Nokia used to be the king of smartphones and feature phones, now it rules neither. While Windows Phone as a platform is on the rise, the growth is very slow, and in its last quarter, its Asha line of feature phones took a massive tumble in terms of shipments. Well, the writing was up against the wall considering Android smartphones have been becoming cheaper and smoother to use, month after month, but Q1 of 2013, was a real knock-out punch for Nokia. The Finnish company hopes that the Lumia 520, which was announced at MWC earlier this year, could be the smartphone that could take on Android smartphones in the sub-Rs 10,000 segment. Priced at Rs 10,499, it does pack in all the things that Nokia stands for and offers a decent feature spread. But does it tick all the right boxes for the average Indian consumer? Read on to find out.
Design and Build
Nokia has done a superb job with its Lumia line of smartphones. All, the devices look beautiful and are available in attractive colors that in an ideal world would grab attention like a fancy Ferrari on the street. The reality, though is quite different. Due to the lack of apps, Nokia has gone through a tough time selling its phones. That said, there are still certain things only Nokia can pull off at a scale. One of these things of course is designing and building a very high quality product at a very affordable price.
Companies like Samsung may own the market, but they still don’t have the build quality especially when we are talking about low-end smartphones. With the Lumia 520 though, Nokia has basically taken its signature design language and built a phone that looks and feels similar to some of its more high-end products but at only Rs 10,499.
The Lumia 520 is made of the same mono-body polycarbonate shell that we saw in the Lumia 620. This time around, instead of opting for curves, Nokia has gone for a more straightforward rectangular fascia that reminds us a lot of the HTC 8X. Even from the back, the polycarbonate shell gently tapers off, making the device ergonomic to hold for extended periods. Unlike, the HTC 8X, the Lumia 520 does not have an uni-body design, but has a removable back plate just like the Lumia 620. This also means that users can remove the battery and install another one if need be.
Another great thing about the Lumia 520 is that it is also one of the thinnest Lumia smartphones in the market at 9.9 mm. It’s also quite the featherweight at 124 grams. It will not beat the iPhone 5, but it will handily beat most others.
Coming back to the design, on the front Nokia has increased the size of the screen to 4-inches from the 3.8-inches on the Lumia 620. This means the 520 is slightly taller than the 620, but that’s not a deal breaker. In fact, Nokia touts that as an added benefit, as users prefer larger screens these days. That said, the resolution of the screen stays the same at 800×480 pixels, so this means the 520 loses out to the 620 in terms of pixel density. Still, for a phone in this price range this is very good, though the viewing angles are not the best. The touch response also feels a little coarse when compared to the Lumia 620. But it feels miles ahead of the Lumia 510, which is still stuck on Windows Phone 7.8 or for that matter a cheap Android smartphone made by a local vendor.
Below the display, we have the standard issue Window Phone capacitive control keys. Above the display we get the standard array of sensors, but there is no front facing camera, so if you need to video chat, then you may need to revisit your decision to buy the Lumia 520. On the top we get a 3.5mm port and the right spine is home to the volume rockers, the power key and the camera shutter key. The bottom end houses the microUSB slot.
Like all the other Lumia smartphones we again get the nice ceramic keys that are comfortable to use, feel long lasting and blend well with the Lumia design language.
The back of the device is home to the 5-megapixel camera and a speaker grill. There is no LED flash. When one pops open the back plate, one can see a 1,430-mAh battery which is bigger than the one seen in the Lumia 620. There is also a standard SIM slot and a microSD card slot that supports up to 64GB of memory.
Overall, we felt that Nokia has done an amazing job with Lumia 520. That said, there are definite trade-offs in terms of features and the build of the 520 as it feels a step below the Lumia 620 as our review unit had the propensity to creak quite regularly.
Like the Lumia 620 and the Lumia 720, the Lumia 520 is powered by a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Play processor that is clocked at 1GHz. There is also 512MB of RAM and 8GB of internal memory that can be further expanded via the microSD card slot. Nokia uses an 4-inch LCD which has a resolution of 800×480 pixels, but unlike the Lumia 620 it does not have the ClearBlack branding on it. This means it loses on a polarizing filter that bumps up the black levels.
