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Nokia Lumia 1520 review

Nokia Lumia 1520 header
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £600
inc VAT

Nothing particularly ground-breaking, but the Nokia Lumia 1520 is very good Windows Phone phablet


Processor: Quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, Screen Size: 6in, Screen resolution: 1,920×1,080, Rear camera: 20-megapixel, Storage: 32GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 163x85x9mm, Weight: 209g, Operating system: Windows Phone 8

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is a little old now, but neither Nokia or Microsoft have released a Windows Phone phablet successor to take its place yet, so it’s still the best Windows Phone phone/tablet hybrid you can buy today. While its age makes it difficult to find on a 24-month contract, it’s still available to buy SIM-free and prices have almost halved since it first launched, as you can now pick it up for just £360.

This is much better value than when the Lumia 1520 first launched, especially now that Windows Phone 8.1 is available (complete with Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, customisable backgrounds, app folders and 4K video shooting) and a free Windows 10 update is waiting in the wings.

The Lumia 1520 does fit in a very defined niche, however; phablets are aimed squarely at those who are willing to compromise slightly on portability and screen size so as not to have to buy or carry both a phone and a tablet. It’s also the very first Windows Phone with a Full HD screen.

Nokia Lumia 1520

A 6in Full HD screen leaves plenty of room for Windows Phone’s Live Tiles

As with other phablets we’ve seen, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung Galaxy Mega and HTC One Max, the 1520 seems huge when you first hold it, but you quickly get used to its bulk. It even fits fine in trouser pockets, so long as your jeans aren’t too skinny. The main compromise over a normal-sized handset is that it’s hard to use one-handed, but we find this is a problem with most smartphones over around 4.3in in size.

The 1520 is a classy phone all round, though, and even trumps the metal-bodied HTC One Max for build quality. It’s a unibody design with a single piece of polycarbonate wrapping around the back and screen, and just feels lovely to hold. We still don’t think anyone, with the possible exception of Apple, makes such beautiful hardware as Nokia.

Nokia Lumia 1520

The polycarbonate chassis feels tough and is lovely to hold

The only thing we don’t like about the 1520’s design is that it has a Nano rather than Micro SIM slot. This won’t bother you if you buy the 1520 on contract, but it’s a pain if you want to get it SIM-free and use your current card. We wish manufacturers would settle on a SIM size standard, as three different types is two too many.

Unlike other high-end Lumias such as the 1020, the 1520 has an IPS rather than AMOLED screen. It’s a 6in model with a 1,920×1,080 resolution, and there are significant image quality differences between the Lumia 1520 and 1020’s displays. The 1020’s AMOLED panel has more saturated colours and blacker text than the 1520’s IPS model, but the 1020’s screen is much warmer, to the point of appearing slightly yellow when side by side with the 1520. The 1520’s panel has purer whites, but if anything is too cold, giving web pages backgrounds a slightly grey tint. It’s still a high-quality screen, though, and compares well to the best IPS panels we’ve seen, such as that on the Google Nexus 7 tablet.

Nokia Lumia 1520

The screen stands up well to the competition, but we found the colour balance slightly too cold

The 1520 is also fast. Its quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor is the fastest we’ve seen in a Windows Phone 8 handset, and the operating system simply flies. The phone completed the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark in an incredibly fast 536ms, which makes it almost twice as quick as the Lumia 1020 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in this test, and the quickest phone we’ve seen in this benchmark bar the iPhone 5S with its 416ms score. The 1520 has the same processor as the Galaxy Note 3, but Windows Phone 8’s version of Internet Explorer is a particularly fast browser.

Web browsing is a dream on this handset, as the phone almost never hesitates as you zoom in and out and pan around web pages, even complicated graphics-heavy ones such as The phone’s screen is also large enough, in terms of size and resolution, to read desktop web pages fairly comfortably when fully zoomed out, but, as expected, it’s still not quite as easy as reading pages on a 7in or 10in tablet. The only irritation is the way that the Back button behaves. When you’re in a web browsing session pressing the button will take you back through your previous pages, as expected, but if you ever go back to the main app screen and then reopen your browser, you will lose the previous pages you visited; the Back button will now only go back to the app tray. You can at least get around this by bringing up the recent pages menu.

Nokia Lumia 1520

We couldn’t run our normal 3DMark benchmark as it’s not available for Windows Phone, but we could run the GFXBench T-Rex test in Full HD. The Lumia 1520 completed this with an average frame rate of 25fps, which is essentially the same as the 26fps we saw from the Galaxy Note 3. Challenging 3D games such as Halo Spartan Assault run beautifully on the Lumia 1520.

