Lumia 525 Review – A Cheap and Decent Budget Phone

Overview
The Lumia 525, an upgrade over the Lumia 520, is a budget device retailing at only SGD$249 off contract, which offers great value at a really low price in comparison to other budget phones today. With 1GB of RAM, it can run most apps on the Windows Marketplace now, and it performs decently at most tasks. It has great value, and for a budget phone, has amazing value. This phone isn’t for a techie, but for a person looking to get his or her first smartphone, this would be great, except for the fact that it has a really disappointing battery life that, while disappointing to one who uses a flagship device, will be downright pathetic to one who uses a dumbphone which lasts days on a charge.
Introduction
 
The Lumia 525 runs Windows Phone 8, and has received the Lumia Black update, which allows it to close apps, among other features.It has a Dual Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 clocked at 1.0 GHz, which sounds rather weak at first, but proves to be rather capable during my testing, probably due to the fact that Microsoft and Nokia have really worked hard to ensure Windows Phone runs smoothly on low-end hardware. It features an Adreno 305 GPU, 1 GB of RAM (an improvement over the 520, which has half of that) which allows it to run more apps from the Windows Marketplace, and 8 GB of expandable storage, up to 64 gigabytes via a microSD card. There is no option for 16 gigabytes of storage, sadly, but at least you have your SD card, which can store your images, videos, and music. This basically means that you get only 8 GB for your apps and games, so you will likely run out of storage quickly. That said, Motorola’s budget device, the Moto G, has no expandable storage, and only 8 and 16 gigabyte options are available, so if I were on a budget, having low internal memory and expandable storage would be more worth it than only internal storage.
It also has a 5 megapixel camera and a 4 inch 800 x 480 IPS LCD display, and also features the super sensitive touch display technologies Nokia tends to incorporate in most of their phones. It has no NFC, and no LTE, but the Lumia 525 is not meant for a market with LTE anyway, and I suppose that the uses of NFC are relatively few today, and NFC more of a luxury than a necessity, so for a budget, barebones smartphone, this is all excusable.
Unboxing and Design
 
The box was a very standard Lumia box, and looked quite similar to the Lumia 1520’s box apart from the printing and size. It was opened through a pull-tab outside the box, again similarly to other Lumias.The first thing I noticed about the phone was that it is rather heavy, and really quite bulky. Its bright orange backing seemed too bright for my liking; I prefer more muted colours that wouldn’t be recognised by planes thousands of meters above. Some people might like it, but I don’t. It has a glossy finish, but because the colour is orange, it does not smudge and show fingerprints easily, which is definitely welcome.It feels solid, like if I dropped it, it would not break. The buttons were sturdy, but not fantastic, but that’s okay because this is a budget phone. If I were looking at buying a budget phone, I would be more concerned with general aspects such as whether it works rather than how the buttons feel, which admittedly is a concern more for high end phones than budget devices.The back does feel rather slippery though, and it is likely that one would drop it at least once. Also, the corners of the phone are pretty sharp and I actually poked myself once when taking it out of my pocket. Still, this is not a really big problem.What is a bit of a problem, however, is that the back cover of the phone can be quite difficult to take out. And since the microSD card can only be gotten at by removing the back cover, it will be inconvenient to keep taking it out and putting it back in. At least there’s a cable, but it does make things difficult when you don’t have the cable with you.
DisplayThe display is an 800 x 480 pixels, 4.0 inches IPS LCD display, which means a pixel density of 233 ppi, which is only a bit less than the LG G Flex’s ppi of 245. That said, I really do not like the resolution, and colour quality. The Start Screen looks okay, because there are few curves on the screen, and mostly straight lines and edges, but the text, while not pixelated, does not look that great. You can see jagged edges in the text and the curves in the typography, which is expected because of the relatively low pixel density.The color reproduction, while okay, does not have much range. Compare the following screenshots of the same image on my iPhone 5, which features one of the best displays available in a smartphone today, and the Lumia 525, to see the difference. Note how much more color is shown on the right than the one on the left, and how the gradient is more dramatic. I don’t have to go into details to explain how the display colours are lousy compared to how they should be — I’ll just let a thousand words speak for themselves.
display color sucks
It features a scratch-resistant glass, but it does not seem to have any kind of Gorilla Glass, not that I know of at least. However, in my week of usage, I have not scratched the device’s display yet, and this is considering the fact that I had to place the phone on its screen all the time due to the curved backing.In comparison, the Moto G, a phone with a competing price (its 16 GB option would cost around SGD$270 in Singapore counting in GST, and the 8 GB option would cost SGD$240), has a 720p, 4.5 inches screen, which means a pixel density 326 ppi, which is, incidentally, the same PPI on the Retina iPhones. It is also an IPS LCD screen with 16 million colours, but it has Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which is the best glass available for a smartphone today. I don’t know how well it performs in sunlight, and don’t know whether it has better viewing angles, but the resolution does seem great. Sadly, the Moto G is not available in Singapore yet, though Motorola may be selling it in Singapore sometime in January.I found that the display is not bright enough. It features an auto-brightness setting, but the display is rather dim most of the time, so I left the display on high brightness all the time, which likely led to its poor battery life, as I will elaborate on later. There is also no easy way to change the brightness, and there are only three settings for the brightness, buried inside the settings app, which is already very disorganized. This is not a fault of the phone though, but more of the OS. On iOS and Android you can adjust the brightness on the fly, and you have a wider range of brightness settings as you use a slider to adjust it. No such thing on Windows Phone, which I, as an iOS user, feel is still a very basic OS.It also has rather bad readability in sunlight, even when Sunlight Readability is turned on. When playing Temple Run on my phone, due to how the screen catches the sunlight when tilting the phone, I could not see much of the screen, and died numerous times as a result. It’s that bad. Indoors, it is fine, so just be warned that when outside, you might have to squint a little to see the screen.Viewing angles were decent, but they are not great. You could easily live with them, unlike the horrible sunlight readability on this display, but being a budget phone, they are nowhere near the viewing angles offered by premium smartphones. Like many other things, you pay for what you get, but this is rather good value.One thing I absolutely hate about this display, even more than the bad sunlight readability, is the tendency for it to pick up fingerprints ridiculously frequently. What’s worse, the fingerprints are also very hard to wipe off even with my shirt. It gets really annoying quickly.

