Here at Digital Citizen, we applauded the Nokia Lumia 620, its great price and performance. Unfortunately, that phone wasn't made available in many countries. However, the Nokia Lumia 520 is available everywhere and it is also the best-sold smartphone with Windows Phone 8. Let's see if its popularity is deserved and whether you should consider buying it too.
Hardware Specifications & Packaging
The Nokia Lumia 520 shares some hardware characteristics with Lumia 620: the same 5MP rear camera, the same Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor running at 1.0 GHz, 8 GB of storage space, 512MB of RAM and a MicroSD slot. However, even though it is cheaper, the Nokia Lumia 520 is slightly lighter - 124 grams instead of 127 grams on the Lumia 620, it has a slightly bigger screen (4" instead of 3.8"), it is thinner - 9.9mm instead of 11mm, it has a slightly better battery - 1430 mAh instead of 1300 mAh and it has a hardware FM radio chip, while the Lumia 620 doesn't.
But, in terms of downsides, it doesn't have a front-facing camera like the Lumia 620. Also, the rear camera doesn't have flash. The screen is an average IPS panel LCD with a 480x800 resolution, with a lower quality than that of the Lumia 620. The full list of hardware specifications can be found here here. The package includes the standard components you would expect: the phone, its cover, the battery, headphones, a USB cable, a charger and the phone's documentation. If you would like to view an unboxing video, use the one below.
It also includes a brief visual comparison with the Lumia 620.
Design & Build Quality
The Nokia Lumia 520 feels very light in your hand. It fits perfectly even in smaller hands and pockets. The covers though - they fall off immediately if the phone is dropped, so be careful. A nasty drop can damage the phone relatively easily. The upside about the covers is that they can be easily changed, they are affordable and they are available in a multitude of colors. Below you can see all the covers that are now available for this smartphone.
The button layout is the same as on all other Lumias, which is great. It's really easy to unlock your phone with just one finger, taking screenshots is a breeze and so are the other things you can do with the available buttons.
The display is of relatively low quality and the black and white levels are not great. The Lumia 620 is definitely better in this respect. But, when compared to other cheap smartphones (especially those with Android), it does quite a good job. I liked that you can set the display's sensors to high sensitivity, which means you will be able to use the phone when wearing gloves. Most low-end smartphones can't brag about that.
The outdoors visibility is decent and you will be able to use your phone outdoors unless there's a lot of sunlight in your area. Then, seeing what's displayed will be a bit difficult. I'm pleased with the build quality and the phone's design. It is very hard to find something better at its price point.
The Phone Experience on the Nokia Lumia 520
The phone experience on the Lumia 520 is very similar to that on the Lumia 620. The call quality is OK, while the signal strength is not as great as on higher-end devices but decent enough not to represent a problem. Because of the poly carb cover, people can hear your conversations relatively easily, as the sound goes through it. If you want to have more private conversations, don't max the sound volume during phone calls. The audio quality is decent. Unfortunately, the equalizer is not available or it did not work on my test device, even though I was able to find and access the audio section under Settings. I was able to listen to music and watch videos without any issues. Also, the audio jack is somewhat better than that on the Lumia 620. I did not have issues plugging the headphones and there were no sound glitches caused by not the jack not being fully plugged in.
The rear camera produces reasonable results for a cheap smartphone. Obviously, it can't compare with higher-end Lumias as it doesn't use the Pureview technology. Therefore, the results in low-light conditions are not that great. Plus, the fact that it doesn't have a flash means that in very low-light conditions you can't really take pictures. I noticed that the results are noticeably better when using specialized apps like Nokia Panorama and Smart Shoot, than when using the plain Camera app.
In light use scenarios, the battery can last up to 3 days. If you're not playing games or watching videos, that drain the battery quite fast, it can last up to two days. In case of heavier use, expect to have to charge it every day.
Nokia Apps for Windows Phone 8
Since the last time I reviewed a Nokia Lumia phone, I'm happy to see the Lumia collection of apps expanding and growing with more features. For example, the App Highlights app has been transformed into App Social - a better app for discovering games, apps, and content. The new app uses also social inputs from its users to display lists with the apps and games you should try.
New games and apps have also been added - giving users one more reason to check the Nokia Collection on a regular basis. The Storage Check feature is present also on the Lumia 520 and it is as useful as it ever was for managing the space available on your phone.
Nokia continues to provide great exclusive apps to its users, making their smartphones more valuable than those of their competition in the Windows Phone space.
Performance in Benchmarks
The first benchmark I used was MultiBench 2. It measures the performance of the processor (CPU test), how fast data transfers are to and from the storage space, how fast the memory and the video chips are on each smartphone. Below you can see the scores obtained. Nokia Lumia 520 performs similar to other affordable Windows Phones (HTC 8S, Lumia 620 and 720) - the differences reported are very small.
WP Bench tests the same things in a different manner. However, this test was able to reveal some performance differences between the Lumia 520 and its competitors. More notably, the CPU score was 5% lower than that of the HTC 8S.
Below you can see the results for the graphics, storage and memory tests. The performance gap between the Lumia 520 and 620 is small enough not to be noticeable. However, HTC 8S performed better in the Storage and Memory tests.
Next, I tested the web browsing speed on the Lumia 520, with Sunspider. As you can see in the graph below, it performs just as a well as its closest competitors.
The boot time on the Lumia 520, at 41 seconds, is better than that of HTC 8S and Lumia 620.
While running the WP Bench battery test, the Lumia 520 lasted 3 hours and 7 minutes.
A strong result!
The Nokia Lumia 520 is a great low-end smartphone. At its price point, it will be very difficult to find something better and even more difficult to find a smartphone that it is as fast and fluid when using it. It's light, small, easy to use, and it runs Windows Phone without many hiccups, in contrast with low-end Android smartphones. If you are looking for a good and affordable smartphone, you should consider purchasing a Nokia Lumia 520.