Before you get out the pitchforks, we should clear up one little detail about the title of this review: the Lumia 1520 is by no means a bad smartphone. At least, not in the traditional sense.
Nokia’s latest high-end Lumia is packed with top-shelf specs, as well as a processor and screen combination never before seen on a Windows Phone. In that sense, the Lumia 1520 is “bad” – meaning 1980s-slang bad. Shaft bad. Bad Meaning Good. Dig?
But in exchange for this unprecedented bad-ness, the 1520 demands a lot of pocket space. With a six-inch display and 206 grams of heft, this phone is big. Really big, even compared to its so-called “phablet” contemporaries – and it packs an operating system never before seen on such a scale.
Those standout features mean the 1520’s been getting more than its fair share of press since its announcement at Nokia World a few months back. But is this first-ever Windows Phone phablet bad enough to justify its big? Read on to find out.
Also, when it comes to the OS, size continues to matter. As regular readers will know, we dogged other plus-size smartphones for not doing enough to intelligently utilize their large screens, and the 1520 deserves the same rebuke. The start screen is really the only place Windows Phone takes advantage of this phone’s hulking dimensions: while the card-based task switcher is as nice as ever, there’s no split-pane simul-tasking, nor even a “windowed” multitasking approach to work with more than one app at a time. We’re hopeful the forthcoming Threshold updates, or perhaps something closer to the horizon, will address this. Until then, you’d better be happy doing one thing at a time on that huge canvas.
It’s not all bad. Windows Phone’s tile-based UI is still as sharp and as “metro” as ever – and the 1520’s larger, higher-resolution display allows it to spread out to a much greater degree here. With a screen like this, Microsoft can finally deliver on the “glanceability” promise of the Modern UI. Instead of scrolling around to find the tile you’re looking for, the 1520 has enough room to display everything, all at once. As we predicted in an editorial a few weeks back, it’s very convenient to have so much canvas to work with right on the front page. And even though you’re confined to running them one at a time, applications like Skype, Netflix, Amazon Kindle, and the Microsoft Office suite benefit greatly from all that real estate.
Wrapping up the software offering, Nokia’s traditional enhancements are all here, from the huge suite of custom apps to everyday usability enhancements like the double-tap-to-unlock gesture and the Glance screen. And thanks to that Snapdragon 800 and Windows Phone’s inherent stability and fluidity, all of it runs like (wait for it) butter. The 1520 may be a bit single-minded, but it’s also a big ball of buttery badness.
It should come as no surprise that this large smartphone packs a commensurately large camera. While Nokia didn’t go balls-to-the-wall (no, it’s not a dirty expression; go look it up) as it did with the 1020, the Lumia 1520 still packs a sizable shooter around back.
The 20MP PureView module is optically-stabilized, with six-element Carl Zeiss optics and a 1/2.5 inch sensor with an aperture rating of f/2.4, mated to a dual-LED flash off to the side. Yes, you can shoot in full resolution if you want (even in RAW .dng format for you pros out there), but just as with the Lumia 1020, Nokia’s automatic oversampling produces far more manageable 5MP shots. Lossless digital zoom is here as well, offering up to 2x magnification for photos.
It’s all controlled by the new Nokia Camera app, a new title combining all the best features of Nokia Smart Camera and Nokia Pro Camera. In addition to the familiar sliders allowing manual control of everything from shutter speed to focus, a handful of automatic modes are now available alongside the various motion and color filters we expounded upon this past summer. Adam Lein’s tips on how to take amazing photos with the Lumia 1020 continue to work well on the 1520, and Nokia has added a new Storyteller application to better organize your stills, assuming you geotag your photos.
In all, the camera is solid – not quite as consistent as the 1020’s, but still more than a match for most competing shooters. Results are especially nice outdoors, with crisp lines and authentic colors (if sometimes a touch on the saturated side, in keeping with Nokia’s standard practice). Sometimes indoor results are just as good, but other times more noise creeps into the image than we’d like, and the automatic white balance isn’t always consistent.
That holds true in 1080p camcorder output as well, as can be seen in the video review at the beginning of this article. While there’s quite a bit of fuzz in the challenging lighting situation on an Amtrak train, the camera produces beautiful crisp colors and nice sound in the outdoor video shot from a ferryboat – even with a face full of sun and wind. You’ll need to put some effort into keeping a steady hand, though; despite the OIS, the 1520’s huge size makes it a pretty ungainly camera.
In the US, the Lumia 1520 is available from AT&T in red (glossy) or black, white, or yellow (matte). While its full retail price is $584.99, the carrier is offering the device for $199.99 on a two-year contract. The 1520 can also be found with similar pricing at Microsoft Stores or at the Windows Phone site, or in other regional variants directly from Nokia.
At the end of the day, the Lumia 1520 is a monster – but it’s a friendly, lovable one. It doesn’t do all it can to leverage its massive screen, and many folks are bound to find it just too big for their pockets. For all the bluster their size and specifications inspire, devices of this type are perhaps forever destined to fill only a small niche demand.
But the out-of-control inflation of smartphone size is not Nokia’s fault, nor is the company’s understandable desire to get some skin in the phablet game. In a world where gargantuan mobiles seem here to stay (for the moment) the 1520 gets a lot right. It offers the best specs of any Windows Phone to date and a camera that can lay waste to most any other smartphone shooter – and it keeps the compromise to a minimum when it comes to the fundamentals. Cumbersome chassis aside, the Lumia 1520 is one bad mother … and we can dig it.