Nokia Lumia 1520
A HUGE phone which shows Windows Phone at its best (and just how puny your hands are.) Let me start by saying that I am already a fan of Windows Phone, I owned a Nokia Lumia 800 right from the beginning as I became disillusioned with my iPhone and wanted to try something new. I love the endless customisation that's available on the Windows start-screen, the built in social features and the way the phone becomes your own the moment your various accounts are logged in. That amount of personalisation just isn't available to the same level on the other two main mobile operating systems and it offers something truly unique.
The latest version, Windows Phone 8 is still going strong on my year-old Lumia 920 too, and is performing well, even under the weight of recent respective updates from Microsoft and Nokia.
So what's next? Well, in the late winter of 2013, along with their Windows 8 tablet (watch this space), Nokia announced the next in their seemingly unstoppable run of innovative smartphones and this one was designed to make people sit up and take notice. I've been trying a shiny red Lumia 1520 for a couple of weeks (thanks, Nokia Connects) and these are my impressions of using the 6" "phablet".
First things first, this phone is HUGE. The lines between a smartphone and a tablet (hence the "phablet" nickname) have been properly blurred with the release of Samsung's Note devices and this is Nokia's high-end attempt to tap into that market (see also the lower end, but equally massive, budget Lumia 1320).
At 6.4x3.3in (160x84mm) it's certainly a handful. Somehow though it's noticeably thinner (by nearly 3mm) than my old 920 and feels lighter and less hefty in the hand (although it's actually 15g heavier).
Before I'd turned it on, the first thing I noticed is how amazingly well made the device is. The shiny red plastic back is great quality and doesn't creak or feel cheap like some of the aforementioned Note devices have done. The screen is also immense. It's a full 6" across and uses Nokia's fancy ClearBlack technology.
On powering up, I noticed that the contrast on the screen is brilliant. Blacks are properly black (on my 920, by comparison, blacks are actually slighty grey) and the colours, especially on the live tile covered start-screen, are incredibly vivid.
The beauty of such a big, full-HD screen (1920x1080 if you want the numbers), a first for a Windows Phone device, is that there's room for an extra column of tiles and that provides a surprising extra degree of space and customisation.
Personally, I like to have the functional things (phone, chat notifications, email etc) small and the personal things (groups of friends, photos, social) large. A screen this size is perfect for showing everything off, giving you the info you need and hiding less important things. The live-tiles are a huge strength of Windows Phone. Look at your iPhone now and tell me what your best friends are doing or what your next appointment is without opening an app. You can't. Everything is right there, and now there's even more everything!
It'd be nice to be able to have BIG square tiles like in Windows 8 on a PC to break it up a bit as in places it can be a bit overwhelming having so much information but that's really a minor niggle and depends how you lay your tiles out. Going back to my Lumia 920 feels incredibly basic now!
The extra screen is really noticeable when emailing too, you get more mail to the screen, more lines of preview per mail and when composing new message there's obviously more space to compose your thoughts! In Messaging there's also more room for previous messages to be displayed which is great in a long conversation. Photos and People hubs have been updated too to show more of their respective information.
There's still a bit of work to be done as more HD resolutions (or just big ones) come onto the market. The on-screen keyboard takes up as much space here as it does on screens that are 2-3" smaller, ie: half of it. It can be a bit of a stretch to reach the top and I can't help feeling that it needs to be scaled down to a more human size. The settings screens are also all scaled up and appear massive rather than nicely proportioned. Hopefully as more HD screens are available and the OS grows (version 8.1 is due this April) the whole OS will be adapted to fit more appropriately, along with all the available apps.
