By Michael Fisher | May 14, 2013 1:10 PM
Well, we’re about six hours past the announcement of the latest Windows Phone out of Finland, the Nokia Lumia 925, so it’s about time to start armchair quarterbacking. Everyone ready? Good. Let’s hit it.
What do you do when your flagship Windows Phone (indeed, your only flagship phone, period) is well-received by the marketplace, but draws criticism for a few elements of its design? Well, you correct those deficiencies in the next flagship, of course. But what if you want to address those concerns sooner, while also broadening the number of carriers which offer your device?
Answer: you release an iterative upgrade, and you call it the Lumia 925. This device is a mid-cycle update to last year’s Windows Phone flagship, the Lumia 920. While its guts and specs remain very similar to its predecessor, it introduces some significant changes to the aesthetics of Nokia’s Windows Phones to date. Metal makes an appearance here in the aluminum frame running along the phone’s perimeter, while polycarbonate remains the material of choice for the back cover. Perforations appear here and there for the speaker, camera lens, and a set of charging pins low on the 925′s body.
It’s those pins I’d like to focus on, because they represent one of the more significant -and, in my view, more foolhardy- changes to the Lumia 925′s spec sheet. They’re there to connect to an optional back cover. A cover that brings a technology to the 925 that Nokia opted not to include out of the box. A technology its predecessor, the Lumia 920, featured as a halo differentiator. A technology we’ve talked about time and time again: Wireless charging.
Okay, from a certain perspective, this maneuver is warranted. Think about it: Nokia launches the 920 and catches a fair amount of flack for debuting a 185g smartphone in 2012. Despite there being good reasons for its heft, the 920 is still one of the heaviest smartphones on the market, and people complain about it. Fanboys amplify these complaints, counter-fanboys rush to defend the piece of plastic that gives their lives meaning, competitors sieze on the opportunity to capitalize on the hubbub, and boom: the Lumia 920 sells x-hundred-thousand fewer units because it’s fat . So if you’re Nokia, naturally you’re going to seek out ways to trim some chub off your mid-cycle update of the device. If you can do that by handicapping a feature not everyone cares about, then so much the better.
Here’s the thing, though: as we’ve seen through some DIY-style experimentation and thanks to devices like the Nexus 4 and certain versions of the HTC 8X, wireless charging need not be a pudge-enhancing feature. For proof, just check out our how-to video detailing installation of a Palm inductive-charging coil in a Galaxy S III. If it weren’t for the magnets, which are unnecessary for wireless charging anyway, the SIII would have come away from the experiment completely unchanged on the outside.
Even if there were a weight or thickness penalty in keeping wireless charging on board, due to some Nokia or Qi-based limitation, it would still have been worth it. For one thing, there’s room to spare: at 139g, the 925 is slightly lighter than the HTC One, which many reviewers agree comes close to the mythical “sweet spot” in terms of heft. At 8.5mm, it’s quite thin; had the 925 retained the “Nokia smile” design of its predecessor, it could have gone thicker in the middle with little to no discernible effect on feel in-hand.
In exchange, the 925 would have retained one of the standout features that made the Lumia 920 so unique. The latter’s inclusion of wireless charging right out of the box offered a convenience that helped make up for its lack of a removable battery, and it pioneered a custom-accessory niche that brought us excellent Qi-enabled devices like the JBL Power Up dock. More than that, integrated wireless charging on the 920 was a feather in Windows Phone’s cap, a “yeah but” that few other devices could boast:
“Your Lumia 920 doesn’t have as many apps as my iPhone/Galaxy S III.”
“Yeah, but I have wireless charging.” (drops on charger, walks away)
Can the Lumia 925 still wirelessly charge by another method? Sure, via the case mentioned above – and it’s nice that Nokia at least gives customers the option. But as we discussed in our Pocketnow Roundtable after this morning’s announcement, that option is nowhere near as simple or aesthetically pleasing.
For one thing, you need to buy another accessory to enable the wireless-charging functionality. That’s a limitation familiar to owners of other devices, Lumia and non-, so it’s not uncommon. But it is another impediment to adoption. People already get the “sold-separately” treatment with wireless chargers, which are never included in the box; putting yet another obstacle in their way by making them buy a charging case and a charger is a sure-fire way to make them reconsider.
And for another thing: the case is ugly. Like, third-party-accessory ugly.
Look, Nokia’s dealing with a lot of pressure right now; I get that. It’s possible other factors played into the company’s decision to option-ize the 925′s wireless charging support, like cost savings. It’s also possible the company looked at some focus group or user poll data and determined that not enough people care about wireless charging to justify keeping it on the 925 as a bundled feature.
All the same, wireless charging is one of those features that looked like it was finally catching on, and Nokia was at the forefront of the charge. With moves like this, its future as a standard on Windows Phones -and smartphones in general- looks a little hazier … and the Lumia 925 looks just a little less desirable, despite the pounds it’s taken off. After all, weight isn’t everything.