4G on a tight budget

For $200 you can't go wrong with Nokia’s Lumia 625 handset

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Greg-Gazin-Senior-EditorEDMONTON, AB, Jul 8, 2014/ Troy Media/ – If you’re in the market for a budget 4G Windows smartphone without being tied down in a two-year contract, you’ll be surprised to find out that the Nokia Lumia 625 might just fit the bill. And the price is right; for only $200, you can have one with no strings attached.

It’s a recent model that’s only been available in Canada for a few months. The polycarbonate shell measures 133.2 x 72.2 x 9.2 mm and weighs 159 grams. It houses a 4.7” LCD display with a resolution of 480 x 800 at 201 ppi (pixels per inch), is powered by a respectable 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and comes with 8GB of internal memory, expandable to 64GB with a micro SD card. It houses two cameras: a 5MP megapixel rear camera with LED flash and delivers hi-def 1080p video at 30fps (frames per second) and a second camera that offers basic VGA resolution. It has 802.11n Wi-Fi and comes with a hefty non-removable 2000mAH battery that’s rated at 14 to 15 hours of talk time and 23 days standby.

The Lumia 625 feels solidly built, albeit a little on the heavy side. But even with a 4.7″ screen, it’s easy to hold in one hand. If you favour your left hand, you might find yourself accidentally hitting the power button located half way up the right edge. Powering it up, you get the Windows 8 tile-like interface that tells you right away that it’s not an Android or iOS handset. It also has three soft-touch buttons (back, Windows and search) on the lower portion of the screen, which offers super-sensitive touch. The same also holds true for navigating from screen to screen and operating the large key on-screen keyboard – they’re fast.

Nokia-Lumia625300While the screen looks OK for basic use, it’s pretty hard on the eyes if you read a lot of text. Its low pixel density is also disappointing if you’ve experienced an iPhone’s Retina display – 640 x 1136 (326 ppi) – but then again, this one is also much cheaper. On the other hand, the similarly priced Motorola Moto G offer 2.5 times the number of pixel on a slightly smaller display. Consequently the Moto G does not have LTE and video recording, is only 720p, making a direct feature comparison a little tough.

Still, this begs the question of why Nokia would put a low-res screen in a 4G phone. One benefit of 4G is faster downloads and streaming. If you’re paying a premium for a 4G network, wouldn’t you want a better visual experience?

The built-in camera is great for the beginner. It has a dedicated camera button so you can quickly capture the moment but the results are hit and miss, with the colours at times appearing washed out. The flash is amazingly bright – in fact blinding at close range – but can be handy once you’ve mastered it. Video playback is smooth and fine to check out the latest YouTube viral video. If you’re used to watching HD movies, they’ll load fast but you’ll be less than excited with the reproduction. As for video recording, you will get high definition, but view-ability seriously struggles in less than optimal lighting conditions.

With so many bells and whistles, one sometimes forgets that this is still a phone. While the speakerphone can use a little work, I found overall call quality to be extremely good and connection reliable (review unit was connected to the Telus Mobility 4G LTE Network).

The same also extends to its overall sound, particularly when listening to your favourite tunes or even its built-in FM Radio Tuner. The Nokia Music app (rebranded as Nokia Mix Radio) is well thought-out to manage your tunes – it helps you easily find your music, sort it and create playlists including radio selections. In fact, you can easily have access to 18 million songs and you can download up to four playlists for free offline playback.

The Lumia 625 is great for in-car use. The Here Maps app allows you to find addresses and places of interest and get the necessary directions; The Here Drive can give you voice guided directions to get there. You can keep track of your favourite places and even save them at Here.com. And, like music playlists, you can organize your favourite places. This is ideal when, for example, you may want to group a series of places you’re going to for a business trip, family getaway or on that next road trip. Another bonus is that you can also download the maps to your phone to save on data usage while on the road. And map updates are always free.

Despite your good intentions, the kids will always manage to find your phone. It’s inevitable, so why not give them their own customized start-up screen and configure the handset so they can still play but keep out of trouble? You can do that by activating Kid’s Corner in your settings, where you can restrict what they see and what they can do while also protecting your configuration. Kid’s Corner even works from a locked screen.

Another neat feature is Data Sense app, which can help you monitor your data usage through the app to avoid costly data overages. You can optionally configure it to restrict background activities, like automatic Facebook updates while in cellular mode until W-Fi is available. You can even pin a live tile right on your start screen to keep you informed on where your usage is at.

In general, live tiles are pretty handy. They can allow you to see social media updates, weather and news headlines right on the start screen without having to dig for them.

The Nokia Lumia 625 comes with a stereo headset, AC charger, rechargeable battery, USB sync and charging cable. It’s available on the Telus Mobility network for $200 without a plan and free ($0) if you lock in for two years. It’s certainly a step up from its little brother, the $175 Lumia 520, that has a smaller 4″ display and no 4G.

If a Windows phone with 4G is your game, and no-plan is your plan, then for $200 you can’t go wrong with the Lumia 625 handset. You get a super-sensitive touch screen, fast streaming, big battery and cool apps, like Here Maps, Data Sense and Kids’ Corner, but just remember it has a low-density display and average camera. If you want better quality and you’re willing to take on a plan, then that’s a whole new ballgame so don’t be lured by the free phone. If you want to stay with Windows-based Nokia, you might want to compare it with the Lumia 1020 which, with its whopping 41 mega-pixel camera, you can pick up right now for about $50 on a two-year plan.

I give this one 3.5 stars out of 5.

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