Nokia Lumia 1520 Australian Review: Super-Sized Elegance

When you take a small phone and make it big, you’re probably going to find it has been ruined by ugly elements designed to "strengthen" your new super-sized Franken-phone. Imagine our surprise then, when we started using the Lumia 1520 and found it incredibly civilised for the size.

What Is It?

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is a giant.


It’s a 6-inch phablet (eurgh) with a beautiful 1080x1920 (1080p) screen with 367 pixels per inch, a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, microSD compatibility (huzzah!) and a giant 3400mAh battery.

The Lumia 1520 will cost you $894 from Harvey Norman, available outright only.

What’s Good?

Hardware

Every Lumia feels like a little piece of modern art you can actually use everyday. Coloured red, yellow or white gloss polycarbonate or black matte aluminium enshrines the edge-to-edge glass, nestled above a gorgeous high-resolution screen filled with equally bright colours. The Lumia 1520 is no different: the front of the device is almost uninterrupted glass from edge-to-edge with only the Nokia logo and a 1.2-megapixel camera to interrupt the beautiful flow.

We’ve chastised Nokia before for not making the hardware on its devices super-customisable like other devices might be in the Android ecosystem. That’s still the case, but we’re making headway with options on the Lumia 1520 which allow you to customise both the temperature of the panel and the saturation of colour. I prefer a cooler, more saturated image and the Lumia 1520 lets me do that. Awesome. It’s now the screen for everyone.

On the sheer size of the thing, just look how much real estate you get compared to something like the iPhone 5s, for example.

That's completely bonkers.

The screen isn’t the only thing that’s big about the Lumia 1520, either: the sound being pumped out of those rear speakers is something to behold. It’s still a little flat by virtue of it still being just a fairly simple phone speaker, but you’ll never miss hearing your phone ring again.

Nestled near that deafening speaker is a new dual-mic array which allows you to capture audio 3D stereo audio on your videos, which is a great touch from a manufacturer desperate to carve itself out a market as a niche camera player.

Speaking of the camera, the Lumia 1520’s imaging performance is incredible. It can’t hold a candle to the 41-megapixel Lumia 1020, but it certainly gives it the good, old-fashioned college try.

Of course taking images in well-lit situations come out near-perfect...

...but check out this amazing low-light performance




Other welcome additions on the Lumia 1520 include the return of wireless charging without the need to use an additional case (looking at you, Lumia 1020). Nokia has also made it backwards-compatible with all its old wireless charging peripherals.

Software

The Lumia 1520 is also the first device to receive the new Lumia Black software update. Originally codenamed “Bittersweet Shimmer”, the update brings a lot of tweaks in for larger displays like the one on the 1520. 1080p support is here, as well as support for an additional row of applications on the home screen which looks absolutely gorgeous. Seeing the flipping, rotating, cross-fading array of Live Tiles on the home screen is like looking at what Windows Phone 8 always should have been. It really makes the home screen look like the handy hub of all the things in your digital life.

The Black update also packs in other handy software tweaks like support for Landscape mode, Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy and updates to the Glance screen which gives you a quick update of new notifications and calendar info. You can even change the colour of the Glance text now for night mode.

The camera benefits from the Black update too, with new noise reduction and tone mapping algorithms and RAW image support. Nokia has also gone and tweaked the Nokia Pro Camera app for the Black update, making it smoother and easier to use.

The Black update will soon trickle down to all Lumias, including your old Lumia 920. Sit tight!

New Lumia apps are included in the Lumia 1520 experience, including Storyteller which presents your photos on a map and groups them intelligently by date and location, and Nokia Beamer which allows you to share your screen to other devices.

What’s Bad?

The design is great, but several elements cheapen it somewhat. The ugly jutted-out camera is still here, but this time it makes less sense than ever. I understand that a 41-megapixel camera isn’t about to sit flush on something like the Lumia 1020, but the 20-megapixel camera in the Lumia 1520 certainly should. Rather than have the back of the phone flat, it has a giant camera lens sticking out the back like some awful blemish.

And before you try and tell me that they couldn’t fit it all in without the overhang, go and have a look at the Sony Xperia Z1. Not only did Sony manage to cram a 20-megapixel camera with Zeiss optics into the chassis, it managed to do it 0.2 mm thinner, and it’s an inch smaller when it comes to the screen, too.

The jutted camera means that whenever you put the phone down on its back with the screen facing up, something hits the back of the display, making the LCD ripple in the top right hand corner. Even if you put it down on a surface like a normal person would — that is, not slamming it down — something still impacts that screen from behind the panel. That’s not good, especially considering that all phone manufacturers look at screen breakages as something you probably did yourself.

The hardware keys at the bottom of the handset also feel kind of cheap. Whereas your display will project beautiful whites, the illumination light behind the hardware keys has this awful brown tinge making the bottom of your phone look dirty. This thing is also crazy heavy, tipping the scales at 209 grams.

Finally, we’re not going to complain about the app ecosystem on Windows Phone 8 anymore, mostly because they’ve done enough work with it that most people could live with it now. The only complaint we have about the apps is that they’re built to a slightly higher quality. We had a lot of quirks, niggles and outright crashes in high-profile apps like Evernote and Instagram. That’s not a fault of the phone, mind you, just something to be wary of in the ongoing tale of Windows Phone 8 apps.

The only app we will outright complain about is the Nokia Refocus app. It’s a piece of software that supposedly allows you to take a photo and infinitely refocus it after the fact. After several tests, however, we found the refocus ability to be lacking. Rather than capture light-field data in front of the lens in the way a Lytro camera would, it merely captures five different images at various exposures and focal lengths, and then attempts to blur the image around the focal point you select after the exposure is captured. No dice. It overpromised and underdelivered as far as we’re concerned. If you want true refocus capabilities from a device, go buy the Lytro camera.

This Is Weird…

Every now and then, the window animations on the Lumia 1520 felt slow and jagged. We closed a bunch of apps that may have been slowing the device down and even rebooted it, but still they dragged.

Should You Buy It?

It has a few issues when it comes to design, but that shouldn’t put you off this handset.

If size doesn’t put you off, the Lumia 1520 is a fantastic phone, and one worthy to carry the flag for the future of the Nokia brand. Its gorgeous looks, new software and brilliant hardware all come together into something big and special.

There are big phones, and then there’s the Lumia 1520: a big, bright and beautiful phone worth having. The 1520 goes to show that big doesn’t have to be brute-ish like the HTC One Max, for example: it can be stylish and classy.

People may laugh at you when you pull it out at a party, asking “how you possibly take calls on something so big”, but that’s when you ask them what they use their phone for most these days. Nine times out of 10, they’ll say content: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, reading magazines and taking and sharing photos. Calls will rarely come up on that list, and that’s why big phones are ok.

Out of the crop of true 6-inch phablets we’ve had in 2013, we’d have to say that the Lumia 1520 follows a close second to the perfect big phone, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Take a look at both before you buy your next device.

Trending Stories Right Now