Nokia Lumia 520 Review: A decent phone that just works

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I’m going to say this right here, right now. I love the Nokia Lumia 520.

It may come as a shock to many, because the Lumia 520 is Nokia’s super-cheap entry-level smartphone with a price tag of under $200. However, it does something that other entry-level smartphones lack – Nokia has made a decent smartphone that just works.

Entry-level smartphones tend to vary in quality – a lot of them are, or lean towards being horrible. The Lumia 520 is on the other side of that spectrum, but it’s not without some faults. The battery life isn’t the best, and the camera is pretty average for a budget smartphone.

But with everything Windows Phone 8 has to offer in one cheap package, who could say no to that?

(Well, unless you are an Apple/Android/BlackBerry/WebOS fanboy)

Design and Hardware

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The Lumia 520’s design is very simple – something that we have come to know (and love) with the Lumia line of smartphones. The phone is more rectangular with some slight curves on the sides; and has no distracting features that take your attention away from the screen. The build quality is brilliant, especially considering its price point.

The phone has a removable back cover, giving you access to the battery (it is removable), microSD and microSIM card slots. It has an added benefit of providing an easy way to change the colour of the phone to satisfy your current mood – for instance, you suddenly change your mind and want a blue phone instead of red. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single colour; it can be any pattern you want since Nokia has partnered with Makerbot to let you make your own cases as well. All you need is to find a 3D printer somewhere.

Hardware-wise, Nokia has pretty much stuck to the bare essentials in a smartphone. The phone has a 4-inch display with a resolution of 800×480, a 5-megapixel rear camera, a 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 512MB of RAM and 8GB of memory. As mentioned previously, it does have a microSD card slot so you can expand on the storage.

The screen is pretty good for a phone in this price range, though not the best (remember, it’s cheap). The colours are bright and sharp, and it won’t disappoint. It also has the added feature – like the other Lumia phones – to recognise your touch gestures while wearing gloves or with your fingernails.

However, the phone doesn’t include the bell-and-whistles that the other Lumia phones have. It doesn’t include wireless charging, NFC or 4G connectivity. It doesn’t even include a front-facing camera, so if you plan on using apps like Skype, then you won’t be able to communicate through video chat; or Gorilla Glass screen protection. These features were likely removed in order to keep the cost down. We should remind ourselves while this phone is being sold in Australia; this phone has largely been designed to target the emerging markets – many of which don’t have NFC or 4G.

Windows Phone 8

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The main reason to get this phone is simply the fact that you get everything from Nokia and Windows Phone. It has Nokia’s Music and HERE mapping services (which include turn-by-turn navigations via HERE Drive); in addition to its camera add-ons such as Cinemagraph, Smart Shoot, and Panorama. However, you will not get Nokia’s City Lens app – though no one will be missing that.

Windows Phone 8 runs pretty smoothly on the device, despite having lower specs than its flagship Lumia 920. There were no instances where the device had issues loading animations, zooming into photos, and going through pages on Internet Explorer. The Lumia 520 runs the latest version of Windows Phone 8, and you will get any system updates from Nokia/Microsoft – unlike some Android entry-level smartphones.

It does mean that you get access to thousands of apps from the Windows Store; and while it is still tiny compared to Google Play and the Apple App Store, it does have some pretty decent apps made by the company themselves or a third-party. It still needs some improvement because not many apps from Google Play or the iOS App Store do not have a Windows Phone equivalent. Do note: you may find yourself unable to download an app from the Windows Store, and this is because of the lower specs on the phone.

Camera

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The Lumia 520 has a five-megapixel rear camera with auto-focus, but does not include any flash. It also does not include the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens that can be found on the higher-end Lumias (from the Lumia 720) or any optical image stabilisation. The latter two don’t really surprise me. After all, the phone is meant to be cheap. As mentioned above, it does not have a front-facing camera, so if you were going to do video calls – you won’t be able to.

The picture quality is acceptable – it’s not bad, but it’s not outstanding in daytime. You’re probably won’t be rushing to use this as your main camera to take holiday snaps or family photos; but it is great to take a picture of something that occurs suddenly when you’re outside. Indoors, it is a different story. Colours are washed out and the focus is a bit off. The Lumia 520’s camera obviously does not perform well in low-light situations – that’s probably best done by an actual camera.

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In terms of modifying camera settings, the Lumia 520 doesn’t offer much to change. You can obviously change the shooting mode, white balance, exposure value and ISO (which aren’t that high – it only offers 100, 200, 400 and 800).

Windows Phone 8 does let you expand the camera’s functionality – however they are done through different apps called ‘lenses’. As mentioned above, you have all of Nokia’s lenses available such as Smart Shoot and Cinemagraph, and you can download more through the Windows Store.

Battery Life

The Lumia 520’s 1430mAh battery lasts around a day – which, in terms of many low-end smartphones, isn’t the best. The 520’s battery life is more comparable to more high-end smartphones. However, the day battery life on high-end smartphones is largely due to the hardware. With low-end specs, you expect the battery to last longer than just around a day. Battery life should have been around two days or, at worse case, a day and a bit.

With normal day-to-day usage, the battery was around the 20-30% mark (e.g. internet browsing, Twitter, Facebook messaging, reading email). Of course, it does mean that I had to recharge it for the next day. Heavy usage will completely drain the battery, however – but if you plan to play some music via Spotify or Pandora, you get some extra juice from connecting to Wi-Fi instead of using the 3G.

Conclusions

  • Score:

    9.0 / 10

  • The Good:

    The design; has all the features of Windows Phone and almost all Nokia’s extras; runs WP8 smoothly

  • The Bad:

    Battery life drains really quickly; the camera is pretty average (and washes out colour)

  • Bottom Line:

    A cheap entry-level smartphone that just works – with no performance hitches; and a cheap way to try WP8.

Despite the poor battery life and the average camera, I really do love this low-end smartphone. For those looking to get a smartphone on the cheap, this one is almost perfect. The battery isn’t great and the camera is average, but what I like about the phone is that it just works. With the time I spent with the phone, there haven’t been any performance issues or lag that you typically notice when using low-end smartphones. For those new to the smartphone game, it is really easy to get started. What might kill it, however, will be the ecosystem – the hype around apps such as Instagram and Vine will no doubt hurt Windows Phone 8. But that’s not the fault of Nokia, but Microsoft.

The price is also attractive for those who want to try Windows Phone 8, without spending too much money on getting a device like the HTC 8X or Lumia 920. The Lumia 520 has all the features of Windows Phone 8 and all the inclusions made by Nokia – except for City Lens.

The Lumia 520 goes to show that you don’t have to produce a crappy phone for those who are getting their first smartphone. It is a testament to Nokia’s engineering team for being able to create a decent phone at such a low price.

 

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