AT&T Nokia Lumia 1520 review: Beast of a phone, but not the best

AT&T Nokia Lumia 1520 review: Beast of a phone, but not the best

Summary: Nokia's massive 6-inch Windows Phone is available this week and includes all the best specs allowed by Microsoft. However, AT&T made some design trade-offs that detract from the overall value.

SHARE:

 |  Image 1 of 34

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Thumbnail 8
  • Thumbnail 9
  • Thumbnail 10
  • Thumbnail 11
  • Thumbnail 12
  • Thumbnail 13
  • Thumbnail 14
  • Thumbnail 15
  • Thumbnail 16
  • Thumbnail 17
  • Thumbnail 18
  • Thumbnail 19
  • Thumbnail 20
  • Thumbnail 21
  • Thumbnail 22
  • Thumbnail 23
  • Thumbnail 24
  • Thumbnail 25
  • Thumbnail 26
  • Thumbnail 27
  • Thumbnail 28
  • Thumbnail 29
  • Thumbnail 30
  • Thumbnail 31
  • Thumbnail 32
  • Thumbnail 33
  • Thumbnail 34
  • Nokia Lumia 1520 in hand

    Microsoft's Windows Phone OS held Nokia back from releasing a smartphone to compete head-to-head in specs with Android. Like the rebellious child held back by strict parents who then gets freedom to tear it up, we see Nokia went a bit crazy with the Lumia 1520 and made a device that's just too big for anyone to comfortably handle.

    In addition, AT&T was unfortunately given some leeway with the device and knocked it down a few points in my rating with their modifications so the Nokia Lumia 1520 doesn't get my nod as the best Windows Phone device.

    The best is subjective and each one of us has different needs, desires, and thresholds so my feelings may not match yours. I still think the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the best Windows Phone device while the Lumia 925 has the best hardware design.

    If you are a cousin to Andre the Giant with large hands then the 1520 may not look ridiculous for you. I have pretty large hands, but like the HTC One Max the Lumia 1520 simply looks silly in my hands and as amazing as the display is it will never be my daily driver.

    I understand that you may be reading this review because you want a large phone and don't see that as a con. I didn't not consider it a con for the Galaxy Note 3 because there is a valid reason for the size of that device, yet I do not see a compelling reason for Nokia to jump from 4.5 inches to 6 inches with the Lumia 1520.

    Hardware

    The massive 6 inch 1920 by 1080 resolution ClearBlack IPS LCD display is drop dead gorgeous and will likely blow you away. Nokia's ClearBlack technology is amazing and in the outside demo booth at Nokia's HQ last week I didn't see another device that could match it's direct sunlight visibility.

    The display is definitely the focal point of the Lumia 1520 design, but the massive size is also a feature that I think will severely limit its usefulness to most people. Even with my size 36 jeans, the Lumia 1520 sticks out of my large back pocket nearly an inch. There is simply no way to carry the 1520 comfortably in your jeans or shirt pocket and it may not even fit in your coat pocket.

    Nokia did a pretty good job of minimizing the side bezel on the 1520, but the length and width are ridiculous. Samsung was able to sell millions of Note devices, even after being laughed at by many people at first, in large part because of the usefulness of the S Pen that justified having a large display for handwriting. With devices like the HTC One Max and Lumia 1520 there is very little reason for having such a massive display and I hope to see this trend stop soon.

    Media consumption may be a good reason for the HTC One Max, but until Microsoft puts back in video rental/purchase support (they had it in Windows Phone 7 and then took it out in Windows Phone 8) there really is no compelling video experience unless you stream content.

    Above the display you will find the 1.2 megapixel front facing camera with the traditional three capacitive buttons (back, Start, and search) below the display. The 3.5mm headset jack is centered on the top with the microUSB port centered on the bottom.

    The microSD and nanoSIM card slots are inserted into removable card slots on the upper left. A removal tool is required to be inserted into the hole to pop out the card holders.

    Nokia design fails on the right side where there are four buttons that are barely discernible from the side of the device. Two volume buttons, a power button, and a camera capture button live on the right side and match the matte white finish of the unit I was sent.

    I handed the 1520 to several people and they had trouble even finding the buttons. Even a Windows Phone fan like myself was unable to repeatedly hit the correct buttons since they barely protrude out from the side. Nokia rocked the side button design with the Lumia 925 so I cannot begin to imagine why they went with this terrible design on the Lumia 1520.

