Nokia Lumia 2520, A Good Windows Tablet

Design

nokia lumia 2520 - designAs soon as you pick up the Lumia 2520 it’s apparent Nokia has taken an old-school approach to the design – valuing features and connectivity over trimness and lightness. At 615g it’s quite a heavy tablet, far heavier than the recent iPad Air or Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, and is a fair amount larger too at 267mm x 168mm x 8.9mm, although it does offer more screen and a huge array of connection options – more on that later. Not much effort has been made to keep the bezel thin either, there’s a very apparent black border all the way around the screen but the Lumia 2520 remains a pretty and fun looking tablet and the rounded, glossy plastic edges are comfortable to hold. It’s not very grippy, however, as you’ll struggle to keep it from slipping if you try to pop it up at an angle on a nightstand or desk.The black plastic power and volume buttons sit together along the top edge when the Lumia is held in landscape. It’s not the best of placements as the buttons feel very similar, which means you invariably end up hitting the wrong one. Also along the top is a recessed combined microSD and SIM card slot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sit as flush as it should to the frame and ruins the otherwise clean lines. The back is sparse save for small Nokia and NFC logos and the Zeiss lens camera. There’s a surprising amount of flex and give to it, particularly in the middle. The lack of rigidity means that even a little applied pressure makes the Lumia 2520 creak ominously, and the screen to distort a little. This isn’t to say this is a badly made tablet, it’s just that it doesn’t feel quite as well put together as some of the competition. So the Nokia Lumia 2520 doesn’t quite have the premium feel of the iPad or the grippy soft touch of the Nexus 7 or Kindle HDX range, but the bold glossy red and Matt blue colors are nevertheless stylishly appealing and it certainly doesn’t look cheap. Black and white versions are also available, too, giving you more options than you do with most tablets.

nokia lumia 2520 - design 2

 

Keyboard

To give you a quick rundown of the design, it’s made out of a black soft-touch material — a pleasant contrast to the smooth plastic on the tablet itself. All told, between the soft finish and the fact that it doesn’t pick up fingerprints, it has a premium feel; it looks the part of a $149 accessory. What I like best is that the part of the case that props up the tablet attaches to the base with a satisfying magnetic thump. Once it’s latched on and you’ve got the tablet standing up, you’d have to actively pull it away from the magnet to separate the two pieces. Likewise, when the case is shut, the touchpad flap folds over and attaches magnetically to the rest of the book.Another nice thing about the design is that it leaves the top, left and right edges exposed, so you can keep your headphones or power cord plugged in as you’re typing. Indeed, to charge the case you just need to have the tablet plugged in and connected to the AC adapter. Which is nice because it means you only have to remember to take one charger with you. As for those two USB ports, they’re located on the back edge, at the base of the “kickstand” portion of the case — not the easiest place to reach, but at least you can keep cables out of sight.With the exception of some larger buttons, like the Enter and Backspace keys, all of the buttons here have a small, square shape, about the size of a thumbnail.

nokia lumia 2520 - keyboard

A handful of buttons, including the question mark key, are even smaller. The buttons also have a textured plastic finish — not unlike a netbook circa 2008. It’s a pretty cramped layout, not least because Nokia built in some space between each key.There’s a bigger issue with the 2520’s keyboard cover, though, and that’s that it can be uncomfortable to use in the lap. Part of the problem is that the case’s weight distribution is such that it’s heavily stacked toward the back end, making it easier to topple over. Also, the tablet only props up in one position. Of course, it just so happens that the viewing angles on this thing are great, but even with that highly readable screen, this propped-up position doesn’t feel very stable.

Display

The 10.1-inch screen’s full-HD resolution is perfectly adequate. Yes, it’s lower-res than the iPad Air and Kindle HDX 8.9 but text is sharp, colors vivid and you won’t be disappointed with the 218 ppi (pixels per inch) unless you like reading tiny text.It’s a proper fingerprint magnet and is also quite reflective, but it’s an impressively bright screen. At 650 nits, it’s a lot brighter than the Air or the Surface 2. The extra brightness comes at the expense of uniformity, however. At full power there is a little light-bleed from the left hand edge of the tablet and blacks can look a little grey. Color accuracy also suffers as, while rich, there’s an unnatural yellowish hue.Some people may prefer a warmer tone, but we like the more accurate colors on the iPad Air and Kindle HDX 8.9. That’s not to say the Lumia has a bad display, it’s actually very good, but there are better around. 

nokia lumia 2520 - display

 

