I’ve used a number of different phones throughout my smartphone journey. From the HTC Dash to my current iPhone 6 Plus, the Blackberry 8700 and the Nexus 5 I’ve covered most everything out there. While I had a taste of Windows Mobile with the HTC Dash I’ve not touched a Windows Mobile device since and that’s why I jumped at the chance when I found out Microsoft was giving free trials. I signed up and was soon contacted by Microsoft to receive a Lumia 1520, a flagship phone if ever there was one and easily one of the best, this is the Lumia 1520 review.
- Rear 20MP camera – Front HD 1.2 MP wide angle camera
- 6″ 1920×1080 HD – TrueColor (24-bit/16M) – 368ppi IPS display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 800 Processor – Quad Core – Clock 2200MHz
- RAM 2GB
- MicroSD expansion slot expandable up to 64GB
- Sensors: Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, SensorCore
- 3400 mAh battery
- Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi and LTE
Design Aesthetics and Build Quality
I have to admit, looking at the Lumia 1520 online and in pictures I didn’t have a positive outlook for when I actually got to hold one in my hand. The bright color and blocky look really didn’t do much for my eyes when looking at it through a laptop monitor. The colorful polycarbonate shell seemed like a gimmick of the Swatch days when everything was bright and cheery. So my expectations were very low when I opened up the box for the first time. Opening up the box I was greeted by a beastly 6″ smartphone and its jet black screen, I looked down at it and for a moment thought I had gotten the wrong device.
As I pulled the phone out of the box I could feel the polycarbonate back nestle into my palm and my first reaction was, this feels nothing like the cheap plastic I was expecting. I flipped it over to inspect the backside and camera module, the lines are beautifully symmetrical and wonderfully crafted. My initial expectations were firmly thrown aside and I was suddenly excited to have a deeper look. The 1520 is solidly built and beautiful to boot, my test unit came in yellow. Even that bright yellow color was alluring and just perfect. There is no doubt in my mind that the Lumia 1520 is among the most well built and well designed phones on the market today, and in many ways it even outshines the iPhone 6 Plus. A solid 5 stars for design and quality!
The 1520’s 1920×1080 IPS HD display is one of the best you’ll find on a Windows Phone and one of the best you’ll find on any phone period. Side by side with the Galaxy Note 3 and iPhone 6 Plus it competes very well. Matter of fact, the 1520’s screen is much crisper and cleaner than the Note 3 and is nearly tied with the iPhone 6 Plus. Text is clean and crisp and multi-media is a pleasure to view on the 368ppi display. The larger display and denser pixels also give you a better user experience with the Windows Phone tile interface. I love the tap to wake feature on the lock screen also more room to put tiles makes it so you almost have all your most used apps and data on one screen. Another solid 5 stars for a great display!
Windows Phone Native Software
Windows Phone native software, like any other native OS software, works seamlessly with the hardware. If you have an Outlook.com mail account this is going to integrate just perfectly. The Mail app is beautiful and well done. The SMS app is also well done and designed beautifully and simply just works. The various Lumia apps such as Lumia Refocus, Lumia Creative Studio, Lumia Beamer, Live Lock Screen and Lumia Cinemagraph work wonderfully. It’s not unlike iOS in that software and hardware are optimized to play off each other. Native apps on Windows Phone are a joy to use and if you’re coming from Android or iOS there may be a slight learning curve but nothing extreme. Windows Phone software gets a solid 4.5 stars!
Third-party apps. This is where things get complicated. The general consensus on Windows Phone is that the app ecosystem is somewhat lackluster and you’re going to find it a challenge to find apps you absolutely need. That is both true and false. All depending on what you do and what you want out of your phone, you could very well do just fine without some app selections that are on Android and iOS. Before we move on with this section let me say this. Often times there are no quality native third-party apps for Windows Phone because some companies choose not to share their API’s (application programming interface) with Windows Phone developers. Without the API for things like Facebook and Twitter, developers cannot create an app that will properly communicate, decode and interface with the data from that service.
One of the biggest offenders of not providing API’s to Windows Phone developers is Google. For example, you will not find a native YouTube app, Google+ app or Google Hangouts app on Windows Phone, because the API’s are not available to develop them. So most of the apps that you’ll find on Windows Phone for these services are done by developers who basically make an app that calls up a web browser. Google services are a huge deal to many, I use Google+, Google Hangouts and YouTube a lot on my phones and with them missing from the 1520 it made it very painful to use. Again, this is no fault of the Windows Phone but the blame for many missing third-party apps is the service providers either not providing API’s or them not investing much time into developing for Windows Phone.
That all being said you will find most major apps you like on iOS and Android on Windows Phone. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pandora, WhatsApp, Skype, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, Kindle, Shazam, Cortana (Siri/Google Now competitor) and many more. Though the design and UX (user experience) of these apps isn’t always up to par as their iOS and Android counterparts. Once again, not the fault of Windows Phone but the fault of lazy developers who sink more time into their iOS and Android apps. While the spotty third-party app scene is certainly something to think about and consider before buying a Windows Phone, it shouldn’t worry you too much if the apps you need are available. If the apps you need aren’t available (like pretty much all of Google) then you might do a little more research. There are alternatives to Google+ (use the web version in IE) Google Hangouts (use IM+ and setup Google Voice) and YouTube (TubeCast is a decent app but you can feel it’s not optimized) but they all feel muddy and just not the best experience you’re going to find. Third-party apps get’s a disappointing 3.3 stars and it’s sad, because it really brings down a stellar device through no fault of its own.
Nokia/Lumia cameras have been talked about for years, fawned over for their greatness and Carl Zeiss optics so I was expecting a lot out of this thing. The rear facing 20MP Zeiss outfitted camera is a definite plus to this phone. It takes some great snaps and has some great tricks up its sleeve. Some of the Lumia camera apps are fun to use with it as well. But using a 20MP camera I was expecting photos to be better than most any other smartphone out there and they simply kept up with the competition rather than surpassing it. Now don’t get me wrong, you WILL be happy with this camera cause it’s awesome. But the iPhone 6 Plus and other smartphones in this range all have cameras that give just as good a picture as the 1520. The camera gets a solid 4.5 stars, losing a half star for not besting the competition with the much better specs.
With awesome hardware, great native software, a display that is top notch, and a camera that snaps wonderful photos the Lumia 1520 is easily one of the best. The phone is balanced, wonderful to hold and great to look at! I got many questions from many people whenever I was out and about. They all wondered what this thing was and they all loved its look and feel when I let them handle it. Windows Phone gets a lot of flack for being the lesser of three operating systems but it has some definite potential to compete with the top two heavies. The thing that hurts it though is the thing that is a deciding factor for many: third-party apps. But even that isn’t really a major obstacle (unless you rely on Google services for many things). Most major apps are there and available, you may not get the same UX from them as you do on other platforms but it’s not undoable.
I would recommend the Lumia 1520 to anyone. It easily competes with some of the best out there and it actually scored higher than my iPhone 6 Plus review. That’s saying a lot coming from a long time iOS and Android user. Next time you’re in the AT&T store or your mobile carrier store, do yourself a favor and check out the 1520 or any Windows Phone for that matter. Check it out, play with it and research the Windows market to see if your most used apps are available. Jason Bouwmeester will be bringing you a review of the Lumia 830 in the coming weeks. Jason is also doing an in depth review of Windows Phone and many of his thoughts might echo mine. I’ll point you towards his reviews and coverage for a more in depth analysis that might help you come to a choice.
*We were sent a review unit of the Lumia 1520 for the purposes of this review.
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