The display is , quite frankly, pretty much a disappointment in subjective terms, but I did not expect much from it. This is one of Nokia’s cheapest phones, and so it can and will be excused. It provides decent colours, decent viewing angles, a decent pixel density depending on what phone you are upgrading from, but bad sunlight readability.

As far as budget displays go, this is actually pretty decent, considering the cost. More expensive budget smartphones have similar displays, like the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 which we just reviewed, which has a screen the same size as this, and the same resolution and pixel density, all while costing $149 more (although it does have NFC and LTE). 

 
 
Battery LifeIt has a Li-Ion 1430 mAh battery, which is rather small considering its size and weight. The battery does not last very long either, and runs out very fast. I had to charge it 2 times in a day on moderate usage, but on light usage, it may last you a day. But don’t expect too much from the battery, and it might be necessary for you to carry around an extra charging pack if you want to use it for web browsing on the go. When gaming or web browsing, the battery drains ridiculously fast, even though it does not have LTE and the screen resolution is pretty low.This is the worst thing about the phone as a budget buyer is not concerned with many things like the screen resolution, visibility in sunlight, and the flash in the camera, but mostly the battery. I would imagine that the budget buyer wants an entry-level smartphone that can work, and is likely used to the week-long battery life of the “dumb-phone” Nokias of yore, so this will certainly disappoint.
 
Camera
The camera is pretty bad by any standards, but at the same time for a budget phone it is okay, because at least it works and there is an alright amount of detail, but it can be improved by a lot. It’s a 5 MP camera with autofocus, 1/4” sensor size, geo tagging, and can record video at 720p at 30fps. It has no secondary camera, so no video calling people.Here are some day samples from the camera:
 
The colours look saturated, but at least the picture on its own looks alright. Quite a bit of detail is lost, due to the 5 MP sensor. Still, these are acceptable shots for a phone this cheap.It has no flash, which means low light pictures are absolute rubbish. Right? Wrong. In moderate darkness (evening-dinner-by-candlelight-darkness) I took some shots, and realised that at least you can see things in the picture. I’m not really sure if my standards are too low here, because I am neither well-versed in smartphone cameras nor am I even a real user of the camera in my iPhone 5 as I use my camera solely to take pictures of documents for work such as business cards and random sheets of paper amongst other things. Personally, this camera would not cut it for me for the single reason that the resolution is just too low to scan documents reliably.
Anyway, here are some night and day comparison samples from the camera:
 
As can be seen, in moderately dark conditions, the camera does an okay job of brightening things up and removing noise, but it loses a lot of sharpness in the process, and (like many phone and even digital cameras) blurs easily when taking night shots. Still, this is a budget phone, and so this can be forgiven. The camera takes pictures, works, but really is nothing to shout about. Take your shots in the day, they can be fine, but I recommend you not bother with it at night.I do find that the camera does lag quite a bit, which is quite possibly the most disappointing thing about the camera. When trying to do an action shot or best shot, it lags a lot. Generally the phone does not lag much but here, it is very noticeable.
 
Media PlaybackThe screen has a rather low resolution, and the colours are not very accurate, but I have to keep in mind that for the budget buyer, such aspects are not very important. That it can play media rather well and render the videos at its full resolution without lagging, is good enough, for a budget phone, and for a budget buyer. The pixel density isn’t Retina, but it’s alright, and when watching videos it can be a smooth and enjoyable experience depending on how much you care about your video quality. Note that I said “experience” — the colours are not entirely true to life, lack range, and everything I mentioned in the segment on the display, but overall, for what it does, it does it well, and that is to play videos smoothly, at an acceptable quality, enough to satisfy the budget buyer.
 