Windows  RT 8.1

the Nokia Lumia 2520 merely limps along due to the thorn in its foot that is Windows 8.1 RT, and it’s a shame.Sure, the OS brings improvements over Windows 8 RT: tighter integration of Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage service brings much-needed offline file-editing, caching and automatic syncing, in addition to more flexible customization of Start Screen tiles. Windows RT 8.1 still doesn’t let you install any of the 4 million desktop Windows apps in circulation today, instead forcing you to use ones from Microsoft’s own app store. That’s not nokia lumia 2520 - windowsthe regular Windows 8 Windows Store that’s introduced over 100,000 new apps over the last 12 months either, it’s the RT variant that’s still majorly lacking.There are many reasons why this is irksome: the most obvious being that it seriously restricts what you can do with the device. You can’t even download a browser other than Internet Explorer, which leaves you locked out of Chrome and Firefox’s growing ecosystems of extensions.Other big name apps are missing too, such as Dropbox and IMDB. Crucially for music lovers, Spotify is missing, forcing you to use the web app instead. Spotify’s absence is particularly troubling as the company could be in the running to offer its music service for free on mobile services for the first time (supported by advertisements), which is just one example of how you would be missing out if you opted for a tablet running Windows RT than one running full-fat Windows.On the other hand you get Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 pre-installed. It includes Outlook, Word, OneNote, Excel and PowerPoint, all of which run on the desktop rather than in full-screen Modern UI mode. The apps are touch friendly thanks to enlarged toolbars, but you’ll still need a bluetooth keyboard (Nokia Power Cover or otherwise) and a bluetooth mouse if you’re serious about getting any actual work done.Thankfully, the Office RT apps open faster than ever before, with no waiting around like you had to do on the Surface RT (which has since been renamed to just Surface), and files can be saved directly to SkyDrive and edited offline in a similar manner to Google Drive and Dropbox’s desktop apps. Once you’re back online the edited files are automatically synchronized to Microsoft’s servers.

Speakers

Nokia has managed to pack an impressive set of stereo speakers into the Lumia 2520. Two discreet cuts at the bottom of where the screen bezel and the body meet hide them, which means the Lumia is one of the few tablets with front facing speakers. This allows sound to be directed towards you, rather than away. Top volume is plenty loud, although stereo separation is not very apparent and there’s a harsh, treble tone at louder levels making dialogue higher pitched than it should be. Nonetheless, we enjoyed watching several movies on it and the high volume meant that we could hear even in a noisy kitchen, something the iPad Air fails to deliver, even though the sound is more accurate.

Performance

Just like the new Lumia 1520, the 2520 runs Qualcomm’s latest and greatest processor: a quad-core, 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 chip, paired with a quad-core Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. Until recently, we’ve mostly seen the 800 used on Android devices, with the Lumia 1520 being the first Windows Phone device to make use of it. Likewise, this is the first Windows RT tablet we’ve seen with an 800 chip, though admittedly, the only other RT device is the Surface 2, which has Tegra 4. At any rate, we now have proof that the 800 is just as capable of handling Windows RT as it is Android and Windows Phone. Programs launch quickly and it’s easy to navigate menus and cycle through open apps. Occasionally, the display didn’t respond when I used a single finger to tap an on-screen object, like a backward-navigation arrow. 

nokia lumia 2520 - performance

Thankfully, those hiccups were the exception, not the rule .In outdoor use, the GPS radio found my coordinates almost instantly, putting me not only on the right block, but also in front of the right building. From there, I was able to smoothly zoom inside Nokia’s Here Maps app without any tiling or stuttering. For whatever reason, Speedtest gave some suspiciously low numbers. That said, It was always able to find a signal, though in areas with lots of tall buildings, my connection often fell to two bars. At that point, It could still load webpages in a few seconds, but with more of a pause than there would have been otherwise. In web browsing, the 2520 ranked slightly worse than the Surface 2 in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, with a score of 508.4ms (lower numbers are better). It’s still a strong score, though, by any measure.

Nokia apps

nokia lumia 2520 - appsAnd then there’s Nokia’s own apps that come with the device. Though welcome, they’re hard to get excited about, made up of Nokia’s Here Maps, Nokia Music, Nokia Camera, Storyteller and Nokia Video Director.Nokia Video Director is an slickly presented video editing app that lets you line up different clips to make into a longer reel. You can choose to import videos from the camera roll or shoot them there and then, trimming any footage in the process before applying effects and captions. It’s a fun and novel way of putting together an amateur production – such as weaving together birthday events in chronological order – but it isn’t really suited to anything more complicated.Google hasn’t yet released its own mapping app on Windows RT 8.1 (you would have to use its browser-based Google Maps instead), so you’re left with a choice of Nokia’s own capable HERE Maps or Microsoft’s Bing Maps app if you’re looking for a native solution to guide you around on the Nokia Lumia 2520.Nokia’s Maps app features similar controls to Google’s offering, allowing you to navigate by dragging your fingers in different directions and tapping to zoom. Like Google Maps it serves up local search data with directions for walking and driving, but there isn’t a great deal setting the two offerings apart. Nokia’s HERE maps is a solid alternative in the absence of Google Maps, and opting for a 4G SIM would clearly benefit happy wanderers.Nokia Music is a confusing app. I expected it to be a Spotify-like music streaming service, but instead you’re restricted to music stored locally on the device or ‘mixes’ sorted by genre that are streamed from the company’s cloud.There’s no apparent structure to how you cycle through the tracks; clicking the ‘next’ button plays the next queued track (there’s no way of knowing what’s in the playlist), and the service stops every hour after you’ve gone through six plays unless you sign up to Nokia’s premium Nokia Music+ service. All in all, it’s not particularly compelling.It did however give us a chance to test the Nokia Lumia 2520’s speakers, which provide rich and satisfying sound out of the front-facing speakers that are hidden nokia lumia 2520 - apps 2behind the screen along the bottom.The only game bundled with the 2520, Disney’s Dragons Adventure, is based on an intriguing concept. You control the movements of a dragon that flies around in the air, whether that’s catching fish out of a pond or gathering resources. The path of the dragon changes as you move (it follows the tablet via its GPS link), meaning that your real-world route has an impact on the game. Is it worth buying the Nokia 2520 for? Absolutely not, but it’ll keep younger gamers happy during Sunday trips out with the parents.

