Nokia Lumia 520 review

A good phone for the price, but we'd save up for the posher Lumia 630

Our Rating 
4/5
Price when reviewed 
150
inc VAT
Buy it now for 

Page 1 of 3Nokia Lumia 520 review

Specifications

Processor: Dual-core 1.0GHz Snapdragon S4, Screen size: 4in, Screen resolution: 800x480, Rear camera: 5-megapixel, Storage: 8GB, Wireless data: 3G, Size: 120x75x9.9mm, Weight: 124g, Operating system: Windows Phone 8

The Nokia Lumia 520 is quite old now, as it's been superceded by both the Lumia 530 and Microsoft's newly announced Lumia 535 - the first Lumia Windows phone to ditch the Nokia branding. However, the Lumia 520 is by no means out of date, as it's still due to get an upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1 and it's now cheaper than ever if you shop around.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 are now around £11 a month (at least on Three), which is a terrible deal when you can get the superior Lumia 630 for around the same price at Carphone Warehouse. However, 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.

Nokia Lumia 520

Nonetheless, the 520 still feels like a well-made phone for the price, and the bright snap-on covers add a dose of personality sadly missing from many cheap Android smartphones. It also has all the performance we’ve come to expect from Windows Phone 8. The dual-core 1GHz processor is certainly powerful enough to run the operating system smoothly, and a score of 1,473ms in the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark shows the Lumia 520 to be as quick as both the Lumia 530 and the Lumia 630 for web browsing and up there with all but the quickest Android handsets.

Nokia Lumia 520

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.

Nokia Lumia 520

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.

Lumia 520 outdoor test shot

^ High-quality outdoor shots are possible with the Lumia 520 - click to enlarge

Lumia 620 outdoor test shot

^ 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.

Lumia 520 indoor test shot

^ 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.

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