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Nokia Lumia 525 Review

on January 24, 2014 – 10:00 amNo Comment

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Nokia Lumia 525 Review

When the Nokia Lumia 520 was launched at the Mobile World Congress event last year, not many knew that the company just introduced its first best seller in the Lumia series. It went on to become the most popular Windows Phone ever made, for the fantastic value it offered for the money. But there was one longstanding issue that Nokia had to fix, the small amount of RAM that denied a lot of people new games and apps that were trickling down to Windows Phone.

So, in the series of upgrades that Nokia delivered to existing hardware with small changes, aka adding a 5 to the model number and re-releasing it, we now have the Lumia 525 that fixes the one issue that most wanted fixed. Hence the Lumia 525 comes with 1 GB of RAM and a minor look and feel refresh but overall retains everything else about the Lumia 520 because may be Nokia thought “why fix something that isn’t broke?”. So, how does the Lumia 525 match up to the newly re-invigorated competition, and what does the 1 GB of RAM bring? Let’s find out in our in depth review.


Design, build and hardware walkthrough

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Being only a slight variant of the Lumia 520, the 525 looks very similar to its predecessor of sorts. It has flashy colour versions but the design is decidedly conservative for a Lumia. The replaceable back covers are the only change from the 520 and it is more of a change in materials than design.

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We have the white version with us, which has now adopted a glossy finish rather than the matte one that the company decided on using, for the 520. This also makes for a miniscule change to the already gently curved corners, which look smoother on the 525, but really hard to distinguish even when compared side by side with the 520. While the quality remains as good as ever, glossy materials bring with them the side effects of scratches and dust. Yes, they do rear their heads once in a while but largely not much of a concern, as they still remain invisible (almost) over our time with the device.

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The hardware otherwise remains exactly the same. It is a handy device, with relatively small dimensions compared to the recent juggernauts Nokia has released. Coming in at 9.9mm of thickness and 124g of weight, it is not sleek but light enough by today’s standards. Anyways, let’s quickly walk you through the hardware.

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We have the 4 inch display on the front, flanked by the Windows Phone capacitive shortcuts at the bottom along with the mic wedged between the frame and the glass front.

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Above the display we have the ear piece and the pair of proximity and ambient light sensors, and that pretty much covers the front of the device.

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The right side of the device is where all the hardware buttons reside, namely the volume rocker, the power/lock switch and the two stage shutter button. Unlike other Lumias, we found the camera shutter key to be a bit stiff.

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Turning to the back, we have the 5 megapixel camera unit, the Nokia logo and way below, the loud speaker.

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The top houses the lone 3.5mm jack while the bottom houses the micro USB port.

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Underneath the back cover we have the micro SIM and micro SD card slots for single SIM connectivity and storage expansion up to 64 GB.

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That said, if you already have seen the Lumia 520 up close, don’t expect any surprises, it is literally just the same phone in a glossy shell from the outside. But are there any changes on the inside apart from the RAM? Let’s start with the display.

Display

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The display unit on the Lumia 525 is the same good old 4 inch IPS LCD unit that we saw on the 520. Pixel to pixel, it is the same and that’s somewhat of a good and a bad thing. Good because it has decent pixel density at 233 ppi, has super sensitive touch and is made with the IPS technology, but the bad still prevails. Washed out colours, poor sunlight visibility and average viewing angles are expected at this price, but we feel Nokia could have done better.

But of course, head on, this is one of the better displays we find in this price range and one wouldn’t be disappointed if media consumption is one of the main use cases. The screen size coupled with decent levels of brightness add to the experience. That said, the double tap to wake and super sensitivity options are indeed added advantages if the overall screen is taken into account.

Internals and Performance

The Nokia Lumia 525 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8227 chipset. This chipset consists of a 1 GHz Dual Core processor, Adreno 305 for graphics and several other components as a part of the system on a chip. Yes, this is the exact same one that Nokia uses on its other Lumia phones, including the 520, 620 and the 720. Unsurprisingly, it exhibits similar performance characteristics as the other devices, like in games as well as in the regular UI, which is smooth and responsive.

