Nokia Lumia 1520 review
With Android phone/tablet hybrids, or phablets, everywhere you look, it was only a matter of time before Nokia launched its own Windows Phone model. The Lumia 1520 is the 14th Lumia phone since the launch of the 800 two years ago, showing Nokia and Microsoft will stop at nothing to fill every possible segment with a new handset.
The Lumia 1520 does fit in a very defined niche, however; phablets are aimed squarely at those who are willing to compromise slightly on portability and screen size so as not to have to buy or carry both a phone and a tablet. It's also the very first Windows Phone with a Full HD screen.
A 6in Full HD screen leaves plenty of room for Windows Phone's Live Tiles
As with other phablets we’ve seen, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung Galaxy Mega and HTC One Max, the 1520 seems huge when you first hold it, but you quickly get used to its bulk. It even fits fine in trouser pockets, so long as your jeans aren’t too skinny. The main compromise over a normal-sized handset is that it's hard to use one-handed, but we find this is a problem with most smartphones over around 4.3in in size.
The 1520 is a classy phone all round, though, and even trumps the metal-bodied HTC One Max for build quality. It's a unibody design with a single piece of polycarbonate wrapping around the back and screen, and just feels lovely to hold. We still don’t think anyone, with the possible exception of Apple, makes such beautiful hardware as Nokia.
The polycarbonate chassis feels tough and is lovely to hold
The only thing we don’t like about the 1520's design is that it has a Nano rather than Micro SIM slot. This won’t bother you if you buy the 1520 on contract, but it's a pain if you want to get it SIM-free and use your current card. We wish manufacturers would settle on a SIM size standard, as three different types is two too many.
Lumia 1520 display
Unlike other high-end Lumias such as the 1020, the 1520 has an IPS rather than AMOLED screen. It's a 6in model with a 1,920x1,080 resolution, and there are significant image quality differences between the Lumia 1520 and 1020's displays. The 1020's AMOLED panel has more saturated colours and blacker text than the 1520's IPS model, but the 1020's screen is much warmer, to the point of appearing slightly yellow when side by side with the 1520. The 1520's panel has purer whites, but if anything is too cold, giving web pages backgrounds a slightly grey tint. It's still a high-quality screen, though, and compares well to the best IPS panels we've seen, such as that on the Google Nexus 7 tablet.
The screen stands up well to the competition, but we found the colour balance slightly too cold
Lumia 1520 specs
Web browsing is a dream on this handset, as the phone almost never hesitates as you zoom in and out and pan around web pages, even complicated graphics-heavy ones such as www.guardian.co.uk. The phone's screen is also large enough, in terms of size and resolution, to read desktop web pages fairly comfortably when fully zoomed out, but, as expected, it's still not quite as easy as reading pages on a 7in or 10in tablet. The only irritation is the way that the Back button behaves. When you're in a web browsing session pressing the button will take you back through your previous pages, as expected, but if you ever go back to the main app screen and then reopen your browser, you will lose the previous pages you visited; the Back button will now only go back to the app tray. You can at least get around this by bringing up the recent pages menu.
We couldn’t run our normal 3DMark benchmark as it's not available for Windows Phone, but we could run the GFXBench T-Rex test in Full HD. The Lumia 1520 completed this with an average frame rate of 25fps, which is essentially the same as the 26fps we saw from the Galaxy Note 3. Challenging 3D games such as Halo Spartan Assault run beautifully on the Lumia 1520.
Lumia 1520 apps
3DMark isn’t the only app that isn’t available for Windows Phone, nut the Windows Phone Store has come a long way from its humble beginnings - to the point that there are very few essential apps still absent. You can get Netflix for on-demand movies, RightMove if you're in the market for a new house and the BBC iPlayer for catch-up TV, although there's unfortunately no way to download episodes to your phone and streaming video suffers from compression artefacts to a greater extent than Android smartphones. You'll miss out on National Rail, but the Trainline is there to compensate.
Several apps are practically must-haves because they fix our gripes with the stock Windows Phone 8 ones. The free UC Browser won't lose your previously-visited pages if you go back to the Live Tiles, meaning you don't have to jump into browser history when you open it again like you would with Internet Explorer. We were more than happy to spend 79p on Chronos Calendar, which has a clean week view that's absent from the stock Windows Phone calendar, as well as several other useful features.
When it first arrived we had to warn potential customers that Windows Phone was restrictive and limited your choice when it came to apps, but now that app support is much improved there's one less hurdle to jump if you're coming from iOS or Android.
There are some Nokia-specific alternatives to Microsoft's official apps too, which go from strength to strength. Nokia Mix Radio, with all its free tracks, music mixes and offline support, is as wonderful as ever, but we're particularly impressed with Nokia Screen Beamer and HERE Maps. Screen Beamer is an evolution of the Photo Beamer app we've seen before, but instead of just displaying photos from your photo gallery in another device's web browser, it will now send whatever you have on the 1520's screen to the browser.
It's simple to use - you just go to beam.nokia.com in the other device's web browser, then scan the QR code shown in that browser with your 1520's camera. Your 1520's screen will then be displayed in the other device's browser in almost real time (there's around a half-second delay, so it's no good for video). It's a great way to get your phone's screen on to something bigger without messing around with cables.
Offline turn-by-turn navigation from HERE Drive
HERE Maps' main claim to fame is that it has offline mapping support. Google Maps also lets you save maps, but HERE has two main advantages; you can download map data for as many regions as you want or have storage for, instead of the limited amount of map data allowed by Google, and HERE has both offline mapping and postcode and point of interest (POI) support. It's perfect if you've ever been lost and stranded without signal when using Google Maps, or for using your phone abroad without incurring data charges, but the Point of Interest data isn’t as comprehensive as Google's. HERE Maps is complemented by the HERE Drive turn-by-turn navigation app.
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