Lumia 2520: How Nokia's new tablet embodies all of Microsoft's dilemmas in one elegant device

Lumia 2520: How Nokia's new tablet embodies all of Microsoft's dilemmas in one elegant device

Summary: Nokia's Lumia 2520 is a well crafted package, but beyond that tells you much about the state of Microsoft's assault on the tablet market.

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The Lumia 2520 is Nokia's first attempt at building a Windows tablet. The device runs Microsoft's Windows RT, an operating system dropped by other hardware manufacturers who found little appetite for hardware running the OS; as a result, apart from Microsoft itself, Nokia is the only company left still making RT-powered devices now.   

I've been using the Lumia 2520 as my everyday tablet for the last couple of weeks and I like it a lot. However, it seems to embody the issues that Microsoft has to tackle when it comes to tablets and the decisions it needs to make around operating systems and the future of Office. (Nokia's devices business will soon be part of Microsoft when its €5.4bn acquisition is complete, of course, and the pair have been collaborating closely on hardware for several years now).

First, my take on the device itself. As you'd expect from Nokia, one of the great powerhouses of consumer electronics design, the hardware is graceful, well-engineered and nicely built.

The screen, for example, is particularly fine — the 10.1-inch HD display (1920x1080 resolution) is great for watching video. The matte black chassis on the ZDNet review model looks fantastic and even the back of the unit has an lovely Apollo-era sci-fi feel to it. The throb of feedback from the Windows home button makes the tablet feel alive — a nice touch.

The Bing weather app looks great, as does maps (which I prefer to Nokia's Here), and there's an understanding across the device that big, sharp images play well on tablets. There's clearly a strong design principle behind the UI — the tablet as a next-generation magazine; beautiful, curated, interactive.

But it's striking that the 2520 is also still very much a PC experience, including the irritation of Windows updates. That 16:9 aspect ratio screen that makes it so good for watching video also means that I never felt any desire to use the tablet in portrait mode at all, while the lack of a rounded and bevelled corners (such as on the iPad) made holding it for too long quite uncomfortable and had me longing for a kickstand.

And, while an iPad doesn't feel diminished by the lack of a keyboard, to me the 2520 does — in the same way that the Surface only really makes sense with the keyboard attached. As such, there's something a little bereft about this device, almost as if it's mourning its lack of a keyboard, but soldiering on anyway. Still, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 processor keeps everything zipping along.

The Lumia 2520 runs Windows RT 8.1, which does a fine job of the basics. Unfortunately,  just doing a fine job of the basics doesn't win prizes anymore. While the default apps are nice, the lack of variety available in the Windows Store (compared to Google Play or Apple's App Store) also reinforces the sense that deep down this machine really wants to be a PC.

One of Microsoft's issues is that Windows has never been a competitive advantage when it comes to selling hardware to consumers: for decades, for most people, it was the only choice they really had.

In the tablet world that's no longer the case: few care that their Kindles or iPads don't run on Windows, even fewer that it doesn't have Office.

And worse, because Microsoft was slow to craft its app strategy, developers are far more willing to build their apps for iOS or Android. Having Windows, Windows RT and Windows Phone dilutes that developer interest to all but homeopathic levels, and an operating system is only as good as its ecosystem (as outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously said).

How tech's giants lost the tablet and smartphone war, even if they don't know it yet

How tech's giants lost the tablet and smartphone war, even if they don't know it yet

How tech's giants lost the tablet and smartphone war, even if they don't know it yet

Microsoft has been too slow to acknowledge and act on this new reality, and that still shows in Windows RT. Microsoft's heritage is in the PC but it's future probably isn't. Windows RT is likely to be a transitional product which is hardly going to encourage consumers to buy; Microsoft needs to decide and clarify its operating system strategy quickly if it wants to build momentum.

Resorting to the wisdom of crowds is occasionally instructive, and if you type 'Nokia 2520' into Google, the first suggestions it throws up are quite telling: price, specs, 'Vs Surface 2', keyboard and 'Vs iPad Air'.

Price is a key consideration and at £400 the price tag on this tablet will do little to persuade Kindle Fire or Android purchasers to think again. Even throwing in the RT version of Office isn't much of a selling point for the Instagram crowd, and again reflects how Microsoft's attitude towards tablets is still inflected with PC era attitudes. There's been some talk of Microsoft giving away Windows RT and Windows Phone to manufacturers in a Google-like move, swapping licence revenue from manufacturers for search and services revenues from consumers. It could work by bringing down cost to end users which is certainly one barrier right now, and it can hardly hurt adoption of Windows RT.

Microsoft's Surface 2 is the only other RT tablet out there (well, that and the mountain of first-generation Surfaces) so it's hardly surprising that Google searchers are trying to compare them, but that also flags another problem for Microsoft: what to do, post-merger, with the Lumia and Surface brands, and how to take the best of Nokia (design, apps) and use it to infuse and inspire Microsoft's products.

