Software and processor
The Lumia 1520 comes with the latest version of Windows Phone. The first thing you'll notice about the software is the extra column of icons on the homescreen. It allows for more apps and information from live tiles to be displayed at once, which makes sense on a phone this size.
Elsewhere, the interface is much the same as it is on any of Nokia's other Lumias. The homescreen tiles are clear and easy to read and a swipe to the left takes you into the app list to browse your collection, listed alphabetically. You can resize the homescreen icons and move them around to make sure that your most crucial tools are right where you need them, and the extra column lets you sit up to six app icons across one row.
One of my favourite aspects of Windows Phone is the People hub, which combines all your social network contacts into one place, allowing you to see all updates -- as well as post simultaneously to them all -- from the hub, without having to jump into different apps.
Windows Phone combines the simplicity, minimalist layout and ease of use of iOS with the customisability of Android. Sounds like an ideal solution, but it's not perfect. The main issue that plagues the software is the distinct lack of apps in the app store. While some good titles -- Spotify, Netflix, Skype -- are available, many big-name services are still missing.
If developers even do bother to write apps for Windows Phone, it tends to receive them much later than Android or iOS. Vine has only just made it to the store and Instagram has literally appeared in the last day. While the situation is improving, it's happening at a glacial pace. If you're keen on adding new services and tools to your phone or love checking out new games, Windows Phone really isn't going to suit you.
Nokia has bundled a bunch of its own apps to help plug the holes though. Its maps software is great, providing a wealth of local business information -- as well as letting you view nearby points of interest around you in an augmented reality view. Its Transit app shows live information about local public transport services and Here Drive gives turn-by-turn GPS satellite navigation, complete with downloadable maps for offline use.
A new addition is Nokia Storyteller, which lets you view your photos organised into groups (based on time and location taken), letting you annotate the pictures and easily view them on a map. For reminiscing about your holiday, Storyteller could be a very useful tool.
The Lumia 1520 packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, clocked at a mighty 2.2GHz. The latest Windows Phone update brought with it support for quad-core processors, but I'm not exactly sure this level of power is necessary just yet. With such a lack of apps, there's very little that can challenge the processor right now -- it's like buying a Ferrari but only ever taking it to the shops and back.
It does at least make swiping around the interface very swift. There's zero delay in opening apps and menus and the camera starts up quickly too. I found the camera on the Lumia 1020 a little sluggish, but the 1520 has no such problem. High-definition video playback is handled well and racing game Asphalt 8 played very smoothly, with high frame rates.
The back of the phone is home to a 20-megapixel camera. That's a lower resolution than the ludicrous 41 megapixels of the photography-focused Lumia 1020, and the sensor size is physically smaller, meaning it can't take in as much light. The 1020 is a superb camera phone -- probably the best around -- so should still be on your shopping list if photography is your chief concern.
It still packs loads of megapixels though, along with high-quality Carl Zeiss optics, so I was hoping for great image quality and I wasn't disappointed. On my test shot, the 1520 achieved a very nice exposure of the autumn light over St Paul's Cathedral. I found several of my images had some blue colour cast -- the white balance seemed to err on the colder side -- but that's easily countered by changing the white balance settings.
Quality is very high too. Even at full screen, there's plenty of detail to be seen on the fine brickwork on the opposite buildings. The high resolution of the phone allows you to digitally zoom in to the scene without losing quality -- something that is a particular skill of the super-high resolution Lumia 1020.
Nokia has a bunch of apps for camera use too. As well as the standard, no-nonsense camera app, you'll find Nokia Pro Cam, which gives you manual control over settings like white balance and shutter speed. Separate apps for Panorama and animated photos exist too. While there's plenty to keep a shutterbug happy, it's a little frustrating to have to keep switching into different apps each time. An all-encompassing photography app would be good to see in the future.
Nokia has filled the 1520's enormous body with a whopping great 3,400mAh battery, promising up to 25 hours of talktime on 3G. That's a very impressive figure, but keep in mind that that will be under optimal conditions so your own times will vary, depending on how you use it.
In my own tests I found the battery to be pretty good though. With medium-intensity use (a bit of gaming, sending and receiving some emails, streaming a bit of Netflix), I found it still had plenty of juice at the end of the working day after being taken off charge first thing in the morning.
If you use it cautiously -- keep the brightness down and avoid demanding tasks like gaming -- then you shouldn't struggle to get through the whole day and even have some power remaining the next morning. With regular, less careful use, you'll probably need to give it a charge overnight to ensure you don't run out of power before lunch the next day.
The Nokia Lumia 1520 is colourful, well made, has a brilliant screen, good battery life and a good camera, all of which make a solid phone all round. It is enormous and cumbersome though, which means it won't suit everyone's taste, and its Windows Phone operating system still suffers from a poorly stocked app store.