The Windows RT tablet hasn't yet made its last gasp. Nokia has introduced its answer to the Microsoft Surface 2 with the Nokia Lumia 2520, a slick little tablet that remixes the Windows RT experience with the look and feel of the Lumia smartphone. The result is a bright coloured alternative to the somewhat drab Surface 2, but it isn't the best tablet out there, and no clever hardware design can remove the aftertaste of Windows RT.
The tablet is quite slim, measuring 265 x 165 x 8.9mm (WxDxH), and weighing 610 grams.
In comparison, the Microsoft Surface 2 weighs 675 grams while the Apple iPad Air is noticeably lighter at 470 grams. It's the same thickness as the Surface 2, but thicker than the iPad Air which is just 7.5mm.
The tablet has a light yet durable polycarbonate plastic chassis, a single seamless shell that boasts the same bright colours and enamel-like finish as the Nokia Lumia 1520 smartphone. The polycarbonate plastic has an elegant glossy finish and warm feel, but it still doesn't match the luxurious feel of the Microsoft Surface 2's magnesium alloy or the aluminium of the iPad Air. Our review unit came in brilliant red, but you can also get the Lumia 2520 in black. Nokia says that the tablet will also be available in white and cyan, but availability has not yet been announced.
The display is covered with a layer of glossy Gorilla Glass 2 to prevent scratches and shattering, but it doesn't do much to ward off fingerprints, which accumulate quickly on a touch display. The 10.1in screen has capacitive five-digit multi-touch and a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, with wide viewing angles thanks to an IPS LCD display panel. This is far better than the 1,366 x 768 resolution offered by the Asus Transformer Book T100, and a match for the Microsoft Surface 2 (1920 x 1080), but it falls behind the iPad Air's 9.7in 2,048 x 1,536 IPS LCD touchscreen.
Where most tablets have rear or side-mounted speakers in order to maximise the display real estate on the front of the tablet, the Lumia 2520 features two almost invisible forward-facing speakers, concealed at the bottom edge of the glass that covers the display. The front-facing arrangement means that the sound will actually be projected in your general direction, instead of away from you as rear-mounted speakers do. While the configuration is nice, the sound quality does leave a lot to be desired, with only a hint of audible bass and a pronounced buzz at high volumes.
The Lumia 2520 does not come with a keyboard, though Nokia will soon be offering a dockable keyboard and case combination (sold separately). The wraparound cover doubles as a stand for the tablet, allowing you to set the tablet upright, with a keyboard and touchpad that can be used either on a desk or on less stable surfaces, like a lap. Once docked, the keyboard adds a second battery, which Nokia claims will extend the battery life by as much as 5 hours. On the rear the keyboard has two full-size USB ports, a welcome addition for attaching storage devices and other peripherals. For those buying the tablet alone, however, the tablet can still be easily navigated with a combination of swipes and taps, along with the Windows onscreen keyboard.
The Lumia 2520 comes with Microsoft Office RT 2013, which gives you RT-friendly versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, and now Outlook. The Best of Skype Package and extra SkyDrive storage that come with the Microsoft Surface 2 are not included on the Lumia 2520 – those are Microsoft exclusives.
Common apps, like Netflix or Amazon Kindle Reader, were noticeably absent, but both are available for free through the Windows Store. That can't be said for all apps, however. While the Windows Store app selection has grown considerably over the last year, the 100,000+ Windows RT apps are still largely behind the curve. Many popular apps, like Instagram, are nowhere to be found. And new apps won't make their way to the Windows Store very quickly – most apps are made for iOS first, then make their way to Android via Google Play or the Kindle Fire app store, and finally come to the Windows Store after that – assuming they ever do.
The other black mark against Windows RT is the fact that despite the Windows name, it isn't compatible with standard applications for x86 Windows. Major programs, like QuickBooks, the full version of Photoshop, or any major PC game, don't work in Windows RT, which can be confusing and frustrating for users. RT-friendly versions of common programs, such as Adobe Photoshop Express, have significant limitations (and Express still requires an additional purchase, even if you already have a subscription to Creative Cloud).
That's not to say that there are no other extras on the tablet, however. The Lumia 2520 comes with several Nokia-branded apps, like Nokia Camera, Nokia Storyteller, Nokia Video Director, and My Nokia. There are also games like Dragons Adventure, which is set in the world of Pixar's "How To Train Your Dragon," and HERE Maps, which offers trip planning and travel directions using the integrated GPS.