All of these issues can be fixed: Microsoft's pockets are deep enough that it can arrive late (as it has done so many times before) to a market and still buy its way in. But it also needs to accept that it is now the new entrant, not the incumbent. Microsoft needs to do something it hasn't had to do for a long, long time — explain why consumers would want a Windows device.

Further reading

Topics: Tablets, Emerging Tech, Hardware, Microsoft, Windows

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108 comments
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  • So we can all blog then

    I have been using Surface RT sincere November 2012 and have hardly use both my both touch and type cover keyboards. So, I wondered about your comment that "And, while an iPad doesn't feel diminished by the lack of a keyboard, to me the 2520 does — in the same way that the Surface only really makes sense with the keyboard attached".

    I think that was dishonest comment and at that sentence, I stopped reading your article, while wondering how much you were paid to write this article.

    Nevertheless, IPad and its ilk are mainly for content consumption. Windows RT is beyond content consumption. If we accept the fact that professional people should spend most of their time playing games on tablets and consuming web, your article is good. Otherwise, you are just misleading your readers.
    Wonder.man
    • the article is tripe

      I have an iPad and I don't use the keyboard I have for it because it just doesn't add much to it. The iOS crippled keyboard implementation makes any keyboard truly app dependent and very limited.

      The keyboard on Windows RT actually works in the OS and apps and brings something useful vs frustrating. That said, I use the device without the keyboard 98% of the time.

      If the fact that the keyboard works calls out to you that's a testament to excellent design and implementation and the lack thereof is a testament to extremely poor design and implementation.

      Ordinarily we would expect tech writers to be able to discern the difference and be savvy enough to avoid obviously lame and shameful brand loyalty or engage in product assassination for hire. However, we're not surprised as your as predictable as a cheap novel.
      greywolf7
      • Isn't a tablet with a keyboard...a PC?

        Much of this depends on your use case. For business a device with a keyboard makes sense, less so for consumers. It's not a bad thing that these Windows tablets seem to perform best with a keyboard; it's just perhaps not what consumers are looking to buy.
        steveranger
        • What you are missing..

          ...but I am not missing is the undeniable fact we are in the era of merging technology, where we are in for an error that the consumer wants do wanton cherish to have a device that can give them the opportunity of listening to music or watching video or browse; and then getting from his/her bug another device that he/she can use to create content. Remember, the consumerism also more likely be a student, teacher, scientist, manager, architect and so forth, who needs to work and make money.

          I am not sure which school you had graduated from or what kind of books you read, the reality you are missing is that the companies, I am talking about the three companies that we all know that are competing in this field, should not be telling us what we should use. Instead, they should be focusing on meeting the needs and wants of their customers. And this customers are the consumers you are talking about. And the needs and want of this consumers is to take good advantage of the unfolding merging devices paradigm in which are.

          If your definition of consumers is "infants and retirees", then I am not part of this debate, for the infants cannot use tablets; and in this world, one must be lucky to retire into a lifestyle, wherever he/she would just need to consume content.
          Wonder.man
        • re: Isn't a tablet with a keyboard...a PC? - NO!

          There are some here that would argue a "tablet" is a PC or that a smartphone is a PC or that a smartwatch is a PC.

          Isn't a tablet with a keyboard...a PC? NO, just no and ill leave it at that.

          What TABLET use case compelled you to use a keyboard that, by the way, isn't included with the product anyway.

          I sure can't think of any tablet use cases that would compel me to attach my keyboard. In fact as I get more adept at using the device I find myself forgoing the keyboard for the less complex business use cases.
          greywolf7
          • Office.

            NT
            cosuna
          • office is not a tablet use case

            At least not until they make a touch based office. Its certainly not a typical consumer use case.
            greywolf7
          • What's your definition of a typical consumer?

            College students standing in line at the Microsoft Store to get their hands on a Surface so they can use it in class and stop lugging around the laptop?
            All of the execs walking around my office building with their iPads encased in 3rd-party shells that double as keyboards and kickstands and wish they had Office on them?
            The tablet has invaded the enterprise and the class room, making Office a common need for the consumer on such devices.
            Jason Barkley
          • bottom line

            ((( "College students standing in line at the Microsoft Store to get their hands on a Surface..." )))

            Yeah, right. The only reason college students ever stand in line at the Microsoft Store is for free Macklemore tickets.
            buddhistMonkey
          • There are around a dozen of people using ipads at work

            "iPads encased in 3rd-party shells that double as keyboards???"
            not sure what planet you are from, but I suspect you are making this stuff straight from your imagination:
            No one; I repeat, no one of the people I know uses the ipad with a mechanical keyboard. Why I would need to attach a keyboard to my ipad? when I need a mechanical keyboard simply I use my workstation! When at work, why I would need to attach a keyboard to my Ipad?

