At some point smartphone buyers decided that having a smartphone with a screen larger than the iPhone wasn’t enough. They wanted larger smartphones, with bigger and better looking displays. They wanted to watch video on the go, read books and see an entire webpage. For Windows Phones users in the United States, there’s only so much game in town. In fact, Microsoft’s Lumia 1520 is the only Windows Phone that fits the build and is available on a contract.
Launched exclusively on AT&T last year, the Lumia 1520 has makings of a Samsung Galaxy Note competitor. It is still being held up as the best Windows Phone you can buy. Is that true though? Does the Lumia 1520 still have enough horse power? Have updates to Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system made it even more relevant than it was at launch? Let’s answer those questions.
Lumia 1520 Review – Hardware & Design
Almost every smartphone made by Nokia is an art piece; a mesh of metal sharp angles, and polycarbonate plastic. The Lumia 1520 is no different.
A 6-inch high-definition display that’s encased in a glass face dominates the front of the Lumia 1520. Three Windows Phone navigation buttons, a microphone, earpiece and front-facing camera, flank the display. They don’t attract attention, keeping the focus all on the massive display.
Along the rim of the glass is a polycarbonate shell with a ridge that runs between the two.
A gently sloped edge holds all of the Lumia 1520’s necessary buttons and ports. On the left is a microSD card slot and where carriers add SIM cards encoded with account details. The right edge of the device holds a camera button and volume buttons. The power button on the Lumia 1520 sits lower so that it’s easier to access. Each of these buttons are plastic and almost flush. They don’t feel premium, but they got that job done. Along the bottom edge is the microUSB that’s used to charge the device. Up top is the only other port on the Lumia 1520, a headset jack.
The Lumia 1520 features a 20 megapixel rear-facing Lumia PureView camera for photo taking and video recording. Dual flash and optical image stabilization are included. A series of rear facing microphones ensure that decent high-quality audio is recorded with every video.
Big phones are awkward. I don’t think Nokia did a lot with the Lumia 1520 to make it less so here. From top to bottom the Lumia 1520 is 6.4-inches. The left and right edges are tapered and comfortable. The polycarbonate plastic feels great to the touch. It’s the edges of the Lumia 1520 that I worry about. The positioning of the power button and volumes both indicate that Nokia thought a lot about how people would use the Lumia 1520 with a single hand. Size isn’t the biggest problem with this design, but those sharp edges are. The Lumia 1520 four corners jut out at a sharp angle and dig into your palms. They throw off a pretty comfortable design.
The Lumia 1520 is a beast of a phone and that reflects in its weight. It weighs 29 grams and you feel every bit of that 29 grams in your pocket as you move throughout the day with the phone shifting in your pocket.
Lumia 1520 Review – Display & Internals
Tablets are getting bigger and more powerful. High-end smartphones are pretty much turning into tablets. The Lumia 1520 has the raw materials to pull off this transformation. The Lumia 1520 was Nokia’s first phablet – what we call smartphones that really are large enough to be a tablet.
It has 2GB of RAM for running apps and games. That memory backs up a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor that was top-notch last year. It’s been supplanted by new and slightly faster processors, but it’s still capable and the best you’ll find on any Windows Phone. Built in is 32GB of storage. Again, users can add more with a built-in SD card slot. NFC or Near Field Communication support. Wi-Fi AC, the latest wireless standard for internet browsing, is supported by the Lumia 1520 for those with a matching wireless access point. Even if you don’t, it still works with older standards. In the United States, the Lumia 1520 is only sold with a contract by AT&T Wireless. AT&T and other carriers have made a big deal out of how large their high-speed 4G networks are. The Lumia 4G supports these wireless networks.
The highlight of the Lumia 1520 is its display. By now, there are a lot of people used to AMOLED displays with saturated colors and deep blacks. The Lumia 1520 has an IPS display that’s covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 2. It has a native resolution of 1080p. I’m one of those people already spoiled by AMOLED displays. Early on I thought the IPS display on the Lumia 1520 wouldn’t be as good as what I’d been regularly using. I was wrong.
