Devices News Nokia Windows, Microsoft, Mobile phones, Nokia, phablets, Reviews, Samuel Gibbs, smartphones, Technology, Windows Phone — November 28, 2013 3:19 — 0 Comments
Nokia Lumia 1520 review: bigger is better for Windows Phone
Nokia and Windows Phone go bigger and faster than ever before, with a decent camera
The Nokia Lumia 1520 is the Finnish manufacturer’s first entry into the phablet market, a 6in blown-up clone of its smaller 4.3in Lumia 720 with the latest processors and a great camera.
Reach out and (try to) touch
The Lumia 1520 is the largest phone in the current Nokia lineup and it is a giant. Its 6in screen is far bigger than any of the other Lumia smartphones, which top out with 4.5in screens – smaller than most 5in flagship Android phones for instance.
Like every other Windows Phone available to date, the Lumia 1520 doesn’t offer a stylus. It’s relatively thin for a phablet at 8.7mm, 1.59mm thinner than the HTC One Max and only marginally thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (8.3mm).
The size and shape of the device makes one-handed operation near-impossible, given the rather angular corners. With my average-sized male right hand, I couldn’t reach the “Back” button (on the bottom left of the screen) with my thumb without my palm touching the screen as I stretched.
Though it isn’t much bigger than the 6in screen, it’s just too big (3.4in wide by 6.5in high) to comfortably fit into pockets, which could be an issue.
Nokia’s impressive build quality continues: this feels solid but not leaden. My test of a device is to try to twist it when held firmly in two hands; there was only slight flex, which bodes well for longevity. It’s available in bright yellow, red, white and black, and the polycarbonate shell wraps around the device – no cracks or join lines visible.
The front of the device is dominated by a 6in full high-definition screen, which is sharp, vibrant and very good looking. Text appears crisp on websites and documents, with images richly coloured and detailed. The large screen is great for sharing videos too: viewing angles are really wide.
Nokia’s ClearBlack polarisation screen technology also ensures the display is visible even in bright outdoor sunlight [you found bright outdoor sunlight during a British winter? Well done - Tech ed], while the screen is touch sensitive enough to work through thin gloves.
- Screen: 6in full HD IPS LCD
- Processor: 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
- RAM: 2GB of RAM
- Storage: 32GB plus microSD slot supporting up to 64GB cards
- Operating system: Windows Phone 8
- Camera: 20MP rear camera with optical image stabilisation, 1.2MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi (n/ac), NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS
- Dimensions: 162.8mm x 85.4mm x 8.7 mm
- Weight: 209g
Power to the people
It’s got the biggest Windows Phone screen yet; and also the fastest processor seen on the platform, with Qualcomm’s current flagship 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, putting it in good company with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Nexus 5, among others.
Switching between apps works as fast as Windows Phone will allow (hit the back button and, allowing for a necessary transition, you’re there), while games and applications fly with no lag or stutter. That’s an improvement over the experience on some apps on other less powerful Windows Phone handsets, though the OS itself has never suffered from either.
The Lumia 1520 comes with 32GB of storage as standard – but also includes a microSD slot for up to 64GB more.
Windows Phone 8 is aggressive on power management, killing processes that weren’t needed or used, leading to long battery life. In my testing the 3,400mAh battery easily lasted two days of general usage, with frequent checking of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, lots of web browsing and hundreds of emails coming in.
For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (3,200mAh) lasted just under two days with similar usage, so Nokia’s phablet – which has a larger screen area to light – does more with almost the same power.
One annoyance: the Lumia 1520 can’t be charged while the phone is off. Plugging in a charger turns the phone on, and turning the phone off while plugged into a charger automatically reboots the phone. If you charge the phone at night and don’t want to be disturbed, you’ll need to put it on airplane mode and also to silence the device (to avoid calendar alerts and so on).
Windows Phablet 8?
The Lumia 1520 runs Microsoft’s latest phone operating system, Windows Phone 8. One of the beauties of Windows Phone is that it is pretty much the exact same experience regardless of the different phones you use it on.
The Lumia 1520′s big screen means you can get a third vertical line of tiles rather than the standard two. That means much more glanceable information visible on the home screen, thanks to the plethora of live tiles available for everything from mail and message notifications to weather and status updates to your next calendar appointment.
However Nokia has made some very small changes to the operating system in what it calls its “Lumia Black” software. For example, double-tapping the screen wakes the device, “Glance” notifications appear when you move the device if its screen is off, and there’s Bluetooth 4.0 low-energy support for connecting to accessories and devices such as fitness trackers.
Windows Phone 8 does all the general phone and messaging tasks easily with integrated software. All the major email providers (including Gmail) are supported. The Windows Phone Store has over 190,000 apps, and Microsoft has gone to great lengths to bring the most well known and high profile apps from iOS and Android to Windows Phone.
