While lemming-like consumers are engorging themselves on yet another me-too iPhone release this week, I'd like to remind the more sophisticated in the audience about a better gadget buy: Nokia's amazing Lumia 520. This inexpensive new device can be anything you want it to be: A first or second smart phone, a digital media player, a GPS, whatever. And it only costs $99, not $550 like an iPhone 5C or $300 or more for an iPod touch.
I previously wrote about the Lumia 520—and the basically identical Lumia 521—in Lumia 520/521: Meet the New Normal. In that review, I noted that this device was incredibly versatile and cheap. Here, I'd like to expand on that notion.
Note: This rare exception, this article applies to the Lumia 521 as well. If you have the choice, get a Lumia 520 instead of the 521 because it is cheaper ($99 vs. $149) and has color shell case choices (the 521 cover is removable but there are no replacements available). Why choose a Lumia 521? Because you're using T-Mobile and will actually use the device as a phone on that network.
A great value
Whatever you intend to use the Lumia 520 for, it's the cheapest high-quality option available. This device costs just $99, without a contract. If you're going to use it as a phone, that's an incredible value over the iPhone 5C, which is widely touted for its $99-with-contract starting price, but really starts at $550. That's a $450 savings, and since the Lumia 520 can be used with a pay-as-you-go GoPhone plan from AT&T, you can probably save even more since you won't be tied to an expensive smart phone plan.
If you're going to use it as a media player or for other non-phone uses only, consider getting a 64 GB micro-SD card. That will set you back about $60, for a total street price of $160. That is a savings of $240 when compared to a 64 GB iPod touch, which costs $400. (Actually, even those who will be using the 520 as a phone should get a micro-SD card.)
Phone, second phone, kid's phone, media player, whatever
The Lumia 520 is perhaps the most versatile smart phone I've ever seen. Thanks to its low-ball, no-contract pricing, you can pick one up for any reason. Destroyed your high-priced smart phone's precious screen? Get a Lumia 520 to ride out the rest of your contract until you qualify for an upgrade (and then get a Lumia 1020, obviously). Get a second phone, which you can use on the inexpensive GoPhone plans or not. Use it as a replacement for the Zune HD or iPod and access any or all of the amazing media services—see below—that are available in fine form on Windows Phone 8. Give one to a kid. Heck, give one to each of your kids.
It's the better platform
Windows Phone 8 is superior to Apple's iOS 7 or Google's Android 4.whatever they're on this week. With the Lumia 520, you can enjoy the superior user experience, numerous high-quality music, video and other digital media services, and of course an amazing selection of mobile games, including numerous exclusive Xbox Live titles. And you can also enjoy a completely Apple-less experience, which is good for your soul, and a nearly-completely Google-free experience, which is good for your heart.
It's got better hardware
While many will point out that the Lumia 520 uses relatively low-end hardware compared to the A-list smart phones of today, that's beside the point: Windows Phone is more efficient than Android or iOS 7 and works exceptionally well on this hardware. And the 520 even includes some features you won't find on high-end and expensive alternatives. For example, the Lumia 520 has a super-sensitive screen that works when you're using gloves. It even works with your fingernails.
The Lumia 520 is the least expensive portable media player available that is also high quality and compatible with a stunning array of service choices, including Pandora, Spotify, Nokia Music, iHeartRadio, Rhapsody, Xbox Music, Audible, Netflix, and many more. It also has built-in podcast support, which, while limited to certain markets, can be accessed via many third party apps elsewhere.
Everyone talks about the supposed lack of apps on Windows Phone, which I find to be a complete non-issue. But the one thing no one can complain about is the lack of high-quality games. Thanks to the integration of Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone, Lumia 520 can enjoy an incredible stable of game titles which includes exclusive (and non-exclusive) Xbox LIVE titles (Asphalt 7 Heat, Halo: Spartan Assault, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Rayman Jungle Run, Gravity Guy, Contre Jour, and many, many others) and high quality non-Xbox LIVE games (Temple Run, Where's My Water 2, many others) And yes, these all work just fine on the Lumia 520.
The Lumia 520 comes with a GoPhone SIM card in the US and even if you're not going to use it as a phone, put the SIM in to enjoy free Nokia HERE navigation services courtesy of the Nokia HERE Maps, Nokia HERE Drive and other related apps. The SIM determines which maps you get for free, so in the US that's the whole US. And you can download maps to the device and use it as a free GPS going forward, in your car, and out in the world, with spoken turn-by-turn navigation. Put your phone in Airplane mode, enable Wi-Fi (and possibly Bluetooth) and you're good to go.
The back cover on the Lumia 520 is replaceable, so you can choose between white, black, yellow and red shell cases for that customized look.
As I noted earlier this year in The Nokia Advantage: Accessories, Nokia's Lumia ecosystem includes a surprisingly deep collection of hardware accessories, and most of them very much apply to the Lumia 520, including portable USB chargers, speakers, headsets, a car holder, and more. Best of all, many of these accessories are colorized to match your Lumia 520. So you could match a yellow JBL PlayUp Portable Wireless Speaker to your yellow 520. Or mix and match.
Do the right thing
As I write this, people are actually waiting in line to buy one of the new iPhones, which are either identical internally to the previous model but use a cheaper plastic design (iPhone 5C) or are identical externally to the previous model (iPhone 5S). This makes me sad. But you don't have to be a statistic and hand your wallet and your soul to the corporate overlords at Apple for their next surprisingly expensive and yet unchanged i-devices. Instead, you can do the smart thing. The right thing. The pragmatic thing.
You can get a Lumia 520. I use one myself, every single day. And I recommend it highly.