Nokia Lumia 1520 Review

Nokia Lumia 1520 Review

A fantastic mini-tablet that's just too big as a phone

Well, someone has to say it: A device with a 6-inch screen is simply too big for a daily-use phone. But Nokia's absurdly large phablet, the Lumia 1520, makes for an excellent mini-tablet, and could perform an interesting dual-use role for those who are primarily interested in ebooks, media, apps and games and browsing the web. It's just so hard to carry around.

I feel a little bit weird about this one, since I assumed I'd simply love this device. And I do, in way. It has a gorgeous screen with 1080p resolution. It runs my preferred mobile OS, Windows Phone 8. It's a Nokia device, so it's got the stellar build quality I expect, the incredible camera, and the best-in-breed Nokia apps.

And it's just too fricking big.

My wife uses a Samsung Galaxy Note 2. This device features a 5.5-inch screen, which doesn't seem like it would be that much smaller. And it isn't, not really. But in real world terms, the Note 2 is just more manageable than the Lumia 1520. I know. It doesn't sound right. And it doesn't even look true when you compare them side by side. But it's true.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (left), Nokia Lumia 1520 (right)

As noted many times in the past, I have gorilla hands. As such, I assumed that when it came to smart phones, the bigger the better. Tiny-screened devices like the iPhone 5S are an anachronism, after all, too small for anyone with less than perfect vision or larger than child-sized hands. But the Lumia 1520 sits neatly at the other end of the scale: Too big in all the ways that the iPhone 5S is too small.

Surely, there's a happy medium. I think that sweet spot is 5 inches for most smart phones, and I point to the Google Nexus 5 as the current device with the "perfectly-sized" screen. (Screen quality not withstanding that is, it's a bit washed out.) But of course the Lumia 1520 isn't just a smart phone, it's a phablet. So I think we're looking at something in the 5.5-inch range. Something very much like my wife's Note 2. You know, running Windows Phone 8.

(This is a minor point, but the add-on covers you can get for the Note 2—and Note 3—are also superior to the Protective Cover for Lumia 1520 that Nokia provides, as is the Nexus 5 Bumper Case that Google sells.)

The issue is that you need to carry this thing around and pull it out when you need to use it. And with every other phone I've ever used or owned, neither of those things were an issue in any way, shape or form. They are very much an issue with the Lumia 1520. Seriously think about that for a moment: Two things you just took for granted are suddenly huge glaring problems.

And these problems are very real. You can't comfortably carry this device in a front pocket, for example. Since we're creeping up on winter here, that won't be an issue for the next few months, and I can carry it around in my jacket pocket. But in the summer—and spring and fall—this device is like a boat anchor. The once exception to this rule, perhaps, will be women, many of whom carry a purse or other bag. To those potential customers, I say simply this: Make sure you test this thing thoroughly in a store and understand how different it is compared to any other Lumia device or competing smart phones and tablets.

OK, so it's huge. Too huge, I think. But what did Nokia get right with the Lumia 1520?

Literally everything else.

The screen? Superb. Windows Phone comes alive at 1080p and while three years of tile arranging needs to be rethought thanks to the sudden increase in tile density, this is a great problem to have. (And, yes, I have to believe that the Large tile size from Windows 8.1 is making its way to Phone too. I can't wait.)

Thanks to some forward-thinking on the part of the Windows Phone team, most Windows Phone experiences scale wonderfully to Full HD resolution. All of the built-in apps and hubs look fantastic. But here are the occasional chuckle-out-loud moments. For example, in the PIN entry screen looks comically big.

PIN entry: Lumia 1520 (left), Lumia 920. Remember when the 920 seemed huge? Me neither

Performance? Amazing. And no surprise here, since the performance of all Windows Phone handsets are excellent. But with the first-ever quad-core processor and a full 2 GB of RAM (where most Windows Phone devices have just 1 GB), the Lumia 1520 screams where it really matters: With those stunning photos I discussed in Nokia Lumia 1520: Photos, but also in media playback of all kinds. Sadly, Microsoft's promised Xbox Video app is still not available as I write this, but I've loaded my own HD and SD videos on the device and ... yes. Beautiful. Games, too, are a delight on the big screen. No surprise there.

Look, it's Windows Phone 8. Most of this stuff is just right. The problem with the Lumia 1520, at least here in the US, is that it's not just Nokia's design decisions we need to deal with. We also need to deal with AT&T Wireless, the sole provider of this and far too many other Windows Phone handsets. And AT&T, God love them, have done it again. The bad kind.

They're disabled the ability of this device to work with Qi-based wireless charging, meaning that you'll need to buy a sled-like case for the already humongous device just so you can use some AT&T-backed wireless charging solution. That's crap.

And they've limited the device to 16 GB of storage, while Nokia is selling it with 32 GB elsewhere. Yes, you can expand the storage with micro-SD, which is great. But you can't install apps to that microSD, so the 16 GB limit is going to get you in the end. This is also unacceptable.

Between the size, the limitations, and the price--$99.99 with a two-year contract or $585 without—I just can't recommend this device despite its many wonderful features. If it were cheaper, I'd recommend it as a slightly smaller mini-tablet, and would love to use it like that myself. (Especially once Xbox Video arrives.) But as it stands now, the Lumia 1520 is just ... too much. In some many ways.

Sorry, guys. I wanted to love this one. 

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