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Nokia Lumia 1520 hands-on: Does size matter for this six-inch phablet?

The Lumia 1520 is Nokia's biggest smartphone to date, but is it its best?
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1 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

Late last year, Nokia released two of its biggest mobiles to date — the Lumia 1520 and 1320. Both came with six-inch screens, but it was the 1520 that was the higher-end device of the two, with more storage, a better display and a faster processor.

At around $700 unlocked, the 1520 is among the most expensive mobile hardware on the market today. But is this palm-stretching handset worth the money?

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2 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

While its camera isn't quite up to the pro quality of the 41-megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020, the 1520's imaging capabilities are still pretty impressive.  

The device has a 20-megapixel sensor and many of the same camera goodies that came with the 1020, including the Pro Camera app and the ability to change camera settings like ISO and shutter speed while framing the picture.

For the unskilled photographer, red bands will appear to warn if any of the setting tweaks are too high or low and likely to mar the finished photograph.

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3 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

For those without an interest in fiddling with the settings, the auto settings are reliable. Nokia's good track record for low-light photography continues with the 1520, bar the device's overfondness for using flash in automatic mode when the picture is often far better without any.

Shown below is a zoomed-in section of the above photo.

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4 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

While there's all sort of effects that can be applied to your snaps via the preinstalled Nokia apps, it all felt suprising fiddly, and you may also find yourself griping about the slowness of the camera itself.

However, the hardware onboard — Nokia's usual Zeiss optics, dual LED flash, six lens optics and quality zoom — still deliver impressive photographic results.

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5 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

The 1520's 1080p display combined with its six-inch screen makes reading more image-heavy apps or sites far more of a pleasure than on Nokia's smaller devices.

Shown above is the Zinio magazine app at work. While I've had the same app on installed on another, smaller Nokia for some time, I've rarely used it due to the awkward reading experience of navigating through so many big pictures on a smaller screen. Not so with the 1520 — along with the additional screen real estate, the full HD screen with ClearBlack makes images look gorgeous.

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6 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

It's a similar story for the business features of the device: while it's far from being the first Nokia Lumia to come with Office 365 installed, the size and crispness of the display make using the productivity suite a far less painless job (granted, using Excel on any device involves a fair degree of pain, but there's not much a bigger screen can do about that).

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7 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

Nokia announced the Lumia Black update in tandem with the launch of the Nokia 1520, and the phablet makes use of the update's introduction of three columns of tiles, so you can cram even more apps onto that big screen.

Of course, as the 1520 runs Windows Phone 8, you'll have a hard time finding a huge amoung of apps you want to install. Take banking for example — of the UK's biggest banks, only RBS and its subsidiary Natwest have Windows Phone apps; of its main newspapers, only The Guardian is present in the store. However, the recent arrival of Instagram on Windows Phone means you'll be able to take full advantage of the 1520's camera.

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8 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

The Lumia 1520 comes in Nokia's usual colour palette — yellow, red, and black. As you might expect, the yellow version we tried seemed to mark easily, while the black version looked sleeker and cleaner.

The 1520 has a slight raised bump on the back where the camera lens is, but the device is still pleasant to hold, despite its size.

And, while the 1520 may come with a hefty 3,400 mAh battery, don't expect that to translate to longer life for your device — using all the higher-end features will make short work of your charge.

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9 of 9 Jo Best/ZDNet

Should you consider the 1520 for your next phone? It depends on whether you're a phablet fan or a tablet phobe.

ZDNet's Matthew Miller for example found the device "just too big for anyone to comfortably handle". Which it can be, if you're trying to use it one handed as you would a normal phone. But the phablet is designed to be used like a tablet, with both hands. For making long phone calls, holding a six-inch handset can feel a bit onerous, but for checking emails, browsing the web, gaming, and so on, the bigger screen outweighs any disadvantages from two-handed operation.

Its $700 price tag is certainly offputting but carrier deals mean you're unlikely to pay such a sum upfront — you'll often find it at the same upfront cost on a high-end mobile tariff as Apple and Samsung flagship devices. If you're happy with a six-inch screen, the 1520 ranks among the best of them.

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