    The back of the Lumia 1520 is similar to the Lumia 925 with tapered edges and a small protrusion for the camera module. The flash is positioned above the camera lens with the speaker opening down just above the microUSB port. The speaker plays very well for a mono speaker positioned on the back.

    Nokia was able to get a 20 megapixel camera into the thin 1520 and in my preliminary tests it takes photos as well as the Lumia 1020. The camera also has the capability of capturing RAW images, but like most consumers this doesn't affect my purchase decision at all.

    There is a large 3,400 mAh battery inside and over the last couple of days the device has performed well and gotten me through full days. The battery is powering a large display so this size is needed to power you through a day.

    AT&T took out the Qi wireless charging capability on the Lumia 1520 since they support the PMA standard. You can buy an Incipio PMA shell for the 1520, but I still think this is a terrible precedent to set. Nokia has several Qi wireless charging accessories and NONE will work with the 1520. AT&T had no problem supporting the 920, 925, and 1020 with Qi charging plates and even though this is a small feature for some it ticks me off to no end.AT&T also launched the Lumia 1520 with just 16 GB (about 12 GB are usable) of internal storage. There is a microSD card slot, but there are limitations for using external storage so gamers and application fans will likely bump into this limitation.

    I heard that AT&T will eventually launch a 32GB model, but there is no reason that wasn't available first and I hope buyers don't go to the store to get a 16 GB only to find they max out a month later.

    Software

    The Nokia Lumia 1520 launches with the latest Nokia Black software and like all versions of Windows Phone it flies. You will find the ability to close apps manually with an X button in the task switcher, an extra column of icons (medium size) on the massive Start screen.

    We also see that Microsoft includes their Driving Mode in the settings. It's not nearly as great as Motorola Assist on the Moto X and requires a Bluetooth device to be connected to manage communications while you are driving.

    Windows Phone hasn't changed much since its launch in 2007, but more and more apps are launching and there really is not much of an app gap anymore. The differentiators now are the notifications, multi-tasking capability, and connectivity with accessories like the Jawbone UP and Pebble. This latest software update supports Bluetooth LE so now it is up to developers to get support for these handy accessories.

    It is hilarious, sad really, that the Lumia 1520 could be a video playing machine, but Microsoft took out the ability to rent or buy movies and TV shows with Windows Phone 8. I understand they will finally add this capability back before the end of the year with Xbox Video. In the meantime, why do they even have a Music & Videos hub with no video support? Geeks may have lots of ripped DVD content, but the average commuter rents or buys TV shows from iTunes or Google Play.

    AT&T has loaded up the device with all of they typical bloatware junk, but as I detailed before Windows Phone gives you the ability to remove all of this crap. AT&T apps include AT&T Address Book, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Locker, AT&T Navigator, and AT&T Radio.

    Nokia also loaded up the device with many of their apps and services and for the most part these are all quite useful. Nokia apps include Nokia Camera, Nokia Creative Studio, Nokia MixRadio, Nokia Refocus, Nokia Screen Beamer, and Nokia Storyteller.

    I saw a demo of Storyteller last Friday, but haven't been able to figure out how to get any photos into the app that I didn't capture on the 1520. I thought it would sync to my the Photos hub, but that doesn't seem to be the case unless I am completely missing something.

    Google and Microsoft don't get along and this was evident on the 1520 when I setup my Gmail account by selecting the Google service from the list. I kept getting an error that I later was told was due to contact sync failure so had to remove this conduit. I then set it up as an Exchange account and it works just fine.

    Google services users won't find much support on Windows Phone though with no Google+, no Hangouts, no Google Maps, and very limited Gmail functionality. The Microsoft services are excellent, but not everyone is a service switcher either.

    Usage and experiences

    The Lumia 1520 is a beautiful device, but it is simply too big to be comfortably carried and used on a daily basis. The camera performs well and all of the great Nokia services are there for you to enjoy. The keyboard size is ridiculous and takes up nearly half of the massive display so while you can easily tap the keys the reach is a bit much even for my hands.

    A red CP-623 protective cover was sent along and it is a bit of a silly case. It provides a flap to cover the display and looks an awful lot like an iPad Smart Cover. However, the display doesn't turn on and off when you open and close the flap. You can fold up the flap just like on an iPad to prop up the 1520 in landscape orientation. However, very few apps support landscape on Windows Phone so its usefulness is limited. A Qi charging cover would be more useful.

    I love what Nokia does with their plastics and the back of the Lumia 1520 feels fantastic. The right button design is terrible though and given you can hardly feel the buttons, the color blends in to the white shell, and massive width I found I often pressed the wrong button.

