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Nokia Lumia 1320 Review

-- Introduction:
The last time I held a phone which felt this humongous was back when I owned a Nokia E90. While "brick-like" is the only honest way to describe that now-ancient device, it made up for it at the time by the inclusion of a large LCD and spacious internal keyboard. Handling the Lumia 1320, with its cumbersome dimensions and awe-inspiringly large display, reminded me in many ways of the E90.

However a lot has changed since the E-Series monster roamed the world. (Pun intended.) Back in its heydey, the Symbian-powered clunker was more or less the only large-and-in-charge device on the market. But ever since the original iPhone ushered in the era of "real" smartphones, device manufacturers have been constantly one-upping each other in the race to incorporate the largest displays into their devices, and in doing so, releasing sequentially larger smartphones. This is a race that, for the most part, Nokia hasn't bothered to concern itself with.

Until now. Enter the Lumia 1520 and its business oriented brother, the 1320, the latter of which is being reviewed here. While the former inherited a watered-down version of the excellent PureView camera found on the Lumia 1020, the 1320 ditches the fancy camera and a gigabyte of RAM in exchange for a more digestible price tag. How'd it turn out? Let's dig in and see.

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-- Design:
Nokia used to redefine, or at least tweak, its design language on every new handset it released. That resulted in a lot of beautiful and timeless devices, such as the N93i, E71, N86, and E7, just to name a few. But it also resulted in a lot of forgettable devices which, despite their merits, showed their age after just a few months. (The E70 comes to mind.)

When Nokia released the N9, the practice of churning out countless designs built around more or less the same hardware ended. Instead, Nokia adopted the successful design language implemented by Anton Fahlgren's team when they built the terminal-upon-arrival N9. Just because its operating system was being taken off of life support didn't mean that the clean lines and overall aesthetic need be euthanized, something Nokia was definitely aware of. They wound up porting most of the design over to Nokia's first Windows Phone-powered device, the successful Lumia 800.

One glance at the Lumia 1320 is all it takes to determine that it descends from the same lineage that began with the N9. While the design language has undoubtedly evolved a bit over the past couple of years, the bulk of it remains at least familiar. Namely, the device is externally composed of a large touchscreen display set into a colorful polycarbonate shell. Unlike most of the flagship Lumias, however, the 1320's shell is removable and interchangeable, though the battery is regrettably inaccessible even with this cover removed.

With the-- what in my case is called "red" according to Nokia-- shell installed, one will quickly notice the ho-hum 5-megapixel camera paired with a single flash located on the backside of the phone towards the top. While utterly pitiable when compared against any Nokia equipped with a PureView-branded camera, this is a fairly decent shooter for documenting spontaneous moments in life. Just don't expect it to produce print-worthy snaps.

Moving towards the right-hand edge of the device are to be found the volume rocker, power button, and camera shutter. The latter is, as should be expected, a two-stage affair just like that found on a dedicated point-and-shoot. This shutter has surprisingly good tactile feedback despite its being paired with a lesser camera.

Pop off the polycarbonate shell and the Micro-SIM and Micro-SD slots reveal themselves. While the ability to up one's storage capacity is a welcome feature, the process of removing that cover isn't exactly a walk in the park. Out of fear that the phone will go shooting across the room and hit the floor / wall / cat, I predict that most users of the 1320 will simply insert the largest capacity card they have on-hand and then forget about it. Which is probably for the best, as we don't need people jamming cards into the wrong slots and winding up with fancy clocks.

With the phone back together and flipped over to reveal its face, one is confronted with the 6-inch IPS LCD panel featuring Nokia's ClearBlack technology, the star of the show. It is, owing largely to the tech infused into it, one of the best displays I have been confronted with to date. So good, in fact, that I took to the internet to verify that it wasn't actually an AMOLED panel. Curiously enough, the Windows Phone-specific navigation keys located below the exceptional display are less than stellar, featuring no sort of illumination to help users find them in the dark.

Taken as a whole, the Lumia 1320 is a well-crafted phone with no major design weak spots. Sure, one might argue that the lack of lighting for the navigation keys is a major oversight on Nokia's part, but finding these keys will very quickly become second nature for users, and they'll quickly forget the omission. The shell, while difficult to remove without practice, is unlikely to be frequently detached and replaced in day-to-day usage. Just about the only thing actually awkward about the design of the phone is its size, which brings us neatly to the next section.

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Actually holding the Lumia 1320 feels, at least initially, a bit strange. While it isn't exactly brick-like, an attribute that the E90 definitely embodied, it took me a while to figure out just how to interact with it. Set next to my daily carry, a Nexus 4, the 1320’s massive display looks like it'd happily swallow the smaller Google phone. The phone's imposing dimensions became even more apparent when I had to re-learn just what actions required the use of both of my hands, and which I could accomplish with only one (mildly) stretched thumb.

Having overcome my initial awkwardness, using the 6-inch smartphone feels... well, more or less like Windows Phone, just on a bigger screen. The extra real estate means an extra column of space to pin applications to on the homescreen, and that's about it. Anyone used to Windows Phone 8 (or even 7) will find themselves right at home on this device.

The upside to a familiar user experience is that jumping from, say, a Lumia 520 to the 1320 turns up no nasty surprises. Unfortunately this is a double-edged sword, as it also means that there's nothing new to find. Enter exhibit A: Internet Explorer. While there's nothing actually wrong with the app itself, not much has changed aesthetically since its first appearance back on a Zune HD in 2009. That means it feels rather dated. With it open on the 1320, scaled up to match the screen size, this datedness is felt almost immediately. Still, it's a lot better than the tablet / phablet / phone fragmentation that currently plagues Android.

Update 4/3/2014: Looks like Microsoft was aware of IE's dated appearance and stepped up to make it appear a bit more modern.

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The 1320 made even my 11" MacBook Air look small.

If memory serves me right, the last time I reviewed a phone built for business purposes was about three years ago, when I gave the Nokia E7 a spin. Despite it running a clunky touchscreen adaptation of Symbian S60, it was a phone that I found myself liking. I even described it as being "one of the best looking Nokia devices of all time," a compliment I stand by even today. Holding the 1320 in my hand, I find it hard to bestow similar praise upon it, if only because of how vanilla it appears visually.

Not that there's anything wrong with vanilla. After all, there's a reason that companies the world over equip their employees with aesthetically minimal devices: they look clean and professional, an image that they hope comes to be associated with their own brand. Seeing as the Lumia 1320 fits these requirements, I don't doubt that it will see some sort of deployment amongst the workforce. That being said, I bet it won't be dressed in the burnt-orange shell that my review unit arrived in. But who am I to say?