If there's something going right for Windows Phone, its Nokia. The once mobile behemoth was brought to its knees by the surge of touchscreen smartphones. But there was one phone which helped Nokia and Windows Phone both get a short lease of life. That's the Lumia 520 and now we have the Lumia 525 a future-proof upgrade with 1 GB RAM. The backcover has gone glossy this time and is changeable, but everything is pretty much the same under the hood. Now let's find out what that extra 512 MB RAM does and what's this future-proofing that we are talking about in our Full Review of the Nokia Lumia 525.
- Good Build
- Excellent Display
- Fast Performance
- Better than average Camera
- Quad-band network support
- Value for money
- Loud Speakerphone
- Glossy Backcover
- Average Gaming Performance
- No front-facing Camera
- Windows Phone still needs to Grow up
The Nokia Lumia 525 is powered by a Dual-core 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8227 processor with 1 GB RAM running Windows Phone 8 with Lumia Black update. There's 8 GB of internal storage and you can expand it by using a micro SD. Although apps are not movable to the SD card and there's no USB OTG support.
There's a 4-inch WVGA IPS display which is quite bright and three capacitive buttons just below it. There's a 5 MP Auto Focus camera at the back which is capable of 720p video recording but there's no front-facing camera. There's no LED flash either but its hardly missed. The camera is superb it its own right but more on that later.
The Lumia 525 has 3 sensors, namely:
- Proximity Sensor
- Ambient Light Sensor
All three work great. The Lumia 525 is a single SIM device and has a micro SIM card slot, and just above it you have the micro SD card slot which accepts upto 64 GB of storage. Right next to it is the battery compartment which houses the 1430 mAh Li-ion battery. There's 8 GB of onboard storage out of which about 4.35 GB is available to install apps when you first boot the device.
The Lumia 525 has GPS with GLONASS support which helps navigation and Here Maps is a good alternative to Google Maps, but there's still that hole named Google which just can't be filled. You can have a look at our unboxing of the Lumia 525 for hands-on images as well as our first impressions of the device.
The greatest surprise you will see here, if you are a Lumia 520 user is the glossy backcover. Instead of matte Nokia decided to go with a glossy one and also ditched the Cyan color which has always been my favorite in the Lumia line-up. But this time the backs are replaceable, so you can get a color of your choice from Orange (which we have here), Yellow, Black and White. Now let's have a look around the device.
On the left there's nothing, just a bright glossy bit or orange but the right side is quite busy with the volume rocker at the top, power button just below it and a bit towards the end, the two stage camera key. All the buttons are springy, offer good feedback with minimal noise. These are glossy black in color, just as the front-panel providing a much needed contrast.
Moving over to the top you just have the 3.5 mm audio port and at the bottom you have the micro USB data-syncing and charging port. There's a very short cable that's provided with the Lumia 525, but I guess everyone nowadays has a spare micro-USB to USB data cable lying out. There's a separate wired charger, therefore the cable would primarily be used for storage.
Moving to the back, at first you will be shocked how bright the color is if you have the orange or yellow Lumia 525. Calling them bright is an understand, they are just loudly in-your-face. After the initial shock you will notice that its glossy as well and it attracts fingerprints like crazy. Its not just the backcover the display too gets smudged with fingerprints just as easily, its possibly something to do with the scratch resistant coating on top.
There's the 5 MP camera which is a bit recessed, a very subtle Nokia logo in the middle and the speakerphone at the bottom right. The speakerphone in on the flat part of the Lumia and therefore gets muffled when the phone is put on its back. The back cover is quite solid and since it has rounded sides it makes the phone easier to hold and grip, even though its glossy. There's that touch of quality in the build which just makes the phone feel premium.
Inside you will find a single micro-SIM card slot and the micro SD card slot just above it, with the battery compartment right next to it. The back cover has a small foam cushion attached to it which keeps the battery in place and also makes the otherwise hollow back cover feel solid.
Moving to the front you have the 4-inch display alongwith three non-backlit capacitive buttons for Back, Start and Search. At the top you have the main earpiece, some sensors and the microphone can be found at the bottom just below the capacitive buttons. The sides of the front panel are raised in an enclosure which prevents the display from coming in contact when the phone is placed face first. The backcover comes upto the level of the front panel giving the phone a sort of a unibody look which can be seen on the Lumia 720.
The Lumia 525 has a 4-inch, 800 x 480 pixels, display which is bright, sharp and has excellent viewing angles. There is no color distortion to speak off. You can even customize the color profile of the display to an extent by choosing the color temperature and saturation. But the default levels are fine and give almost natural color reproduction although sometimes a bit over-saturated. There's a scratch-resistant coating on it as well.
Sunlight visibility is also acceptable. Since there is an Ambient Light Sensor you have the option of auto-adjusting display brightness. Other than that you can choose from low, medium or high brightness and also enable sunlight visibility from settings. There is another option called Touch as a Lumia extra using which you can enable the high-sensitivity of the touchscreen which will allow you to interact with the display even with gloves on.