    Pros and Cons

    To summarize my experiences with the Nokia Lumia 1520, here are my pros and cons.

    Pros

    • Gorgeous, high quality 6 inch 1080p display
    • Fast performance
    • Excellent camera quality and functionality
    • Value added Nokia applications and services
    • Great sounding rear mono speaker
    • Reasonable price for the size

    Cons

    • Massive sized phone for no compelling reason
    • Poorly designed right buttons
    • Lack of support for Qi charging
    • Limited 12 GB available internal storage memory

    Pricing and availability

    AT&T yet again scores another exclusive and with that comes the inability to get it from them at full price and get it unlocked until the exclusive deal ends, which is likely in six months.

    The 16GB Lumia 1520 is available for just $100 with a 2-year contract with the full price at $584.99. I would personally look to an international model with 32GB and Qi wireless charging, but am not interested in replacing my 1020 with such a large phone.

    It will be available in red, black, white, and yellow. I tested out the white model.

    The competition

    Other large screen phones, greater than 5 inches, include the Galaxy Note 3, HTC One Max, Sony Xperia Z Ultra, LG G2, and maybe even the Google Nexus 5. The HTC One Max is a bit thicker than the Lumia 1520, but very similar in size. The rest are all smaller, which is hilarious when you think of when people thought the Note 3 was the biggest game in town.

    Specifications

    • Windows Phone 8 OS with GDR 3 and Nokia Black
    • Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.2 GHz processor
    • 2GB RAM and 16GB flash storage
    • microSD card expansion capability
    • 6 inch 1080p ClearBlack resolution display at 368 ppi
    • 20 megapixel rear PureView camera with Carl Zeiss optics
    • 1.2 megapixel front facing camera
    • 3,400 mAh non-removable battery
    • 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0
    • Dimensions of 162.8 x 85.4 x 8.7 mm and 206 grams (7.27 ounces)

    Conclusion

    The Nokia Lumia 1520 is a beast of a phone with the best specifications of any Windows Phone device to date. Microsoft did a great job minimizing the needs of the OS so many of these specifications are not necessarily needed to provide a full Windows Phone experience.

    The display is simply too large, the right side button design is unacceptable, the removal of Qi is an embarrassment for Nokia, and no high end smartphone should ever launch with less than 32GB of internal storage.

    My perfect Windows Phone 8 device would be the Nokia Lumia 935 (made up name) that takes the 925 form factor and puts in everything from the Lumia 1520. I could even live with dropping microSD support with 32GB or 64GB of internal storage.

    I understand the international version of the Lumia 1520 includes Qi charging and 32GB of internal storage. It is still too big for a daily driver, but at least it isn't neutered by a wireless carrier.

    Contributor's rating: 7.5 out of 10

    Further reading

  • Back of the 1520 and the 20 megapixel camera

Topics: Mobility, Nokia, Reviews, Smartphones, AT&T, Windows Phone

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

50 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Nokia 1520

    Sounds like a great business phone to me more for people in suits than jeans. One can edit and read all Microsoft word files very legibly. Skype consumes less battery in sleep mode in windows. Its worth its money for the two above reasons alone in my opinion.
    wenennefer
    • handicapped device

      3rd class Google support means you're left behind; for a large percent of users, this is a no go. How many people uses gmail, of youtube? I, like most of them rely on Google (and Apple) services for my daily operations, cannot afford a subpar experience.
      theo_durcan
      • Google services.

        There are a lot of Google apps in the Windows Phone 8 platform that people can use. Google Drive, Google Maps etc..

        http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/search?q=google
        johnh3
      • Ummm...

        I use Google Maps daily on my Nokia 920. YouTube too. G-Mail syncs to my mail app and if I wanted to I can install a G-Mail client. They also have several Google voice apps, but I'm not really a fan. If you don't like the platform fine, but do some research before you bash.
        mikedees
        • "Google services users won't find much support on Windows

          Phone though with no Google+, no Hangouts, no Google Maps, and very limited Gmail functionality."

          Are you sure you are using Google maps on your Windows Phone? In any case I prefer a platform that's gives me the full mobile experience and associated services, where Google rules. Don't need a subpar mobile experience from a platform they are changing the kernel every 2 years.
          theo_durcan
          • Testing.

