Nokia Lumia 1520 Written Review

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| December 17, 2013

The mobile industry is fascinated, maybe even downright obsessed, with big phones. There were some folks who thought it was just a fad, dating all the way back to the original Galaxy Note, but it's turned out to be anything but. With companies like Sony, Samsung, and others, all jumping on the bandwagon, we're sure to see even more handsets that fall near, or beyond, the 6-inch mark well into 2014.

Nokia didn't want to miss the journey, apparently, and they released their own six-inch device to buffer the ranks. The Lumia 1520 follows a lot of the familiar trends we've seen in previous Lumia devices, which means nothing more than Nokia's building off what has worked for them in the past. But, when we're dealing with a device that has such a big display, can the base hold up the top?

Let's find out.

Design and Features

As we mentioned above, the Lumia 1520 looks like a Lumia device. It goes beyond just the Nokia label above the display, too. The company has put in a lot of work to make sure that when you see one of their Windows Phone-based devices, you should know, without any hesitation at all, that it's a Nokia-branded handset. Long story short, it's the colorful polycarbonate frame. Even the black version of these devices stand out against the other black handsets out there.

As you might expect, the device is dominated by a huge, obvious touchscreen. The six-inch panel is more than obvious, even from a distance. If you set the phone down on a tablet and walk away from it, you'll be able to pick it out of a crowd. The Lumia 1520 is a big phone, and don't let there be any confusion about it. No, it isn't as big as the Galaxy Mega 6.3 from Samsung, but the difference is negligible.

Right above that big panel is the Nokia brand, with the speaker grille just above that. Off to the left, the 1.2-megapixel camera tries to hide under the glossy finish. You'll find a small AT&T globe off to the right, which I have to give props to the carrier for, as that's the only particular piece of branding you'll find for them on the Lumia 1520. Finally, below the device, you'll find the capacitive buttons for Back and Search, with the Windows key (which sends you back to the Start screen) between them.

On the bottom edge is the single microUSB port. Along the right edge you'll find the physical camera button, the Power button, and the volume rocker above that. All of these physical buttons are pretty flat, and lay in-profile with the device's edge. They may not be the easiest buttons to find with a roaming finger, which can be somewhat of a hassle on such a large device, but when they're pushed they offer plenty of feedback and travel. They offer a nice click when pressed, too.

The camera button on our review unit seemed loose when we used it more often than not, but it never felt really broken necessarily. The double-action key offers a way to get an image focused relatively quickly, and just like in previous Windows Phone devices it's a welcomed addition to the total package.

On the top of the device, right there near the center, is the 3.5mm audio jack. And, finally, along the left edge you'll find the two covers (which oddly feel like buttons, but they aren't) that allow you to access the microSD card slot, as well as the SIM card.

The six-inch display is a 1080x1920 HD panel, and it packs 367 pixels per inch. It's a beautiful, huge display. The 1520, above any other device running Windows Phone to date, is a testament to the progression of the platform as a whole. It wasn't too long ago that Microsoft had imposed plenty of restrictions for their mobile OS, but now that those are lifted (for the most part), and the options are wide open, the devices can really show off.

On the back of the handset, near the top, you'll find a pair of LED flash, with the 20-megapixel camera just below that. As we've grown to see from previous Lumia devices, this camera hides underneath a small hump as well. There's some PureView labeling below that for good measure. Near the bottom edge you've got your wireless charging connectors, and finally, the speaker.

And that's what the Lumia 1520 is all about from a hardware perspective. It's meant to show off. You're meant to look at the big, high definition display, with its thin frame and lightweight design, then take a look at all the specifications under the hood and the camera on the back and be, above all else, wowed. In this regard, Nokia succeeded.

Usability and Performance

Out of the box, the Lumia 1520 is running Windows Phone 8, General Distribution Release 3, or GDR 3. This is the latest version of Microsoft's mobile platform, and with it brought support for a lot of the major hardware improvements we're seeing in the large handset. As far as software goes, there has always been a question about whether or not Microsoft even needed to keep up with its competitors, due to the optimization the company has made for the hardware it launched on, and generally relied upon well after launch.

