10/05/2013 10:15 | By David Phelan, contributor, MSN Tech

Nokia Lumia 520 Windows Phone review

David Phelan reviews the 'cheap as chips' Nokia Lumia 520. Is it the bargain of the century?

What is it?
It’s a Nokia Lumia Windows Phone with decent specs, lots of features and a great style – and it’s cheap as chips

What’s great?
Almost everything – neat design, good battery life, reasonable camera, amazing price

What’s not?
There’s no front camera, no rear camera flash and the processor could be faster

The bottom line:
If you’re moving up from a basic Android handset or feature phone, the Nokia Lumia 520 offers exceptional value and lots of likeable features. If you didn’t know the price, you might guess this was a mid-range phone at least. Extra features like being able to use the touchscreen with gloves on confirm this as a great phone. Especially at this price.

Nokia Lumia 520 review

Nokia Lumia 520: Review

Nokia has its own range of affordable handsets, called Asha, which are big hits in emerging markets and used in the UK as a second phone – ideal if you’re going to Glastonbury and don’t want to risk losing your pricey iPhone, say. So the £99.99 pay-as-you-go price on this phone – it’s free on tariffs as cheap as £7 a month – suggests it’s an Asha, right?

Turns out this is a Lumia, with Windows Phone 8 as its operating system. Most apps will work with it – we’ll come to the exceptions shortly – and it has the same slick, inviting ribbon of live tiles which update themselves as the flagship Nokia Lumia 920. This is a phone to give budget Android phones a real run for their money.

Nokia Lumia 520: Design and build

The 520 comes in a range of colours and since the back pops off you can change them yourself. In a nice touch, Nokia has coloured the live tiles to match the case, though you can change this, of course. The yellow is particularly attractive, though Nokia’s familiar choices of red, white and cyan are also available. Nokia describes this as a pillow design, meaning that it has curvy corners a little bit like those on a pillow. They’re on the back, of course, the screen is flat, don’t worry. The matte back feels good in the hand and won’t slide from your grip when you’re not paying attention. It’s solidly built and is a pleasing design that looks anything but cheap.

Lumia 520 review

Nokia Lumia 520: Display

At 480x800 pixels, or 233ppi across the 4in screen, this display looks good. Sure, it’s no match for the latest high-end screens from HTC and Samsung, or even a match for Apple’s Retina display, but it’s not bad. Nokia’s Clear Black Display technology means it’s contrasty and colourful, promising reasonable visibility in bright sunlight. You still have to squint, but it’s better than many.

Nokia Lumia 520: Missing features

With a phone this well-priced you have to wonder what corners have been cut. Well, there’s no flash on the camera, so you can’t shoot in some situations. However, Nokia’s skill with phone cameras is considerable, and many features from higher-end Lumia phones are included here. Besides, there are many situations where a flash ruins a picture rather than improving it. Even so, it’s an omission. Note also that this camera is only 5MP resolution. We’ll come back to the camera later.

Some will mourn the absence of a front-facing camera, too. Though committed video call users are still less common than phone manufacturers would like, this does mean your self-portrait options are reduced. Nokia has released software on its feature phones that help you take self-portraits using the rear camera, but that’s sadly not part of the Lumia setup.

Then there’s the missing compass. Not so you can see which way is north, you understand. A digital compass is one of the pieces of hardware needed for some apps, specifically augmented reality ones where digital information is overlaid on the phone camera’s view of the world. The phone’s GPS and the right software can make up for some of that but it means that Nokia City Lens is absent from the 520, for instance. In practice, there are few Windows Phone apps that use a digital compass.

What else? Well, there’s no 4G LTE connection. Realistically, this is something that will become important in a year or so’s time but for many, especially customers not on EE, it doesn’t make any difference yet. The screen isn’t Gorilla Glass and there’s no NFC chip but, hey, even the iPhone 5 doesn’t have one of those. Finally, if you were hoping the cute wireless charging feature found on the Lumia 920, you’ll be disappointed. Even so, omissions are pretty few overall.

Using the Lumia 520 with gloves

Nokia Lumia 520: Features

So what’s still in the mix? Well, plenty. You can use this phone with your gloves on or if you have long fingernails. Very few phones offer this apart from some Lumias and the Samsung Galaxy S4 but it can be a real boon in cold weather, for instance. To have it on a budget phone is great.

Then there are the excellent Nokia specialities. Like Here Drive which offers turn by turn navigation with no data costs. You can only use it for the UK, but the Here Maps app can be used anywhere, offering excellent features like searches for points of interest without connecting to data when you’re abroad. The maps are free to download, but remember to download over Wi-Fi. Some more expensive Lumias include Drive+ which offers navigation worldwide.

There’s Nokia Music which includes a series of 150 playlists of music ready to be played. It’s free and instantly available so although there are numerous restrictions in terms of how many times you can play tracks and so on, this is an excellent free service. It’s also a route to buying the tracks if you want to.

Like other, pricier, phones the Lumia 520 has active noise cancellation thanks to a second microphone dedicated to erasing background noise. In practice call quality was excellent and signal strength was very good.

The colourful Lumia 520 lineup

Nokia Lumia 520: Performance

Nokia hasn’t skimped on the processor which, at 1GHz is pretty nippy even if rival phones are clocking up faster speeds. What’s more, though the built-in storage is just 8GB, there is a slot for a microSD card, which is not something you can say about a lot of high-end smarties. The 512MB of RAM isn’t exactly a match for the 2GB found in the Samsung Galaxy S4, but the important thing is that this is not a slow phone.

Nokia Lumia 520: Camera

So should you bother with a 5MP camera that doesn’t even have a flash? Yes, it’s not bad at all. The lens has an aperture of f/2.4, so wide-open enough to let a lot of light in, which helps in lower light. But the real benefit is the package of Nokia lens effects. These include Cinemagraph, which adds movement to still images – a fountain with gushing water in the corner of an otherwise still photo, say. And Smart Shoot which takes multiple photos so you can edit in or out between shots to get the image you want. BlackBerry has something similar in a much pricier phone.

Nokia Lumia 520: Battery life

You’ll need to charge the Lumia 520 overnight, but it should glide you through a full day’s use with ease. Video playback, use of GPS and so on will diminish the amount of charge left at the end of the day, but this phone has more than acceptable battery life.

Lumia 520 review

Nokia Lumia 520: Verdict

This is a tremendous phone. It looks good, feels stylish, has most of the features you’re likely to be looking for and performs well using Microsoft’s swish Windows Phone 8 operating system. There’s no flash on the 5MP rear camera, the absence of a digital compass means augmented reality apps are out and the data speeds of 4G are absent, as are NFC connectivity and a front-facing camera. If you need all these, look elsewhere. But if they’re not important to you, this phone has a lot going for it.

Nokia has built in a lot of the features from its top-of-the-range Lumia handsets such as screen sensitivity that means it works even with gloves on or long fingernails. Or the many lens effects for the camera to boost versatility, with everything from panoramas to smart shooting that makes it easy to combine the best bits of multiple images taken at almost the same time. There’s Here Maps which mean you can use the phone as a standout navigation device abroad with no data costs. This is a phone that’s just great to use, and a real bargain to boot.

5 stars

Nokia Lumia 520:Available now - £99 on pay-as-you-go

Also on MSN Tech:
Sony Xperia SP review
BlackBerry Q10 review

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?