Nokia Lumia 520 review: Affordable with an excellent screen and dual-core processor

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Affordable price; Excellent screen; Decent bundled apps, especially sat-nav; Colourful changeable covers; Expandable storage and swappable battery.

The Bad Lacklustre rear camera; No front-facing camera; Unimpressive battery; Windows Phone app store still lags rivals.

The Bottom Line The Nokia Lumia 520 offers useful Nokia apps, a decent screen and a dual-core processor -- the same specs you'll find on the much more expensive Lumia 720. Unless you crave a better camera, the 520 is a total bargain.

Don't Miss

If you're bored of staring round at the same grey slabs in everyone's hands and want something more cheerful in your life, Nokia's Lumia range might be right up your alley. All its models sport eye-wateringly vibrant bodies, along with the kaleidoscopic live tiles of the Windows Phone operating system .

The Lumia 520 is the final addition to the current range, sliding in at the very bottom of the pile. Although it's the entry-level model, the 520 is far from basic, packing a respectable 800x480-pixel display and a dual-core processor.

It's available now for free on a contract from £29 per month, or on pay as you go from O2 for £120 or £150 SIM-free from Carphone Warehouse.

Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 520?

The 520's crisp, vibrant 4-inch screen is easily among the best displays at this price range and is in fact the same resolution you'd find in the more expensive Lumia 720 . It boasts a dual-core processor that you'd usually found in more expensive mobiles -- again, it's in the 720.

You also get the same Nokia apps -- including the excellent GPS satellite navigation tool Drive -- on the 520 that you will on any of the other Lumias. It's very difficult to recommend the 720 as so many of its features are shared by much cheaper models. The 520, however, is unquestionably a fantastic bargain.

It's colourful, easy to fit in the palm of your hand, and you can replace the back covers when they start to look worn. It doesn't have the same camera skills as its higher-end brothers though. Its 5-megapixel camera can't compare to the 720's snapper. If photography is important to you, avoid the 520.

Nokia Lumia 520 removable case
The Lumia 520's camera is its one weak point.

If you want a pocket-sized, easy to use smart phone and don't want to break the bank, the 520 is a superb choice. The Lumia 620 costs £30 more on O2, but it has a front-facing camera for video calling, a compass to let you use the City Lens app as well as NFC capabilities for instant pairing to compatible Bluetooth devices.

Alternatively, you can turn to Android -- you'll have a much wider selection of apps to choose from. At £90 the Acer Liquid Z2 is even cheaper than the 520, but its screen doesn't even come close.

Design and build quality

The bright yellow plastic back of the 520 should immediately give you a whopping clue that this is part of Nokia's vivid Lumia range. Like the 620 above it, the 520 is available with a range of colourful back casings.

Also like the 620, these cases are removable, letting you change the colour to match your outfit if you're that way inclined. It also means you can throw out your battered and bruised case, replacing it with a sparkly fresh one. No top-end smart phones make use of interchangeable cases like this -- scratch up your £600 iPhone 5 and there's not a thing you can do about it. The screen can't be replaced though, so you'll still need to be careful -- it's no CAT phone .

Nokia Lumia 520 removable case
Pop the back off and swap the battery, or give your phone a new look.

The phone is 120mm long, 64mm wide and is 10mm thick. That's longer and wider than the 620, thanks to the 4-inch display -- the 620 has a smaller 3.8-inch screen. Its size means you're not forced to attach extending tips to your thumbs to make them stretch across the screen. If you find phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 a tad on the wide side, you'll be well served by the 520.

The rounded plastic back sits very comfortably in the palm of your hand and with a weight of only 124g, it won't drag you down. The light weight has the knock-on effect, however, of making it feel cheap, which isn't helped by the flimsy back panel. It is extremely cheap of course, so I'm happy to forgive that. Let's not forget the much more expensive S3's back panel feels horrifically plasticky -- and that didn't stop it selling by the boatload.

The back cases are at least thick enough to protect its more delicate internal components from the majority of wear and tear. Elsewhere, there's nothing about the 520's construction that caused any concern -- and that's not something I can say about all phones at this price.

Around the sides you'll spy a volume rocker, power button, dedicated camera shutter button, micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack. The 520 comes with 8GB of internal storage, but you'll find a microSD card slot hidden under the battery. It allows you to expand the storage if you want to save more music and videos locally -- a useful feature you don't find on many high-end phones, such as the Lumia 920 or iPhone 5.

Display

The 520's display is almost definitely the best display I've seen on a phone for this price. Its 4-inch size means there's enough room to properly show off Web pages without having to do too much zooming, but isn't so big as to act as a wind break when you take it out in a breeze.

Better yet, it has an 800x480-pixel resolution, which is actually the same number of pixels you'll find in the Lumia 720 and 820, which come in at £300 and £350, respectively, on pay as you go. If you're forking out that kind of cash, you'd be right to be miffed that you're getting the same pixels as a phone a third of the price. Looking at it the other way round, however, means the 520 is great value.

It has a pixel density of 235 pixels per inch (ppi), beating the 217ppi you get with the more expensive 720. Small text was perfectly legible and edges around Windows Phone's gaudy tiles were sharp and clear. By comparison, the Acer Liquid Z2 packs only a 480x320-pixel resolution, which made text look poorly defined.

It's not only sharp, but black levels are deep, contrast is impressive and colours are satisfyingly rich. It's easily among the best screens you can get on a phone of this price, if not the best.

Windows Phone 8 software

It's running on Windows Phone 8, the latest mobile operating system from Microsoft. It's a very different beast to both Android and iOS -- if you want something that doesn't look like all your mates' Android phones and iPhones, it's a fun option to consider.

Its homescreen is made up of a long grid of colourful tiles, each displaying live information. You can move them around and resize them to your heart's content. It has an even simpler aesthetic than iOS, but allows for some of the customisation tweaks you'll find in Android. Any apps you don't want to put pride of place on your homescreen can be found in a list when you swipe to the left.

Nokia Lumia 520
The Windows Phone 8 experience you'll see on the 520 is the same you'll get on any other Windows Phone device.

The People and Me hubs are the undeniable gems of Windows Phone. Connect your social network accounts and you'll be able to see updates from all your friends in one place. You can easily find contact details and message them using any of the methods you've added -- social channels, email, text and so on. You're able to group your favourite friends together for quick access to their updates.

In the Me hub, you can post updates and photos to all your linked social accounts from the one spot -- saving you having to jump in and out of separate apps. It'll show all your notifications too. If you're a social butterfly, you'll find it very easy to see what's going on and tell everyone about your food and pets without lots of additional screen taps.

Windows Phone is still let down by its app selection though. Although it's slowly increasing, adding key items like Netflix, Skype and Spotify, it's woefully understocked compared to Android and iOS. Those of you who love chatting about the latest fashionable game to hit the iPhone won't be satisfied with the selection, or the long wait you'll have to endure to get games that everyone else has already gotten bored with.

Nokia apps

Nokia has bundled a host of its own software with the 520, which helps plug some of the holes left by the understocked app store. They're mostly map-based apps, so gamers shouldn't get too excited -- there's no classic Nokia Snake -- but they're handy additions.

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Where to Buy

Nokia Lumia 520

Part Number: A00011045
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Regional specs shown for US. UK specs are unavailable.

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider not specified
  • Weight 4.4 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4 in
  • Sensor Resolution 5 pixels
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