Nokia Lumia 520 review
Windows Phone 8, 4.0in 800x480 display
The Lumia 520 has now been replaced by the Lumia 530, but you can still pick up Nokia's ultra-cheap Windows handset if you shop around. While quantities are getting scarce, it's still available for just £50 on O2's Pay & Go service or £60 SIM-free from Argos. This is a great bargain compared to the Lumia 520's original prepay price of £110 and SIM-free price of £150, but contracts have now risen to around £14.50 a month, which is a terrible deal when you can get the superior Lumia 630 for around the same price.
You don't need to get a newer Nokia Lumia phone to get Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 operating system either, as all Windows 8 handsets are due an update to WP8.1 very soon, including the Lumia 520. If you're looking to get the most afforadble Windows phone money can buy, then read on.
The Lumia 520 definitely feels cheaper than the Lumia 620 and 630; the plastic on its rear is less soft-touch than the 620's cover, for example, and we much prefer the 630's rounded edges to the 520's sharper corners. Its screen has the same 480x800 resolution as the 620, but the 520's display has significantly less contrast and much less saturated colours. Like the 620's screen, the 520's is extremely sensitive, and can be operated with your fingernail or when wearing gloves.
One area where you do miss out is battery life. The Lumia 520's 1,430mAh battery only gave it 6 hours and 36 minutes of continuous video playback, which while better than the 6 hours and 16 minutes we saw from the Lumia 620, is still on the mediocre side compared to the eight-hours-plus we’ve become used to seeing from the newest generation of Lumia phones.
Being a Nokia Windows Phone 8 device, you also get Nokia's built-in navigation apps, now renamed HERE Maps for general mapping and HERE Drive for turn-by-turn navigation. A huge advantage of both is their support for offline mapping. In Maps, for example, you just need to go to Offline Maps in the menu and select the maps you want to download to the phone's internal storage, which will save you any worry about getting lost in low signal areas or racking up huge data costs when abroad. You'll probably want to supplement the phone's internal 8GB storage with a microSD card if you want to cover a great deal of the world, though.
Free professional-grade offline maps are a definite bonus, especially on a cheap handset, but the Lumia 520's big disadvantage over other Lumia handsets is its lack of a built-in compass, which may make orientating yourself a bit trickier.
The Lumia 520 has a five-megapixel camera, and it's impressive for such an inexpensive handset. Shots taken outside showed plenty of detail and well-judged exposure, with none of the bleaching-out of the sky we often see from phones, even expensive models such as the Samsung Galaxy S3. When compared side-by-side with the more expensive Lumia 620 we saw similar levels of detail in outdoor shots, but the Lumia 620 had slightly more saturated and marginally more accurate colours.
^ High-quality outdoor shots are possible with the Lumia 520 - click to enlarge
^ We just prefer the Lumia 620's colour reproduction, but there's not much in it - click to enlarge
We saw more of a difference between the phones in our indoor test shots. Under moderate indoor lighting the Lumia 520's shots showed considerably more noise than the 620's, and far less punchy colours.
^ Indoor shots with the Lumia 520 show plenty of noise, though - click to enlarge
Considering its price, the Lumia 520 is an impressive handset. Like all Nokia phones it feels well made, and it's a much more interesting design than the boring Android slabs you tend to get at this price point. We have no complaints about performance, and the camera is superb for a budget phone, at least in daylight. However, given that the Lumia 530 is only a little more expensive (£80 SIM-free and £60 on O2's Pay & Go), we'd say the extra expense was worth it for the extra battery life and slightly higher resolution screen and Windows Phone 8.1 straight out of the box.
If you can stretch your budget a little further, though, the Lumia 630 is a much better buy, as you get an awful lot more for your money, including a more pleasing design, a better screen and an even better battery life. At £100 SIM-free or £80 on O2 Pay & Go, we think it's worth the extra expense.