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

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.
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By Matthew Miller, Contributor on
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1 of 34 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

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 is the best Windows Phone device while the 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 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 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 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

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Back of the 1520 and the 20 megapixel camera

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Lumia 1520 and HTC One Max

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Back of Lumia 1520 and HTC One Max

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iPhone 5s, Lumia 1520, HTC One Max, and Moto X

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Back of the iPhone 5s, Lumia 1520, and Moto X

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Lumia 1520 and 1020, not the extra column

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Lumia 1520 and 1020 on Bing screen

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Back of Lumia 1520 and 1020

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Application promotion card included with the 1520

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Protective cover propping up the Lumia 1520

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Windows Phone doesn't support landscape orientation in many places

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Start screen with third column

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Lots of AT&T apps loaded out of the box

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microSD is supported with the meager integrated storage

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The display is fantastic

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Gloves can be used on the 1520 too

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The keyboard is massive and kind of ridiculous

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Google setup doesn't support push email

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A constant error appeared through Google setup

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Nokia's app promotion bundles

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Email does look great on the huge display

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City view shot with Nokia Lumia 1520

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City view shot with Nokia Lumia 1020

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City view shot with Apple iPhone 5s

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City view shot with Moto X

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Waterfront view shot with Nokia Lumia 1520

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Waterfront view shot with Nokia Lumia 1020

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Waterfront view shot with Apple iPhone 5s

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Waterfront view shot with Moto X

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Leaf near the water shot with Nokia Lumia 1520

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Leaf near the water shot with Nokia Lumia 1020

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Leaf near the water shot with Apple iPhone 5s

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Leaf near the water shot with Moto X

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