            If some peole are not sure to invest so much money (like this Lumia 1520) in a Windows Phone 8 device. I suggest to buy some cheap device for testing purposes or like a extra phone. You can get a Nokia Lumia 521 for 79.95 with no contract in HSN Homeshopping:

            http://www.hsn.com/

            A good way to test Google services and the other features at the device. If you dont like it then thats fine. But those who like the experience probably buy a Windows Phone 8 high end device later.
            johnh3
          • Nokia Maps beats Google download 2x2 square miles at a time hands down...

            folks comment without actual usage..or cursory hearsay info...or just plain bashing and presuming things
            cchadp
          • Goolge means nothing for a lot of people too.

            The only two things I use from google are google search and youtube. That's all.
            And even though google is my preferred search engine, I only use it for about 60% of my searches, because it's got outperformed in some areas too (e.g. Chinese would definitely prefer Baidu for search in Chinese rather than Google).
            And the reason I watch youtube is because there's no netflix nor youku (blocked functionality) in the country where I stay. Otherwise I'd be glad to give up on youtube as the ads become too rampant on youtube now.
            I use Nokia maps on my phone for years. It works well, and especially superb when travelling overseas with its offline navigation support.
            If given a choice, I'd rather stay away from any google services. But unfortunately Bing is not as good as google search now and currently I don't have youtube substitute. But I'm looking forward to services that can finally lure to jump ship soon.
            PaladinZhou
      • Google means little to me and many other people

        On the other hand. Android sucks, the interface is messy, there is no MS office, and Nokia has better navigation than Google's.

        There is nothing Google's that I cannot find an alternative. And Windows phone does not prevent you from using Google.
        emilykulish
      • Relying on Google is like

        asking Jack the Ripper to look after your girlfriend. Good luck with that.
        Rob.sharp
  • 9 out of 10

    Your writing a review for people interested in a large phone, then a large phone cannot be a negative. Common sense dude.

    A phablet is one of those products you say you dont want...until you see someone pull one out and use it. Makes your current phone look like a baby toy. Everything is better on a phablet (speakers, screen, fonts, camera). Even full websites look fine, almost no need for mobile version. If somehow they could fold or shink down the device when not in use would be a slam dunk! If I were to get a phablet the Nokia seems like the best choice right now. Awesome hardware.
    Sean Foley
    • Absolutely true! It's a beautiful large phone for those who want them!

      The tech reviewers (Matthew Miller in this case), should be honest and decline the task of reviewing a large smartphone if they don't like the category. More than 20% of the smartphone market is large phones, so, get over it. If you are incapable of doing a fair, objective evaluation of a product you don't like/need, just pass it on to someone who can do the job. We (myself included) read these reviews because we are interested and buying a large smartphone and it's ver
      OpinadorObjetivo
      • Oops!

        Submitted before finished it.

        It's very annoying to read a 'review' that doesn't evaluate the phone's features, characteristics, etc. And all they do is complain about the size.
        OpinadorObjetivo
      • Well, in fairness...

        He does say that the size is just a problem for him and perhaps not others. at least you can glean from this review that if the size isn't a problem for you the phone may go up a notch in the rating, perhaps even if the size is a big positive for you the phone might jump a fair bit in the rating.

        What I just hate is reviews where the reviewer clearly hates the product, perhaps for any number of personal reasons, the worst of which of course is if he just plain dislikes the company or the specific product generally, and proceeds in his product review to just make the product sound like an absolute misfire for everyone.

        Those are the disturbing reviews and are often very very concerning when at least one or two major things become apparent. Firstly, if some or much of what the reviewer complains of clearly seems to be problems or issues that might not bother everyone, or sometimes not even a lot of people, then the review quickly becomes suspect when you know the writer is making it sound that you would have to be a lunatic to buy it because of an issue he dosnt like at all apparently but you can see how other might not care or actually like the problem he says exists. It shows you the reviewer lacks the required insight and objectivity needed to do a reliable review.

        Secondly, if your reading a review and the writer goes on and on about how hateful the product is and how wickedly horrible it is and how nobody will want it, and you can quickly see follow up posts by many who do like it, who do want it and are quick to point out that many of the things the writer says are impossible problems are actually not really unsolvable problems at all, then you honestly have to wonder why it is the writer is so clearly off track to be saying the product is so horrible nobody will want it when the truth is many already own the product and love it.

        Those are the partisan reviews I have lost tolerance for. If you don't like a feature, if you don't car for some aspect of the hardware, if the form factor has a negative issue for you, sure, go ahead and explain why persons like you may not care for the product. But don't waste the readers time and try to sway him into your camp of negativity by claiming that the product is a dead loss to all and nobody with a brain should want it, therefore there's no reason for you to like it either.

