Phone 'Metro' user interface, both in terms of performance and design, and the only drawback – but this is a massive deficiency – is its still-barren app store. If this can be resolved sooner rather than later, I believe Nokia and Microsoft would have a real chance of overpowering Apple, Samsung and Android.
But I'm not here to talk up Microsoft's mobile operating system, or indeed Nokia's chances in the wider mobile phone industry.
The Lumia 625's 4.7in IPS LCD display, as you probably would expect, isn't the sharpest. The resolution is 800 x 480 which, coupled with the monstrous size, adds up to an overall pixels per inch reading of 199, which can make reading text on web pages more than a little difficult. In bright light, the shiny screen was also easily overwhelmed by glare but on the whole it isn't particularly bad for a budget device.
Two of the most frustrating features of my Lumia 900 are the power/lock button and battery life. Fortunately, these are two areas where the 625 has no such problems. The lock key on the 900 is a little stiff and not as prominent as it should be, meaning that I often find myself mistaking it for the volume control, or missing it altogether. This issue may at first seem trivial, but seeing that I need to push this particular button every time I wish to access the smartphone, it can get incredibly irritating. Nokia has sorted this pretty basic problem out well on the 625, and the phone's physical keys are perfectly functional.
The 2,000mAh battery is capable of powering this little number until the sun goes down, and then some. Without charging the handset for three days (and nights), and while still using it to make phone calls, send messages and surf the Internet, the 625 still had over 30 per cent of battery life in reserve. Nokia says that phone can manage up to 15 hours and 10 minutes of 3G talk time, and a whopping 552 hours standby time, which I do not dispute.
There is one major problem that exists on the Lumia 900 which also afflicts the 600, however. I have always favoured the vibrate option over loud ringtones, for messages as well as calls. Both phones, quite bafflingly, are seriously lacking when it comes to this function. Whether the phone was in my pocket, under my nose on the desk or by my hand on the sofa, I found myself missing calls and text messages very frequently, due to the extreme weakness of the vibration.
But, on the rare occasion that I did manage to sense an incoming call, the earpiece let me down. While the sound quality is perfectly fine, the slightest shift of the smartphone against my ear pretty much silenced any sort of noise. This wasn't much of a problem when I was speaking to somebody while sat down in my living room, but posed a real issue whenever I was trying to hold a conversation on the go.
I was more than satisfied with the quality of the 5-megapixel rear camera, which can shoot 2,592 x 1,936 snaps. Video quality stands at 1080p@30fps, which isn't at all bad either. Many phones have been shamelessly pursuing the 'megapixel race' of late (think of Nokia's 41-megapixel Lumia 1020 and Sony's 20.7-megapixel Xperia Z1), but the 625's primary snapper is nothing to be sniffed at.
The 625 packs 8GB of internal memory as standard, but this can be boosted up to 64GB via the microSD slot, which, as mentioned above, is hidden beneath the back cover. It also carries 512MB of RAM and a 1.2GHz Snapdragon S4 processor.
All in all, I think Nokia has got the Lumia 625 pretty much bang-on, in terms of its target audience. Though it's by no means perfect, it's still a sub-£200 4G smartphone running the latest version of the Windows Phone mobile operating system, which is really impressive. Most of the problems I experienced with it are either avoidable or fairly minor, so this represents a very good choice for anyone looking for a solid smartphone experience on a tight budget.