Lumia 521 Review

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
I realize that, generally speaking, only the flagship phones get talked about here, and for good reason. I just wanted to do a little review of the 521 because, well, it is an incredible value ($130-$150 contract free) and it might just be the phone that gets those who are interested in checking out Windows Phone to take the plunge.

As a quick background, I had the Lumia 900 for about a month at launch and returned it. The two main reasons were screen resolution and the fact that I knew that WP8 was around the corner and would not be compatible with WP7 devices. While the resolution on this modest little phone is 800x480, just like the L900, the price difference is night and day. The 520 launched at a little over 1/4 the 900's price tag with roughly a year between them. It sports the same ram, although a much speedier dual core (vs single core) processor, and of course WP8. IMO, it is better than the 900 in almost every way, and in those that it isn't, it is pretty equal. My decision to pick this unit up was based largely on price, and of course the fact that I am eager to check TMobile out as I can potentially save a boatload of money switching carriers.

Size
The size of a phone seems to be a hot topic, especially on iPhone forums. It is almost a carbon copy, in terms of size, as the iPhone 5. It is slightly thicker, but stacked on top of one another, you can barely see a difference. The corners of the 520 are larger by a few mm and that is it. The 920 is a bit thicker. I use a fairly thin Belkin case on my 5, and they are about the same thickness at that point (the 920 is naked). I would compare the thickness to that of the 4/4S all things equal (completely naked). It's also about as light as the iPhone 5. I didn't look up specs here, but I am just going be feel. Specs be damned, it feels light, certainly lighter than Nokia's flagship 920 line.

Storage
The phone comes with 8GB on board, but also has a micro SD card slot that will accept up to 64GB cards. Unfortunately, this is limited to media only (no apps), so that could be a problem for a power user but, let's be honest, this phone isn't meant for power users anyway.

Screen
The 520 does sport an extremely modest 800x480 lcd screen, but I felt it was pretty adequate. Again, remember the price point here folks. I can honestly say that it is somewhere between what you get from a 3GS and an iPhone 4 and beyond. Things just don't feel pixelated, and this can very well be due to how Microsoft designed the operating system. While I did mention that I returned an L900 partially due to low screen resolution, it was because I felt like I was paying for something that SHOULD have a much higher resolution for the money. Nokia has also omitted the "ultra black" technology, which wasn't a big deal to me, but some reviewers were disappointed. They did keep the "sensitive touch" which means you can use the screen with gloves on. It works very well, and it's nice to have this feature, especially in a budget model. Take some flagships like the HTC ONE, SGSIV, and iPhone 5 and try them on for size with a pair of winter gloves; you would be SOL. This little champion just beat out the big boys in those regards!

Battery
The battery is 1430maH and it sucks. If you use the phone like I use my smartphones, it won't last the day. On the plus side, it is removable, and it is quite small and lightweight, so carrying around an extra might not be too bad for some users.

Speaker
There is this strange phenomenon where people seem to want really good speakers on their tiny little phones. Why? I am not sure, but who am I to judge? I was actually quite surprised by how good the tiny speaker sounded on this device. Unfortunately, it is on the back, however the back isn't exactly flat, so the speaker won't sit against the surface the phone is resting on. If you were to look at the back of the phone, the speaker is offset to the right. I listened to some Pandora in the shower on the phone, rather than over the bluetooth speakers I have in there (Jambox), and it was actually quite listenable. For those who don't care about music, there is still good news; speakerphone is quite decent, and so are alerts and tones.

Voice
I don't do a ton of talking, but the phonecalls I took sounded great. The person on the other end thought they were fine too. I have yet to try out TMO Wifi calling, but apparently as long as I have wifi I should be able to take and make calls even in no/low reception areas.

Camera
This is another aspect where the 520 surprised me. Now let's get one thing straight from the get go. She isn't going to compete with a flagship. For startes there is no flash to speak of, and there is no front facing camera, so you can kiss Skype goodbye. Even without flash, that rear 5MP camera takes some pretty decent pics, even in relatively low light. No, you aren't going to be taking pictures in the dark, like you might with the 920 line, but let's remember the price point folks!