Under the hood, there's a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.2GHz. You'll find 2GB of RAM, too. Indeed, the Lumia 1520 is a device that is built to stand up against the competition on a purely specs-level comparison. The truth is, though, we couldn't tell a difference in our tests with the handset. Windows Phone 8 runs the same on the Lumia 1520 as it does on the Lumia 920, or Samsung's ATIV S Neo. Apps opened with the same amount of speed and fluidity. They closed the same way, too. The Back button will take you back a page in an app, or leave an app, just the same as it does on any other (recent) device running Microsoft's mobile platform.

This is the strangest situation, because one may be able to see this as a flaw, but it's just not. It speaks volumes about the development of Windows Phone, and how much Microsoft has focused on making sure that the platform is solid, fluid and lag-free. There have been hiccups along the way, but the question of whether or not Windows Phone "needs" or can truly benefit from quad-core processors and the like is answered here in this device. It doesn't, but it sure looks good on the specs sheet, doesn't it?

As far as the other key elements go, you'll find the AT&T model with 16GB of built-in storage (there's a 32GB model out there, too), and a microSD card slot that can expand your storage needs up to an additional 64GB. The non-removable battery is measured in at 3400mAh, and we were quite happy with its lifespan from day one to day nine (and beyond).

AT&T isn't shy about adding their own apps to phones, and Windows Phone isn't any different. (Except that you can uninstall them, thank you very much.) The Lumia 1520 comes with seven AT&T-specific apps right out of the box. To compare, there are only four Bing apps. In total, though, there are 25 (!) pre-installed apps on the Lumia 1520. A noticeable sum, but again, you can delete them if you wish, so it's not that big of a hassle.

And this is where we get to the 20MP camera. The 1/2.5" sensor size will please the camera fans, especially with its dual-capture, face detection and panorama shots. It's also capable of taking some great low-light images. While we weren't exceptionally pleased with the photos we were given in artificial lighting situations, when out there in the real world and snapping photos, well, the pictures were pretty fantastic. The optical image stabilization helped quite a bit.

Microsoft's other excellent addition to Windows Phone is the software keyboard. It's still one of the best out there, and we'd be stepping in the wrong direction if we said that the larger screen doesn't make it even more comfortable, generally speaking, to type on. You don't have to worry about any cramped keys here.

Our time with making calls and receiving them, as well as testing the overall network strength throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area and far north, left us pretty happy. There were some areas where we've had more bars on other devices, at least for short periods of time, but in the end the Lumia 1520 handled itself quite admirably. Moreover, call quality, both on our end and on the other, was rated well above average.


This year we saw the release of a lot of different top=tier, must-have Lumia devices. They ranged a bit in screen sizes, especially on the international market, but for the most part the Lumia 1520 is a stand-out handset. It's a big phone. In most cases, it may be too big. However, it's more than obvious that something like this is completely subjective. I can't tell you if it's too big. Was it too big for me? Yes, yes it was. A device this big makes me realize why a 4.7-inch device is the perfect smartphone size for me. While the keyboard may have been comfortable to type on, using the device for just about everything else was uncomfortable. For me.

When it comes to a device that has one of its prime factors revolving around screen size, then it's up to you to determine if it's the right size for you. From a purely specs level, the 1080p HD panel truly is a beauty, and if you can see yourself using a handset this big more often than not as your primary device, the display technology will definitely not disappoint.

The Verdict

The Good: Strong, thing, lightweight, sturdy design. Great display. Impressive camera. Quick and stable OS. Long-lasting battery.

The Bad: Display may be too big for some. Not enough built-in storage. App store still not as well developed as main competitors.

The Verdict: If you can get behind the huge display, then there won't be much to detract you from the Lumia 1520. With a great camera, great battery life, and an outstanding specs sheet, the large device is truly one of the best Windows Phone-based devices on the market, if not one of the best handsets in general.

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