On the edges of the tablet are several ports and connectors, with more internal features hidden out of sight. On the right edge of the chassis you'll find a microUSB 3.0 port and microHDMI out port.
On the left, you'll find a headset jack and a charging port. On the bottom is a docking connector, for use with the wraparound Power Keyboard, and on the top there is a shared slot for the microSD card and microSIM (the tablet supports 4G LTE), along with buttons to power on the device and adjust volume.
The decision to use a microUSB 3.0 port is a puzzling one – with the same width as the Microsoft Surface 2, there's certainly room for a full-size USB port. With no adapter dongle included the customer must either purchase a USB 3.0 OTG adapter dongle (or a compatible USB 2.0 adapter that won't be as fast), or simply write off the port as useless for connecting external storage and peripherals.
Internally, the Lumia 2520 features the usual tablet sensors (ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, and magnetometer) along with GPS, and NFC for easy pairing and sharing. For pairing to wireless devices, the tablet has Bluetooth 4.0, and for web connectivity, the Lumia 2520 has both 802.11n Wi-Fi and 4G LTE as we just mentioned.
The Lumia 2520 tablet also has both front and rear-facing cameras. The front-facing camera offers 2-megapixel photos and wide-angle video capture, putting your lovely face in 720p for Skype or Google Hangouts. The rear-facing camera is quite a bit better, but if you were expecting the Lumia 2520 to feature something like the 20-megapixel sensor used on the Nokia Lumia 1520 smartphone, you might be disappointed. The rear-facing camera has a 6.7-megapixel sensor, featuring Zeiss optics and 4x digital zoom. Although it’s not as high resolution as it's smartphone counterpart, the camera on the Lumia 2520 does offer a better resolution than both the iPad Air and Microsoft Surface 2, which both top out at 5-megapixels.
Inside, the Lumia 2520 is equipped with 32GB of solid state memory, though you'll only be able to access 25.5GB of that, and only 18GB is left unoccupied after Windows RT 8.1 is taken into account. Should you want to bolster the tablet's meagre storage, there is a microSD card slot which accepts cards up to 32GB in size.
One design quirk, however, is that the SD card slot uses a card tray to insert the card into the tablet, and it shares this tray with the microSIM card slot for 4G LTE. If you wish to swap out memory cards, you'll need to remove the microSIM as well, temporarily leaving you without a mobile broadband connection. It's a small inconvenience, but an inconvenience that could be easily avoided by Nokia designing the tablet with a separate card slot.
Nokia covers the Lumia 2520 with a one year warranty on parts and labour.
With an ARM processor and Windows RT 8.1 as the operating system – neither of which support traditional Windows software – I couldn't run our usual batch of performance benchmark tests. I was still able to test browsing performance and battery life, which are arguably the best measures of tablet performance anyway.
The Nokia Lumia 2520 is outfitted with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, the same processor found in the Google Nexus 5 and the Nokia Lumia 1520. The Microsoft Surface 2, on the other hand, is equipped with the competing Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, and the difference in hardware resulted in slightly slower performance – the Lumia 2520 was notably faster in both Browsermark 2.0 and simple hands-on testing. Aside from other RT-based tablets, however, it gets left behind, with both the iPad Air and the Asus Transformer Book T100 offering faster, smoother browsing.
The battery is sealed into the tablet chassis, and isn't serviceable by the customer. While this is par for the course among current tablets, it does mean that if there is a defect or the battery simply wears out over time, you will need to contact Nokia about getting it serviced.
In our battery rundown test, the Lumia 2520 lasted 12 hours and 6 minutes while playing a video. This easily indicates all-day battery life, but it still falls short of the Microsoft Surface 2, which lasted an impressive 14:51. The iPad Air, on the other hand, lasted 6:14 in similar tests, and the Asus Transformer Book T100 was closest to the Lumia’s longevity, lasting 11:20.
Nokia’s Lumia 2520 is a pretty good Windows RT tablet, but that makes it second best in a category of only two new devices. The Microsoft Surface 2 is still our favourite Windows RT tablet thanks to Microsoft's complimentary services and the flexibility afforded by a full-size USB port.
But while the Lumia 2520 has a few drawbacks, the biggest liability is Windows RT – there are better options available that give you either a richer selection of apps, like Apple’s iPad Air, or run the full version of Windows, like the Asus Transformer Book T100.
Manufacturer and Model
Nokia Lumia 2520
Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Windows RT 8.1
Qualcomm Adreno 330