Windows Phone hits a new low with the Nokia Lumia 520. By which I mean a new low price. So keen are both Nokia and Microsoft to establish Windows Phone as the smartphone operating system everyone wants – and everyone can afford - that they are moving further and further down the price range in order to cover as many budget bases as they can. What we have here is a Windows Phone handset that’ll set you back just £150 SIM-free.
That price puts the Lumia 520 on par with budget-end Android handsets and is a far cry from where the OS started – at the top of the money tree.
Nokia is really clever with the design of its lower-end Windows Phone handsets, and the 520 looks similar to its more expensive rivals the Lumia 620, 720, 820 and 920. While the shape of the corners of each handset in the series varies slightly, they all share a certain design quality. The 520 comes with removable shells that let you personalise the colour of the entire backplate and sides of the handset. Letting handsets share a basic design across different prices is a smart move because those who go for the lower-end units won’t feel they are getting fobbed off.
What really matters though, in terms of value for money, is what’s going on under the hood, and here the news is pretty good considering that £150 SIM-free price. Nokia produces my favourite Windows Phones just because it adds in a range of useful extra apps for free.
If you’ve read one of my previous Nokia Lumia reviews, you will know how much I like Nokia Music, and I’m pleased to say that it’s included on the 520. This free music streaming and downloading service is simply superb and would on its own be enough to make me go with Nokia if I were selecting between Windows Phones.
Other Nokia freebies are here, too. Nokia’s rather oddly renamed some of its apps so that Nokia Maps is now HERE Maps, and you also get HERE Drive. The former locates you on a map and can be used to show you eateries, museums, churches, shops and so on – a real cornucopia of local information. It has map, satellite, traffic and public transport views, though don’t get too excited about the latter. Tapping a bus stop doesn’t tell you what buses actually stop there.
HERE Drive, on the other hand, gives you turn-by-turn GPS-guided navigation. You have to download this from the store before you can run it; it only covers the UK, but it’s free.
There are other Nokia freebies you can download, such as HERE Transit for getting around on public transport, and HERE City Lens for an augmented reality view of stuff to see and do near you. There are free enhancements for the camera, too. SmartShoot takes five photos at once and lets you choose what to keep; Cinemagraph adds an animation-like element to photos; what Panorama does should be obvious.
However, try to download some of these and you’ll hit trouble. City Lens won’t install because ‘the app uses features your phone doesn’t have’. The Lumia 520 lacks a compass though it does have GPS.
Unlike with some other lower cost smartphones, Nokia has managed to provide a reasonable amount of memory on the Lumia 520 with 8GB internally. A quick check after I’d set up my social networks revealed 2.5GB of the available 7.2GB was used – leaving 4.7GB free. There’s a microSD card slot under the backplate, and you can tell the device to store pictures, music and video there, but you can’t save apps to microSD - only to internal memory. You get 7GB of SkyDrive storage and photos you take can be automatically backed up there.
The microSD card slot that sits under the back cover is the wrong way round in that while it has an edge on the outer side of the chassis, you have to remove the battery to get at the card, so hotswapping is not an option. The battery has to come out when you put your microSIM in too, though that’s obviously less of an issue.
Looking at the general specifications the Nokia Lumia 520 is quite impressive. The 4in screen delivers 800 x 480 pixels. Oddly this is slightly larger than the Lumia 620’s 3.8in screen, though it is the same resolution. That’s a long way from top-of-the-range for a mobile these days but it is more than adequate in this handset. Windows Phone’s blocky Live Tiles don’t need super high resolution to look good. And it is worth noting that even the high-end Lumia 720 and 820 share the Lumia 620’s screen resolution.
The processor is a dual-core 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, and even though it is only supported by 512MB of RAM, it didn’t seem troubled by what I asked of it. Even the camera, a 5-megapixel shooter, does quite well. Shots look OK on the phone, and with that ability to auto-upload photos to SkyDrive, you can be sure every photo you take gets backed up. Nokia’s tactic of providing basic camera features and then letting you enhance them via software is a clever one, and it means you should have access to a growing library of freebie apps overtime.
Nokia has, of course, had to pare some things down to get the Lumia 520 into its desired price box. The lack of a compass is one missing feature, and there’s no NFC. The lack of a flash on the main camera might irritate, but in fact flashes on handset cameras are often best used as flashlights rather than with the camera and I don’t think this absence is a big loss. More annoying for some will be that there is no front camera.
Battery life is a little suspect too, with just a 1430mAh cell keeping things going. With social networking updates on, plentiful use of Nokia Music and some GPS action. I felt a late afternoon power boost was generally on the cards. Even on a day when I barely used the handset after fully charging it, the battery seeped a quarter of its life by lunchtime.
The Nokia Lumia 520 is an impressive handset. A lot is crammed in despite the low price, and I'd be inclined to recommend it over the Lumia 620 as much better value for money.
Dual-core 1.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
4.0in, 800 x 480 pixels
119.9 x 64.0 x 9.9 mm
Windows Phone 8