The supersizing trend has finally hit Finland. Nokia is going large with the Lumia 1520, a Windows Phone 8 device sporting a massive 6-inch 1080p display. But that's not the only big thing about this phone. The handset features a 20-megapixel camera and the same oversampling technology used in the Lumia 1020. The 1520 also has a powerful Snapdragon 800 processor, LTE speeds on AT&T's network, and an all-day 3,400 mAh battery. If you're looking for a cross between a phone and tablet, this big-screen device offers a lot of value.
This is one big phone. With the Lumia 1520, Nokia has followed the lead of pretty much every other handset maker in creating something that's too big to be held comfortably in one hand, yet too small to be considered a tablet.
With a polycarbonate back that wraps around the sides and front of the phone, the Lumia 1520 looks like a supersized version of the Lumia 925. Unlike the Lumia 1020, which has a flat top and bottom edges, every side of the 1520 is curved, making it more comfortable to grip (with two hands) in either portrait or landscape mode. The Lumia 1520 is available in matte black, glossy red, matte white, and matte yellow. We suspect that the matte finishes, like our white review unit, will do a better job at repelling fingerprints.
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Aesthetically, the Lumia 1520's polycarbonate shell falls in between the somewhat cheap feel of the Galaxy Mega's plastic back, and the aluminum body of the HTC One Max. The back of the Lumia 1520 has a 20-MP camera, which doesn't protrude nearly as much as the camera on the 1020. Next to the thens is a small dual LED flash.
Measuring 6.4 x 3.36 x 0.34 inches and weighing 7.26 ounces, the Lumia 1520 has a smaller footprint but is heavier and thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Mega (6.6 x 3.46 x 0.31 inches, 7.1 ounces). The HTC One Max is narrower than both, but thicker and heavier at 6.5 x 3.24 x 0.4 inches and 7.6 ounces.
The top of the Lumia 1520 has a 3.5mm headphone jack; the right side has volume, power, and a camera shutter button, the bottom has a microUSB port; and the left side has two slots for nanoSIM and microSD cards, both of which can be popped open using a small paperclip-like tool.
The 6-inch display on the Lumia 1520 isn't the largest on a smartphone--the Samsung Galaxy Mega is 6.3 inches--but it's one of the best in its size. Unlike the Mega, which has a resolution of 1280 x 720, the Lumia 1520's display is a full HD (1920 x 1080) panel. The HTC One Max, which has a slightly smaller 5.9-inch screen, also sports a 1080p resolution.
While watching the trailer for "Thor: The Dark World" on the Lumia 1520, the eponymous hero's cape was a deep crimson red. When comparing the same photo of a wheat field alongside the Mega and the Max, we found it to be a pretty close match. All three exhibited a high level of detail and great colors. The yellows on the 1520's screen were the deepest, though not by much.
Despite the Lumia 1520's ClearBlack IPS display, it was hard to see the screen outdoors on a sunny day if it was tilted away from us. As soon as it was off-angle, the panel looked dimmer, and reflections took over. The Mega and Max offered slightly better viewing angles under the same conditions.The 1520's average brightness of 328 lux, however, was below the category average of 399 lux, and nearly 100 lux less than the Mega (427 lux)
The extra space on the 1520 really makes a difference. Side by side with the Lumia 1020's 4.5-inch screen, the 1520 has room for a third row of Live Tiles on its home screen; you could have as many as 60 mini tiles, more than twice what you could fit on the 1020's screen.
Although it has only one speaker--on the bottom back--the Lumia 1520 can cranked out tunes fairly loudly. Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" easily filled a small room, and the techno beats sounded pretty good. The song was slightly on the tinny side--bass was pretty nonexistent--but overall the audio was better than average.
The Lumia 1520 uses the same keyboard as on every Windows Phone: Gray keys with white lettering over a black background. Given the size of the phone, typing was an easy affair, but there's no haptic feedback or trace-typing option. The keyboard also takes up more than half the display in landscape mode, which feels a bit like a waste of space.
Powered by a 2.2-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, the Lumia 1520 is one smooth performer. Swiping between screens, closing apps, and rotating the screen was fast and fluid. Apps, such as the Camera and Here Maps, opened within two seconds.
"Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles" played fairly smoothly on the 1520; we could move Altair effortlessly, but noticed that the graphics weren't as crisp as games on other platforms, and background animations were slightly jaggy. "Halo: Spartan Assault" also played smoothly on the Lumia 1520 as we ran Master Chief through a gauntlet of aliens.
On WP Bench, the Lumia 1520's score of 468.16 was more than twice the average of 219, not to mention other Windows Phone devices such as the Lumia 1020 (224) and Lumia 925 (also 224).
The Lumia 1520 runs Windows Phone 8, which was late to the smartphone party, but has some innovations we wish Apple and Google would steal. We really like the Live Tile interface, which not only is fully customizable, but refreshes with updates from social networks, news sites, etc.
The lock screen shows, via small icons at the bottom of the screen, any missed calls or messages; unfortunately, you can't swipe the lock screen to open to a particular app.
From the home screen, swipe to the left to show a list of all your installed apps; we wish there was an alternate view, as scrolling alphabetically through all the apps to get to Settings becomes tedious. Fortunately, as you amass more apps, it's easy to skip to the letter you want.
