Nokia Lumia 1520 Review: Mega Evolution

 

INTRODUCTION

Microsoft and Nokia have always been behind in the smartphone race when it came to hardware. Sure, there’s the 41MP PureView-rocking 1020, Nokia’s supersensitive touch PureMotion HD+ display, and a few other commendable pieces of hardware that Nokia should be proud of, but the issue is that while these have been commendable, geeks have always been able to point out the low clock-speeds and sub-par screens of Lumias or Windows Phones in general.

But this is a thing of the past.

With the GDR3 update, Microsoft had silently enabled support for the latest quad core processors and 1080p displays. And with the Nokia Lumia 1520, Nokia and Microsoft have successfully created a phone whose spec sheet will silence any Android-loving geek. Let’s have a look shall we?

  • 162.8 x 85.4 x 8.7 mm
  • Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 processor, clocked at 2.2 GHz
  • Adreno 330 GPU
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 32 GB built-in storage
  • micro-SD card slot (up to 64GB)
  • 6 inch 16M-color Full HD 1080p capacitive touchscreen IPS LCD display (367ppi pixel density)
  • 1/2.5” sensor size, 20 MP, Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, autofocus, dual-LED flash
  • 3400 mAh battery
  • NFC
  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support; 3G with 42Mbps HSPA; 150Mbps LTE

While the spec sheet is impressive, manufacturers such as Apple have proven time and time again that a phone with a mediocre-looking spec sheet doesn’t necessarily have to be lower-performing compared to its higher-end rivals, and similarly, a phone with beastly specs doesn’t necessarily outperform those with seemingly poorer ones.

And Microsoft has proven time and time again that the Windows Phone OS doesn’t require much power to be buttery-smooth (the same cannot be said about Android, unfortunately).

One thing is for sure: Nokia didn’t have to put in all the latest hardware in the Lumia 1520 to make it a splendid device. But if that’s what it takes to silence those spec-loving geeks, then that’s what Nokia’s going to do.

All the latest tech, in a massive smartphone, running on a sleek, fluid and simple UI. The Lumia 1520 sounds impressive on paper, but will it live up to its expectations?

UNBOXING AND DESIGN

The retail box of the Lumia 1520 is the same as any other Nokia Lumia box, albeit slightly larger, to house the monstrous phone within.

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Inside the box you’ll find the handset, SIM door opening tool, a quick start guide, charger, USB cable, and some matching earphones.

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There’s no hiding that the Nokia Lumia 1520 is MASSIVE. It’s larger than the Note 3, and has a larger screen than the HTC One Max, despite being around the same size. The only notable phablet out there that out-sizes the 1520 is the Z Ultra, with its gargantuan 6.4” screen (seriously though, that’s treading on tablet territory there).

Measuring 162.8 x 85.4 x 8.7 mm, and weighing in at a hefty 209g, the Lumia 1520 is rather heavy for its size, considering the fact that the Note 3 is only 168g despite being only 0.3” smaller in terms of display size. The Z Ultra is much larger and yet only weighs 3g more, and this is even though its clad in metal and glass, while the 1520 is made of Nokia’s traditional polycarbonate.

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Okay, so the device is large and heavy. To be honest though, when held in the hand it somehow doesn’t feel as heavy as it really is. Perhaps it’s because of the slim 8.7mm profile. But whatever it is, the weight isn’t a deal breaker.

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On the front is the massive 6” 1080p display (367ppi), back, start and search capacitive buttons on the bottom, 1.2MP front facing camera and proximity sensor at the top.

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The left is left completely bare other than the slots for the microSD and nano-SIM card slots, which have to be opened using a tool.

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On the right of the phone you’ll find the traditional volume rocker, lock, and a dedicated physical shutter key, which has been a characteristic of Nokia’s Lumia line.

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The headphone jack sits alone on the top of the device.

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Solitary on the bottom is the micro-USB cable used for data transfer and charging.

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The back is home to the 20MP PureView camera that shoots [email protected] with optical image stabilisation, as well dual LED flash. The speakers sit all the way below.

Overall, the build quality of the Lumia 1520 is impeccable, while maintaining the trademark Lumia design. It’s a design that works, and a design that’s hard to beat, especially considering the slim 8.7mm profile of the device.

HANDLING

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This is an obvious issue for a phablet. Though phablet shipments have generally grown over the past year, many people still cannot get used to these tablet-phone hybrids due to their sheer size.

The Lumia 1520 is what you’d expect from a phablet – it’s big and heavy. And that isn’t a good thing. As we’ve said earlier, it could’ve been lighter, especially when compared with the Note 3.

