REVIEW: Nokia Lumia 1520

The Nokia 1520 sports a number of key upgrades that bring it the Window's phone platform to parity with its Android competition. But does this phablet do enough to sway attention from its rivals?

Graph for REVIEW: Nokia Lumia 1520

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is Windows Phone's first foray into the world of phablets - a device that straddles the line between a smartphone and tablet.

It's a market that, until now, was strictly Android territory.

It is also the first Windows Phone to use a Full HD 1080P display and run on a quad-core processor, both of which have become standard fare on Android flagships for quite some time now.

Other than raising the Windows Phone platform to parity with the Android competition on the hardware front, the 6-inch smartphone also packs a 20-megapixel PureView camera with RAW image support.

There are also some software enhancements on board from both Microsoft and Nokia, but does the latest top of the line WP8 handset do enough to sway attention from its Android rivals?

Class leading display

The 1520 uses the unmistakable polycarbonate unibody design language that Nokia has been using on Lumia phones since its inception. The front of the device is covered entirely of Gorilla Glass 2 including the capacitive keys and other design traits such as the bevelled sides and rounded corners are all here, just on a much larger scale.

Those who thought that the Galaxy Note 3 was offensively big should steer well clear of the 1520. To put it in context, the 1520 is a whole centimetre taller and 6mm wider, falling somewhere between the Note 3's 5.7-inch display and Sony's gigantic 6.44-inch screen on the Xperia Z Ultra.

The increase in dimensions means that this is a two-handed only device and pushes the limits of what can be considered pocketable.   

The 6-inch 1080p IPS display is stunning, though, and outperformed the AMOLED panel on the Note 3, producing more accurate colours and a brighter overall display while maintaining a strong level of contrast. The phone’s automatic brightness feature was also surprisingly accurate. And unlike other phones, this feature also didn’t take too much of a toll on the device’s overall battery life.

The reason for the exceptional outdoor performance and accurate automatic brightness is due to Nokia's use of Apical's Assertive Display technology. The 1520 is the first handset to use the tech which goes beyond traditional backlight control and instead gets down to the individual pixel level, adjusting the colour and brightness of each pixel on screen for more accurate results. It's a fancy bit of tech that has clearly produced ahead of the curve results and we wouldn't be surprised to see Apical's technology implemented in other smartphones and tablets in the future.

Unfortunately, the display does not support stylus input which is a shame when you consider the size of the display and how well handwriting recognition worked on Microsoft's Surface tablets. In comparison, its nearest competitors the Galaxy Note 3 and Xperia Z Ultra all offer stylus support.

Good but not great camera

Another headline feature of the Lumia 1520 is the 20-megapixel camera.

As you would expect, it doesn't produce shots to the quality of Nokia's outstanding 41-megapixel camera from the Lumia 1020. It falls well short of the imaging performance of the 1020 and the low light performance couldn't quite match the iPhone 5s.

The 1520 opts for the smartphone convention of dual LEDs instead of the Xenon flash from the 1020 and as a result, up close subjects appear washed out.

Autofocus and the time the camera takes between shots is also quite slow especially when compared with the speedy performance of other smartphones such as the Note 3 and iPhone 5s. It also takes two to three seconds to launch the camera from standby, which is long enough to miss a moment.

That said, daylight shots look great and you do have full manual control over image settings such as exposure, ISO, shutter speed and white balance in addition to RAW image support for post editing flexibility.

The Lumia 1520 and the 1020 are the only smartphones on the market that offer the ability to save photos as lossless RAW files, with each shot taking up over 40MB of space. Thankfully, Nokia has included a microSD card slot for additional storage, something that was curiously absent from the Lumia 1020.

It's worth mentioning that the rich recording technology has been brought across from the Lumia 1020 and once again has produced great results.

Exceptional battery life

With such a large chassis to work with, Nokia was able to pack a massive 3400mAh battery inside. The result is a smartphone that - for the first time - got through a full two days of heavy use before we finally needed to reach for the charger. Expect to get well over two days under more moderate use which is unheard of in the smartphone world.

Unlike recent Lumia releases, wireless charging is built-in this time around, so you won't have to worry about adding more bulk with an additional back cover.

Great hardware without the software to match

This is the first time WP8 is being presented in a screen and resolution of this size so we were curious to see what new software features were on offer that took advantage of the extra screen real estate.  

Unfortunately, aside from an extra column of live tiles on the home screen, there's nothing else software-wise that really puts the display to good use. Even native apps haven't been enhanced in any way to better utilise the display. 

A classic example is the monthly view in the native Calendar application which aggregates all of the meeting and event related information from Outlook and Facebook.

The calendar fails to fill the entire screen and instead runs in cropped mode. As a result, the content in the monthly view of the calendar remains unreadable and requires a tap into the specific day to read clearly. This issue would have been avoided had the monthly view been optimised to fill the larger pixel dense display.

There's no ability to run two or more apps side-by-side in split-screen mode or even the ability to run multiple apps in windowed mode like what we are used to seeing on the Note 3 and Xperia Z Ultra.

Couple that with the complete lack of stylus support and you have a device that has very little productivity appeal especially when compared to the plus-sized Android competition.

Watching movies and playing games obviously looks great on the high quality 6-inch display but the Windows Phone platform is severely hindered when it comes to content selection. 

The number and quality of games available for the WP8 platform pales in comparsion to Android and iOS which continues to receive a healthy stream of new releases.

Similarly, QuickFlix is the only option available for legally watching HD movies on Windows Phone. Microsoft's very own XBOX Video service is limited to streaming movies in standard definition which again fails to utilse the potential of the 1520's display.

Other quirks of Windows Phone remain such as an undercooked notification system and lack of access to quick settings which require you to dive into the general settings for things like turning off/on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

You also won't find a universal search function for quickly finding files, contacts or apps.  Such a feature is present in iOS and Android and it's badly missed in Windows Phone 8.

Final thoughts

Nokia has made a great piece of hardware and it is undoubtedly the best Windows Phone handset to date. It's also a smartphone that makes a compelling case for anyone looking for the best battery life possible. 

Unfortunately, the value proposition becomes less favourable when you start to compare the device to its Android rivals. The Note 3 includes an array of built-in software features such as the ability to simultaneously multitask between apps and a stylus that enhances the experience especially for productivity related tasks.

The Lumia 1520 offers no such distinguishing features and also falls short as a content consumption device thanks to the smaller selection of apps available on the WP8 platform.

For these reasons, the best big-screen smartphone still resides on the Android camp. 

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