In our testing we found the display on the Lumia 520 to be good enough for a phone costing Rs 10,499. Obviously, the display feels washed out when compared to more expensive phones, but we deem it to be okay when compared with other smartphones at the same price.
We also believe that the bigger display on the 520 will be more popular than the 3.8-inch panel on the Lumia 620. The only quibble we had was in terms of legibility under direct sunlight, which was not ideal. Nokia also employs its super sensitive touch technology that we have seen before on the Lumia 920. This means we can use the phone with gloves. We tested this feature, and it works mostly works fine.
A lot has been written about the Windows Phone user interface in previous reviews, and we believe it’s not worth pondering on. The basic tile based ethos is simple to use and understand and offers a fine balance between the hyper customizable Android and the jail like spartan iPhone UI. As is the case, Microsoft enforces some hardware restrictions which means, most Windows Phones operate smoothly.
Nokia adds its own touch on all of its Lumia devices with exclusive apps and frankly these apps are the only reason the Windows Phones platform is worthwhile. Apps like Nokia MixRadio, Nokia Music, City Lens and Here Maps are staples of the Espoo based company and all these prove to be must haves for a Windows Phone user. In fact, we’d posit that Nokia’s Here maps are arguable better than Google Maps that most use on Android or the iPhone. Especially for India and they provide a more comprehensive offline mapping experience something Google is yet to emulate.
There are also a ton of apps that will attract photographers like Cinematograph and Smart Shoot. Smart Shoot enables users to take the best possible picture by removing unwanted elements from the image and also allowing for some Instagram like filters. Cinematograph on the other hand allows users to create cool animated images.
Nokia has other goodies in the works that it recently announced, and these apps will also come the Lumia 520 for free. Suffice to say, if one is going the Windows Phone way then you are getting the best of the best with a Lumia smartphone even if it is the cheapest Windows Phone in the market.
Performance on any Windows Phone 8 device almost always seems to be rather flawless. That remains true for even the Lumia 520, and this should be expected because it uses the same 1GHz dual-core processor as the Lumia 620 along with 512 MB of RAM. The main stumbling block is that some apps these days need a minimum 1GB of RAM and these apps will not work on the Lumia 520. This further intensifies the paucity of apps on the Lumia 520.
Nokia has taken the same camera module as the Lumia 620 and performance largely remains the same. Which means it is good in normal bright lighting, in fact surprisingly good in such conditions, but very bad in low-light. This situation becomes worse in the Lumia 520 because it lacks a LED flash.
Call quality on the Lumia 520 is solid like other Nokia smartphones. The quality is surely a step above the competition. Our standard test involves using the device in the basement at a point where call drops are quite constant. We tested the Lumia 520, and it managed to run through a call without a hitch. In comparison the high-end LG Optimus G failed a call on the same spot using the same SIM. Even generally, calls sounded crisper while we used the Lumia 520 than say the LG Optimus G or the Sony Xperia SP.
In terms of battery life, the Lumia 520 was not as impressive as the Lumia 620, but it still delivered solid performance. This was slightly surprising as the Lumia 520 has a bigger battery than the Lumia 620. In our testing we used the phone a lot with 3G turned on. We often switched between Facebook and Twitter, around 2 hours of calls on a daily basis, about an hour of web browsing, some photography and a bit of music streaming via MixRadio. We managed to run through the day without any problems. Over the course of our testing we can safely say the Lumia 520 lasted for around 25-28 hours on a daily basis for over two weeks.
The Lumia 520 delivers a compelling experience at Rs 10,499, something which no other Android smartphone can replicate. We are starting to see devices like the Zen UltraFone 701HD, which delivers something close to Windows Phone like UI fluidity on Android at Rs 12,000, but even that device does not match the fit, finish and after sales of a Nokia smartphone.
The main deterrent for Windows Phone remains the app ecosystem. Nokia is doing its bit to improve it but its too little and if that’s something of a necessity then there are options in Android, but by local vendors.
Photographs: Rohit Sharma