Nokia Lumia 2520 Review: Has Nokia Rocked The Tablet Space?

Reviews Paul Briden 13:55, 9 Apr 2014

Nokia's first foray into the tablet space is the Lumia 2520, but does the Lumia brand translate well into the larger form factor?

Rating: 
3
Typical Price: 
£400.00
Pros: 
Great design and build quality, High quality display, Good connectivity and storage options, Good battery life
Cons: 
Proprietary charging port, Windows RT is infuriating, Some apps are badly optimised, Large widescreen form factor can be unweildy
Verdict: 
One of the better Windows RT tablets on the market, but as usual the software lets the hardware down - that's a shame because in this case the hardware really is excellent

For many the idea of Nokia making a tablet seemed like the Holy Grail for a very long time. And now the company has finally dipped its toe into the larger device market with the Lumia 2520, a 10.1-inch slate running Microsoft’s Windows RT platform.

So then, how does Nokia’s debut tablet offering stack up? Read on to find out.

Design and Build

Well, it was pretty much a given that this aspect of any Nokia tablet was going to be good. The company has a deserved reputation for fantastic exterior design (on the whole anyway, we won’t dwell on the bulkiness of the Lumia 1020) due to its flair for highly angular and striking shapes, bright colours and robust, premium-grade polycarbonates.

The Lumia 2520 is really something rather special to look at, pick up and operate. KYM’s review unit has a matte, soft-touch plastic finish that is undeniably top-grade stuff. The sharp lines are there too as it’s basically an unadulterated rectangle, while the rubbery finish enhances grip. Other versions are available with a gloss finish, it depends which colour you go for.

Nokia’s slab is nice and thin at 8.9mm and it features a relatively thin bezel that is evenly spaced all the way round – this looks good and it isn’t too thin so as to hinder the handling. However, it’s not all flowers and sunshine. In a market where slinky, lightweight and highly portable tablet devices such as the Nexus 7, iPad Air and iPad Mini are proving popular, the conventionally large 10-inch form factor is looking increasingly redundant outside of hybrid implementation – and even then, there is, arguably, scope for a “mini” hybrid with a diddy little keyboard. But I digress.

Point is, the Lumia 2520 is a big and somewhat heavy slab of plastic and you’ll probably need some kind of bag to tote it around in. For some of course this presents no problem at all, but for others (such as myself  - I like to travel light) it’s kind of a big deal. The widescreen aspect ratio prevalent on many Windows slabs also feels like it’s adding to the bulk and a leaning towards landscape orientation – again, the more portable devices on the market have smaller ratios and an emphasis on a book-like portrait orientation with one-hand, which is just, well...handier.

Display

Issues of proportion aside, the Lumia 2520’s display is really rather nice. The 10.1-inch IPS panel packs a full HD 1080p resolution, and while that might only result in a pixel density of 218 pixels-per-inch the actual sharpness levels, text clarity and brightness are all top notch. As with other Nokia products, contrast is also augmented nicely with the company’s ClearBlack technology, adding extra depth to dark tones and viewing angles are quite wide.

Hardware

The Lumia 2520 has a few nice hardware touches such as the front-facing stereo speakers embedded just beneath the display, 4G LTE mobile data capability as standard (via Micro SIM), NFC, microSD (up to 64GB), 32GB of onboard space, and both microUSB (data only) and HDMI ports. Dual-band Wi-Fi (with Hotspot) and GPS are also built in.

Nokia’s slate does have a compatible keyboard dock for productivity purposes and ad-hoc laptopping but it doesn’t come paired with the tablet as standard and we didn’t receive one with our review unit.

Battery

The tablet is fitted with an 8,120mAh battery which seems to offer quite impressive performance. With most mobile devices, the biggest power drain is the display, so running a video test makes sense. From 100% charge with Wi-Fi enabled and the display on full brightness, I ran Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit in its entirety, with a run-time of 2 hours and 49 minutes. By the end of the film the tablet still had 77% battery left. You could probably expect to run the film another three times before the device runs out of juice, meaning the Lumia 2520 likely has somewhere in the region of 10.5 hours of continuous video playback – pretty damn good, especially when you consider most films are about half the length of The Hobbit.

Similarly, if you’re using the Lumia 2520 for fairly low-key tasks such as browsing or editing documents you can easily expect the device to last a couple of days on a single charge.

Gaming is far more taxing on things – a five minute stint on Asphalt 8, admittedly one of the more graphically intensive titles in the Windows Store, chopped the battery life down from 65% to 60% - a rate of 1% consumption per minute of game time with full brightness and Wi-Fi switched on. In other words, you can’t expect to get extensive gaming sessions out of the Lumia 2520.

However, one of the really annoying design features relates directly to the battery – the Lumia 2520 uses a proprietary charger. In this day and age this is a ridiculous move with microUSB being so ubiquitous, particularly when the tablet already uses microUSB for data transfer and all of Nokia’s Lumia phones charge on the same connection type. It’s made more annoying when the charging port is on the same side as the headphone jack and looks virtually identical. Thank goodness the EU has recently passed a law to ensure tablets will also require microUSB charging so this shouldn’t happen with the next Lumia slate.