 

Connectivity and features

Finally we come to an area where the Lumia 2520 can hold its head up high. Not only does it come with 150Mbps 4G connectivity as standard, but it also has a microSD card slot for cheap memory expansion – something you’ll need given only half of the advertised 32GB storage is available.While the entry-level iPad Air costs the same £400 as the Nokia 2520 you’ll need to stump up an extra £160 to get the 32GB 4G model and you still won’t have expandable storage.  Add to that 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB 3.0 for speedy data transfer (although, annoyingly, it requires and adapter) and a microHDMI port and you have one of the most connectable tablets on the market.In terms of wireless connectivity you get GPS, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi but, contrary to expectations not the faster 802.11 ac. That shouldn’t affect too many people as 802.11 ac routers are still reasonably rare.

Camera

The 2520 has a 6.7-megapixel BSI sensor, Carl Zeiss lens and f/1.9 aperture — the same camera module used in the Lumia 720, according to Nokia. Indeed, performance hasn’t changed here, though what’s merely average for a smartphone is actually quite good in the world of tablets — just because tablet cameras are rarely any good. After pressing the shutter, you’ll need to wait a second or so for the photo to process, but this will really only be an issue if you’re photographing moving objects.On the flip side, the camera consistently excels at macro shots, in a way that most tablet cameras don’t. The colors, too, are generally accurate, both in natural light and under fluorescent. In low light, we sometimes had to make use of the Nokia Camera app’s touch-to-focus feature, but once we guided the camera, it was quick to lock focus. All in all, the results were reasonably sharp — and that’s despite the fact that there’s no flash on board. Speaking of Nokia’s camera app, it’s worth noting the differences between that and the stock Windows camera app, which you can also use if you prefer. Though Nokia’s app is missing a panorama mode, you might want to use it anyway because of that tap-to-focus feature. Just keep in mind that whereas the stock Windows app lets you snap a photo by tapping anywhere on screen, with Nokia’s app, you have to hit the shutter button, specifically.you can change the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 4:3 and that’s about it. In other words, you won’t enjoy the same scene types, ISO, exposure or white balance settings that Microsoft offers in its stock Windows Phone 8 camera app, so the experience of using the camera here is a bit different than it was on the Lumia 720. Fortunately for all of us, the camera does just fine in auto mode, which means you can achieve generally good results even without manual options.That’s true of still photographs, anyway. Video recording feels like more of an afterthought, as it did on the 720. Our 720p/30fps sample clips showed the same balanced colors as our photos, but the video occasionally slipped out of focus, and there’s no image-stabilization technology to help mask camera shake. The sound quality is also a bit weak, in part because the mic setup doesn’t always cancel out wind noise. 

nokia lumia 2520 - camera

Battery Life

With a chunky 8120mAh battery powering the Lumia, it should have a fair amount of staying power, and it does. We managed to get more than 10 hours of constant use out of it including 6 hours of video streamed over Wi-Fi, 3 hours of emailing and web browsing, 30 minutes of word processing and an hour of app and benchmarking at about 50% brightness before it finally ran out. That’s a little more than the iPad Air, Surface 2 or Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 could muster but not so much as to make a huge difference to usage. Even better, when it does run out you can get 40% of the battery back with a 30-minute charge. That’s almost 5 hours. In addition, the Power Keyboard comes with an extra battery which provides yet another 5 hours of life.Quick charging is great but it comes at a price. The Nokia Lumia 2520 comes with a proprietary charger that means you better remember to take it with you on your travels are you will be in trouble.

Conclusion

Considering the Lumia 2520 is Nokia’s first Windows tablet, the company produced a strong product its first time out. Because it’s so lightweight, the 2520 is easier to use in tablet mode than the Surface 2, and that stunning 665-nit display makes the experience even sweeter. Add to that long battery life, a high-quality camera and some generous pricing ($499 with LTE and 32GB of storage), and it’s pretty clear Nokia did good. At the same time, Nokia didn’t get everything right: A cheaper, WiFi-only version would have been nice, and the polycarbonate lid, as pretty as it is, picks up scratches a bit too easily. More than any of that, my most serious complaint has to do with the typing experience: Though the optional keyboard itself is serviceable (and adds a few extra hours of battery life), it’s uncomfortable to use in the lap, making on-the-go productivity a little more difficult. If you want a tablet that can pass muster as an occasional laptop replacement, you’re still better off with the Surface 2, which was redesigned specifically so that it would be easier to use in the lap. Otherwise, if you want a Windows tablet that’s mainly just a tablet — or if you need a tablet with 4G data — the 2520 is a strong choice.