GamingGaming was one area I was actually impressed with, not because the graphics were good, but because it could play most high end games decently. The graphics were passable, and while there was a bit of lag, a budget buyer could live with it. I myself played Batman: The Dark Knight for about an hour quite happily. For a casual gamer looking for a passable gaming experience, this is definitely fine. 1 gigabyte of RAM in the Lumia 525 makes it compatible with almost all the games and apps on the Windows Marketplace, so most games are theoretically playable.I did experience some really weird graphics issues though, but it did not make the games unplayable. For example, Temple Run had these really weird glitches, as you can see in the picture.
Games that were playable with no lag: Any non-3D game. Plants vs Zombies, Halo: Spartan Assault, Temple Run and Temple Run 2 also played smoothly without any lag.
Games that were playable with some minor lag that could be ignored: Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, Nova 3.
Games that were unplayable with too much lag: Modern Combat 4. I could not tolerate the lag.I did not do anymore tests after that, but I was impressed, because most of the most demanding games were at least playable. You can trial all of these apps for free, so if you want to see if you can tolerate the lag in any of these games before you buy them, go right ahead!
 
General PerformanceGeneral performance was very good. The Lumia 525 did not lag much, and did most tasks very smoothly. It does lag quite a bit when opening pictures, for some reason, but for other basic tasks like texting, using WhatsApp, web browsing, calling people or playing videos, it performed admirably, which is great. Windows Phone is optimised to run well on low-end hardware, so this should not have really surprised me, but I’m used to seeing high end phones like the iPhone 4, start lagging after a year, and did not expect the general performance to be so good. It wasn’t as fast as my iPhone 5, of course, but it performed remarkably well for the price.There was an incredibly annoying, irksome issue that I encountered though. This pissed me off to no end. Apps cannot be installed to the microSD card, which is fine. I’m okay with that. 8 gb can be enough for a Windows Phone because, well, there are few apps available anyway. However, 8 gb is certainly not enough when somehow 2 gb is used up on “temporary files” that somehow do not clear after pressing the “clear temporary storage” button several times. I had to research for quite a bit before finding out that there is a bug with the temporary storage and Skydrive.
I did solve it though, so here’s the solution to that problem. I have no idea which phones it affects, but if it affects yours, this will most likely solve it:
1. Move all your images out of the SkyDrive “Camera Uploads” and “Camera Roll” folders to any other folder in SkyDrive or elsewhere. It does not matter where. You just need to not have anything in those two folders.
2. Fast forward the time on your phone by at least 2 weeks (just fast forward it by a year, it’s much simpler), and then clear the cache. You can choose to disable the “auto upload images” setting on your phone, so that this problem will not happen again. But if you do that (disable auto uploading of images), you are at risk of your images being lost if you lose or damage your phone as there will be no more cloud backups of your images.
3. After that you can change the time back to normal.
What this does is that it forces the SkyDrive cache to clear prematurely. Normally, it would automatically clear after 2 weeks, but nobody has that kind of time when you want to install a big app this instant.
Note that this problem was solved, but it was annoying especially with such a small amount of storage space, so do take note.
Conclusion
 
This phone isn’t going to wow or impress anyone for its specs, but as a budget phone, it does what it is supposed to do, runs very smoothly, and works well. It delivers surprisingly good gaming performance for a budget phone, has a decent screen, and a decent camera in good lighting conditions, although of course it is quite terrible compared to better phones. It is not a phone meant for a techie, nor a phone meant for the privileged. It is, simply put, a very good value budget phone that retails at less than most of the other phones on the market, and it should be treated and reviewed as such. Don’t buy this if you have the money to spend on a better handset, but if you want the cheapest phone that will work well, I would really recommend this, unless you hate or cannot stand Windows Phone.

2 thoughts on “Lumia 525 Review – A Cheap and Decent Budget Phone

  1. Lots of criticisms that arise from comparing it to high-end smartphones. TFT should have got someone who is in the target market, to review the L520, not someone who has already spent hundreds of dollars on an iOS device and then consciously or subconsciously compares it with everything it doesn’t have from another world.

    That’s like getting Michael Shumacher to review a Ford Taurus. Of course, its going to be a negative review.

    So the reviewer should be someone who wouldn’t buy an iPhone or a S3 or S4. Such a buyer would be comparing it with something like a Samsung Galaxy Young.

    My wife and I are relative newcomers to the world of smartphones. We both got WP8 phones (hers is the Huawei W1 and I have the L520) over Christmas. We love them both. Our children love them, and we love Kids Corner. We aren’t photography buffs and have a Canon PowerShot A530 point and shoot camera. Our smartphone camera shots rival our point and shoot.

    Every app we have ever wanted is there and we’ve having fun exploring the App Store. Sure the kids say that their friends are enjoying different apps but then they get their friends jealous of an app written for WP8 that can’t be played on an iOS. It’s a two way street.

    People may snare but we have had over 7 years of wonderful family memories from our A530.

    1. Hey Kublai777, Nicholas here (editor for WP). Yes we do realise that this is a budget phone, and the reviewer was an iOS user, which is a little weird (He wanted to try out WP)

      But I guess as he’s mentioned, it’s a great budget phone. In fact, I think that the 525 is one of the best budget phones there are on the market. WP is amazing when running on weak hardware, and I’m glad that you and your wife are enjoying Windows Phone! (:

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