            J. Barkley, clearly you don't understand what a tablet is:
            1- a tablet is a device that don't requires a keyboard to operate;
            2- a tablet is a device where you are as comfortable in portrait than landscape;
            3- finally, a Surface is not a tablet. Surface requires a keyboard.

            There are other key advantages of the ipad of course, but I don't want to depress you; in any case you should not waste time in RT. Windows RT is DOA, is a matter of time it will be like Mango (something nobody wants to talk...)

            pd: Im so curious to see your "people standing in lines at the Microsoft Store", I will gooogle it! To me, people lining in front of a Microsoft Store is something like the mythical Zune, still to be seen...
            theo_durcan
          • Don't know very many People, do you?

            If you can really keep a straight face while saying, "no one of the people I know uses the ipad with a mechanical keyboard", then you don't know very many people, certainly not enough to make your sweeping generalizations about what the market does and does not want.
            mejohnsn
          • I know the people I know, same as you know the people you know

            What's the matter? It happens from the people I know, no one is using a mechanical keyboard with their Ipad. Is a small sample? of course it is; do you have a sampling from your experience stating otherwise?

            Now from my own usage I can say is just stupid to pretend that I need a keyboard for my Ipad at work or elsewhere, because I don't need it, is that simple, and that was the main point of my message, but you contested the number of people I know!

            But if you know a reason why I need a keyboard for my ipad, I am all ears...
            theo_durcan
          • ipads with keyboards

            I teach at a university, and have taught at another in the past few years. in both places students use iPads with mechanical keyboard attachments, or Android tablets with mechanical attachments, or Surfaces. once in awhile I see one with out. have yet to see a Kindle Fire with a mechanical keyboard.
            joe73072
          • I don't think so

            I don’t know where you live but here in the US the vast majority of college students use a laptop for school work and a smart phone for everything else. While there are some K through 12 school systems that have purchased tablets (mostly iPads) for student use there is no great demand among college students here for tablets whether iPads or Windows tablets or whatever. When I recently spent a few days visiting my daughter who is a junior at USC I noticed that around 70% of her classmates were using either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro with the rest using Windows laptops. As you may know, there is a Mac version of Office for those who need it. When a niece of ours who is also in college needed to buy a new computer my brother-in-law asked her if she wanted a new laptop or a tablet and she told him there was no way she was going to be spending hours every day typing papers and other things on a tablet with or without a keyboard. They bought her a new laptop. I know this is anecdotal but I think it is probably an accurate representation of computer use on campus. I would like to know where are these MS stores you mentioned with lines of college students clamoring for a Surface. Or for that matter, college students clamoring for any kind of tablet including iPads.
            NYC1994
        • Ah, No.

          "Isn't a tablet with a keyboard...a PC?"

          Not really. It's a tablet with a keyboard. It's like saying an El Camino is a truck.

          It isn't, it's a car with a bed.
          William.Farrel
          • DOA...like the last one.

            And much like an El Camino, it's inefficient and obsolete from the get go.
            It's better left in the garage and admired for it's aesthetics and one time promise.

            Anything from Windows with RT in the name should be flushed down the toilet or returned to that large warehouse where they'll be charged off and sold off to Woot and other online grey-market discount retailers.

            -underpowered? check
            -lacks software support? check
            -lacks 12hr+ batter life? check

            Until MS/Nokia can make a Windows Pro version of this and for under $500, nobody is listening.
            Kristin Johanssen
          • Speaking of "nobody is listening."

            You must get that a lot.

            So at the end of your rant, what is your view? Is an iPad with a keyboard a laptop, or a tablet with a keyboard?

            That WAS the statement being addressed, or didn't you notice that in your zeal to post?
            William.Farrel
          • I will explain it slowly for you, Willy,

            glad you asked.

            1- A tablette is a device that don't require a keyboard to perform;
            2- a tablet is a device you operate comfortably in portrait or landscape;
            3- a tablet is a device that don't need fans;
            4- bare minimum, 8 hrs battery charge.

            A device like the Surface, requiring fans and keyboard is a wannabe tablet but is not a tablet!
            theo_durcan
        • Views are market driven

          Any PC, tablet or smartphone is a computing device. I bought Surface 2 a month ago, and find it to be a very well designed tablet. In fact its use of swipe and other features are much better than iPad. In fact my high school daughter prefers it to her laptop. I did not buy a keyboard yet. I agree there may be apps that are missing, but since it has a full blown Web browser, I don't miss that aspect. Bottom line, you don't need a keyboard to enjoy Surface.

          It appears fashionable to beat up on Surface because we live in a tablet environment which has been predefined through the Apple standard. It is the tech journalists that are always complaining.
          rkaula
    • Business versus consumer

      You are somewhat missing the point. These RT tablets are mostly being promoted as consumer devices, not business ones. My point is that this device feels (for all of its plus points) more like a PC than a tablet. And while that might be what Microsoft and Nokia want to sell, I'm wondering if it's what consumers are actually looking to buy.
      steveranger