However, the feel of the handset isn’t really all that bad. The back of the device is matte (for the yellow and black versions), which has a good grip to it and is resistant to fingerprints and smudges.

In fact, once you get past the sheer size of the handset, it actually feels quite comfortable in the hand.

Handling though, is a different subject altogether. The device is wide, meaning that it’s near impossible to type on the phone with one hand. Windows Phone doesn’t come with a one-handed keyboard like most Android phablets do, so you’ll have to make do with the massive keyboard. Nokia tried to make one-handed navigating easier by placing the back, start and search buttons closer together, but it’s still rather difficult to reach for the back button with your right thumb, and in the end it gives the bottom of the phone a weird look – all three capacitive buttons crammed up together.

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In our pocketability test, where I tried fitting the gargantuan device into the side pockets of my various pants, it scored surprisingly well. As long as you’re not wearing tight-fitting jeans (or any other jeans, for that matter), pocketability won’t be an issue for most pockets. In fact, when placing my Lumia 1520 in one pocket and the 820 in the other, the 820 felt more noticeable compared to the 1520, perhaps because of its chunkier profile. The slim profile of the 1520 really does help.

One thing’s for sure though: you’ll have a tough time using the phone while eating a burger with your other hand.

DISPLAY

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The Lumia 1520 has a beautiful screen – the best of any Nokia device till date. We’re talking about a 6” 1080p retina-busting display of 367ppi. Sure, this isn’t as impressive as some of the flagship Android displays out there that have a pixel density of over 400ppi, but considering that phablets are used at a distance further away from the eyes than normal phones, plus the fact that the human eye can hardly distinguish individual pixels beyond the 300+ppi mark, this is definitely not a cause for concern.

The IPS LCD display of the Lumia 1520 means that it has extremely accurate colour reproduction and amazing viewing angles, compared to the TFT display of the Z Ultra, or the AMOLED display of the Note 3, which some may find over-saturated.

The contrast figures for the 1520 are well, and the ClearBlack technology helps immensely in reducing reflectivity.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
HTC One Max 0.14 224 1591 0.40 629 1572
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 0 149 0 379
Sony Xperia Z1 0.38 580 1513
Nokia Lumia 1520 0.22 263 1174 0.43 522 1207
Nokia Lumia 1020 0 172 0 398
Nokia Lumia 920 0.48 513 1065
Sony Xperia Z Ultra 0.47 467 1001
Sony Xperia Z 0.70 492 705
Huawei Ascend Mate 0.23 222 982 0.67 711 1053
Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 0.12 160 1364 0.32 440 1379
Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 0 201 0 404
HTC Butterfly S 0.15 165 1117 0.43 451 1044

The Lumia 1520 is ahead the 1020 in brightness, but the black levels and contrast can be excused – there’s just no competing with an AMOLED display there. In the phablet category, it scores slightly better than the Z Ultra, but the One Max has it well beat.

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The sunlight contrast ratio is really poorly done. While it outperforms the Z Ultra, it is handily beaten by the One Max, Nokia’s own 925 and the Note 3. I personally preferred disabling the “sunlight readability” as it caused the phone to have terrible colour reproduction under sunlight.

Despite this, the Lumia 1520 works extremely well in bright sunlight with Apica’s Assertive display technology, outperforming many other flagship phones out there (see pic below).

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There is a rather annoying software issue with the display though. The auto brightness feature is a little messed up. Sometimes it reacts to changes in light levels too slowly, leaving you with a dim screen in bright sunlight, and sometimes the opposite. This is clearly an issue with software and we hope that Nokia and Microsoft can work on it.

USER INTERFACE

The user interface is stock Windows Phone, with slight Nokia modifications. The only difference between the UI on the Lumia 1520 and that of any other Lumia is that instead of the usual 2 columns of live tiles on the start screen, you have 3.

One thing interesting to note though, is that when you have 2 columns of tiles on the start screen, you tend to shun the extra-wide tile as they seem to take up lots of meaningless space. But in the course of using the Lumia 1520 as its 3 columns of live tiles, I realised that I loved the extra-wide tiles, mainly because they are easier to tap on, but also because they are more aesthetically pleasing, and there is more than enough room for them given the increased real estate on the humongous 6” screen.

These aside, it would be rather pointless if we were to write about the UI in every Windows Phone review article, since it is largely similar across all Windows Phone devices. So instead of writing about the Windows Phone 8 UI in this review article, I will be posting a separate article detailing the Windows Phone 8 UI, which will be updated and referred for future Windows Phone reviews.

