Look and feel
Nokia’s Lumia 520 is compact enough to clutch in one hand, and comfortable thanks to its smooth rounded pebble-like form. The colourful back plates can be swapped around depending on your mood.
Ease of Use
The Lumia 520’s dinky screen means it isn’t ideal for browsing the web or watching movies, but it serves at a pinch and is also fine for apps, games and so on. It can easily be used one-handed.
Windows Phone 8 may lack decent apps on its online store, but Nokia adds plenty of excellent services including Music, Drive and Maps, placing it well above rivals. The 5MP camera occasionally takes dim shots, but the physical shutter button is excellent and there are plenty of bonus add-on tools to bolster it.
With a dual-core processor on board, we had no trouble playing with apps and games or streaming media. Everything is smooth and responsive.
The Lumia 520 comes with a bigger battery than the Lumia 620, and will happily last 24 hours with moderate use. With more intensive use, such as video streaming, expect an average five to six hours.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/26/2013 10:33:03 AM
Ease of use
Good looking four-inch screen;
Colourful and comfortable design;
Nokia apps and extra features
Hit-and-miss camera quality;
Screen a little dim;
No front-facing camera or NFC
Nokia’s Lumia smartphones are a colourful and feature-packed way to get into Windows Phone 8, a user-friendly alternative to Android and iOS. The latest addition to the family is the Lumia 520, one of Nokia’s cheapest smartphones to date at just £160. Despite that low price, Nokia has crammed in a great selection of features and made this a value-packed mobile, one that’s ideal for cash-strapped smartphone virgins.
However, with the similarly-specced Lumia 620 available for just a few pounds more, which handset is the best for Lumia newbies?
Colour in your hand
The compact, chunky body of the Lumia 520 mimics Lumia 620 and other cut-price models, and feels great when clutched in the hand thanks to its rounded rear. It’ll suit those with tiny hands, and it’s easy to operate with your thumb while browsing the web, bashing out texts and so on, useful if you’re clutching a handhold on a train. The front panel is all glass, giving way at the edges to a smooth plastic back. As a whole it holds firmly together, and we’re confident that it’d survive even a nasty tumble to the ground.
You can prise off the back of the phone, revealing the removable battery, SIM card slot and memory card slot. The cover holds on firmly enough – we weren’t worried that it would pop off at any time – and best of all, you can replace it with a new cover if you fancy rocking a different colour. Our review model was a crisp white colour, but you can also get red, blue, black and so on.
The Lumia 520’s four-inch screen isn’t quite as bright as the Lumia 720’s, which results in slightly murkier colours, but it’s just as responsive to your prods and swipes. Don’t worry if your mitts are covered either, because the Lumia 520 works even when you’re wearing gloves. Four inches seems quite small compared to a lot of modern smartphones, but it’s still 0.2-inches bigger than the Lumia 620’s display and the same size as Huawei’s Ascend W1. Most people should have no trouble using it.
We streamed some HD movies and they were perfectly watchable, despite that compact viewing space. Images are sharp enough to clearly see what’s going on, even if the HD visuals weren’t fully brought to life – something you have to expect at this price point. Blacks come out more as a dull grey, but viewing angles are strong - although we don’t think you’ll be crowding around the Lumia 520 with a friend to watch some video, as the screen’s a little too dinky for more than one-person use.
That small screen means that busy websites can look a little cramped, but you can at least zoom right out and still read text, and websites designed for mobile use pose no problem. We also found that apps and games were perfectly usable, and ran well thanks to the dual-core processor which matches more expensive models such as the Lumia 620 and 720. It’s impressive that Nokia has retained the dual-core chip for this cut-price handset, as well as most of the other specs, such as 512MB of RAM.
Of course, one feature where those more expensive Lumias were a little stingy was storage space, and the Lumia 520 is no different, making do with 5GB for your apps and media. Thankfully that’s topped up with 7GB of free cloud storage and you can also slot in a Micro SD memory card to expand by another 64GB, which gives you plenty of space for everything you need.
Apps and features
One area where Nokia rules over rivals such as the Huawei Ascend W1 is its excellent selection of exclusive apps and tools. For instance, drivers and regular travellers are well catered for with the Here suite of apps, including the excellent Here Maps and a very handy free sat nav app called Here Drive. You also get a nifty augmented reality app called Here City Lens, an ebook service called Nokia Reading, and a cool free music streaming service (naturally called Nokia Music), which allows you to download up to four of your favourite mixes to enjoy offline.
These cool little extras also stretch to the five megapixel camera. By itself, the camera produces sharp photos, although a lot of our outdoor snaps came out quite dark when the clouds rolled over, even when we messed around with the ISO and scene settings. They’re still fine for posting to Facebook or as quick mementos, but don’t expect high quality results.
At first we found the physical shutter button on the edge of our review device was difficult to press down, but we fiddled with the plastic back of the Lumia 520 and after a bit of push and shove, we managed to get it just right. Hold down the shutter button when the phone is hibernating and you’ll be taken straight into the camera app, ready to shoot some photos. That physical button is fantastically implemented: apply a little bit of pressure and the lens focuses on your subject, while pushing it all the way down takes a shot almost instantly.
As for those extra features, there are plenty of bonus add-ons that you can download from the online store, to bolster the camera. For instance, you can use the Panorama mode to capture a landscape, and it’s smart enough to prevent passers-by from ruining your shot with their blurry walking antics. Cinemagraph allows you to take a funky live action photo, with parts of it animating while the rest is static, while Smart Shoot can be used to take group shots and eliminate any individual gurning by combining a number of quick-succession photos. All nifty features that help elevate Nokia above other affordable Windows Phone 8 mobiles.
Sadly there’s no front-facing camera on the Lumia 520, as there was on the similarly-priced Lumia 620. You also don’t get NFC, so you can’t connect wirelessly to Nokia’s range of supported speakers or of course wirelessly charge the phone. The lack of NFC support isn’t a biggie for us, for the missing front camera will be a major pain for anyone who wants to Skype their buddies.
The Lumia 520 actually boasts a larger capacity battery than the Lumia 620, but does this translate into better battery life? As usual, we used the Lumia 720 as our full-time smartphone for a few days, to see how the battery handled everyday life. With the screen brightness turned to max to overcome the (unexpected) glare of the sun, and Wi-Fi enabled, the phone comfortably lasted over 24 hours with moderate use. That’s the occasional spot of web browsing, gaming and app play, plus a short phone call and plenty of texting and emailing.
Ramp up your usage and the battery runs down a lot more quickly, of course. If you’re constantly on it, don’t be surprised to see the battery drop as much as 15-20% an hour. We also streamed video non-stop over YouTube, and got just over five hours of use. That’s pretty much average for a modern mobile.
For the Nokia Lumia 520, Nokia has retained most of the features of the Lumia 620 and actually boosted the battery capacity and screen size, while shaving a little bit off the price. Sadly we’ve lost the front-facing camera, as well as NFC support. Which handset is best for you depends on your priorities, but we’d say that unless you plan on Skyping your contacts a lot, the Lumia 520 is the more worthy smartphone.