Hands On With Nokia’s New Entry Level Windows Phone 8 Handset, The Lumia 520 (Heading Stateside In Q2)

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The Lumia 520 is Nokia’s new entry level Windows Phone device — costing around $180 before taxes, a far cry from the flagship Lumia 920 and 820 currently up for grabs in the US. The 520 is confirmed for the U.S. market with T-Mobile due to range it in Q2. So what do you get for not-too-many dollars? Besides the latest version of Windows Phone (WP8), Nokia has included a few perks for budget buyers, including its HERE mapping and navigation software, its Mix Radio free streaming music service and its digital lenses camera filters and Cinemagraph animated GIF creator.

Also on board: Nokia’s glove-friendly sensitive touchscreen tech — so the 520 can be poked with a fingernail or prodded with a glove. But of course, this is still a budget device — so it’s more compact in size than the higher end Lumias, with a 4 inch display. It also lacks 4G, NFC and wireless charging. There’s no compass on board either so the 520 doesn’t get to tap into Nokia’s augmented reality City Lens app.

Design wise, as you’d expect, the 520 is certainly the least premium looking of the range — lacking any fancy touches, such as the layered colour-on-colour casing flourish Nokia added to its previous entry level Lumia (the 620). That’s not to say it’s unattractive. To my eye ‘cheap and cheerful’ is a fair description, while its fairly steeply curving sides give it a more angular look than the rest of the range.

The 520 shares the Lumia’s plastic unibody design but unlike the flagship Lumia 920 and 820 it’s a less premium feeling material, with a matte finish. The advantage of this cheaper plastic and smaller size is it feels much lighter of course. Thickness is just under 1cm. The brighter Lumia colours — red, yellow and white — are available as swappable shells sold separately, with cyan and the less stand out black option being the standard retail options.

The screen has a resolution of 800 x 480 — aka the old Windows Phone 7 resolution. It looked bright and clear during a brief hands on but less contrasty than the Lumia 720 (which includes Nokia’s Clear Black display tech). Under the hood the 520 has a 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon chip — giving it the same amount of power as the former entry level Lumia 620. It handled the Windows Phone UI well, feeling fast and responsive during my encounter with it.

On the back there’s a five megapixel lens, which supports 720p HD video recording. While more expensive Lumias have had lots of tender loving care lavished on their camera kit, the 520 sits in Nokia’s unbranded camera category, so set your expectations accordingly. Nokia has included some of the features offered at higher Lumia price-points, including its Smart Shoot feature and the ability to capture wide angle shots but there’s no front facing lens.

Windows Phone 8 is an increasingly attractive OS at these budget price points — where Android hardware can be woefully underpowered. The easy to use Live Tiles interface, embedded Facebook et al social networking and value-add extras (such as 7GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage from Microsoft — and free streaming music from Nokia) compare well against a swathe of budget Androids. While WinPho is still certainly constrained when it comes to choice of apps, here at the low end smartphone price point that’s not such a huge minus. What the OS lacks in apps it makes up for with its polished look and feel — and, in the 520′s case, enough power under the hood to keep the basics feeling slick.

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