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Nokia Lumia 520 Review - The Proletariat's Smartphone

During the past year, my opinion about Nokia has taken quite the rollercoaster. That being said, I’ll give credit where it is deserved, and commend Nokia on pulling of a rather surprising recovery from near obsolescence in the wake of the iPhone. While Symbian is now more or less dead, at least as far as Espoo’s flagship hardware is concerned, Nokia hasn’t really managed to get their new best friend, Microsoft’s Windows Phone, into devices sporting price points low enough for the bargain bin.

Cue the Lumia 520. The fact that the 520 sports hand-me-down specifications and a done-before design might otherwise be greeted with disdain, but only until price is factored in. Available as a carrier-locked phone for as cheap as $99 (USD) outright from AT&T, this is a device clearly aimed at the budget-conscious customer.

With that in mind, let’s give a quick look at the Nokia Lumia 520 to see if we can make any sense of it. Given that the phone’s system specifications have been reviewed elsewhere quite intensively, there’s little point to shining more light on those details. Instead, the focus will be predominantly on what sets this device itself apart from everything else.

Were one to take a quick glance at the Lumia 520, especially from afar, they’d be forgiven for mistaking it to be a much more premium Nokia device. Visual similarity is both a curse and a blessing to all members of Nokia’s current Windows Phone lineup, which in the case of the 520 works very much in its favor. The front of the handset is, like most other phones running Microsoft’s square-happy operating system, substantiated for the most part by a touchscreen display. Below it sit the requisite Windows Phone navigation keys, and above it the only thing that definitely defines any device these days as a phone versus a tablet: the earpiece.

Flipping the device over brings front and center the (in this case) bright yellow battery cover. It can be removed and replaced on the fly, allowing for easy access to the battery, Micro-SD and Micro-SIM slots found underneath. The cover is also perforated in three places to allow for access to the Micro-USB port, the loudspeaker and the camera.

Moving around to the right-hand side of the 520, one finds the only physical buttons that adorn the phone. From top-to-bottom, they are the volume rocker, power/standby button, and a two-stage shutter. While the black coloration of these buttons is quite striking in appearance, they are otherwise standard fare for the Lumia lineup and don’t really merit much further dwelling upon.

Since the amount of times it has been covered is nigh on innumerable, I won’t go into detail of the Windows Phone 8 software apart from stating that it remains one of the most solid mobile operating systems out there. While it lacks (most) of the customizability that Android aficionados have grown to take for granted, the software itself is extremely slick and everything feels quite polished. That said, the app ecosystem still can’t hold a candle to Google and Apple’s respective marketplaces. However for most everyday tasks, just about anything you could want is already available.

Having sufficiently enough described Windows Phone 8, there are a couple of specific things that sprang to mind the very first time I powered on the Lumia 520. The first of these being the quality of the display; while the color reproduction and brightness leave very little to be desired, especially for a budget phone, contrast leaves much to be desired, with the black portions of the screen making themselves rather apparent. It goes without saying that the omission of Nokia’s ClearBlack technology doesn’t take a trained eye to notice.

Moving quickly past the lackluster display, we come straight to a defect that actually seems to occur somewhat frequently among 520 handsets: a seemingly broken shutter key. Were I to postulate the cause, I’d assume that the guides running from the tactile button on the battery cover to the actual mechanical key on the phone’s motherboard aren’t properly aligned. Curiously enough, however, this is a malady which appears to work itself out after a few removals and reinstallations of the battery cover, resulting in a fully functioning shutter key endowed with exceptional tactile feedback. Why such a fault existed in the first place, and what actually fixed it, is anyone’s guess.

With the shutter key working, it is (Lumia) business as usual. All of the same value-contributing applications from Nokia are in full force here, including Nokia Drive featuring offline turn-by-turn GPS navigation for virtually the entire world. The value of this software addition cannot be understated, as its availability alone lends the 520 quite handily to international travel.


The Lumia 520 enters the budget smartphone arena with guns blazing. Simply put, nothing else can touch it. Everything else in its price bracket is slow, clunky, and looks the part of a budget phone. This budget Lumia, on the other hand, manages to incorporate slick software into a handsome, if recycled, exterior. It’s proof that a budget smartphone doesn’t have to be horrible, and shows that Nokia is truly committed to bringing Windows Phone to the masses.