While Windows Phone 8 introduced multitasking of a sort--press and hold on the Back button, and you can see all the open apps in a thumbnail display--a new tweak makes it much easier to actually close those apps. Before, you had to open each app individually, then press the Back button until it closed. Now, a small "X" appears in the upper right corner of each thumbnail.
In some ways, Windows Phone 8 is more family-friendly than Android and iOS. The Kids Corner mode allows parents to approve apps for their children to use, and a Family Room feature lets you share calendars and chat with other family members.
Still, there are a few things we wish Microsoft would change. For one, the connection status icons for LTE, Wi-Fi, and the battery level disappear from the top of the screen after a few moments. Why not leave them there permanently? Also, there's no quick settings menu to, say, enter Airplane mode. You must dig through the control panel first.
Nokia has its own section in the App store, called Nokia collection, which includes Nokia's own exclusive apps, as well as ones curated by the company. Unfortunately, some, such as Smart Shoot, won't work on the 1520, because it doesn't support the phone's screen resolution.
In addition, Nokia pre-installs a large number of its own apps, many of which are fairly useful. One of the newest options is Nokia Storyteller, which organizes your photos and videos by day, and places them on a map, so you can retrace your steps throughout the day. You can also zoom out on the map to see where you took photos from other days.
Much like Spotify, Slacker, and Pandora, Nokia Music lets you stream audio, make stations and create offline mixes of your favorite tunes. A Gigs tab also shows where and when artists are playing near you. Here Drive+ and Here Maps show you points of interest as you move the 1520 in space, provide turn-by-turn navigation, offline maps, traffic, and real-time information about your commute.
Other preinstalled apps include App Social (good app discovery); Bing FInance, Bing News, Bing Sports, and Bing Weather. Hulu Plus is included, but even if you want to try the 7-day free trial, you have to enter a credit card number. No thanks.
The Windows App store remains a work in progress. While it has some of the more popular apps, such as YouTube, Pandora, Facebook and Vine, it's still missing many, such as Instagram and Flipboard. (Instagram should be arriving in December, and Flipboard should be coming soon.) Others, such as Snapchat and Minecraft, are still not available, and the "Angry Birds" games cost $0.99, many of which have been free on Android and iOS for several years now.
AT&T seems to be trying to personally make up the deficit in the Windows App store. Included on the 1520 are AT&T Address Book, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Locker, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Radio, Mobile TV, and myAT&T. Most, such as AT&T Navigator, feel redundant.
While it doesn't have the 41-megapixel sensor of the Lumia 1020, the Lumia 1520 does have a 20-MP camera with the same PureView technology used in its smaller, more photo-centric brother.
Like the 1020, the photos we took with the 1520 were among the best we've seen from a smartphone. Everything we shot, from a collection of pumpkins and gourds to a cityscape of lower Manhattan, exhibited rich, saturated colors and sharp, well defined features.
Not surprisingly, the 1520 exhibited some of the same tendencies we saw on the 1020. Most notably, photos tended to have a colder look than on other phones' cameras. As a result, whites had a bluish tint.
While you can shoot in full auto mode, photographers looking to have as much control over their images as with a DSLR will appreciate the plethora of manual controls in the Nokia Camera app, the same as used on the 1020. You can set white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. We wish you could adjust the intensity of the flash, too. Within the camera app, you can set the 1520 to take only 5MP JPEGs, 5MP and 16MP JPEGs, or 5MP JPEGs and 16MP RAW files.
The dual LED flash on the 1520 performed well, brightly illuminating a statue at night. However, it wasn't as refined as that on the 1020's xenon flash, which was able to illuminate more of the background.
A 1080p video shot with the 1520's camera also exhibited good details and colors. The phone's mic accurately picked up the sounds of helicopters flying up and down the Hudson river.
The Lumia's front-facing camera took stills that were acceptable for video chats, but not much more. A photo we took of ourselves with indoor lighting had a slightly greenish tint, and we couldn't make out finer details, such as individual stands of hair.
Over AT&T's network in central New Jersey with two bars of service, we saw good, but not great throughput on the Lumia 1520. Using the Speedtest.net app, the phone averaged 6.04 Mbps downloads and 3.3 Mbps upload speeds. The mobile site for the New York Times loaded in 3.5 seconds, ESPN.com mobile took 4.5 seconds, and Laptopmag.com was readable in 8 seconds.
The 3,400 mAh battery in the Lumia 1520 lasted an epic 11 hours and 28 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via LTE with the screen brightness at Medium). That's the best we've ever seen from an AT&T smartphone. The 1520 lasted more than four hours longer than the Samsung Galaxy Mega, whose 3,200 mAh battery lasted 7:03. We expect the HTC One Max, which has a 3,300 mAh battery, to fall somewhere in between the two. The Lumia even beat the LG G2, which has a 3,000 mAh battery, by about 45 minutes.
As of this writing, the $99 Lumia 1520 is about $25 more expensive than the Galaxy Mega, but the small premium is more than worth it. For less than $100, you're getting a massive 6-inch 1080p display, a superb camera, LTE speeds, and more than 11 hours of battery life. So long as you're comfortable with its very large size and hefty weight--and the smaller app selection for Windows Phone 8 devices--the Nokia Lumia 1520 is one fabulous phablet for the price.