Nokia's Lumia phablets and Windows RT tablet: Two steps forward, one step back?

Nokia's Lumia phablets and Windows RT tablet: Two steps forward, one step back?

Summary: Nokia has shown off two Lumia phablet devices today – a top of the range 1520, and its more modestly priced cousin, the 1320.

Stephen Elop shows off the 1320.
Stephen Elop shows off the 1320.

As the rumours predicted, Nokia has today unveiled some significant new hardware: two phablets that many have been waiting for, and a Windows RT tablet that they probably haven't.

At the Nokia World event in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, former Nokia CEO and current Microsoft devices head Stephen Elop took to the stage to launch a cluster of new phones including a trio of Asha handsets.

But the devices that has generated the most buzz, and the most leaks, also made their appearance: a six-inch upmarket phablet, known as the Lumia 1520; its lower end cousin, the 1320; and the 2520 tablet (find out more about the Lumia 2520 here).

The 1520 is a glossy phablet with a host of features and some range-topping specs. There's a Full HD AMOLED display at 1080x1920 pixels and, thanks to the extra screen real estate and the Windows Phone GDR3 update released last week, it has a three column layout.

"We have boosted the Lumia design to a six-inch screen," Elop said.

"We've collaborated with Microsoft on the design of the user interface with the introduction of the three-column layout, which lets users get to their information faster and with less scrolling. There's more room for people who like lots of tiles."

Onboard, there's 32GB of storage, with a further 64GB expandable via the microSD slot. Powering the device is Qualcomm's 800 Snapdragon chip, along with 2GB of RAM — making it one of the most heavyweight Nokias yet.

For the business minded, the 1520 has Office and Lync onboard, as well as the more consumer-focused comms package Joyn.

When it come to imaging, the 1520 isn't quite as fancy as the Lumia 1020, but it's still a big jump up on most of the Lumia range: the device comes with a 20-megapixel rear facing camera and a 1.2-megapixel HD front facing equivalent, capable of 720p video.

The 1520 also comes with the new Nokia Camera app, which combines lot of the camera functionality introduced with the 1020, including the Smart and Pro apps, and there's also the option of post-focusing images through the Refocus Lens, handy for clearing up out-of-focus shots. Instagram is also due to arrive on Windows Phone 8 in the coming weeks, Elop said.

The device is available in a couple of Nokia's signature bright colours — red and yellow — as well as a more sombre black and white.

There's a solid 3400mAh battery and wireless charging, but no official word on expected battery life yet, though Nokia reckons its standby time is over 30 days, and you can get nine hours of video playback out of a full battery.

For those who need more time between charges, Nokia has brought out a nifty spare battery pack, also wireless. Nokia's pitch is that the battery pack can be charged up overnight, then kept in a pocket. Users can then put their phone into the same pocket when it gets low on charge, and the pack will give it a battery top-up.

The 1520 is pitched as having a similar seniority in Nokia lineup as the imaging-focused 1020, and is priced at $749 SIM-free accordingly — around double the price of the more mass-market 1320. It'll be released this quarter in Hong Kong, Singapore and US then expanded to China, France, Germany, UK and other European markets.

From bling to basic

In keeping with Nokia's design language, the lower-end 1320 has a rubbery-feeling plastic exterior and rounded lines compared to the sleeker, glossier look of the 1520.

The outer shell isn't the only compromise Nokia's made to bring the six-inch device in at a more mass market price: it's powered by a Snapdragon S4 dual-core 1.7Ghz chip, comes with 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of memory (expandable up to 64GB via microSD). Both the 1320 and the 1520 get 7GB of SkyDrive storage thrown in for good measure however.

As you'd expect, the 1320 also makes some tradeoffs on display and camera in line with its price tag: there's a five-megapixel rear-facing camera and a VGA front-facing equivalent, and the HD display is 1280x720. Compared to the 1520, there's far fewer of the imaging bells and whistles: Optical Image Stabilisation technology, six lens optics, 2x hi-res zoom or dual LED flash (the 1320's is single LED) are all found absent from the 1320.

And, unlike its higher-specced cousin, there's no wireless charging, although the pair do share the same 3400 mAh non-replaceable battery. There's also no NFC to be found on the 1320.

