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Nokia Lumia 2520 review: A tablet in the shadow of the Surface 2

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MSRP: $499.00

The Good The Nokia Lumia 2520 features fast gaming performance and LTE support out of the box. Xbox Music is an incredibly robust streaming app, and Nokia Music allows you to listen to songs you don't own without an Internet connection. It includes the full version of Office.

The Bad It's thicker and heavier than recent tablets, and its pointy corners are distracting. The screen has a yellow tint, storage expansion is only accessible with a key or paperclip, and the keyboard accessory isn't as comfortable to type on as the Surface 2's.

The Bottom Line Unless you want a Windows RT tablet with cellular connection, skip the Lumia 2520 and get the Surface 2 instead.

Visit for details.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

Nokia's first tablet isn't a bad device by any means. It delivers impressive gaming performance, has built-in cellular support, an incredibly bright screen, and includes a suite of Nokia-only apps.

However, I couldn't figure out why the 2520 is so thick. The Microsoft Surface 2 has just as much girth, but earns its corpulence with a kickstand and a full USB port.

The Lumia 2520's screen also has a distracting yellow tint, and the $149 keyboard/cover accessory isn't nearly as comfortable to type on as Surface 2's Type Cover.

It's great that it comes with a full version of Microsoft Office -- as all Windows RT tablets do -- but because it's running RT, that also means it's incompatible with legacy Windows programs and lacks app support compared with Android and iOS.

At $499, the 2520 is about $50 more expensive -- for the off-contract version -- than the Surface 2, placing it squarely in the shadow of Microsoft's RT tablet.

Design
If Nokia were going to make a tablet, based on its recent phone designs, the Lumia 2520 is almost exactly how I'd imagine it to look. The Verizon version we got for review has a striking red chassis and a thick jet-black bezel on the front. There's also an unmistakable plastic feel to its body, but it doesn't necessarily give off a cheap tablet vibe. The back is slightly sloped so that the edges of the tablet are a couple centimeters off your desk when laid down flat.

In light of recent tablet releases like the Apple iPad Air and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, the Lumia 2520 feels a bit heavy. To be sure, it's not quite as heavy as the Microsoft Surface 2, but with the lack of a kickstand, I found myself holding the 2520 in my hands a lot more than I did the Surface 2. So its heft was probably more noticeable to me.

Tested spec Nokia Lumia 2520 Apple iPad Air Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Asus Transformer Pad TF701 Microsoft Surface 2
Weight in pounds 1.35 1 0.82 1.28 1.44
Width in inches (landscape) 10.5 9.4 9.1 10.3 10.8
Height in inches 6.6 6.6 6.2 7.1 6.8
Depth in inches 0.35 0.29 0.31 0.34 0.35
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.9 0.8 0.7 0.8 0.7

The Lumia is slightly thicker than the Surface 2, but the Surface 2, with its aforementioned kickstand and full-size USB port, earns its extra girth; the 2520 has no such trade-off. Additionally, its corners are pointy and when held they're a constant reminder that rounded corners are the way to go on tablets -- especially those of the heavier ilk.

With the 2520 held in landscape, you'll find the headphone jack and power adapter port along the left edge, a power button and volume rocker on the top-right edge, and a key-accessible slot for the microSD card and SIM card on the far left of the top edge. On the right edge sits the Micro-HDMI port and Micro-USB 3.0 port. The 2520 also includes NFC. Nokia also outfits the Lumia 2520 with dual cameras: a 2-megapixel front and a 6.7-megapixel back.

The Lumia 2520 does little to earn its girth. James Martin/CNET

The Power Keyboard
If you're going to purchase the Lumia 2520, you should strongly consider buying Nokia's $149 keyboard/cover -- especially if you're planning to do lots of productivity tasks. Like Microsoft's Type Cover for the Surface 2, the Power Keyboard is a full laptop-style keyboard with all the keys and shortcuts you'd expect. However, since it's not as wide as the Type Cover, it doesn't feel as comfortable to type on.

It doesn't cramp up my hands like the Asus Transformer Pad TF701T's smaller keyboard does, but the experience isn't as pleasant as it is on the Surface 2. Also, the Power Keyboard's keys are small, hard, and lack backlighting. The polar opposite of the Type Cover. The keyboard does include two full USB ports in the back, an extra battery, and can fold up like a Trapper Keeper when you're on the move.