SOFTWARE: GDR3 + LUMIA BLACK

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Speaking of software, the Lumia 1520 comes with all the latest software from Microsoft and Nokia. It is GDR3 that allowed it to have its 1080p screen and quad core processor, as well as the ability to close apps, while the Lumia Black update gave it a couple of pretty neat features as well.

For one, the Lumia 1520’s glance screen is greatly improved, as it is now able to display notifications on the glance screen.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with glance screen, it sort of acts like a screensaver for the phone. When the glance screen is set to “peek”, hovering your hand over the proximity sensor will cause glance screen to activate, displaying a background wallpaper (that you can choose by downloading the glance background beta app), the time, the sound status (vibrate, silent, etc.) as well as any lock screen notifications that you might have.

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Glance screen also works such that it will light up whenever you pull the phone out from your pocket, which is really handy to check the time and other notifications that you might have.

You can also enable double-tap to wake the phone, which makes unlocking the phone a whole lot easier, considering its massive size, which makes it difficult to unlock the phone with a single hand.

Apart from these, the 1520 also comes with all the Nokia bells and whistles, including the new Nokia Storyteller and Nokia Beamer apps. The former groups your photos into events according to their date, into a “timeline”. You can rename the groups and add photos to your favourites. On top of that, there is the “places” tab, where you can view the locations of all your photos on the world map.

The latter allows you to beam whatever on your screen to another device through scanning a QR code or by sending them a link. It works fine but is rather laggy, as the screen has to constantly update itself on your friend’s device.

These apps are only available on the Lumia 1520 for now though.

And of course, you get the full suite of HERE Drive+, HERE Maps, Nokia MixRadio, and other Nokia branded exclusive services, which nicely complements the Windows Phone ecosystem.

While the app store is an issue considering that it is less mature than iOS and Android, it is growing, and the past few months have seen the addition of many great apps such as Temple Run 2, Instagram, and Vine, with others such as Flipboard to be arriving soon.

In a nutshell, the Windows Phone platform is maturing, with plenty of neat software features and a Store with tons of apps. Microsoft has a lot more in store for Windows Phone, with the major Windows Phone Blue update expected to be announced in April at Microsoft’s //build/ conference, bringing with it a Cortana voice assistant and a notification centre.

Now that’s something to look forward to.

PERFORMANCE

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I really didn’t think that this section was necessary – and I still don’t. The Lumia 1520 runs on the 2.2Ghz quad core Snapdragon 800 processor and has 2GB RAM, which is the most powerful that Windows Phone has ever gotten (so far).

Yes, it doesn’t have 3GB RAM like the Note 3, but consider this: While Windows Phone 8 is a fluid, smooth and light OS, TouchWiz is heavy, power-hungry and laggy, so much so that any less RAM would probably give it as much lag as an old Galaxy Ace.

Everything is lightning fast. Apps launch noticeably faster on the 1520 than previous flagship Windows Phones that were confined to dual core 1.5Ghz processors and 1GB of RAM. The speed boost won’t be noticeable in day-to-day operation, but when running games or launching apps, the 1520 does feel a little snappier.

There isn’t a cross benchmark system for Windows Phone, but if were to be compared to Android flagship phablets, I’d say that the performance is just as good, if not better than its Android counterparts.

Games played with no lag, startup times were quick, and there will be no issues of app compatibility as 2GB of RAM is more than sufficient to run all the apps and games found on the store (not all at one time, of course). Video playback was smooth and everything looked absolutely stunning on the 1080p 6” display.

In fact, after going back to my Lumia 820, I realized that simple tasks such as turning on the WiFi are noticeably faster on the 1520, so the speed boost is rather significant.

Bottom line is: this is the fastest Windows Phone till date, it is lightning fast, and is certainly no slouch compared to other Android flagships out there. It is nearly impossible to be dissatisfied with the performance on this device.

CAMERA

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The Lumia 1520 boasts a 20MP PureView camera with Carl Zeiss lens and optical image stabilisation. Needless to say, the camera is one of the best in its class, sitting somewhere in between the 41MP Lumia 1020 and the 8MP Lumia 925 (with superior low-light performance).

The phone comes pre-installed with Nokia Camera, which only runs on phones with the Lumia Black software update. Phones running on Amber can download Nokia Camera Beta. Nokia Camera can be set as the default camera app, which means that pressing and holding the camera key will launch you straight into Nokia Camera.

Nokia Camera is the combination of Nokia’s Pro Cam and Smart Cam apps. On top of having added functionality and settings for ISO, exposure, shutter speed, etc., there is a Smart mode, which takes a burst of shots. You can later choose best shot, action shot, motion focus, change faces, and remove moving objects.