The Windows Phone Store has come a long way from its humble beginnings – to the point that there are very few essential apps still absent. You can get Netflix for on-demand movies, RightMove if you’re in the market for a new house, Dropbox for syncing your files across all your devices, and BBC iPlayer for catch-up TV. There are inevitably still some popular iOS and Android apps missing, but that list is narrowing by the day.

Several apps are practically must-haves because they fix our gripes with the stock Windows Phone 8 ones. The free UC Browser won’t lose your previously-visited pages if you go back to the Live Tiles, meaning you don’t have to jump into browser history when you open it again like you would with Internet Explorer. We were more than happy to spend 79p on Chronos Calendar, which has a clean week view that’s absent from the stock Windows Phone calendar, as well as several other useful features.

There are some Nokia-specific alternatives to Microsoft’s official apps too, which go from strength to strength. Nokia Mix Radio, with all its free tracks, music mixes and offline support, is as wonderful as ever, but we’re particularly impressed with Nokia Screen Beamer and HERE Maps. Screen Beamer is an evolution of the Photo Beamer app we’ve seen before, but instead of just displaying photos from your photo gallery in another device’s web browser, it will now send whatever you have on the 1520’s screen to the browser.

It’s simple to use – you just go to in the other device’s web browser, then scan the QR code shown in that browser with your 1520’s camera. Your 1520’s screen will then be displayed in the other device’s browser in almost real time (there’s around a half-second delay, so it’s no good for video). It’s a great way to get your phone’s screen on to something bigger without messing around with cables.

HERE Navigation

Offline turn-by-turn navigation from HERE Drive

HERE Maps’ main claim to fame is that it has offline mapping support. Google Maps also lets you save maps, but HERE has two main advantages; you can download map data for as many regions as you want or have storage for, instead of the limited amount of map data allowed by Google, and HERE has both offline mapping and postcode and point of interest (POI) support. It’s perfect if you’ve ever been lost and stranded without signal when using Google Maps, or for using your phone abroad without incurring data charges, but the Point of Interest data isn’t as comprehensive as Google’s. HERE Maps is complemented by the HERE Drive turn-by-turn navigation app.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is also getting updaded to Windows Phone 8.1 courtesy of the Lumia Denim update. This is great news for the phablet as the new operating system will make much better use of its large, high-resolution screen. As well as improving the interface Microsoft has also done a lot of work on stock apps to make Windows Phone 8.1 a genuinely excellent operating system. Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, is also present in this update, so you’ll be able to start organising your calendar and browse the web using Cortana’s voice commands. Check out our Lumia 830 review to see how Cortana fared against Apple’s Siri.

The Lumia 1520 has what Nokia terms a PureView camera, but this name has been used with such a range of hardware as to become largely meaningless. In the 1520 it means you get a 20-megapixel sensor, compared to the 41 megapixels in the Lumia 1020. You also get Nokia’s fancy Pro Cam app. This is a well-designed camera program which makes it easy to adjust settings and preview the results, as well as crop images non-destructively after you’ve taken them; the sensor is big enough that you can zoom into a certain part of an image and crop it without losing any detail, then send the resulting smaller picture by email or upload it to social networks, and revert to the original image afterwards.

1520 image

Photos are as good as those from almost any smartphone we’ve seen

Overall image quality is very good. The Lumia 1520 produces daylight pictures with accurate colours and, unlike many smartphone cameras we see, didn’t overexpose the sky in our test shots. It’s generally a fine camera, but when zooming in slightly to the brickwork in our test shots we noticed the 1520’s images were significantly less sharp than the 1020’s, and the reduced resolution evidently cuts down on the amount you can zoom in before you start losing significant amounts of detail.

1520 crop

1020 crop

But the 1520’s pictures (top) have some blurred details compared to the 1020’s (bottom)

Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which ups the phablet game with its stylus and pen-friendly software tweaks, the Lumia 1520 is a simpler device; a Windows Phone 8 handset with a very big, high-resolution screen. It’s a combination that works, though; the Lumia 1520 is fast, beautifully made and has a good screen, so if you fancy a phone/tablet hybrid with Windows Phone 8’s advantages of super-fast performance and arguably the best-looking interface out there, it’s the handset to buy. However, if you’re not set on a particular operating system, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 remains a more versatile handset with a larger selection of apps in the Google Play Store.




Main display size6.0in
Native resolution1,920×1,080
CCD effective megapixels20-megapixel
Internal memory32768MB
Memory card supportmicroSD
Memory card included0MB
Operating frequenciesGSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G 850/900/1900/2100. 4G 1, 3, 7, 8, 20
Wireless data4G


Operating systemWindows Phone 8
Microsoft Office compatibilityWord, Excel, PowerPoint
FM Radioyes
Accessoriesheadphones, data cable, charger
Talk time27 hours
Standby time32 days

Buying Information

SIM-free price£600
Price on contract0

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