The keyboard is essential to the 2520's experience, so while I recommend it, I want to reiterate that it's not as good as Microsoft's Type Cover.

The $149 keyboard accessory's keys are hard and small. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Software features
The Nokia Lumia 2520 is one of only two Windows RT tablets released this year. The other is the Surface 2, which may explain why it's being so closely compared with Microsoft's tablet. In addition to its inclusion of Microsoft Office -- an advantage all Windows RT devices share -- the 2520 comes with a suite of Nokia apps, including its own camera app, Here Maps, Video Director, and Nokia Music.

Video Director allows you to very quickly and easily edit short video clips. You choose the video, select one of four different transition styles, and add intro and outro text. The app then spends a couple of seconds compiling the video before it starts playing.

Video Director is just that simple. Just don't expect anything on the level of iMovie. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Don't expect anything on the level of iMovie, but it's an easy way to jazz up your pics and video a bit. Here Maps is Nokia's own map software with an emphasis on personalization and easily finding restaurants, entertainment, and shopping options in your area.

Nokia Music follows the model of pretty much every streaming-music service, including Xbox Music -- which is also included -- but goes one step further by allowing you to cache some songs for offline playback.

Nokia Music lets you take your streaming choices offline. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Otherwise, this is the same Windows RT you'll see on the Surface 2. Check out the Surface 2 review for more details on Windows RT 8.1.

Performance
The Lumia 2520 features a 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution screen. That's the same resolution as the Surface 2's screen, but there are a few qualitative differences worth noting. For one, the Lumia 2520 has a significantly higher brightness than, not only the Surface 2, but any recent tablet.

However, the 2520's screen suffers from a yellowish tint that's most noticeable when viewing white backgrounds or when I put the Surface 2's screen -- which doesn't display a hint of those color problems -- sitting right next to it. It's not a huge deal, but it could be distracting once you've noticed it. Especially when you know there's something better.

Tested spec Nokia Lumia 2520 Apple iPad Air Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Asus Transformer Pad TF701T Microsoft Surface 2
Maximum brightness 676 cd/m2 421 cd/m2 472 cd/m2 383 cd/m2 315 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.53 cd/m2 0.39 cd/m2 0.40 cd/m2 0.35 cd/m2 0.24 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1,281:1 1,079:1 1,180:1 1,094:1 1,313:1
Pixel density 218ppi 264ppi 339ppi 299ppi 208ppi

I could smoothly zip around Windows RT's interface, and apps opened just as quickly as they did on the Surface 2. Unfortunately, the active area of the Windows home button is a bit small, and I sometimes had to make several attempts to tap it.

With a Snapdragon 800 system-on-chip, 3D games like Riptide GP ran at high frame rates, and the 2520's extra-bright screen lends even more vibrancy to graphics than I'm normally used to. In 3DMark Unlimited, the 2520 posted impressive scores, but it should be noted that the tablet's lower 1,920x1,080 resolution gives it a performance advantage over both the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and its 2,560x1600 resolution and the iPad Air's 2,048x1,536 screen res.

3DMark (Unlimited)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Nokia Lumia 2520
15,694 
Apple iPad Air
14,605 

Graphics Test 1 (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple iPad Air
101.8 
Nokia Lumia 2520
83.1 

Graphics test 2 (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Physics test (CPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Sunspider 1.0.2
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The front-facing camera captures grainy, dark, and tawny images. In comparison, the Surface 2's front camera displays sharp, bright images with accurate color. The 2520's back camera isn't much of an improvement, but it at least includes autofocus -- something curiously missing from the SUrface 2's back camera.

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 2520 suffers from a yellowish screen, an uncomfortable keyboard accessory, and a body that feels way too thick for a tablet with no kickstand or full USB port. Now, combine that with unimpressive cameras and a Windows key with too small a hitbox, and the overall superiority of the Surface 2 becomes readily apparent.

The Surface 2 by comparison houses a screen that's more color accurate, good games performance, and includes a much better front camera than the Lumia. Not to mention the aforementioned kickstand and full USB port.

The 32GB Lumia 2520 is $499 for the off-contract model and $399 if you sign up with either Verizon or AT&T. The Wi-Fi-only Surface 2 is $449 for 32GB.

The Lumia isn't a bad tablet, but with a better RT tablet available, it makes little sense -- unless you require a cell connection -- to purchase it over the Surface 2.

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