The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 11, 2014

Globe Phone Test: Nokia Lumia 1520's outstanding camera offset by frustrating OS

On Monday, news broke that flight attendants aboard Delta Airlines flights would receive Nokia Lumia 1520 devices in October. The devices will have flight manuals, support on-board sales, allow attendants to process credit card payments and crapcan heavy 500-page manuals they used have to bring.

The move is similar to how American Airlines attendants were give Galaxy Note phablets. Because Delta already gave attendants similar smartphones, it's reasonable to assume that the company places a lot of faith in the Windows Phone system.

But Delta's choice of device is puzzling because the 1520 is better suited to take photos and videos of people on board an airplane, not take their drink and meal orders. And because the device is so big, I'm not sure how flight attendants would feel carrying it around in a cramped flight.

 

As the iOS and Android systems struggle for the top smartphone operating system, Microsoft's Windows Phone has scratched its way into the No. 3 spot, pushing past BlackBerry. Nokia, once one of the top names in devices, is pairing with Microsoft to make a device that features an incredible camera. The company already made the Lumia 1020, which features a humongous 41-megapixel camera that does amazing things.

The Lumia 1520 is its biggest offering to date. The device, available exclusively from AT&T, is one of the biggest phablet-style phones on the market today. For about 10 days, I tested out a black-colored device provided by AT&T.



 

Biggest of the big

If phablets are the next wave of smartphone, then the Nokia Lumia 1520 is the field's Andre the Giant.

It's big. Really really big. The monstrous device is about 8-by-16 centimeters, bigger than LG's G Flex and Samsung's Galaxy Note 3. The device's 6-inch display glass is perfectly rounded and seated in the chassis, so it feels solid and sturdy. The back features a rubber-coated plastic that doesn't offer a lot of grip -- it gets a little bit slick, which makes one-handed use difficult (more on this in a bit).

The corners are a bit sharp, as well. It's a gorgeous looking device, but not pocket friendly in the least. If I were one of those flight attendants, I'd dread having to carry this beast around -- it is as easy to carry as an iPad Mini or Galaxy Tab.

It's so big it practically needs a cover (Nokia and Microsoft have a number of interesting covers to offer, including one that folds up into a stand).
 

Also big inside

As for how it works, it's a beast inside as well.

It's equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.2 GHz processor and 2 gb of RAM, and it's built to power the device's full HD display (1920-by-1080 with a pixel density of 368 ppi). It's gorgeous. Netflix movies run beautifully, and I played a gorgeous game called "Hexic" that ran like a dream. The live tiles within the OS never hung and always looked great.

It offers 16 gb of internal storage and is expandable by another 64 through an SD slot.

 

Made for movies, pictures

While the phone has strong productivity features, and runs a number of things pretty well, all that stuff inside the engine is made for one main purpose: The camera.

The 1520 features a 20-megapixel camera, Zeiss lenses and four microphones, which means this device takes absolutely insanely high-quality pictures and video.

I can't put too fine a point on this: The iPhone 5S takes some great pictures, but the cameras in Nokia's Lumia line are phenomenal because of the image size and quality. This picture, of an artistic creation by Alice Lynn Greenwood, I was actually able to run in The Joplin Globe's print edition -- the photos it takes are print quality, which can't be said about many other smartphone pictures.
 

Built like a camera

The Nokia Pro Camera interface resembles an SLR camera more than any other device I've used: It offers shutter speed control, brightness adjustment (not exposure control, though) and a focus lock.

That focus-lock is probably the most telling indicator of the device's intent: It features a true shutter release button, which means a half-squeeze let's me lock focus and adjust the frame, then when I'm ready for the picture, it captures the exact moment I want.

An improvement over my SLR: I can touch the exact spot I want in my frame and focus-lock it, and wait for just the right moment.
 

People unfamiliar with the photographer's holy trinity of shutter-aperture-ISO may even be a bit intimidated with the camera. There are no "cheat" settings, such as portrait, landscape, or indoor modes. All you get is night or sports mode.

But the camera's full-automatic settings are stellar enough that they won't be missed much. Even low-light shots turn out pretty decently with no flash, with a little bit of work holding the camera still.
 

Great video

Video is just as impressive -- in fact, more so thanks to the four microphones on board. They allow true stereo in recording and block out most things behind the screen. In most videos, the loudest voice is the person holding the device. That's not always true with the 1520. The subject always comes through loud and clear, and background noises are controlled pretty decently.

