[Review] Nokia Lumia 520, the “Cheap and Cheerful” WP8 Smartphone

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If there was such a thing as “cheap and cheerful”, then Nokia‘s entry-level Lumia 520 could just be it. The Lumia range has been synonymous with colourful polycarbonate bodies and Windows Phone 8 (WP8), and with the Lumia 520, Nokia now has a solid product line-up meeting different price points and target audience.

Cheap and cheerful?
The Lumia 520 may occupy the bottom rung in Nokia’s growing Lumia line-up, however if you think entry-level means crap, you may be in for a surprise. In terms of hardware, the Lumia 520 isn’t too different from the more expensive mid-range Lumia 720.

Nokia’s best-seller
The Lumia 520, in fact, has emerged as the world’s best-selling WP8 phone since its introduction last Februrary at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2013. The latest data from Adduplex, a Windows-based cross-promotion network for applications reveals that the budget Lumia model occupies 13.3% global marketshare.

An interesting snippet from the data is that overall, 57% of WP8 smartphones use just 512MB RAM, which shows how low-end devices are dominating the market.

The compact device has seen success in emerging markets like India (31.3% marketshare in WP8 market) and Brazil (14.9% marketshare behind the Lumia 710). Globally, though, Windows Phone still lags behind Android (79.3%) and iOS (13.2%), capturing just 3.7%. It is however, above ailing BlackBerry (2.9%). Source: IDC, August 2013.

So, back to the review proper.

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Push my buttons.

Design, build and hardware
If you’ve touched and used a Lumia device before, you’ll find a similar design language with the Lumia 520. The bright display, polycarbonate body and vibrant Windows Phone Live Tiles will all be familiar. It’s well put together, and the matt finish back cover doesn’t feel tacky or cheap like some low-end phones. Once you get the hang of it, removing the back cover is really simple, too.

It offers good ergonomics, and feels good in the hands. The phone is 120mm x 64mm x 10mm – slightly fatter than other Lumia models higher up the range, but thanks to its general lightness and curved back, it doesn’t feel bulky. The device weighs a scant 124g. On the sides are volume, power and camera shutter buttons, consistent across the Lumia range.

You’ll need to remove the back cover to access the SIM slot and microSD memory card slot.

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Open sesame.

The Lumia 520 packs a vibrant 4.3-inch (correction: 4-inch) IPS LCD display, pushing a respectable 800×480 pixels (235PPI pixel density). This is in fact, exactly the same pixel resolution you’ll find on the Lumia 720 and 820. Granted it’s not the sharpest nor brightest display, but certainly better than many low-end phones out in the market, which also cost more.

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Powering the device is a 1Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 512GB RAM, the same architecture found on the more expensive Lumia 720. Thanks to the less taxing nature of Windows Phone OS, lack of raw power isn’t a huge problem for daily essential tasks. In fact, the Lumia 520 is perfectly fluid and responsive without any noticeable lag nor hiccups moving from app to app, running most apps and games, or doing social networking.

The bundled RAM however, limits the Lumia 520 in terms of some apps in the Windows Store.

The Lumia 520 features 8GB of built-in flash storage, and free 7GB of SkyDrive cloud storage.

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Perfect fit in the hands.

Camera
The Lumia 520 has an integrated rear-facing main camera, rated at 5MP. It neither features any fancy PureView tech nor does it use any Carl Zeiss optics but the main camera does an acceptable job of capturing images especially when there’s adequate light.

With the lower-spec camera, you still get some handy camera functions like face-detecting Smart Shoot, Cinemagraph and Bing Vision. For HDR and panorama modes, head to the Windows Store to download more Nokia Lenses.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking to do some ‘selfies’ or do some web chat, you’ll be out of luck. The Lumia 520 doesn’t come with a front-facing camera. You’ll need to move higher up the range at the Lumia 620 or Lumia 720 at least, for the feature.

Software
The Lumia 520 is of course powered by Windows Phone 8, the fluid, simplistic OS that’s built for touch. Live Tiles help you stay on top of things as it updates content in real time on your Start Screen. Something truly unique to the WP8 platform.

With the Lumia 520, you get access to the breadth of apps and content on the Windows Store – some 130,000 apps available including top apps like Facebook, Twitter, TuneIn Radio, Foursquare, Instance (Instagram client) and so much more. Some major apps on other platforms are still unavailable on the WP8 platform, but give it time and this will likely change.

As we speak, the Nokia Lumia Amber update is already rolling out in some markets, bringing changes and added features to devices running Windows Phone 8. The update will bring improved camera capabilities with better low-light photos, improved auto-focus, enhanced noise filters as well as the new Nokia Smart Camera app.

The suite of Nokia mapping apps and services is unmatched, and the Lumia 520 gets HERE Maps, and HERE Drive for turn-by-turn navigation.

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Also pre-installed on the Lumia 520 is Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel and Powerpoint. So you can work on-the-go, if you so wish. I’d rather be playing Asphalt 7, thank you.

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Lumia 720 and Lumia 520.

Battery life
The bundled 1,430mAh is adequate if not fantastic, and gave me almost a full-day of use. Being the battery-zapper I am with constant photo-taking and social networking, any device lasting more than three quarters of a day is an achievement. Despite the average sized battery, the Lumia 520’s battery performance is overall quite commendable.

Specs at a glance

  • Dimensions: 119.9 mm H x 64mm W x 9.9mm T
  • Weight: 124 g
  • Processor: 1Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
  • User data storage: 8 GB, MicroSD (upgradable to 64GB), 7GB SkyDrive cloud storage
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Display size: 4″ IPS LCD (800×480) @ 235PPI
  • Touch screen technology: Super sensitive touch
  • Sensors: Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor
  • Main camera sensor: 5 MP
  • SIM card type: Micro SIM
  • Connectitvity: Bluetooth 4.0 + LE , Wi-Fi: WLAN IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • Data: WCDMA network: 900 MHz, 2100 MHz, WCDMA max data speed DL: HSDPA – 21.1 Mbps , WCDMA max data speed UL: HSUPA – 5.76 Mbps, GSM network: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz, GSM max data speed DL: EGPRS 236.8 kbps, GSM max data speed UL: EGPRS 236.8 kbps
  • Battery capacity: 1430 mAh
  • Maximum talk time (2G/3G): 17.4 h/9.7 h
  • Maximum standby time (3G): 390 h

For full specs: http://www.nokia.com/my-en/products/phone/lumia520/

Pricing and Availability
The Lumia 520 is available nationwide at all Nokia Stores, at a price of RM529 (SRP). Available in White, Yellow, Cyan, Red and Black.

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What’s in the box

  • Nokia Lumia 520
  • High-efficiency charger
  • Nokia 1,430mAh battery
  • Nokia charging and data cable
  • Nokia stereo headset
  • Nokia Lumia 520 Quick Guide

Pros

  • Excellent value
  • Good display
  • Expandable storage
  • Changeable covers
  • Commendable battery life

Cons

  • Only 5MP main camera
  • No front-facing camera
  • Limited apps due to limited RAM
  • Windows Phone still lags in app selection

Overall verdict
Despite being the the entry-level smartphone in the Lumia family, the Lumia 520 is an excellent value buy for those seeking a “cheap and cheerful” device (yes it exists). Packing an impressive punch with little money, the Lumia 520 matches almost everything the more expensive Lumia 720 has. If you can overlook the lack of a front-facing camera, and some limitations in terms of apps due to its minimal 512MB RAM, this is the budget smartphone to beat not only on the WP8 platform, but smartphones in general.

More photos of the Lumia 520 on Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/vernieman/sets/72157635271290871/

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