Unless you've been under a rock for the last six months it can't have escaped your notice that all the major British telecos now offer 4G services. Well, almost all. 3 is due to launch it's network in a few weeks. Vodafone and O2 have just done so while EE got the ball rolling last year. To date 4G has meant expense but with 3 promising that it's 4G service will cost not more than it's 3G offering prices should start to drop across the board. Timely then that Nokia has launched a decent 4G large screen phone for less than £200, unlocked and SIM-free.
For £200 the Lumia 625 offers quite a lot of kit on top of the LTE/4G radio. The screen measures 4.7 inches between the corners which is positively huge at this price point though admittedly it's only got a resolution of 800 x 480 which is pretty low by modern standards. It's a bright and clear Gorilla Glass 2 panel though as you'd expect from Nokia and does the job well enough. Windows Phone 8 - this is a Nokia Lumia remember - flatters low resolution screens with it's blocky design so it's only when you zoom in on a web page that the low rez display becomes apparent.
Despite being a rather large device - it weighs 159g and measures up at 133.3 x 72.3 x 9.2 mm - it is still impressively comfortable to use. The design uses the pillow shaped polycarbonate plastic used in all recent Nokias with a screen that curves into the body of the device at the sides. It certainly feels like a much more expensive and better made handset than the price sticker would suggest.
The back of the 625 is removable and a number of different colour options are available to spice the appearance up (green, orange, and yellow as well as black and white since you ask) but the 2000mAh battery isn't removable. Built-in there is 8GB of storage but only 5 of that is free for apps and media. You can add in a MicroSD card of up 64GB if you need more space for stuff.
Performance is pretty impressive despite the 1.2Ghz dual-core processor with 512MB of RAM. That's got a lot to do with Windows Phone 8 being less resource-hungry than iOS and especially Android but the limited RAM makes we wonder about compatibility with the next version of Windows Phone due next year.
Thanks to that mid-range processor and the low-rez screen battery life was outstanding, lasting well into a third day of light-to-medium use even with the 4G radio working all the time. Fire up the web browser regularly or use it as a satnav (the 625 comes with Nokia's excellent HERE Maps) and the battery will last nothing like as long but such is ever the case with smartphones.
The 5MP main camera and VGA webcam do their intended jobs well enough, though at this price you have to forgo the fancy Carl Zeiss optics used in more expensive Lumias. The main camera certainly shoots clear pictures in decent light, but it struggles with contrast and in low light conditions. In video mode it will capture 1080p video at 30f/s though.
Since the 4G radio is one of the Lumia 625's claims to fame a few words are probably apposite here. As its 4G subscriber base has grown EE's 4G speeds have fallen. Some users in London are now reporting average download speeds of between 6 Mbit/s and 12 Mbit/s which is frankly not much better than 3G speed. Will the services from O2, Vodafone or 3 do any better? Time will tell but right now I don't think a 4G plan is worth paying any more for than the 3G alternative. That makes 3's offer of a free no-extra cost upgrade from one to the other rather enticing but 3's 4G coverage will be rather limited at launch with only Birmingham, London, Manchester and Reading coming on-line in 2013.
Verdict: The 625 is very well made, has a large screen, good battery life and costs only £200 for a 4G phone. Those facts alone should guarantee sales but on top of that it's got a nice selection of Nokia "extras" and a decent camera for the price point. Windows Phone 8 is still a bit app-lite compared to Android and iOS but that situation is improving and it's now beyond any real doubt that WP8 will stick around as the third OS/ecosystem to rival what's on offer from Apple and Google. For the money you can't go far wrong.
Info: Nokia's Lumia 625 page.