        When you know the product is selling at least reasonably well, and the people who buy it usually like it, its beyond pointless to say the product is pure crap when its clearly not. Explain why you don't like it, maybe even throw in a true life confession that you might be a poor choice to review such a product for the masses when your personal views on the specific product are already clearly out of step with the masses from the beginning.

        I suspect the clearest of all such cases on ZDNet, is having SJVN review anything Microsoft or Windows related. You might as well ask a strict vegetarian how they like the newest steak recipe. Not only are you bound to be told its crap, your going to be given a whole lecture on why its so horrible you need to change your choice of food entirely.

        While I know there will be those who are going to point out that vegetarian's are in some ways not so wrong, and are entitled to express their opinions as well, and steak isn't necessarily all good, those points do not actually go to the heart of the problem Im talking about.

        The problem Im talking about is, that where the issue is a problem is where the reviewer appears to be utterly blind to the fact that whatever the downfalls and negative part about eating steak may exist, they are so far removed from making the steak a poison the reviewer is clearly trying to make it sound like it is. Where millions on millions around the world have been getting by and enjoying a productive healthy life eating steak as part of their diet, its completely disingenuous to make it sound like eating steak will result in a quick trip to the grave its so bad, when we see a world full of very elderly people who have been eating beef all their life.

        Its an unfair and completely unrealistic approach that in the end has no merit whatsoever when the stance is simply the product being reviewed is wicked garbage for all, when common sense dictates with unwavering certainty that countless millions of people over decades have shown that they have been happily using the product for decades and prefer it over the opposing choice, be it either the vegetarian food choice or SJVN's operating system of choice.

        Such reviewers who use such tactics don't seem to realize that while they certainly endear their like minded followers to their blindly biased reviews, that when the review claims as some kind of fact that the product in question is deadly bad it simply wipes out their credibility when its abundantly clear on any objective basis that the product is in fact enjoying widespread use without the oh so crippling and deadly consequences the reviewer predicts as the result of using such a lousy product.

        Its kind of refreshing to at least see a product reviewer around here at least state that the product is generally very good, but for people with an interest such as his there are some specific drawbacks based on those specific issues alone. That at least leaves it clear in the mind of the reader why the product may actually be the right choice for them if they differ from the reviewer on the specific issues in question.

        Reviews that simply try like hell to steer the reader completely away from the product through a shock and awe explanation of how bad the product is, is not in any way appropriate when its already clear there are going to be millions who either already do, or will love the product for various reasons.
        Cayble
        • EXACTLY...BIASED buffoons..16Gb is an 'issue' (but not with Icrap 4" micro)

          EXACTLY...BIASED buffoons..16Gb is an 'issue' (but not with Icrap 4" micro)
          cchadp
    • No, thanks I will keep my current Android

      I, like 70% of people need Google services for my daily internet operations; if a phone doesn't give that bare minimum, it means is not useful. Why I would even try to Google something on a Nokia device, knowing I can get the real thing on any Android device, and I have hundred's of choices to pick?
      theo_durcan
      • Good for your android...I moved after 3 yrs with android and iphone..

        and having used note 1, note 2, galaxy s2, iphone etc...there comes a time when credit is given where credit is due...the call quality is unparalleled (in case folks still do calls or sit in their cubby holes texting all day)...mms messaging is the fastest..display is THE best

        phablets are 21% of the market and growing and these idiot 'reviewers' keep complaining about size
        cchadp
    • Its all a matter of Taste...driven by Sponsoring?

      you are right "non-biased" should this review receive 9 out of 10. Because of the "taste" of Matthew it gets less...or may be there is something we dont know. May be his boss told him 7.5 out of 10 and make up a story for this, does not matter how or what.
      Herman Van Der Blom
  • Size great

    I can actually read what is on the screens even though I am waiting on cataract surgery. You hit sixty and that big look is just great. The price, however, is terrible, and I can't use AT&T in a lot of place I travel. I won't be using it though i am tempted.
    hayneiii@...
  • The Lumia 1520 international version is a perfect 10!

    Matthew, a few things from your review:

    1.- Smartphone bags and holsters are making a comeback and are a perfect solution for large-screen phones.
    2.- The beautiful Lumia 1520 is not the largest phone, the Galaxy Mega and an xPeria model are about the same size or larger.
    3.- "To each his own" You cannot deny there is a market for these large screen phones, so, get over the fact that this phone is large!
    OpinadorObjetivo