When iPhone originally launched with it's new, bigger screen apps didn't fit properly either, and were letterboxed in places so hopefully it's just a matter of developers tweaking some code to scale things a bit better again. [UPDATE: Windows Phone 8.1 which is released this summer and currently in preview certainly addresses some of these issues]
Navigating around the tiles and the phone is beautifully smooth. Microsoft's "flappy" animations are just long enough to be noticeable and fancy but not jarring or intrusive. Another strength of the OS is that it takes a lot less processing power to give a high end experience on lower-end hardware (looking at you, Android!). This device is no weakling though. It's got all the latest processors and a good amount of on-board memory so you won't notice ANY lag in transitions to and from apps or in loading apps from scratch.
Nokia puts a lot of effort into its camera technology, and the 1520 is the latest handset to include a PureView camera. It's a bit of a strange marketing name that covers a load of different features, but essentially they're great low-light, point-and-shoot cameras. There's 20 megapixels at your disposal here, and the same re-zoom/re-crop technology that premiered on the 41 megapixel Lumia 1020 is present on the 1520. It's slightly less effective on the larger device as there's half the number of pixels to play with (in practice slightly fewer than that) but it's useful for cropping or straightening a photo that you've not got quite right first time.
Weirdly, low-light pictures on newer phones still don't match those I've taken with my Lumia 920... Whilst photos on the Lumia 1520 (below left) are probably more realistic in their shading and colour, the light the 920 (below right) can let in without blur continues to astonish me. This is by no means a scientific test but results here are typical of my experience.
Here's a selection of unedited images from the 1520, mostly taken in fairly challenging conditions without flash.
Low light performance is still very impressive. Nokia Camera is a great bit of software too. Full manual controls of images let you be as creative or spontaneous as you like. Take your time to get the perfect shot, or snap away on auto and you'll rarely get a bad picture.
Weirdly, some photos look better OFF the phone than they do ON. For some reason low-light photos are really noisy within the photos/camera software. I don't know whether this is a scaling problem with in the OS that can be fixed along the line as the software matures, but it was distracting and a worry when I first started using it. Luckily, as you can see, the end result pictures are pretty noise-free though.
It is when using the phone as a camera though that I really started to notice its size. Holding it from one end and using the dedicated camera button, I found it quite difficult to keep steady. Built-in optical stabilisation helps loads with this, but is sometimes not enough to prevent blurry images. Using the flash massively helps things, but the effect is not always as impressive as it can highlight dust or moisture in the air when taking landscape/cityscape type photos.
BIG PHONE = BIG BATTERY
It's not just when trying to take photos that you fully realise the size of this device. When doing the typical just-woken-up check of social apps, or trying to read news in bed, it really can start to dig into your hand. The corners are quite sharp and the weight of the screen pressing into your palm actually starts to hurt!
One aspect of such a huge device that is really beneficial though is the fact a bigger battery can be fit into it. And it is MUCH bigger than I've been used to. I'm not equipped to provide a full battery test, but I AM equipped with life! On an average day, I take a bunch of photos, stream video and audio over both wifi and 3G and over bluetooth to a speaker at home, I download apps, check and write emails, NFC and bluetooth were turned on throughout and STILL I managed to get through 25 hours and have 14% left without a single charge. 14% showed as "5 hours remaining" in the battery settings too, and knowing how good the Battery Saver mode is, I knew I'd manage to get home without charging it further that day.
I'm massively surprised and delighted to see wireless charging included on this phone. It's in my original 920 but this is the first time it's been built into Nokia hardware since then (other flagships like the metal 925 and the 1020 don't have it to save space) and somehow it's kept the device thin. It's a great technology which I hope takes off more in the future because once you've had it, it's very difficult to go back and it's really handy. I hope the QI standard which Nokia has chosen is the one that takes off too.
In summary, I'm really impressed with this monster of a phone. While personally I found it a bit TOO big for extended use, it DOES fit into a pocket like any other phone and the screen is an absolute beauty. The battery is excellent, the camera software way better than others available at the same level and the Windows Phone OS is great to use.
I just can't get over the size of the thing. THE SIZE! Give me this, in a 5" screen and it'd be perfect. (UPDATE: Oh, hello!)