The Nokia Lumia 1520 is a significant phone for both Nokia and Microsoft. It’s the first Windows Phone 8 device to debut with a large 6-inch display, a first smartphone from the platform to sport a full HD 1080p display, and one that comes with one of the wold’s most powerful processors in the form of the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU.
Essentially, it makes Windows Phone 8 a platform that is competitive with the biggest, brightest, and fastest Android smartphones and phablets on the market today. The phone joins a robust lineup of Nokia smartphones on AT&T’s U.S. network, including the Lumia 920, 925, and 1020 at the high-end of the spectrum. Is the Lumia 1520 enough to woo Android users to Microsoft’s platform, and are the hardware upgrades significant enough for current Windows Phone owners to upgrade? Read on to find out.
There is no question that the Lumia 1520 is a large device. With a 6-inch display, the Lumia 1520 apes the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Android’s most popular phablet, in both width and height. Being taller and wider than the Note 3, Nokia did focus on ergonomics to make its large phablet less unwieldy than it looks. By having a slim profile and curved side edges, the Lumia 1520 is still comfortable to hold, though its larger size means that the device may be harder to carry around.
You’ll definitely feel the presence of the Lumia 1520 in coat pockets, and unless you have larger pockets inside pants or jeans, the Lumia 1520 will likely feel more at home in a bag or purse than on your body. Though it’s slim and definitely feels lighter than it looks, users will find it hard trying to conceal the device on their body.
Still, while it may be more unwieldy to tote than a traditional smartphone or Samsung’s more compact Note 3, the Lumia 1520 benefits from Nokia’s attention to ergonomics. Bearing a similar design to the Nokia Lumia 925 and the larger Lumia 2520 tablet (reviewed here also on GottaBeMobile), the Lumia 1520 is easy to hold.
And with a larger screen, Nokia was wise enough to shrink down the bezel areas surrounding the screen, a common complaint of older Windows Phone as we felt it looked less modern than it actually is with large borders around the display. While aesthetically this is good, depending on how you hold and interact with the 1520, this also means that your chances of activating one of the trio of capacitive touch Windows navigation keys–back, Windows or home, and search–at the bottom of the screen is more likely than before. It’s a tradeoff really to accommodate a large screen and still make everything fairly portable.
Speaking of the display, Nokia went with an LCD panel that’s both crisp and vibrant. Darks weren’t as black compared to Samsung’s use of the full HD Super AMOLED panel, but the LCD is a stunner. Nokia’s use of ClearBlack Display (CBD) technology makes the vivid and bright Live Tiles seemingly float on the glass, and the slightly curved glass surface makes swiping and navigating the phone a joy.
An ergonomic concern with a device this large, understandably, is that the Lumia 1520 will become a device to use with two hands, rather than with one. Because of how large it is, even taking a picture and activating the dual-stage hardware camera button can sometimes require two hands to operate, else the phone feels like it is falling out of your hands or the shutter doesn’t get pushed all the way in because the weight distribution of the device makes it awkward. Another issue is using the keyboard. As the screen is so much bigger, it’s hard to peck out messages and emails with the phone in the palm of one hand with the thumb of that hand wrapped over the display to type.
All in all, it’s an attractive package with a screen that’s capacious enough to use for watching movies on Microsoft’s newly minted Xbox Videos app or for trying to find your way around town in the car with the Here Drive+ voice-guided turn-by-turn GPS app. With the appropriate car mount, the Lumia 1520 could become an excellent car computer, providing you with streaming or native music, voice guidance for GPS, or even as a multimedia center for passengers with streaming movies.
Differences with the International Version
To keep the cost of the Lumia 1520 low and attractive for contract customers on AT&T’s network–the device sells for $199 with a two-year agreement though discounts have brought it down to just $99 with a contract through promotions for the holidays–AT&T cut a few corners with the device. First, though the AT&T model supports the same 20-megapixel OIS PureView camera, quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, and vibrant 1080p display of the international version, AT&T went with 16 GB of storage rather than 32 GB found on the international model.
This isn’t too bad considering that the Lumia 1520 is the first high-end Windows Phone device from Nokia to support a removable micro SDXC card slot. Unfortunately, the card requires a SIM ejector tool–or a paperclip–to remove, making it more difficult to access on the go, but it does offer the flexibility for users to add up to 64 GB of additional storage, topping out at 80 GB total. With the memory card, users can offload music, videos, and photos, but apps would still need to be installed natively to the built-in 16 GB partition.
