Nokia has just taken a small step in the world of smartphones, but one giant leap for Windows Phone popularity. The Nokia Lumia 1520 is the first time a quad-core processor has sat inside a Nokia phone, here in the form of the Snapgragon 800 alongside 2GB of RAM.
But elsewhere "giant leap" is a phrase that can be taken literally too: the 1520 pushes the Windows Phone 8 mould into phablet territory thanks to its 6-inch display. With a bigger and better screen than other Lumia devices of late, more power than before, the enhanced Nokia Camera Pro functionality coupled with a 20-megapixel camera with optical stabilisation, is it the best Windows Phone ever made?
The Lumia 1520 isn't small, but it's a phablet so you already knew that. As Nokia’s popularity and ambition has grown with Windows Phone, so too has its Lumia devices and, now its physical scale. But even compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 the 1520 is large.
But, as you’d expect from Nokia, the build quality is fantastic. From the grippy matte finish, to the pop-action on the SIM and microSD trays, every detail feels designed to perfection. Even the 1520's buttons have been upgraded to sit almost flush with the handset - one of those improvements that you only realise you needed only once it was added. We often pulled the Lumia 1020 out of a pocket to find it lit up because of its more protruding buttons, for example, and that hasn’t happened once with the 1520.
The weight and thickness of the Lumia 1520 are perfect. We don’t say this often but it feels exactly right with ideally weighted balance in the hand and enough heft to feel sturdy while still being light enough to read when comfortably above your face in bed. And reading is this phone’s strong suit as it’s found a perfect size balance between tablet and phone if, that is, the phablet scale suits you - it won't be for everyone.
For sound the 1520 has a speaker that sits at the bottom of the back of the handset. You know when you want to improve a phone’s speaker and you cup your hand around it? Placing the speaker where Nokia has means you do that naturally just by holding the phone. Not that you’ll need to much - this thing kicks out some serious speaker volume as it is.
You'll spend most of your time using the device with two hands, given its size, but if you need to make a call then that's no problem. There's no denying the 1520's physical size - it measures 162.8 x 85.4 x 8.7mm - so it's a big slab against the ear, but we found no issues with call quality. Everything sounded as clean as a whistle.
With the Lumia 1520 you're immediately hit by how much clearer this larger 6-inch screen is than any Lumia that’s come before. It's not just the size, either, this 1920 x 1080 pixel panel IPS display is the first Full HD display to make it into a Lumia phone.
The Windows tiles - of which there are now three regular sized ones on each row rather than two - are well defined, perfectly lit and brightly coloured. The Lumia ClearBlack screen - a technology designed to reduce reflections on the screen - really works too, paired with this scale the 1520 shows off great definition in photos and on videos even when outside. Although, being the dull autumn that's so typical of the UK in November, we've not had Caribbean-strength rays to contend with.
It also makes reading text easier than other screens as there’s absolutely no bleed from the light. The High Brightness Mode is helpful for reading web pages or books when out in daylight - although it does chew up battery a bit faster, as is to be expected.
To test the screen we watched a 1080p movie trailer. Thor: The Dark World. While the end result was clear, well balanced in colour terms, getting there was tough. We tried to load a MOV file via SkyDrive to no avail, so then tried a third-party Dropbox app and obtained the file but the 1520 wouldn't play it. Off to the Apple trailers website and still no luck. YouTube and Netflix didn’t stream at Full HD despite being set to HQ and on a great Wi-Fi connection - it was okay, but not taking advantage of how good this Lumia's screen can be by a long shot. Finally we found a phone-specific trailer website and finally got to see Thor smashing things with his hammer. Smashing. But not an ideal process.
The Nokia Lumia 1520 is a powerhouse. The Finnish company has added a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM, as we touched upon in our intro. It's so fast we have very little to say on the subject. Whether gaming, multitasking, loading videos or opening large apps it handles everything near instantaneously. The only time we found ourselves waiting was for that pesky Spotify app which still feels a bit glitchy - but that's an inherent app issue, not the fault of the handset.
The point here, really, is that Windows Phone is now on par with the competition in power terms. You don't need to worry about power any more, as no matter how fast you go it will keep up with you.
The difference is down to the available apps. Windows Phone might not host apps such as Real Racing 3 or Dead Trigger 2 - yet, at least - but there's nothing to say that such titles won't appear one day - but there are some more power-hungry ones such as Asphalt 8. A Microsoft platform with Xbox branding, but not quite the champion in the gaming department in our view.
Apps has always been "one of those things" for Windows Phone. But for all our needs this seems to be reaching a point where there’s either an official app or something made by a third party that does the job. These are the apps we almost immediately downloaded to cover the basics: Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Spotify, Skype, IMDB, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Shazam, TuneIn Radio, London Travel, and Kindle. With over 170,000 apps in the Windows Phone Store at the time of writing Microsoft is certainly picking up pace.
It's not without some glitches though. The build of the Lumia 1520 we have comes with Nokia Black OS and with that the BBC iPlayer app doesn’t work for us. We’re enquiring about this with Nokia to find out when the working version is due - we'd hope it will be rectified for on-the-shelf launch.
Elsewhere there's Zinio, the resource for digital magazine and book editions, which comes pre-installed on the phone and is easy to use. Simply select the subject areas you like, Science and Tech for example, and then swipe through your news feed for interesting reads all led by big, clear images.
Nokia Lumia Black OS
For this review we're running Windows Phone on version 8.0.10517.150, better known as Nokia Lumia Black OS. It's unlikely to be the final build that goes out to the public in 2014, but it brings with it a host of additional features and functionality which we'll break down over various individual apps in more detail later. While Black is Lumia-specific, it will also contain some WP8 features that will be found in non-Nokia devices too.
As a general overview, Black changes multi-tasking - rather than swiping to get rid of a window you instead just tap the cross in the corner. It’s a tiny change that saves a fraction of a second between a swipe and a tap. But when you’re clearing a bunch of apps you do appreciate that Microsoft has given the new OS this much thought. That's the Microsoft effect.
Screen Beamer is an included app that we think is really underrated. It allows you to share whatever your mobile’s screen shows with another device. We simply logged on to the website where a QR code appeared, which we scanned with the 1520's camera and then every time we shook the phone it sent the updated image to the other screen instantly. Then if you select auto update you can use your phone and whatever is on the screen will come through to the other screen near instantly.
We were surprised to find ourselves using Nokia Music. Despite usually using Spotify it was nice to listen to the free radio mixes and even download them for later, without paying anything for the pleasure. We were even considering letting the Spotify subscription lapse. But then the inability to listen to entire albums without paying was too much for us to give up. A great alternative to the radio but no Spotify as it stands.
Despite Android and now even Apple offering pull up or pull down menus for quick access to functions, Microsoft still hasn’t introduced it. So every time you want to turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS on or off you have to go into settings, then the specific one to access it. This gets old fast.