Network and Call Quality
As expected, there's no issue with network retention or call quality. Both parties were able to hear each other fine without any distortion or noise introduced by the phone.
Data speeds on our 2G and 3G networks too is quite within acceptable limits depending on where you live and network coverage. GPS performance is exemplary and the Lumia 525 was able to geo-locate our location in a matter of seconds. There's no WiFi tethering natively, but you can share your Mobile Data connection over WiFi.
The camera review of the Lumia 525 revolves around Nokia's excellent camera app. Sure the basic app has some of the functionality and might seem easier to use but the Nokia Camera app just blows everything out of the water. It borrows similar interface to the flagship Lumia 1020 which allows you to manually control ISO, Exposure, Focus, White Balance and Shutter Speed using concentric-circles by sliding on them. The changes are visible in real-time on the display.
Even if you are not a professional photographer, you will appreciate the level of control the app provides. Even with everything auto the Lumia 525 takes good images with natural color and details in-tact. Low-light photography is still lacking and that's the only place you miss the flash.
There's no front-facing camera and that's a biggie for me, its not so much the price-point but video chat is something you would use your smartphone for and then there's Skype which is deeply integrated into Windows Phone and you can't quite use it to its fullest.
You can even edit images after they have been taken using Nokia Camera and Smart Cam apps. They allow you to ReFrame, ReFocus as well as save the same image using various overlays. You can remove objects, show a motion path and do all sorts of crazy things with the images already taken. Using the Nokia Smart Cam app you can save the Best Shot, Action Shot, Motion Focus, Change Faces and also Remove Moving Objects. You can add more lenses to add get more out of the camera including Panorama.
You can see the full resolution images on our Google Plus page.
Finally, there's a smartphone in this segment that has a decent, loud speakerphone. Its loud and even at the loudest volume there no crackling on the Lumia 525. You would have to keep the volume a few notches lower than full because its that loud.
The sound quality is definitely better than average but gets a bit tinnier as you crank up the volume. But if suffers from the same fate as most phones do these days, being on the flat back of the phone it gets muffled when the phone is put on its back.
Music and Bundled earphones
At first look the bundled earphones look exactly the same (apart from the color, we get black ones with the Lumia 525) as the ones we got with the Asha 502, but they are not same. They don't sound as good and quite frankly we would have liked the red ones with our Lumia 525 too. If you like listening to music, get your own pair as the audio quality is superb.
Nokia Mix Radio is another great addition by the company which lets you create unlimited mixes by choosing your favorite artists. Nokia also gives a 3 month free subscription to its unlimited music service using which you can download as many songs as you want.
FM Radio reception is good too, but the interface is very limited it just shows the channel information and there is no option to record FM. Although one seldom uses it.
Lumia 525 is capable of playing 720p videos natively without any lag or stutter. Large files can be fast forwarded without any lag, but there's no way to seek in a track.
However you can get MoliPlayer Pro from the Windows Phone store to play 1080p videos. Video playback there too is quite smooth and you can seek through and jump in tracks as well.
Lumia Black update
The Nokia Lumia 525 comes pre-installed with Lumia Black update. This update adds Bluetooth 4.0 LE support, Glance Screen (not available on the 525 as it requires AMOLED display) and Nokia Beamer support. You also get Double tap to Wake option in settings, using which you can wake up the phone by double tapping on the display and therefore you won't have to press the power button. It works quite well, and is similar to the knock-knock feature of the LG G2. App Folders is also supported, which allows you to group apps together which can be accessed easily with a single tap without searching for them.
Nokia Camera support was added earlier with Nokia's Amber update which was rolled into the Update 3 or GDR3 update to Windows Phone 8. You can now even close apps right from the app-switcher by tapping on the cross button.
This app allows you to quite literally beam your phone's display to any other phone connected to internet. Both phones need not be in the same vicinity. You can initiate Nokia Beamer on the Lumia 525 and send the link through an email.
If close by, you can open beam.nokia.com on the other phone and then scan the QR code on the Lumia 525 and almost instantaneously you will see your display mirrored on the other phone. However, its not real-time there is a 1-2 second lag.
It can be really useful when you want to share location and just want to show your friends exactly where you are or want to share what you are looking at using your phone's camera.
If you haven't used any Windows Phone 8 device, this is a very interesting feature. Kid's Corner allows you total control over your phone and what is accessible to your kids or people who don't have your password. You can customize what Games, Apps, Music and Videos are accessible to your kids. Once configured, just tap the power button and instead of sliding up slide left and you are in the kids corner. Once here you will only be able to see the stuff you chose for your kids.
So your phone remains safe even if your kids get a hand to it and moreover they can have fun with the games and videos you might have downloaded for them without ever worrying about those previous office documents.
Software and other Apps
Windows Phone 8 was a great boost to the ecosystem and Nokia has made a lot of effort to make the platform usable. The Nokia apps as well as Nokia extras that you find on any Lumia smartphone are a godsend.
