Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: Nokia Lumia 1520

iPhones and Android phones might get the lion's share of attention, but we think Windows Phone is a pretty terrific platform in its own right. What happens when you marry Microsoft's mobile OS to an enormous 6-in phablet? You get the Nokia Lumia 1520, the first of its kind. Read on for our review.

The Lumia 1520 is actually the proud holder of several "firsts" for Windows Phone. It's, as we already mentioned, the first Windows Phone phablet. It was the first Windows Phone with a 1080p screen. It was also the first WP with Qualcomm's zippy Snapdragon 800 inside. And what it all adds up to is one of the first Windows Phones (along with Verizon's Lumia Icon) with specs that can go toe-to-toe with the biggest and best Android flagships.

Of course great specs don't necessarily make a great phone. But after spending plenty of quality time with the Lumia 1520, I'd say this is a case where the experience of using it lives up to those expectations.

We didn't have problems hoisting the gigantic phone, but don't expect it to disappear in y...

Before we get into that, though, there's the matter of size. The first question you want to ask yourself before throwing down for any phablet is whether you can live with a phone that's nearly as big as a small tablet. As far as phablets go, I think the Lumia 1520 feels pretty comfortable in hand. Unless you're Dikembe Mutombo, though, you'll probably need to use this puppy with two hands. Hold it with one, tap and swipe the screen with the other – much like you would with a tablet.

In your pocket, though, is a different story. The Lumia 1520 will make its presence felt there. I don't think it's a deal-breaker, but put an iPhone in your pocket, then swap it for this behemoth, and it will feel like a slab of bathroom tile tucked into your Levis.

The 1520 is pretty thin, at just 8.7 mm thick

If you've ever used any Nokia Lumia flagship, then the look and feel of the 1520 should be instantly familiar. It's the same colorful polycarbonate finish that we've been seeing in Nokia's Windows Phones for the last few years (this one is sold in yellow, red, white, and black models). I think the smooth, sloped edges and slick finish work well for such an enormous phone. Compare it with something like the HTC One Max, which is made of an angular and dense aluminum, and you'll see how the Lumia's plastic feels like a much better fit for a beast like this.

Then there's the display. We already know that the 6-in screen is big (it's actually 11 percent bigger than the Galaxy Note 3's already-oversized screen), but it's also gorgeous. Bright, colorful, and very sharp at 367 pixels per inch, it's one of the best displays I've used on any mobile device.

We think Windows Phone 8 is a gorgeous mobile OS, and the 1520 is the perfect phone to sho...

This screen would probably look terrific no matter what software it was running, but part of the appeal here is the marriage between the display and the Windows Phone UI. Say what you will about Microsoft's mobile OS, but I think it's the best-looking of all the mobile platforms. The live tiles, Segoe WP font, and fluid transition animations combine with those two million pixels for some serious eye candy. Now of course this is all highly subjective, but I think these first 1080p Windows Phones (it's again joined by the Lumia Icon) look nothing short of stunning.

There is, unfortunately, a downside to running Windows Phone 8. As much as I love what Microsoft has been doing with the platform, its app selection isn't on par with the iOS App Store and Android's Google Play. It's a younger ecosystem, so have no fear: it's going to keep growing. But right now your money just isn't buying you the same kind of app library as it does when you throw down for an iPhone, Galaxy, Nexus, or any other Android handset.

The Lumia 1520 has an excellent 20-megapixel camera

If you can work with the limited app library, though, this beast of a phone has a few more perks. One of the biggest is its camera. Its 20-megapixel PureView shooter takes outstanding shots, some of the best you can get out of a smartphone.

The camera actually takes two pictures with each snap of the shutter: a smaller 5 MP shot for quick sharing, as well as a high-res 16 MP image that you can only access by plugging it into a PC.
Megapixels get blown out of proportion in camera coverage, but the high-res shots do have their perks. Like when a roadrunner scurries across your fence:

... some perspective on just how much we cropped this shot to frame the roadrunner

I was able to zoom in and snap that shot before the little bugger ran away (fleeing from a coyote on a rocket-powered skateboard, no doubt). But I took the shot from so far back that you can barely see the little guy. And on most other smartphones, cropping it down would have made for a very blurry bird. But the Lumia's 16 MP image makes such an extreme crop actually look pretty good:

This is a crop of a very small section of a shot, but the Lumia's 15 MP original makes it ...

Megapixels do often get blown out of proportion when discussing cameras, but this is one case where a higher-resolution sensor came in pretty handy.

The Lumia's battery life is outstanding

Battery life is yet another big plus for the Lumia 1520. I've never come anywhere close to running out of juice by the end of a day, even with fairly heavy usage. And in our more formal test, where I streamed video over Wi-Fi with brightness on "Medium" (which is still pretty bright), it lasted an impressive seven hours and 43 minutes. No worries whatsoever in that department.

The 1520's 6-in 1080p IPS display is nothing short of stunning

If you're on the hunt for a phablet, then the Lumia 1520 is a terrific option. You just have to go into it knowing that Windows Phone's app selection isn't the greatest, and that there's no stylus like you'll find in the Galaxy Note 3. Otherwise you get a big and beautiful display, a top-notch camera, fast and fluid performance, and all-day battery life. Throw in bundled Microsoft Office and a smooth polycarbonate chassis, and you have a gorgeous powerhouse of a phone that might make you very happy.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is highly recommended for anyone looking for a high-end phablet – who can also live with a somewhat lacking app selection. It's available now starting at US$550 off-contract (in the US it's exclusive to AT&T). 

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