The Adreno 305 chugs along just fine for casual games but starts lagging when one throws heavier games at it. To test and establish this fact, we ran a number of games on the Lumia 525 to find out how it does in these scenarios, so here is the gaming review on video –

We also ran the new Basemark OS II benchmark to see how much it scored with respect to other Windows Phone devices and here are the results –

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In comparison, the Lumia 1520, which is the most powerful Windows Phone yet scored this overall, along with other devices –

Check the full benchmarks here.

Not that encouraging, but as you saw in the gaming video above, the casual games don’t pose much of a threat to the performance and the general UI performance is as good as ever. Windows Phone is known to be light and zippy even on stringent hardware, and considering that the MSM8227 is capable enough, general usage is not much of a problem on the Lumia 525.

Now, the biggest change, like we mentioned earlier, is the inclusion of 1 GB of RAM on the device. Firstly, it brings support for more games, like Subway Surfers, which still have support only for devices with 1 GB of RAM and even demanding apps like Nokia Refocus. Secondly, it massively reduces the number of “Resuming..” screens in regular usage. Multitasking was more accommodating on the 525 due to the obvious increase in RAM memory. But with support for more games and apps comes a new bottleneck.

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The internal memory of the Lumia 525 is 8 GB(7.2 GB available) with about 2.8 GB taken up by the system out of the box, leaving almost only 4.4 GB to the user. This might seem plenty at first, but once you start installing apps and games, the memory quickly fills and that is not just the user memory getting filled here, the system buffs up too. So, we are left with too little of space to install big games that are now finally supported on the Lumia 525. The main reason here is because those games demand 4 GB of installation space, which is impossible to gather even if you install only one 800 MB game.

With rumours of Windows Phone 8.1 bringing app installation support on the SD card, this might be a non-issue in a few months but for now, this is a big issue if you are looking at installing a lot of games. In fact even Nokia is running a promotion with Gameloft to bring 2000 Rs. Worth of games free just for the Lumia 525, but you wouldn’t even be able to take advantage of it in the right way, unfortunately. Pick a huge game and your options are immediately limited. That said, the 1 GB of RAM also brings some sort of future proofing to the 525. Say Microsoft decides to make 1 GB the minimum for the next update or may be certain features work only on 1 GB RAM devices, then the Lumia 525 is set to get them and won’t be left out.

Camera and Media

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The camera unit, the only one that sits on the back of the phone is a 5 megapixel unit, the same as the Lumia 520. There is no LED flash or secondary microphone here and the performance remains just about the same. But at launch, the Lumia 525 comes with more capabilities thanks to the latest Lumia Black firmware update that brings new camera algorithms and support for the excellent Nokia Camera app.

The output seems richer and less washed out in comparison, but it still has the same amount of detail that one would expect from a mid-range 5 megapixel ¼” sensor. It does not take the best photos, but it sure does have the best interface for a mobile phone camera out there. The Nokia Camera not only brings a refreshing UI, but also features that you wouldn’t see on budget devices, like the ability to control focus and exposure. With shutter speeds that can be set upto 1 second, you can even take small light trail photos with the 520, which is a unique feature for a budget phone.

Anyways, we tested the camera in several conditions to gauge its performance, so here you go, these are the full resolution camera samples from the Lumia 525(click to view in full resolution)

Daylight

Macro

Lowlight

The 525 can record videos at 720p resolution only, but it does come with high quality audio, even when it’s just mono. Here is a video sample from the device –

Video sample

While the phone can technically record only 720p videos, it does have the ability to play 1080p videos out of the box. It can play even more formats thanks to third party apps like MoliPlayer Pro that bring subtitles support and so forth. So, in case you are looking for media playback capabilities, the Lumia 525 should be totally fine.

Connectivity and other hardware

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The Lumia 525 is a single SIM 3G device capable of decent speeds on our local networks. The call quality is expectedly great, with no complaints whatsoever from the other end. The loudspeaker is sufficiently loud but easily gets muffled due to the placement. There is support for FM radio now which was added to Windows Phone with the GDR2 release along with Bluetooth 4.0 support but there is no NFC to be found here.

