Nokia Lumia 520 quick review – a simple smartphone

This week, the Lumia 520 came into our acquisition. Announced a year ago at Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona, Spain, we thought we’d take this entry-level Windows Phone 8 phone for a spin. We share our thoughts below.

 

Unboxing and Contents

First up, we have the usual unboxing suspect. This is a bare minimum package, and as such, only comes with a pair of basic earphones (WH-108), charger (AC-20) with microUSB end (though not able to be detached as other USB chargers are, into their own USB cables) and quick start guide. And reflecting the price point, you can’t ask for much more really, as this is the cheapest of the cheap in the Nokia Lumia range.

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Display and Hardware

Here on the Lumia 520, we have a 4 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) LCD screen of 800 by 480 pixels, giving a pixel density of 235 pixels per inch. Legibility of text on the Lumia 520 is not of concern, due to the relatively high pixel count. However, the lack of ClearBlack Display technology proves problematic in sunlit conditions and everyday usage. Viewing angles also suffer due to the cheaper display used. Luckily, things such as proximity sensor, ambient light sensor and super sensitive touch are still on board, which helps make up in some way for the disappointing screen. Hardware-wise we have the standard fare of a dual-core 1GHz processor backed up with 512MB RAM, which due to the optimization of Windows Phone 8, does run quite smoothly. There have been some nitpickings with the amount of RAM, which some users have cried foul of, as a small percentage of the high profile games are only compatible with 1GB of RAM or higher. This has been addressed by the recent launch of a refreshed version of the 520, the Lumia 525, which comes with 1GB of RAM. Regardless, we believe that this is a non-issue due to the price point of this phone, as users won’t be looking for a serious gaming device at this price point anyway.

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Rounding out the rest of the specifications, we have no NFC on board, no front-facing camera, a 5 megapixel main camera with no flash and no Zeiss optics. What is gained though is a swappable back covers (also available in cyan, red, white and black) and expandable memory though microSD memory cards. This is a bare-bones Lumia smartphone, and it shows. We won’t go through the camera in this review, as we have had some issues with daylight and night output from various Lumia devices running the Lumia Amber update, so we may save this for another time.

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What We Liked

We have had about a week with the Nokia Lumia 520 now, and thoroughly enjoyed putting the device through its paces. What struck us on the first hands-on with the device was how it felt in the hand. Feeling solid in weight, and not having sharp angular edges (rather sloping ones), helped it feel quite nice. This was something definitely not expected nor anticipated for a device in this price range. We also loved how fluid the phone is with Windows Phone 8 and how the interface and operations are just as fast as other phones in the Lumia range. We can’t say that the lack of NFC was a deal-breaker. Gaming is also a solid experience, as we played both Temple Run and Rayman Jungle Run with no slowdown in the phone’s operation. And of course we do love the ability to pop in a microSD card and battery and get the show on the road. Call quality and loudspeaker performance was also very decent and clear. Wi-Fi performance was very, very strong, its great to see Nokia not skimping on the hardware in this department here. The fact that 720p and 1080p videos played with no stutter or lag proved yet another perk of this machine. And this is hands-down the easiest back cover I have removed ever on a Nokia Lumia device.

 

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What We Didn’t Like

This section is usually one that is open to interpretation by different sets of people. We here at NokiaJourneys.com do have a penchant for the higher-end devices, so it could be seen as a bit harsh as for what is to follow. The first gripe we have is the lack of backlighting for the Windows, back and search keys. This is handy no matter what phone you may be using in your life, and cannot understand its omission on the 520. Not only did it make operation some nights difficult, but also not very reassuring. Fortunately, haptic feedback is still present. The second hassle we had was the quality of the changeable shells, as the button contacts can be pressed out of the shell themselves. We had a problem where we tried taking a photo with the camera, but due to the looseness of the button contacts, the camera just kept taking photos in an endless loop. Not only does it feel flimsy, but the strong possibility of accidental keypresses. There is also no spring-lock mechanism for the microSD card, which makes removal of it very difficult. And also taking out the battery resets the date and time every time it occurs, in contrast to other Lumia devices. Also using a standard BL-5J that looks like it was from an older Nokia phone cheapens the look of the phone. Yet another grievance we had is the lack of an audio equaliser on the device, which made listening to music a less than memorable undertaking. Finally, a lack of flash on the camera itself, I am sure that it would not have cost that much more to include a simple LED flash unit, which would have gone some way to helping night / low-light indoor shots.

 

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Conclusion

In spite of the above, everything must be taken in consideration of the target market this device is aimed at. If this is your first smartphone, you will be very satisfied with the purchase. This applies if you have no need for Skype, are not big on camera abilities or the screen. Making calls, playing the odd game, watching the odd video and odd GPS use are all strong suits of the Lumia 520. And this device serves these purposes very well, especially in emerging markets and those not fussy about smartphone specifications and performance. The minute you look for anything deeper, you may be disappointed with the 520, and would be better tasked with something like the Lumia 620 or Lumia 720, as there are far less compromises in these handsets. We won’t lie, we were excited when we first received the Lumia 520, but a week on, and it has left us with a taste of disappointment. Don’t let our involvement with this Nokia Lumia smartphone deter you though. If you can live with the lack of feats in this smartphone, then go ahead and make a solid investment. For the rest of us, steer well clear and save a bit more money for a better smartphone.

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