OS gets frustrating

With the ability to take such great photo and video, the ability to connect with other computers to transfer that data is important. Unfortunately, this is one of the major weak areas of the Windows Phone OS.

I took four great videos of an event and tried to share them through the Globe's Tout video-sharing site. That began a frustrating evening of attempting to transfer videos unsuccessfully between several cloud services.

While the OS is powerful, it is not flexible. A user will have to do things the Windows way, and that is through only one of two ways: using the Windows Phone app, or saving it to SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud service. Like iTunes for iPods, this is the only way to transfer photos back and forth.

This is not much of a limitation for uploading things -- any photographer with plans to process a picture or video knows that some sort of syncing procedure awaits. What is frustrating is to not be able to treat the phone like a separate drive: Whether you need just one photo or 100, you have to go through the same process.

The real frustrations lie with getting things ON the phone, from pictures to music. File management is a big shortcoming with the Windows Phone OS -- without buying an app from Windows' app store, there is no native way to look at the files themselves. Investigation can only be done through the app. For example:

  • I uploaded a Word document, and could find it only going through the phone's version of Office. While I can view all files on SkyDrive, there's no way to do the same thing for the files on the actual device.  
  • I also uploaded a couple of PDF files. Again, the only way I know they exist is by pulling up the Adobe Reader app.
  • Pictures are the same: They show up only in photo browsing apps. Windows and Nokia offer several of those for the phone.
  • Music turned out to be especially frustrating. The only way to listen to music through a native app is through a music and videos portal into Xbox -- the same place where games are stored -- and the only way to get music in a place where it can be played is to use the Windows Phone app from the desktop (or by buying it through the Store, of course). You might think you've properly downloaded a decent mp3, but when you try to find it, all you get is that screen of loneliness.



 

To put this in perspective: My BlackBerry Q10 has a native file manager app that lets me look at storage on my device, expandable memory card and cloud services like they were all mounted drives on a computer. I can swap files back and forth easily, and tap any file I want to open.

The 1520 is not nearly as flexible or forgiving. I use Box for my primary cloud, and the Box app has limited download options. In the case of music, a downloaded mp3 appears as a temp file in the browser, and stops playing once I do anything else. Any mp3 downloaded from Box onto the 1520 never shows up in the music app.

 

Other issues

The Internet Explorer browser also has some performance issues. The speed is not as impressive as it should be considering the guts inside. And playing videos also becomes a hassle: Instead of going automatically to a YouTube app, it uses an inflexible viewer with no playback slider. And if you bump the screen, sending it back to the home screen, then you'll have to start that video all over again.

Typing is decent: The keys are big enough for thumbs to find, but there are no one-handed options within the OS. There's no swipe functionality, but the autocorrect options are functional and flexible. Writing turned out to be better than I expected.
 

Summary

Because of the similarities between the OS and Windows 8, the Lumia 1520 is the perfect device for someone who wants a quality moment catcher. Videos and pictures will be impressive, and at $199 with a two-year contract and $584.99 without, the price is right for so much capturing quality.

But be prepared for the challenges of learning the Windows way. The OS will keep improving, I'm sure. But anyone who is used to doing whatever they want with a device will not like this device's narrow options.

DEALMAKERS

  • Absolutely insane quality for capturing pictures or video. The 20-megapixel camera is top notch, the video's 1920-by-1080 pixel recording is excellent and four microphones enhance video's audio quality. The camera interface functions like an SLR, and the device offers that kind of response.
  • The display and processor run smoothly. Video services except for YouTube play beautifully (and YouTube's issue is the result of a battle between Microsoft and Google). Live tiles eliminate the need for a background, and the white-on-black displays are gorgeous.
  • Battery life is good. Getting a day of video and photo off a single charge is no issue.

DEALBREAKERS

  • The Windows Phone system is very limited when it comes to file transfers. Files become hard to find, and the phone can't be treated as a drive.
  • The size is almost too big. The Lumia 1520 is bigger almost all other phablets, and it's pointy corners make it awkward to carry and bad for pockets.
  • As powerful as the phone is, Internet Explorer runs a bit slowly. Anyone who knows Microsoft's browser history shouldn't be surprised by that.

More pictures

This is a picture of (left to right) an iPhone 4, Blackberry Q10, Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 3 and the Nokia Lumia 1520. This shows exactly how big the phone is.

Obligatory foodie shot

Cold Thai spicy noodles available at a recent World Cuisine and Music Festival at MSSU. This shot shows off the camera's macro abilities.

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