Some common social networks are baked directly into Windows Phone, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn via the People hub. (There are also separate, downloadable apps for Twitter and Facebook. But there’s no Google+ – not baked in or as an app.) You can also get Spotify and Instagram, and favourites like Evernote and LastPass. It is only when you start looking for slightly more niche apps like GetGlue that you start to be disappointed. Though there’s a YouTube “app” it’s actually just a glorified web app. There’s no official Google Maps app, or Google Now, or (as noted) Google+. But if Google looms large in your life, you probably wouldn’t buy a Windows Phone anyway.
Nokia adds the most value to Windows Phone through its own apps. Highlights include Here Maps, Nokia’s solid answer to Google Maps; Here Drive, a turn-by-turn car navigation app; Nokia MixRadio, which provides free streaming music from a plethora of artists, and a collection of interesting and useful camera applications.
Generally, Windows Phone is fast, efficient and for the average user, comprehensive. It is very different from Android and Apple’s iOS, and with its large, bold coloured interface is arguably on par with them for the most part short of the availability of applications.
The Lumia 1520′s camera is a step down from the 41-megapixel monster on the Lumia 1020, but still well ahead of the competition, offering a 20-megapixel sensor, and borrowing some software tricks from its higher-resolution brother.
Nokia uses “supersampling”, where each pixel is the summation of its neighbours; that generates 5MP images from the 20MP sensor. The result is a photo that is free from artefacts, for the most part, and thanks to the built-in optical image stabilisation, clear and sharp.
In low-light conditions, the camera produces shots that are brighter than most of the competition, and handles colours a lot better when the flash is used than the likes of the Nexus 5, which also has optical image stabilisation.
Overall, the camera with dedicated two-stage shutter button (press a bit to focus, press more to take the shot) is highly competitive with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Sony Xperia Z Ultra and even the iPhone 5S.
Nokia’s Pro Camera app is noteworthy: it combines some of Nokia’s other imaging apps into one, do-all camera application. It provides both a simple but intelligent point-and-shoot experience, as well as every option a camera phone photographer is likely to want, all clustered under an intuitive ring interface.
Nokia’s Refocus app, which allows you to focus your photo after the fact using software and a multi-capture approach, is also fun, as long as you keep the phone steady when taking the shot.
It achieves something similar to the Lytro light field camera, but instead of capturing a light field – the intensity, wavelength or colour and direction of all the light entering a camera lens rather than just light intensity and colour – it works by capturing multiple focus points in quick succession to blend into one picture which you can tap to refocus or have everything in focus at the same time.
Usability: get back
Using a screen this size with Windows Phone becomes a usability tradeoff. The OS doesn’t offer gestures or customisable button placement which could otherwise make using a 6in screen easier from day to day.
A key point: Windows Phone relies, like Android, on a bottom row of capacitative buttons for persistent functions – Back, Home and Search (always ordered that way, left to right). But that makes it simply impossible to use this phone one-handed – it doesn’t matter if you’re left- or right-handed, because you won’t be able to reach the lower opposite side of the screen with your thumb without adjustment. You then end up with the phone perilously balanced, with only your thumb saving it from falling off your hand. This is a niggle at first but soon becomes an annoyance.
The buttons are key to using Windows Phone for switching between running apps. The multitasking interface is invoked by holding down the back button for about a second – which can’t be done easily with one hand. Once you do have the menu, you can flick through the running apps with one thumb and pick one with a single tap.
The screen size makes the on-screen keyboard very easy to use, but takes up half of it, making viewing what’s actually being written unnecessarily difficult. Why not just have a smaller keyboard and take advantage of the extra screen size?
On the whole, like most other phablets, day-to-day usage is easy as long as you can deploy both hands. But it becomes a problem if travelling or in situations where you can’t and need to operate various functions and reach across the screen.
The Nokia Lumia 1520 is one of the most expensive Windows Phones available, costing around £550 SIM-free, or from around £38 per month on contract in the UK. It will be available from 6 December.
Verdict: too big
The Nokia Lumia 1520 is unashamedly a phablet. It’s got a large screen yet offers great battery life and has an eye-catching bold interface with lots of at-a-glance information.
Some think Windows Phone’s large tiled interface doesn’t make the most of the increased screen area; I think it really suits it. The tiles become more useful when they’re bigger and easier to read, while Internet Explorer on Windows Phone scales well, making it more like using a desktop browser than a mobile one. (In this it’s different from HTC’s One Max, which just scales everything up.)
The camera also strikes a good balance between performance and bulk. It doesn’t add much in the way of a bulge to the phone, but performs well with some really clever and useful camera applications.
However, it absolutely does need two hands to operate it: the way that Windows Phone works means that access to essential elements such as the Back button requires you to hit it. You can’t reach it one-handed, so this is not really a phone (or phablet) for strap-hangers.
Overall, the Nokia Lumia 1520 is a great large phone. But it’s too big and unwieldy for your average user.
Star rating: 3/5
Pros: Good battery life, great screen, very fast processor, lots of room for at-a-glance information, great camera
Cons: Too big, limited app selection from the Windows Phone store
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