The second major difference is that the international model supports built-in wireless Qi charging. AT&T opted to go with Duracell Powermat for the wireless charging standard so it dropped the built-in Qi technology. Users interested in wireless charging would have to buy a third-party Duracell Powermat charging cover and attach it to the rear of the phone to gain compatibility. While this isn’t a big deal, if you’ve already invested in the more popular Qi standard through a prior purchase of a Nexus device or one of Nokia’s previous Lumia smartphones, you’ll now also have to invest in a compatible Powermat charging plate.
As with prior Nokia smartphones bearing the ‘PureView’ branding, the Lumia 1520 performs admirably in the camera department for photos and videos. With an optical image stabilized camera, the 20-megapixel sensor eliminates a lot of camera shake as a result of a user’s shaky hands, and the device performs like a champ in indoors situation with low light for both videos and photos. Be sure to see the next two sections for sample images and video footage.
With a 20-megapixel sensor, the Lumia 1520 retains more details and captures more colors with a better dynamic range than the 8-megapixel Lumia 920 and Lumia 925 cameras on AT&T’s network. However, it doesn’t quite achieve the same level of detail retention that the larger and more megapixel-rich sensor of the Lumia 1020. Still, it’s one of the best camera phones on AT&T’s lineup and on the market in general.
The rear-mounted camera does have a slight camera hump on the back, but the hump isn’t quite as robust as the hump on the 1020. That’s in part because Nokia used a slightly larger sensor size than found on traditional smartphones and not quite the huge sensor that comes packaged on the camera flagship Lumia 1020.
There is also a dual-LED flash system right next to the lens to help illuminate images in extremely low light situations, though I’d argue that Nokia’s excellent low light photography (without the need for flash or artificial lighting) works a majority of the time that I actually forget to turn on the LED flash mechanism. Though LED has been criticized for not being as powerful or as rich as the Xenon flash that’s found on devices like the Lumia 1020, the LED lights on the Lumia 1520 in some ways is superior to Xenon on the 1020.
One of the complaints I had with Windows Phone with Xenon flash–like on the Lumia 928 on Verizon and Lumia 1020 on AT&T–is that the camera had improper white balance. When the Xenon flash goes off, skin tones appeared more yellow or orange. With the LED flash on the 1520, this was not even an issue and tones were captured perfectly.
For those interested in capturing videos, the optical image stabilization really does work and help stabilize videos. Audio captured as also rich thanks to four directional microphones on the rear of the phone adjacent to the camera lens that gives audio captured a stereo profile with your videos.
Though the Lumia 1520 may not have the best camera sensor for a phone–that title is still bestowed to the Lumia 1020–Nokia is making huge strides to bringing better camera experiences to the mainstream with best in class image stabilization, superb low light photography, and excellent video capabilities.
And like the Lumia 1020, users can benefit from fine-tuned image adjustments of white balance, ISO, exposure compensation, and shutter speeds thanks to the Nokia Camera app. Additionally the standard Windows Phone camera app can be used as well. With the Lumia 1520, more advanced photographers can also capture digital negatives in the form of the DNG file format, as well as a smaller 5-megapixel JPEG for quick sharing over email, MMS, or social networks, and later process the DNG negatives in their favorite photo app like Photoshop to get the best results.
Windows Phone 8 with Nokia Lumia Black
With the Lumia Black update on Windows Phone, Microsoft brought a few key upgrades that will enhance the user experience. The Lumia 1520 is the first device to ship with this newest build of Windows Phone 8, and Nokia has promised that Black will also be coming to older devices like the current 1020 flagship.
Black brings Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy support, which makes the Lumia 1520 a great device for fitness trackers and other accessories that may require an always-on Bluetooth connection. While Windows Phone’s market share is still small in the U.S., hopefully we’ll start seeing more and more hardware accessories made for the platform given the new Bluetooth 4.0 presence and more device sales.
For the end-user, the most noticeable change to Windows Phone with Black is that now there is an extra column of icons that is displayed on the home screen. The paradigm for Windows Phone has largely been to be able to glance at your phone to see quick information and updates without having to dive too deeply into menus, and this is even more true with Black as we’re able to place more Live Tiles on the Metro UI on the home screen, giving us live updates to even more apps and services.
Another visible enhancement that’s enabled by Black is a better ability to multitask. Now, by pressing and holding the capacitive touch back button, you’ll be taken to a multitasking screen, similar to what Apple had done on iOS 7. You’ll see a single row of opened apps, and you can now tap on the “X” at the upper right corner of each app preview screen to close the app. It’s a little bit more clumsy than the swipe upwards gesture that Apple implemented for the iPhone to close an app, but now you can better manage what apps are running rather than having to constantly hit the back button to completely exit out of an app.