Day Samples:

The camera produces great images in bright light, with good detail and contrast. However, when the lighting is poorer the camera displayed some mixed results. Sometimes the brightness just isn’t good enough, even with flash on. Noise is kept to a minimal though, even in low light.

Night Samples:

You can even focus on different areas on the screen by tapping where you want to focus on, producing some really good close-up shots.

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Overall, the camera of the Lumia 1520 performs outstandingly.

BATTERY LIFE

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The Lumia 1520 comes powered with a huge 3400mAh battery (the screenshot of the app above only registers a maximum capacity of 2000mAh). Needless to say, battery life will not be an issue on this device. Try as I might, but I simply could not drain the battery down in a single day. With frequent web-browsing, Facebook-checking, whatsapping, and playing games such as Temple Run 2 and Angry Birds Go!, the phone lasted amazingly long, with 40% battery at the end of the second day. And all this while being connected throughout to LTE. On heavy usage, the device will last you the full day, with about 20% left in the bank.

GSMarena’s battery life score of a 107hours testifies to this. The phablet scored one of the highest they’ve seen.

Bottom line: you do not have to worry about running out of power when using the device.

WHO IS IT FOR? SHOULD I GET ONE?

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I thought that since this is my first time using a phablet I should talk a little bit on my personal experience of transitioning from a moderately-sized 4.3” Lumia 820 to a giant 6” Lumia 1520.

The one thing that I’ve learnt is this: size is relative.

After using the 1520 for almost 2 weeks now, every other phone seems puny. I used to think that the Xperia Z1 was huge, but now it just feels tiny. Heck, even my cousin’s Note 3 felt a little smaller than it should be in my hand. The iPhone 5s at an iStudio felt like a little child’s toy, and my thumbs felt unexplainably large when i was typing on the tiny 4” screen.

When I got the Lumia 820 I was afraid that it might be too big for a 4.3” device. But now it just feels pathetically small. I took it out for awhile and tried typing on it. It was exactly the same as the iPhone 5s – the keyboard was so small, and my thumbs felt so huge.

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I guess the bottom line is this: if you’re a phablet fan and a Windows Phone fan, you’re probably set on getting the 1520. But if you’re like me and have never used a phablet before and would like to try it out, go ahead. It may seem ridiculously large to you now, but trust me after a week you’ll grow accustomed to the size, and everything else will seem too small.

One word of advice though: Once you jump to such a large device it’s hard to go back. But I guess I’ll have to find a way to transition back to my 820.

CONCLUSION

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When Windows Phone first started off in 2010 people were skeptical. But since then the operating system has improved by leaps and bounds. It is by no means perfect, or even close to Android and iOS in terms of features and maturity, but it is taking huge strides in development, and the Lumia 1520 is the perfect representation of this.

Just like the Lumia 1020, the Lumia 1520 is not a phone for everyone. While the 1020 targets camera buffs, the 1520 targets the phablet lover, or the geek who just wants all the latest tech in a Windows Phone 8 device.

Nokia (and Microsoft) wanted to put a message across with the Lumia 1520. They could’ve just gone with a flagship device with a 4.5” 1080p screen with the same processor and RAM, but instead they chose a 6” one. Nokia did a bold move by unveiling a monster-sized phone. They wanted to show the best of Windows Phone. The best that a Windows Phone can be. And that is why they made the Lumia 1520 what it is – something completely unachievable on a Windows Phone until recently: the 6” 1080p screen; the 3 columns of tiles; the quad core processor. Nokia and Microsoft wanted to show off what the new Windows Phone 8 GDR3 could do, and the Lumia 1520 is a representation of the maturity of the operating system.

Many people might not realise this, but the Lumia 1520 is a mark of a new beginning for Windows Phone. Microsoft might have been late in the game, but they’re definitely not the latest. The next year will see smartphones from the like of Jolla, Canonical and Mozilla, struggling their way into the smartphone market. If Microsoft wants to fortify their spot as Number 3, they’re going to have to work hard on the next version of Windows Phone.

Last words for the 1520? It’s not perfect. Like we’ve stressed, the size and weight can definitely be better, and the lack of software support for easier one-handed use isn’t helping. Other nagging flaws such as the auto brightness issue and the occasional glitch with the capacitive buttons when using Nokia Camera have to be fixed.

However, we have to admit, it’s the best that Nokia can put into a phone. There are flaws in its software, and some might be repelled by its sheer size, but if you don’t mind the former and have no issues with the latter, this is the best Windows Phone you’re gonna get.

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