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Slim Nokia Lumia 1520 has 6-inch HD screen, 20MP camera, quad-core (hands-on)

Stacked with high-end hardware features and a new UI, Nokia's new 6-inch Lumia is the company's largest phone to date. And also one of its best.

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Bigger isn't always better, but it is in the case of Nokia's 6-inch Lumia 1520, which Nokia unveiled on Tuesday at Nokia World in Abu Dhabi. Slimmer and lighter than you'd expect of a supersize handset, the 1520 brings the goods: a 1080p HD display, a 20-megapixel camera, and a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor.

In fact, the 1520 -- along with its more scaled-back cohort, the Lumia 1320 -- represents a couple of firsts: Nokia and Microsoft's first phablets, and the first devices to ship with Microsoft's updated Windows Phone OS, which includes a new three-column interface for extra-large phones and a few extra tidbits. The 1520 is also the first handset for both Nokia and Windows Phone to embrace a quad-core CPU.

We got to go hands-on with the surprisingly sleek device, and here's what we found.

Design and build
The first thing you notice when laying eyes and hands on the 1520 colossus is that it's a lot lighter, slimmer, and sexier than many a phablet. Nokia clearly worked hard to keep the 1520's depth a svelte 8.6 millimeters (0.3 inch), which safely steers it clear of past criticism of the chunkiness of the company's smartphone line (like the Lumia 920, and 820 series, for instance).

As you turn the sharp-cornered rectangle around, you'll also see that Nokia extended its mindfulness about keeping the phone design trim and lean to the camera. Though it's a 20-megapixel camera, the mount only protrudes a bit from the back, surrounded by a sloped-up lip. The whole thing is about the size of a quarter. Nokia switches out the Xenon flash of its Lumia 1020 camera workhorse for a dual LED flash here, partially in an effort to watch the 1520's waistline.

The 1520 -- which comes in glossy red, matte black, matte white, and yellow colors (I saw it in red and black) -- handles well for its size. Proportionally, it feels tall rather than squat, though the device is still far too massive for my hands and I had to stretch my fingers uncomfortably to try to perform some tasks one-handed. Of course, my hands are on the smaller side, and size is a matter of personal preference anyhow.

Unlike some other phones of this size, the Lumia 1520 has no software provisions for one-handed operation. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; I'm not convinced that those modifications work so well anyhow. On the other hand, the touch-sensitive targets are larger, so you'll have a good chance of hitting what you want anyhow.

Not to drum it home, but the size really can't be ignored, especially for those who are on the fence about investing in a smartphone this big. I will say that it stuck out halfway from my back pocket, and even more from the front pocket. It did, however, fit better in the front or back pocket of a man's loose slacks, and I could see it sliding into the internal pocket of a blazer. Likewise, there's plenty of room for a 1520 in a satchel or purse.

Most of the phone's chassis is taken up by its 6-inch 1080p HD LCD screen, which made the Windows Phone start screen pop. Nokia always wins my appreciation for its work on ratcheting down screen reflectance with a polarizing filter called ClearBlack Display. Not only is it intended to cut down reading glare in direct sunlight, it also helps keep light bounceback in check indoors.

Looking over at the left spine of the phone's polycarbonate unibody frame, and you'll notice not one closed door, but two. Above the SIM card door is one for a microSD card, which lets you expand the 32GB internal storage with even more space. This slot, which you open with a tool that comes in the box (or a paper clip or earring back in a pinch), puts the 1520 on par in terms of storage with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and HTC One Max.

You'll also find the headset jack along its rim, in addition to the Micro-USB charging port, and power/lock, volume, and camera shutter buttons. Nokia proudly points out that the 1520 houses four microphones, one for the top and bottom of each side, to control noise if you do happen to hold the alarmingly large handset to your ear.

OS and features
Along with the 1320, the Lumia 1520 is the first to ship Microsoft's slightly updated OS, imaginatively called Windows Phone 8 Update 3. The main thing you need to know is that this tweak introduces a three-column view for device screens measuring 6 inches and above.

This layout looks natural on the 1520, not toylike as it could have looked if Microsoft had just opted to increase the size of its already large live tiles. The three-column view has the bonus of bringing more icons to the screen, which means less scrolling for you, especially if you make use of the smallest tiles. You'll also find that more e-mails and photos fill the screen, another fringe benefit of upsizing.

Nokia says that Flipboard will ship with this device, a first for Windows Phone after months of waiting. I didn't get a chance to see that in my demo, but I did see Nokia's new Storyteller app, which mashes up your photo gallery with geotagging to create a timeline of your happenings that you can follow along on a map.

The interface looked clean, and I love the idea of Nokia software intelligently using metadata to cluster together photos by theme (yes, you can edit them if the groupings are wrong). Nokia pitches the app as a more comprehensive way to tell family and friends about recent trips, especially since the app uses Nokia's Here mapping software to pull in nearby businesses and landmarks.

