I’ve learned that there are two things about being a smartphone-and-tablet reviewer.
The first thing: you get to handle awesome gadgetry days or weeks ahead of its official release date, and you’re not just allowed to use the heck out of it; you need to, in order to do your job. That’s the awesome thing.
The other, less-awesome thing: you eventually have to give it all back.
Empty Nest is a recurring column discussing what I miss -and what I don’t- about the devices I’ve had to return.
It was a confluence of well-timed events that saw me waxing nostalgic about Nokia’s Lumia 1520 the other day.
First came the wave of pre-MWC rumors suggesting a large Nokia presence in Barcelona this year – rumors that, before the Nokia X news solidified, stoked my imagination and whet my appetite for a new slew of Windows Phones. Then, there was Taylor Martin’s excellent review of the Lumia Icon, proving that an exceptional WP8-powered Verizon Wireless smartphone wasn’t an oxymoron. Finally, there came a weekend spent using my Lumia 1020 as a solo daily driver, without the typical fallback provided by my Moto X.
It’s that latter experience that cemented my renewed longing for the Lumia 1520 earlier in the week. A weekend spent awkwardly grasping the Lumia 1020’s slippery body, my fingertips clumsily navigating around its mammoth camera hump, put me in an irritating bind: I was forced into agreement with my faux-nemesis Taylor Martin’s opinion, shared on the most recent episode of the Pocketnow Weekly podcast, that despite all its merits the 1020 is a pretty cumbersome piece of hardware to handle. I wanted something flat again. Something a little more … symmetrical. Something our hero Jack Ryan might carry. But I also didn’t want to sacrifice much in the way of camera resolution, and the Icon was still tied up in Taylor’s office.
Thus, the Lumia 1520, long since sent back to AT&T, was the natural target for my deprived longing. Here’s what I miss – and what I don’t – about Windows Phone’s first true phablet.
It’s good to see you
Until recently, the story of the 1520 has been at least partially overshadowed by its “me-or-nothing” status as Windows Phone’s sole spec powerhouse. With the debut of the Icon, the Snapdragon 800 beating at the 1520’s heart and the 1080p display lighting up its face are no longer such unique attributes – but they’re still immensely important if you’re not a Verizon Wireless customer.
It’s those boss specs I miss the most, but not just for bragging’s sake: the high-res, oversized display means the 1520 is uniquely suited to the kind of glance-and-go user experience Windows Phone was designed for, and while that OS doesn’t necessarily need the raw horsepower that the Snapdragon 800 provides (it tends to function smoothly no matter what hardware it’s running on), it’s nice to have that power available for some of the platform’s more demanding games.
And finally, there’s the obvious plus of the 1520’s camera. It may not bring all the 41MP glory of the Lumia 1020, but its 20MP sensor is still much finer than the 8.7MP shooter that came standard on the 92x series. From its optically-stabilized hardware to Nokia’s best-in-class viewfinder software, the 1520’s picture-taking prowess remains a potent reminder of just who’s the boss of smartphone photography.
It’s good to see you go
Despite those advantages, there’s a reason I’m not toting the 1520 in my day-to-day life. A huge reason. Massive, actually.
In short: the 1520 is ponderous. It’s ginormous. It’s beyond big. And while that works for those whose hands and pockets can accommodate it, it doesn’t work for me.
Part of that is due to Nokia’s industrial design. The high-end materials and solid construction make the device feel quite premium in the hand, but they also amp up the unit’s weight while the sharp corners make it very difficult to use one-handed. Build quality is important to me, so I’d much sooner carry a 1520 than, say, a Samsung Galaxy Mega … but I think Sony has them both beat with the Xperia Z Ultra, which provides the best of both worlds with a large display in a super-slim casing that’s also not quite as nondescript as the Nokia offering.
Also, carrying a supersized smartphone is only worth it to me if the software is fully capable of utilizing the added real-estate. While I remain convinced that Windows Phone is especially well-suited to larger displays in terms of its homescreen, Microsoft’s mobile OS still doesn’t offer the powerful multitasking features of its desktop counterpart. The end result is a software experience that at times feels stretched or otherwise inefficient.
Ultimately, the things I don’t miss about the mammoth 1520 continue to outnumber those I do miss, and so the device won’t be replacing my Lumia 1020 anytime soon. Still, Nokia’s largest Windows Phone phablet continues to fill an important role in the platform’s ecosystem – a role that’s likely to grow even more important once Microsoft brings some long-awaited enhancements to its mobile OS.
Want more in-depth analysis of Nokia’s most-beastly Windows Phone? Check out our full Lumia 1520 review, then see why wireless charging wasn’t mentioned in this Empty Nest piece (spoiler alert: tales of carrier meddling ahead).