Both tablets will come with Beamer, an update to the Photobeamer app found on most Lumias. By way of a QR code, Lumia devices with the Photobeamer app installed can show their photos on any screen that can bring up a browser. By pointing the browser to then scanning the QR code that appears with the phone, the browser will bring up the pictures on the screen as you scroll through them on the handset. Now, Beamer has extended that functionality to all the other stuff you might want to show on a friend or colleague's PC — documents, videos and so on.

The 1320 will be available for $339 early next year, first in China and Vietnam, then Asia, Europe, and India. It'll be available in orrange, yellow, black and white.

Getting into phablets

Nokia has been one of the few major handset makers to have held off on making phablets: BlackBerry's Z30, HTC's One Max and Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 have all hit the market recently, and Apple is rumoured to be not far from bringing out its own supersized device in the near future. Initially derided as palm-breakers when they came out, phablets and larger-sized devices are gaining an increasing slice of the mobile market.

While the cost of the 1520 may seem prohibitive to many, the similarly-expensive 1020 has already proved that Nokia can produce devices that justify a top-end price tag. It looks like it's pulled off a similar trick with the (from what little hands-on time we've had with it) rather desirable 1520. Releasing a 1320 is an even smarter move, allowing the more hard-up consumer to get a reasonably close approximation of the 1520 at a more sensible price. After all, it's the lower end Lumias, not the flagships, that have helped establish Nokia in the smartphone market post-Windows Phone.

An Asha trio

At the other end of the device stack, Nokia gave its Asha lineup a spruce up with three new devices, following the lead of the 501 launched last in May.

Debuted today were the 500, a lower end model that come in both single and dual SIM variants, and the higher specced 502, also single and dual SIM, and 503.

All have been given a design makeover in the form of a see-through shell Nokia's calling Ice. It's made of perspex, and has been introduced with an eye on adding durability to the emerging markets range.

All three touchscreen devices feature the Asha UI that Nokia released earlier this year, including Fastlane, the homepage that shows all a user's most recent activity including photos, contacts and social media updates.

The 500 is the most basic model and the cheapest Asha so far. There's a two-megapixel camera on the 2G device, and it comes with the longest standby time of the bunch: 39 days. It's priced at $69 and will be realeased this quarter.

The 502 has a slightly bigger screen than its cheaper counterpart — three inches compared to 2.8 — but is also 2G only. It's priced at $89 and will be available this quarter. The 503 ups the ante with a three-inch Gorilla Glass screen, wi-fi, and 3.5G connectivity.

Despite a crop of 4G launches in the developing markets that the Asha range is targeting, Nokia told ZDNet it has no plans to bring an LTE Asha to market, as the cost of the extra radio would put the phone beyond the reach of the buyers it's aimed at.

WhatsApp will also be coming to the Asha range next month, the company's CEO Jan Koum announced at Nokia World.

The future of the Asha range, and the cheaper Series 40 and Series 30 devices even further down Nokia's device stack has been in doubt since Microsoft announced its proposed acquisition of Nokia's devices and services unit for €5.4bn earlier this year.

While Microsoft has said that it intends to hold on to Nokia's feature phones business for now, using the devices as an "on ramp" to eventually persuade consumers onto Windows Phone. With the price gap between Nokia's range topping Series 40/Asha phones and the lower end Windows Phones narrowing, it's not hard to see a time coming in the near future when Nokia's feature phones are surplus to Microsoft's requirements.

However, for now, demand for featurephones may be shrinking, but it's far from dead: Nokia's featurephone business brought in revenues of €1.4bn in the last quarter, compared to its Windows Phone unit's €1.2bn.

Further reading

Topics: Hardware, Nokia, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • What exactly is one step back?