Nokia's 6-inch Lumia superphone uses Windows Phone's new three-column interface for extra-large devices. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

At these early demo stages, it just isn't clear if Storyteller is a pretty but minimally useful addition, or a feature that people will learn to use. Folks who prefer a spatial reference to locations (like my dad, who endearingly interrupts stories to ask for cross streets), are likely to get the most excited.

Back on the hardware end of things, there's NFC onboard, and Qi wireless charging makes its return.

Cameras and video
Nokia's deep investment in outrageous optics continues in the Lumia 1520. Like other Nokia phones, the 1520 uses Carl Zeiss Optics and the PureView technology that Nokia is associating with its brand. There are ball bearings for optical image stabilization, and a dual-LED flash, a departure from the xenon flash found in both Verizon's Lumia 928 and in the Lumia 1020.

You'll also find a BSI sensor and a 2.4 aperture, 16:9 default aspect ratio, and 26mm focal length.

In addition to hardware, the 1520's camera app has roughly the same Nokia Pro cam app we saw in the Lumia 1020, down to the onscreen controls you can tap to futz with exposure ratings, and so on. The 1520's version also bundles in a shortcut to the Nokia Smart Cam app, which was previously a lens of its own. Now, you tap an onscreen button to get at those tools, which includes "Best face" for group photos and some action modes.

Nokia also introduces a separate lens (read: camera app) called Refocus, which works like the Lytro camera to shift focus after you take a shot.

These additions certainly boost the camera's capabilities, but Nokia hasn't made fixes that would answer most of my UI critiques, like clarifying some confusing icons and adding an onscreen control to quickly toggle between the front and back cameras. Note, too, that the default camera app isn't the native Windows Phone camera, so if you'd prefer to use that one, you'll need to switch.

There wasn't much of a chance to really examine image quality, but Nokia has typically been able to produce strong images, especially in low-light conditions. The 1520 won't do the incredible lossless cropping you got with the 1020's 41-megapixel shooter, but cropping in should still yield some detail-rich results. We'll have a deeper look at the camera apps and image quality coming up as soon as we get more time with the phone.

Quad-core power and other hardware
This Lumia is a quad-core first for Windows Phone and Nokia both. In this case, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chipset runs the show. It's certainly among the fastest CPUs CNET has tested on other smartphones, so performance should also be a high point here.

LTE readiness is another capability, even if the faster 4G isn't used in every region worldwide. You'll get 32GB internal storage in the 1520, which is the same you'll see in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and at least one version of HTC's One Max. In addition, you do have that microSD card slot capable of taking 64GB storage, along with 2GB RAM.

Nokia Lumia 1520 with aftermarket cover
Nokia's aftermarket cover folds in on itself to turn into a rather flimsy stand. Nokia

Battery capacity is a respectable 3,400mAh, which should keep the 1520 going for at least a full workday without requiring a charge. Depending on how you use it, you'll drain resources faster doing things like streaming photos and video.

Pricing and availability
With top-notch specs across the board, the Lumia 1520 is sold as a premium device. It'll cost $750 unsubsidized. For reference, this is identical in price to the unsubsidized 32GB iPhone 5S, $30-$50 more than the unsubsidized Note 3 (which also incorporates a stylus and writing software), about $100 more than the Samsung Galaxy S4, and $150 higher than the full-price Lumia 1020 at AT&T. The subsidized prices should break down to about $250 on-contract.

AT&T was the first out of the gate to announce carrier support for the 1520, but there's no word yet on pricing or colors. Look for additional carrier announcements to come to mature markets like the US and parts of Europe, among others. It's likely we'll see the 1520 land in time for the holiday push.

How the Lumia 1520 stacks up
Nokia came to compete in the extra-large smartphone space, and that it does, bringing top-notch specs and attractive hardware to an increasingly crowded field.

Compared with other Nokia phones, the supersize 1520 is a whopper, but it's also thin enough to suggest that Nokia can kiss its thick-Lumia image goodbye. Taken together, top-tier screen, processor, and camera specs make the 1520 the most advanced Windows Phone device there is, although its massive form won't appeal to everyone. It'll also be Nokia's most expensive handset.

When weighed against other phablet designs, the 1520 fits right in. Phones are trending big -- really big -- so it's good for Nokia to throw its own hat into the ring. The Lumia 1520 costs about the same as other premium phablets and brings specs that match, so performance should be roughly equivalent. (Due to its high price, the 1520 isn't meant to compete on the same scale as the $350 Lumia 1320 (also 6 inches), or even the $600 unsubsidized Samsung Galaxy Mega, both of which are positioned as midrange phablets.)

The real question mark hanging over it is if it can survive the rising Android tide. Windows Phone still falls behind Android in adoption and capabilities. While it's unlikely that the 1520 will win new customers away from Android, Nokia won't lose current OS fans and new smartphone users who yearn for that near-tablet size.

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