For some reason every setting on Windows Phone is hidden inside layers and layers of options. There is no lack of customization as such, but its still hidden. Then there are things like turning on WiFi or GPS or data syncing or Bluetooth, for everything you have to go into Settings and then into the specific option, then start or stop them. Its cumbersome although Android too was plagued with the same issues at start but developers brought the toggles to the notification area and there were widgets since time immemorial which performed these operations in a single tap.
Windows Phone needs to grow up and become more user friendly. Quick glance at information using Live Tiles, without opening an app is great and most of the time, its all that's required too but these layers of hidden settings amuse no-one. You might be a pro user who knows the ins and outs of every possible customization of your phone but it doesn't have to be so difficult. Once such customization is adding your own ringtones to the mix. For that you need to copy music to your phone's ringtones folder and they show up as Custom in the Ringtones section. You can watch the video at the end of this section for more on this.
Then there's no way to turn of haptic feedback on the capacitive keys. If you are coming from Android, the Notifications would seem rather archaic to you. On Windows Phone notifications are stacked on top of each other in the order of arrival. You can swipe them off, but can't see them at one place ever. A consolidated Notification system is still missed.
But its not all that bad, the interface is slick and Windows Phone is as fluid as it ever was. There is no lag while using or opening apps. The Lumia 525 is always responsive no matter how many apps you have open. Switching as well as closing apps too has become quite easy. Long tapping the back button brings up the app-switcher which shows thumbnails of all the apps that you have open, you can either switch to a particular app or close it. Switching to an app is instantaneous and most apps start exactly from where you left off.
I am a great fan of how everything is tied together in Windows Phone, you can carry on conversations in a single thread even when you are on different platforms. People app now allows for Rooms where you can carry on your private conversation which is not visible to anyone outside the room. Then there is the deeper app integration, like when you are in the music app you will have all the apps listed which can play music, videos and even YouTube so you don't have to go searching for them.
Same goes for the Office app which integrates SkyDrive. Similarly all apps that can show wallpapers on your lockscreen will be shown under settings. Windows Phone seems wholesome in this respect.
Now lets come to voice commands. By long tapping on the Start button you bring up the voice commands control and to my great surprise it worked brilliantly well. You can even customize the voice of the speech recognition engine. Although its basic in its functionality when compared to Siri or Google Now but the things it does, it does them quite well. You can make calls, open apps, send a text message, take a note or find something on the internet very easily. It uses Bing search to find results and includes your location if you are searching for places to eat or rest etc.
The Lumia 525 also comes with Find My Phone service which allows you to ring, lock, erase, locate or install apps from windowsphone.com. You can even add a Hindi Keyboard for typing if you so desire and these can be swapped from within the Keyboard interface. We made a video which makes using a Windows Phone a bit easier, its embedded below.
Although Nokia is advertising the Lumia 525 as the next best thing that happened to mobile gaming, but actually its not so.
The Lumia 525 lags big-time on Asphalt 8, but Asphalt 7 runs rather smooth. You get playable framerates in NOVA 3 and Modern Combat 4 but there's a little delay and lag here and there.
We also played Six Guns as well as most other games that come in the free package (worth Rs. 2025) with the Lumia 525 which includes the above games as well as Assassin's Creed, Earthworm Jim, Shark Tale, Order and Chaos and Let's Golf 2. Gaming performance is a bit below average.
Performance and Battery Life
The Lumia 525 performs brilliantly in day to day usage, there is no lag, animation are smooth and apps launch fast as well. However, installation does take a little bit more time than we would have liked. If you are installing large games, you might have to wait for a couple of minutes for the install to finish, this is in stark contrast to Android where apps install within a few seconds. But this happens only in games that too which are more than 500 MB in size. Then you get just about 4.35 GB storage out of the 8 GB to install apps.
Battery-life is average, at most you can get an entire day of usage. If you use the device sparingly you might get to the next day but then you would have to charge it by the afternoon. The battery saver option does help a lot and it helps you squeeze a few more hours from the dying battery. WiFi is one of the biggest battery drain and the next is quite obviously gaming. The phone does get a bit warm just below the camera module when you are gaming at a stretch. Actually it was this behavior that made us feel that the processor and GPU might have been throttled at this point to reduce temperature.
The Lumia 525 is just an evolution over the 520, which still reins supreme as the most popular Windows Phone. Considering that its just one of a very few number of devices that's carrying an entire platform forward, you do understand that these devices would be worth buying. Same is true of the Lumia 525, it has a good camera, good display, suberb performance and is suitable for basic gaming. It has good multimedia credentials and seldom would you notice any lag or stutter anywhere. So what's holding it back?
Its probably software. For the average customer who uses just the basic social networking apps and actually uses the phone part of a smartphone, this is a great phone and probably the best in the segment. But as soon as you start comparing Android and Windows Phone, you find the software lacking especially if you are tied to the Google ecosystem. Other than that, the Galaxy S Duos 2 and the Nokia Lumia 525 are tied at this spot, with the Lumia edging out due to its better general performance.