With a micro SD card expansion slot supporting cards up to 64 GB, storing media shouldn’t be a problem as the camera natively allows you to store the entire collection on the SD card, but as mentioned earlier, we still wait for the crucial app support. Otherwise there is nothing special here, we however expect Nokia to unveil Dual SIM Windows Phones real soon.

Software

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Coming to software, the Lumia 525 runs on the latest update of Windows Phone – the GDR3 with Nokia’s own Lumia Black firmware update on top. Nokia has been bringing out a ton of basic features and wild enhancements to Windows Phone that previously didn’t exist, like for example call/SMS blocking, double tap to wake and Bluetooth LE support, but there are several Nokia specific apps too that massively improve the experience. Here mapping/navigation, Nokia’s camera apps like Refocus and Nokia Mix Radio are some of the shining examples we can think of, which only add to an otherwise basic operating system.

Windows Phone on the whole needs to improve a lot, both in terms of features and the app ecosystem but we can finally say that the latter has improved a lot in the past few months. Popular social networks like Instagram and Vine now have official apps on the platform and we keep seeing quality games releasing on the Windows Phone Store, including extremely popular ones like Temple Run 2 and Subway Surfers. These deal breakers have been slowly eliminated but we feel there is still a lot of work to be done in bringing more first party apps to the platform, mainly that of the wearables, preferably.

Besides that, Nokia usually has good bundled offers with its devices, in terms of software. As mentioned earlier, the Lumia 525 gets 2025 R. worth of free games for a month, in a partnership with Gameloft. It also comes with pre-installed apps like Zinio, Your Movies, and so on, with Your Movies offering a free 7-day trial for unlimited streaming and downloads of movies.

With a big Windows Phone update all set for an April reveal, we can only hope that some of the long standing complaints about lack of features are fixed and more apps make their way onto the store.

Battery Life

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Armed with a 1430 mAH battery, the Lumia 525 manages to last a day on average use. Even if you use the device sparingly, it might definitely need a charge overnight, as the battery has the tendency to last around 16-18 hours max. The power saving mode on Windows Phone kicks in if the battery goes below 20% by default, but switching it on earlier doesn’t really help because the main power draw seems to be constant usage more than anything else. It certainly buckles under pressure, so heavy users need to be aware of this but again, since this is exactly the same as the 520, we can’t really expect much out of it.

Conclusion

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In the end, the Lumia 525 is all about making the Lumia 520 present and future proof. Nokia has fixed one of the biggest complaints of the most popular Windows Phone, hoping it can extend the perceived lifetime of the successful device with a minor upgrade. Considering this is not exactly a successor kind of device, it might be unfair to expect a front facing camera or even a LED flash, but we certainly would have loved those additions.

Is it still one of the best budget smartphones out there? Yes, definitely. Coming in at Rs. 10,400 the Lumia 525 offers a quality package, with unusually good performance, but as competition stiffens with the likes of Moto G and the other devices from local manufacturers, Nokia might just have to ready their successor really soon and push the Lumia 525 prices further down, while Microsoft has to quickly iterate on the software (a long time wish that is yet to happen) and make it more attractive, even just for the low end. With the acquisition set to be approved this quarter and the MWC lined up for next month, we might start to hear a lot more information along these lines.

So the verdict is, if you are looking for a budget device that performs great with attractive build quality and a decent camera as bonuses, go for the Lumia 525. Otherwise, you have a lot of options and a kind reminder that MWC is just around the corner.

To summarize better, here is a list of pros and cons of this device –

Pros
•    Great build quality
•    Above average camera with software enhancements
•    Great value for money
•    Better multi-tasking with 1GB of RAM and more games/apps support
•    Nokia’s apps and bundled offers

Cons
•    Average display with poor outdoor visibility
•    Average battery life
•    No app installation support for SD
•    Windows Phone needs to improve

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Bharadwaj is obsessed with technology and is a self taught designer who covers news, writes features, reviews, loves to take photos and produces videos. He is currently using a review unit.
You can follow him on Twitter @bharadc23 and on Google+