Review: Nokia Lumia 1520 phablet

14 Nov 20142 Shares

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The Nokia Lumia 1520. Photo via Microsoft.com

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The Nokia Lumia 1520 is big. Really big. Fantastically big. Monstrously big! Its 6-inch display dwarfs the 4.7-inch Apple iPhone 6 plus and other rivals making it one of the largest phablets on the market right now.

We have seen a few bigger pieces of hardware over the years (the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, for example), but this is surely the most sizeable device that could in any way pass itself off as a smartphone. It’s big to the point that friends gasped at the very sight of it and I found myself self-conscious taking it out in public. With a 1080p full HD display boasting 368 pixels per inch, the visuals really pop, and coupling that with the unusually big screen, I’m sure the device was instantly catching the attention of everyone around me (it didn't help that the review copy I received was bright red, one of four available colours). Sitting on crowded bus during rush hour, I hesitated to take it out, fearing what the middle aged woman next to me might think of my ultra-hi-res picture of actress Emma Watson on the lock screen. At times, carrying the 1520 can feel like trying to conceal an old portable television in your overcoat.

It's alive inside

It’s the size that will either entice or dissuade punters. For those who regularly use their smartphones to watch videos or play games, it’s a fantastic device that allows for deeper levels of immersion than any other smartphone I’ve seen. Although the iPhone 6 Plus boasts an enhanced 401 ppi pixel density, hi-res imagery on the 1520 appears flawless to the naked eye. The highly customisable Windows Phone home screen, featuring a third column because of the enlarged display, looks alive as it constantly morphs, chops and changes as each individual tile behaves uniquely. Even relatively mundane activities like opening emails and browsing the web look great, the text practically leaping off the screen. And being a Windows Phone, it comes with Microsoft Office, the extra size making mobile Word and Excel more practical to use than ever.

The hardware too makes this a high-level performer. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor took everything I threw at it without any bugs or lagging, while the keypad is lovely and responsive. Although the 1520 initially came with Windows Phone 7 software, I soon managed to update it to Windows Phone 8.1, which was a very good thing as with the latest operating system includes the Windows Phone Action Centre. It's a welcomed addition to Windows devices as now all notifications are available to view together via a swipe down from the top of the device. Blatantly similar to what Samsung, Sony and others have been doing for years? Yep, but better late than never.

Elsewhere, the 20-megapixel camera, featuring Nokia’s PureView camera technology, is a solid performer and as a bulky piece of hardware, I felt confident using the 1520 that any minor falls or scrapes were not going to hurt it. And despite its size, the phone is actually quite light at just 209g.

A lumbering dinosaur

However, the 1520's lumbering size can render it impractical for day-to-day use. I found it impossible to operate without two free hands. Unless you’re Shaquille O’Neal, you’re not going to be able to slide your thumb all the way to the far side of the screen  This was frustrating as, when I finally did buck up the courage to take the phone out on public transport, I couldn’t use it and hold a safety rail at the same time. And you may need to retrain yourself in simultaneously walking and texting as you'd be surprised how much that one free hand helps your balance.

And while I like the Windows display, particularly when compared to the colder, stainless steel-feel of Android and Apple phones, there are drawbacks in investing in one of the consumer tech giant's phones. There still aren’t as many available apps as on Apple and Android, and some that are available don’t operate as fluidly. For example, something as basic as searching for a Twitter user I already follow proved impossible on the social network’s app. The Xbox music player is incredibly awkward to use (as well as seemingly struggling with basic MP3 tagging) and I would have liked to have seen some more built in software to fully take advantage of the beautiful displays, like strong video and photo editing apps, for example.

Verdict

Despite my initial reservations, I did bond with the Lumia 1520, but eventually had to reduce it to strictly stay-at-home activities and instead use something that fit in my jacket pocket without peaking out over top. Phablets are built to appeal to people who wish to combine the best of both worlds, though I sometimes wonder if they’re ending up too much in the middle that the device does nothing well. The Lumia 1520 is never going to work for someone who just values the basics, but for those looking to level up there gaming, video and office suit capabilities, and can live with the awkwardness of its unwieldy size, this is a great device.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is available now exclusively from Vodafone Ireland, from free for bill-pay customers. Four stars out of five

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Dean is a freelance journalist and editor covering media.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com