Processor and Performance

The Lumia 2520 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 quad-core chip clocked at 2.2GHz with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. For normal operation in navigation the interface, intensive multitasking, split-screen app usage and a whole range of tasks besides, this is nicely quick and smooth. Microsoft’s Office suite has been nicely optimised, meaning horrible memories of the original Surface RT’s use of these apps are now starting to fade.

There are anomalies, however. Asphalt 8, for example, is a game which runs very well on pretty much any Snapdragon 800 phone you care to mention, whether Android or Windows Phone, and Android tablets too. Here though, something is amiss, with visible juddering and frame-loss during play. It’s not enough to totally ruin the experience, but it’s there and that’s not something we’ve found on other devices running this hardware.

Oddly enough, Six Guns, a game which is nowhere near as graphically impressive, performs even worse.

I have a suspicion the blame here can be laid at the feet of app developers, who have simply done a hasty port job rather than optimising their apps to Windows RT – but at the same time, if devs are more readily prepared to do that you have to wonder what Microsoft has done to make proper ports and optimisation so unappealing to devs too.

Considering the Windows Store is also supposed to be a carefully vetted ecosystem with an emphasis on “quality over quantity”, you’d think Microsoft would also set the barrier for entry a bit higher than these shoddy port jobs, but I suppose the counter argument for this is that it doesn’t want to discourage developers from doing ports full stop, and getting all authoritarian about it could do just that.

Regardless, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and some of these apps just don’t perform how they should on a Snapdragon 800 chip, while others have no issues – you should be able to get by with most content but don’t expect a flawless, disappointment-free experience.

Software and Interface

The Windows RT/Windows 8 interface is a curious thing. On the one hand, it certainly looks nice and it’s very different from anything else you’ll find in the tablet space. On the whole though, it’s an infuriating beast and many tasks you’d expect to be simple are hidden behind obscure gestures and confusing menu layouts. Adding new app shortcuts to the Start Menu, for example, requires that you scroll all the way to the right (ie: the end of the current shortcuts selection), and wait for a little un-labelled down arrow to appear in the bottom left before tapping it. Who on earth thought this was a sensible design choice?

It’s not a nice experience to be confronted by a range of rage-inducing obstacles, hoops to jump through and convoluted multi-step processes in order to get most anything useful done on the platform, especially when such tasks could often be easily done in one or two short, easy, and obvious steps on any rival tablet OS – this is not fun, Microsoft, not fun at all.

Other things are just pointless. An upwards swipe from the bottom brings up a massive bar along the lower edge, with a single icon in the bottom right labelled “customise”. Tapping this allows you to move app tiles around and edit app groups. The absurd thing here is that this functionality can be more easily and intuitively accessed simply by long-pressing on any app tile you wish to move around.

That bar brought up by a gesture could have served a far more useful purpose, and it doesn’t even include all the “customisation” options you might expect either – changing the wallpaper, colours and other theme options is done in a separate menu under “Settings>Personalise”.

Another oddball behaviour is you can only view battery life as a percentage in the desktop mode. Swiping in from the right in the Start Menu gives you a little clock/date widget with a Wi-Fi signal indicator and a battery icon (without a percentage) and there’s no way to interact with these little notifications to get more info – they’re more than a bit useless.

In isolation these things aren’t a massive problem, but accumulatively it’s very annoying and they are symptomatic of how the whole platform operates – it’s extremely obtuse. The desktop interface feels largely redundant – all you do here is access the built-in Office applications or browsing via the desktop version of Internet Explorer 10. The standard Windows Explorer file browser is fairly useful, however.

As with Windows Phone, Windows RT isn’t a bad platform to use if your requirements for a tablet aren’t that demanding – for a bit of productivity via Office, browsing, media playback and perhaps a handful of useful utility apps you can’t really go wrong here; you just might have to learn Microsoft’s bizarre control language and get used to finding things in weird places. Gaming, as mentioned, is going to depend on the individual title and whether it has been optimised well enough.

Camera

Being a company closely associated with smartphone camera tech it’s perhaps not too surprising that Nokia’s first tablet foray sports a camera module with a slightly higher-than-average spec sheet. The rear-facing primary is a 6.7MP sensor with a Carl Zeiss lens and 1080p video, while the front-facing secondary is a 2MP setup with 720p video.

Picture quality all round is good by tablet standards, but nothing exceptional. While the inclusion of this hardware certainly doesn’t do any harm, I can’t help but think it’d be better if the configuration was reversed and the front-facing camera had the better spec – considering typical tablet camera use is for video calls and the like.

Conclusion

Nokia’s venture into the tablet space isn’t very far removed from its smartphone efforts: a confusing blend of excellent exterior design and hardware with questionable software. It’s not unusable by any means, but it does lack the pick-up-and-go usability of Android and iOS, the extensive customisation of Android, and the broad and well-optimised app catalogues of both major rivals. It seems like Windows RT could become something great with some extensive refinement – it’s just not quite there yet and feels rather unfinished as a result.

Specifications

Length 267mm
Width 168mm
Thickness 8.9mm
Weight 615g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 10.1-inches
UK Launch December 2013
Phone Style Tablet
Typical Price £400
Designer Lens Carl Zeiss
Camera Resolution 6.7-megapixels
Video Resolution 1080p
Flash No
Music Formats MP3/WAV/eAAC+/AC3/FLAC
Music Player Yes
Song Storage Yes
Speaker Stereo

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