Other than that, the Windows Phone 8 experience is largely the same as on other devices, and for a better look at Windows Phone 8, you can check out our review of the HTC 8X, the Nokia Lumia 920, and the Nokia Lumia 1020 that we had previously reviewed.
Nokia already adds a number of enhanced apps and experiences on Windows Phone, such as double tapping the screen to waking up the phone, a Nokia Storyteller app that groups images by date and location of images taken to create stories based on events, Nokia Music for a Pandora-like curated streaming radio service with songs that you can download for offline playback meaning you don’t need to have a data connection, and the excellent Here Drive+ suite of apps for navigation.
Usage and Experience
If you can tolerate and appreciate the 6-inch display, the Nokia Lumia 1520 makes a great phablet. And with Windows Phone’s more traditional panoramic UI or carousel UI inside some hubs and apps, the Lumia 1520 feels like it can straddle the line between both the smartphone and tablet form factors with a more comfortable ease and versatility than compared with similar Android phablets.
On Android, phablets essentially run scaled up smartphone versions of apps, which means there is more wasted space on the display and apps don’t consider the better usability of a multi-panel user interface to turn the phablet into more of a tablet or desktop. On the other hand, on the Lumia 1520, you can swipe with the panoramic UI and get a better experience.
Despite pushing more pixels on a bright and vivid display, the best thing about the Lumia 1520 is the battery life. Nokia has made great strides to make battery life even better than battery life on the AMOLED display of the Lumia 1020. Now, you can go well over a a full working day for heavy users and moderate users can even stretch battery life to two days before they will need to plug in.
Network & Call Quality
The large screen size means that the Lumia 1520 was a bit more awkward to hold as a phone. It’s still manageable to hold the device to your face to use it for phone calls, but you’ll likely be using the Lumia 1520 for data-intensive tasks like surfing the Internet, using apps, or streaming videos. If you must make phone calls, the earpiece sounds great and calls sounded clear and warm. Another option is to use the speakerphone as the Lumia 1520 makes for a great mobile conference center. The rear-facing loud speaker sounds loud and crisp, though there is a slight distortion at the very highest volumes. Given how loud the speakers are, users will likely not need to crank up the volume too high.
In terms of data, the Lumia 1520 connects to AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ and LTE networks where available. The carrier claims that LTE is up to 10 times faster than traditional 3G networks and up to 4 times faster than HSPA+. I found that in San Jose and San Francisco, California as well as in Austin, Texas, AT&T’s claims were mostly true. Speeds exceeded AT&T’s quoted speeds and I typically get download speeds between 15 and 20 Mbps and upload speeds hovered between 10 and 20 Mbps on average. This is plenty fast for a mobile network and these speeds are better than most home DSL lines and cable modem packages.
The Lumia 1520 is the most advanced Windows Phone device to date and boasts specs that are comparable to the best Android phones. That’s not to say that Windows Phone lagged behind Android in the past from an experience point of view as even though there may be “hardware envy” on paper, Windows Phone as an OS makes excellent use of the available resources. This is especially evident on the Lumia 1520 as even though the quad processor feels extremely robust and speedy, the dual-core CPU of the older Lumia 1020 flagship isn’t that much slower. The true speed gains on the Lumia 1520 is more for gaming where more graphic-intense titles with larger downloads will launch a few seconds more quickly, but the difference isn’t that stark. Compare this with the Galaxy S4 (quad-core flagship) and the Galaxy S4 Zoom (camera-centric dual-core) models running Android from Samsung and the extra cores really do make a difference on Android.
For users, the most significant change with the Lumia 1520 is the vibrant full HD display and the larger screen real estate for those who demand a phablet experience. Here, the Lumia 1520 readily delivers, and thanks to recent pushes from Microsoft to expand the Windows ecosystem, we’re seeing more native apps as well as the addition of Xbox Video for purchasing and renting movies and TV shows, a feature that complements the 6-inch display well.
For those who like the larger screen experience, the Lumia 1520 is a hands-down winner. Yet, to me the Lumia 1520 still seems more tablet than phablet. As a Note 3 and Lumia 1020 owner, I cannot help but feel that the Lumia 1520 feels too big still as my daily device despite all the advances that both Nokia and Microsoft have brought to the table. The 1520 represents more of a concept device, an envelope pushing idea that stretches the imagination of the platform. As such, it’s exciting to see what the next wave of Windows Phone devices will bring in 2014.