    If you are referring to 2520, that's a bit of a shame. I have never seen such a beautiful tablet.
    • RT is great for tablets

      If your confused by the decision to use RT on a tablet you should be embarrassed. It takes 10 seconds to explain to someone that RT only runs Store apps, and is designed for great battery life. Most people opt for the full Windows 8, but its not confusing. If you dont like the Surface RT then you can't like iPad. Surface RT cannot run traditional Windows programs, iPad cannot run traditional mac programs. It is the same ecosystem structure where each device runs native apps only, and there are tons of apps for each platform. Instead of bashing RT, lets bash ignorant thinking.
      Sean Foley
      • RT is great for tablets - Author

        I meant the above comment for the author. Her saying RT is "one step back" is ignorant.
        Sean Foley
      • Agree

        I have access to both a Surface Pro and a Surface RT at work and there's no question that RT is the vastly superior of the two tablets. The Pro model is too thick, too heavy, and has unacceptable battery life. The Surface RT does everything you'd ever want a tablet to do (app selection notwithstanding) and has a much better form factor to do it with.
      • If I don't like RT, I won't like the iPad?

        OK -- let me be the first to start bashing the thinking... Are you ignorant to the fact that the iPad doesn't need to run Mac apps because the quantity of iOS application is sufficient?
      • What no one mentions about RT tablets is...

        1) Multiple users - my wife and I share one. Each of us has our own environment, favorites, etc.
        2) Device support - getting my (5 year old Canon) printer working consisted of turning it on, then, on the Surface, looking for devices. Getting a Bluetooth mouse to work was just as complicated. We even got the scanner to scan into the Surface.

        It does just about everything I want in a tablet (which includes having Office). The only thing it's really missing is having active stylus support for OneNote
  • Maybe just stick to writing about ios

    This writer is bashing with bias. Stick to writing about ios and your love for it.
  • The wireless battery is interesting

    But, any word on efficiency?
    • Wireless charging is far from interesting in my view

      I've heard is about 70% to 80% of the efficiency of a wired charger. While it seems considerable, smartphones don't use that much energy.

      Charging all smartphones in the world (assuming 1.5B units) for a year, require enough energy to power a city (developed country) with a population of 1 million for the same period. While it seems a lot, this is about 1/10 of the energy produced by an average nuclear reactor (not plant - one single reactor). Charging a smartphone for a year cost less than $0.5. (Note: My fast math/physics - maybe there is something wrong there :) )

      Wireless charging plates can save energy when they allow multiple devices opposed to have several wired chargers always connected to the main power. Without a standard it seems hard to believe that wireless chargers will ever be used in large scale with multiple devices.

      Thickness and weight seem better reasons to avoid wireless charging.
      • Wireless battery

        I am actually curious about the wireless battery efficiency. It is one thing to have a wireless charging mat always connected to electricity, and completely different thing to power the wireless charging circuit from a (tiny) battery.
        Even typical wired battery efficiency is not that great and I can easily imagine the wireless charging battery would always consume something, even when idle.

        Not, that this technology can't be improved. I am actually not considering the current implementation very usable, because indeed it adds considerable bulk and weight to the device. But perhaps someone (Apple? :) might engineer it in a better way and make it (say) part of the all-metal case, as they already do with wireless antennas.
        Make the battery 'smart' so that it only ever activates by NFC or something similar, which doesn't consume much energy -- perhaps even Bluetooth LE.

        And yes, have a common standard. Currently I carry with me an portable battery that has USB output. It can charge pretty much anything that charges from USB, which is perfect. I will not want to carry one wireless charging battery for Nokia, another for Samsung and third for Apple devices. Still keeping around the "universal charging kit' of few years ago when every device had it's own connector.
  • Nokia's Lumia phablets and Windows RT tablet: Two steps forward, one step b

    I don't see any steps back. Nokia just released a couple of devices that are on par if not exceed other devices on the market. They are staying competitive.
  • Actually

    As a user of a Nokia 920 and a Asus RT tablet I get her point. They could have went with a bay trail powered full win 8.1 tablet with similar battery life and more functionality.

    Just saying.
  • Love Nokia designs!

    And there is no step back just 6 steps forward. Why would you say that?

    The Lumia 2520 is a beautiful tablet!!!
  • Nokia's - Microsoft's future

    It'll be really insteresting to know if NOKIA will be Microsoft's saviour in the mobile market or if Microsoft will be Nokia's RIP.
    • Microkia

      Nobody has survived Microsoft. They are good example of the Black Widow.