It would seem that if Nokia succeeds in its comeback strategy, one of the key tenants of its return to favour with be in the unique, but familiar design of its phones. This is a long way of saying that all Nokia Lumia phones look the same, but it this is most certainly by design, and not out of a lack of inspiration. Like you can with iPhones, HTC phones, and to a lesser extent Sony phones, a Nokia handset is recognisable from across the aisle on a bus or carriage in a train as being a Nokia handset.
The Lumia 625 might not cost you as much as a Lumia 925 or 1020, but it is recognisably part of the Lumia family. It's rounded corners, glossy screen and the matte-finish on its battery cover give it away, as would seeing Windows Phone software installed on the phone if it were turned on.
It doesn't feel like the top-line Lumias low. While the polycarbonate bodies of earlier Lumias felt sturdy and pleasant to hold, the Lumia 625 feels like plastic. The battery cover here is a stiff plastic that gives off a hollow-sound when you tap at it. It certainly still feels sturdy, but you can't expect it to survive the scuffs and knocks of everyday life without showing wear and tear.
The screen is large for its $399 price tag. Nokia opts for a 4.7-inch TFT LCD panel for the 625, which really is a decent sized screen for the money. It gives you plenty of screen real estate for whatever you are doing with the phone, be it gaming, working, emails or web browsing.
It isn't the best screen of recent Nokia releases, but this is one of the trade-offs for the price. The colours look a little dull, even when the screen is turned up to the highest brightness setting. The screen resolution is also a tad low, with 480 pixels by 800 pixels on offer. This doesn't impact everyday use too much, but it certainly doesn't look as nice as a sharper display would.
The core of the user experience relies on Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system, and for the most part it does a solid job of delivering the basics in a smartphone. As it has been from day one, the Windows Phone OS is super fast and responsive, and though the 625 runs on slower, older processing hardware, you'd never know from using the core system.
Our review handset is running on Windows Phone 8, and while it ticks most of the boxes when you list out what it is capable of doing, our main consternation comes from how it does them.
Changing key phone settings is probably the best example. Turning on Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth or initiating Internet Sharing are accessed through separate sub-menus in the Settings app. Because the word Settings begins with 'S', it is far down on the list of installed apps accessible through the home screen. Once you've found settings, you then have to scroll again to find 'Wi-Fi' then go into the sub-menu and make adjustments.
There are a few shortcuts here, like the Search button in the Apps List screen and the fact that you can 'Pin' the Settings app shortcut to the Live Tiles screen, but this doesn't speed up what is a process with way too many keystrokes for such a central smartphone activity.
There are other things that Windows Phone does very well. We love how the 'Messaging' app is a mix of SMS and Facebook chat, and that it gives preference to the latter if you're friends are online. The Xbox branded services are also excellent, now with Games, Videos and Music.
A key focus for Nokia's high-end phones is photography, especially where it uses its special 41-megapixel image sensors, like in the Lumia 1020. For $400, you don't get this much camera love, but you do get a very serviceable 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash.
The auto-focus is fast and accurate, and the photo processing takes but a second to complete. Colour reproduction in the images could be better, with some weird chromatic aberration showing up in some of our test shots, and an only passable performance in low-light.
(This final photo was taken using the camera's digital zoom)
As we alluded to above, the processing hardware in the Lumia 625 is good, but nothing to write home about. Nokia choose a dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm processor for the job, with a decent Adreno 305 graphics chip and 512MB RAM.
More exciting is the inclusion of 4G networking hardware in this mid-range phone. This is tri-band LTE hardware with support for the 900/1800/2600MHz frequencies, which covers a far few of the 4G LTE networks around the world.
It has the standard array of other connectivity hardware too, with A-GPS for navigation and Bluetooth for connecting to headsets or other phones.
As it is with other low-end Nokia Windows Phones, the Lumia 625 delivers a lot of bang for your buck. It may not do everything that Samsung and HTC phones can do, but it covers off all of the basic smartphone activities well, and it is a pleasure to use, and it is roughly half the price of the top-end models.
If anything, it's greatest competitor could turn out to be one of Nokia's own. The Lumia 520 is selling like hotcakes, and when you can buy it for $199, you can see why. You do get a much larger screen with the 625, and faster hardware, but if you are just looking for the basics, it would be wise to consider the 520 before committing to the more expensive model.