In sunlight, the Lumia 1520’s display is clearly visible. At an angle you can still read text on its display. Colors didn’t necessarily pop enough for me until I used the built-in color profile manager to change color temperature to my liking. Touch response is fantastic and lends itself well to the Windows Phone interface. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is still the best display you can find on a any phone these days. Pictures, text and video look great, just prefer my blacks deeper.
Surprisingly, even with that display you won’t find yourself charging a lot. The Lumia 1520 lasted three days with normal use and a day and a half on demanding excursions.
Lumia 1520 Review – Camera & Extras
Unsurprisingly, the Lumia 1520’s rear-facing camera is just as good as its display. The 20 megapixel sensor takes great photos, which isn’t shocking given the Lumia 1520’s pedigree. Its direct predecessor on AT&T, the Lumia 1020, had a 40 megapixel camera that took amazing photos.
In my experience the Lumia 1520 sensor almost always hits the right notes. In bright light it nails every photograph. Textures are detailed, colors are realistic. Dual flash is also used to help the Lumia 1520 focus on objects both far and near and snap photos in the dark.
That simple camera button on the right edge of the Lumia 1520 holds everything together. It acts as a shutter button when you’re in the excellent and adjustable Lumia Camera experience. What makes it amazing though is its use outside of the experience. The Lumia 1520’s extremely robust processor and RAM help it launch the camera from anywhere in seconds. It processes them quickly too, so quickly that it puts older Windows Phones – including the technically superior Lumia 1020 – to shame. Having been a Windows Phone user before, this had me immediately thinking about switching back.
As a camera, the Lumia 1520 absolutely excels.
Lumia 1520 Review – Software
Last year’s Lumia 1520 shipped with a big flaw: Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system. Don’t misunderstand. Windows Phone 8 was great. It was also flawed, software features that users expect from modern smartphones were missing. Microsoft hadn’t significantly updated Windows Phone the entire year.
This year, the Windows Phone 8 is no longer a liability. Windows Phone 8.1 arrived earlier this year with all the trinkets and extras users expect from a smartphone that they’re signing a two-year contract to get. Run out of space and Windows Phone 8.1 lets you install apps to an SD Card slot. You can personalize the Lumia 1520 with a background picture, sort your Live Tiles into folders, play audio in Internet Explorer even with the screen lock on. There’s even a gesture keyboard. Passwords, browsing history, tabs and some settings simply sync over from notebooks, tablets and desktops running Windows 8.1. A new Action Center lets users change settings and check for updates without even scrolling through Live Tiles.
By far, the best addition is Cortana, a voice and text personal assistant. She can take notes and set reminders based on location. The Lumia 1520 happens to be one of the few Windows Phones that are powerful enough to have Cortana always listening for commands too.
Windows Phone 8.1 doesn’t lack apps so much as the ones that are there feel neglected. That’s progress, I’d say. You’ll still miss some apps if you make the switch, but has gotten better and it should improve even more when Microsoft rolls out its Windows 10 update to phones in the near year.
Lumia 1520 Review – Specifications
6-inch 1080p IPS LCD display
Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM
MicroSD card slot
25 hours of talk time, 32 days of standby time
24 megapixel rear-facing camera with dual-flash, 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera
Windows Phone 8.1 with Lumia Cyan
Weighs 206 grams, 182.8 mm x 85.4 mm x 8.7 mm
Lumia 1520 Review – Conclusion
The Lumia 1520 is gigantic. It’s hard corners don’t lend themselves to one-handed use. That’s the extent of criticisms I have for the Lumia 1520 in 2014. Everything else about it hits the right note.
Windows Phone 8.1 on the Lumia 1520 is fluid and fast. The RAM and processor are good enough to support the most demanding Windows Phone apps and games for years. The 6-inch display is amazing. Nokia’s camera experience hits all the right notes. If you’re comfortable with its girth — and that’s a big if — I’d definitely recommend the Lumia 1520. It’s the best Windows Phone there is, even in 2015.