Nokia Lumia 520 review

16 Apr 2013

A superb handset that cements Nokia’s position as the king of the entry-level smartphone

Price when reviewed: 
150(£150 inc VAT)
Buy it now for 
5

Nokia largely failed to stake out the smartphone high ground with the Lumia 920, but it's making an impressively strong charge for the budget end of the market: first with the Lumia 620, and now the Lumia 520. For here is a fully fledged smartphone, with remarkably few compromises, that dips below the £150 price barrier.

Until now, that sort of money might have landed you with a joyless Android handset with a fuzzy screen and the turn of pace of a three-legged corgi. With the Lumia 520, Nokia has delivered a slick, responsive smartphone with more features than you've any right to expect for a device that costs less than a third of the price of the cheapest iPhone.

Nokia Lumia 520

A sub-£150 smartphone inevitably involves compromises, but Nokia has made them in all the right places. The 4in display has a resolution of only 480 x 800, which is noticeably less sharp than the latest smartphone kingpins such as the Full HD HTC One, but not to the point where the pixellation becomes distracting.

The measured brightness of 352cd/m2 won't have you reaching for the Ray-Bans, and is significantly dimmer than the LCD screen on the slightly pricier Lumia 620, but it's perfectly sufficient in bright daylight. A contrast ratio of 838:1 adds punch to those bold colours on the Windows Phone 8 homescreen.

Under that screen lies exactly the same core specification as you'll find in the Lumia 620: a 1GHz Snapdragon 4 processor, 512MB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, which can be supplemented by up to 64GB via the phone's microSD card slot.

You'll find that slot by prizing off the Lumia 520's interchangeable backplate (available in five different colours), where you'll also uncover an old-school, replaceable BL-5J battery. The 520's bodywork is slightly more compact than the 620's, wasting less space on the bezel at the bottom, and it's a couple of grams lighter, too.

Nokia Lumia 520

The Lumia 520 inevitably lacks the luxurious finish of the 920, but there's no hint of nastiness about the design: you certainly won't be ashamed to take it out of your pocket.

There's nothing shameful about the 520's performance, either. You can fling cars around the track in Asphalt 7 without any discernible drop in frame rate, and the Windows Phone 8 menus never stutter beneath your finger (even gloved fingers, thanks to the “super-sensitive” touch-display technology). A score of 1,497ms in the SunSpider benchmark confirms that this is a capable performer, without troubling the higher echelon of handsets.

Avid smartphone photographers may want to look elsewhere. The sole, rear-facing 5-megapixel camera doesn't come with a flash (unlike the 620), and photo quality is middling, although the assortment of free photography apps that come with the Lumia 520 can help rescue iffy shots.

Nokia Lumia 520

Indeed, it's the strength of the Nokia software bundle that makes it hard to believe this is such a ridiculously cheap phone: the tailored playlists of Nokia Music; the downloadable maps and turn-by-turn satnav in Nokia Drive; and the bundled Office apps that come with every Windows Phone 8 handset make for an out-of-the-box package that even the iPhone and posher Android handsets can't match.

With a battery that will just about get you through the day – it had 60% remaining on the gauge after our 24-hour test, which is perfectly acceptable for a modern smartphone – there really is very little here to complain about.

The Lumia 520 is yet another sign that Nokia has rediscovered its common touch. The combination of understated design, capable performance and a generous bundle of software make it quite simply the best-value smartphone on the market. Welcome back, Nokia. You've been sorely missed.

Details

Price ex VAT £125
Price inc VAT £150
Cheapest price on contract Free
Contract monthly charge £15.50
Contract period 24 months
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 6

Battery Life

Talk time, quoted 9hrs 36mins
Standby, quoted 15 days

Physical

Dimensions 64 x 11.7 x 120mm (WDH)
Weight 122g
Touchscreen yes
Primary keyboard On-screen

Core Specifications

RAM capacity 512MB
Camera megapixel rating 5.0mp
Front-facing camera? no
Video capture? yes

Display

Screen size 4.0in
Resolution 480 x 800
Landscape mode? yes

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes

Software

OS family Other

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