Overall Thoughts
I think it's pretty clear that this phone impressed me. In many ways it is damn near on par with even flagships. I almost feel like Nokia did a disservice to themselves because the Windows phone flagships just don't seem to be worth the premium in comparison. The flagships are better, but not four times better. I wouldn't even say they are two times better. For the moment, this is going to be my go-to Windows Phone device. I had some gripes (still do, but thats for another thread) with WP8, but I feel that this device is priced well enough for me to actually keep and see how Windows Phone develops.

I wanted to give an idea of the battery. Overnight I lost almost 30% charge. This is with nothing running in the background. I have also deleted some of the stock apps, and installed very few additional (Netflix, Widgets, Pandora, and eBay). Granted, reception in the house is pretty poor (which might mean dealbreaker for TMO, we will see) so that is likely causing at least some of the drainage.
 
Last edited:

AutoUnion39

macrumors 601
Jun 21, 2010
4,889
900
This phone is such a great bargain. They need to make more of them for the US market. A $150 out of contract Android/iPhone is going to be a POS old model.
 

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
It is quite the bargain. Truth be told, Nokia is pricing all of their handsets pretty aggressively, especially in the states. I just wonder how much they can possibly make on each unit. I don't expect much.
 

Beeplance

macrumors 68000
Jul 29, 2012
1,548
430
Singapore
Yeah, wifi-calling, only exclusive to the lumia 521 :)

http://m.wpcentral.com/nokia-lumia-521-t-mobile-wi-fi-calling-demo
 

AppleRobert

macrumors 603
Nov 12, 2012
5,638
1,102
I got the 820 from Target unactivated the other day. It was more than I wanted to spend to try a Windows phone but Walmart does not have the 521 in stock and the closest Microsoft store would not go lower than $149.

I could wait it out but I am enjoying the 820 to tell the truth. If Walmart gets the 521 before my return period ends, I will compare. I used it enough in the MS store but need more time with it to be able to fairly judge.
 

ChazUK

macrumors 603
Feb 3, 2008
5,390
24
Essex (UK)
Nokia have pumped out some fantastic low-end Lumias. Really competitive with mid range and some high end androjds.

I really love the here maps+ on my 620. Worldwide, offline navigation for free? Superb!

Does the 521 come with US only maps like our 520 does (maps are limited to the UK only over here on the 520) or the Here Maps +?

Excellent write up on the handset.
 

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
Does the 521 come with US only maps like our 520 does (maps are limited to the UK only over here on the 520) or the Here Maps +?

Excellent write up on the handset.
I pulled up HERE on my phone. You may have to correct me if I am doing this wrong, but I am able to pan around to different countries, tap the button to look for points of interest, and there are pins (well, bubbles I guess) on that map in said country. Obviously, have not been out of the country with this phone, so it is tough for me to test further. Hopefully that at least partially answers your question? :)
 
Last edited by a moderator:

sectime

macrumors 6502a
Jul 29, 2007
530
0
Nokia have pumped out some fantastic low-end Lumias. Really competitive with mid range and some high end androjds.

I really love the here maps+ on my 620. Worldwide, offline navigation for free? Superb!

Does the 521 come with US only maps like our 520 does (maps are limited to the UK only over here on the 520) or the Here Maps +?

Excellent write up on the handset.
I would call the 900 series high end and selling well. My 928 on Verizon is very nice, I bought a 521 and the Tmoble $30 5GB 100 minute plan mostly as a streaming media device. I travel alot and Nokia music+, Slacker, Podcasts, etc eat the bandwidth. As a plus the 521 is a good phone with all of the Windows 8 benefits. With Wifi calling on my phone battery usage is very good. Great phone for hiking, yard work, motorcycling etc when I don't want to risk my 928.
I bought at a Microsoft store, took the Bing challenge got the $25 coupon, used it on the phone.
 
Last edited:

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
I would call the 900 series high end and selling well. My 928 on Verizon is very nice, I bought a 521 and the Tmoble $30 5GB 100 minute plan mostly as a streaming media device. I travel alot and Nokia music+, Slacker, Podcasts, etc eat the bandwidth. As a plus the 521 is a good phone with all of the Windows 8 benefits. With Wifi calling on my phone battery usage is very good. Great phone for hiking, yard work, motorcycling etc when I don't want to risk my 928.
I bought at a Microsoft store, took the Bing challenge got the $25 coupon, used it on the phone.
I was pretty floored by how good music sounded on the thing. I guess I just expected a junk device, as is the case with Android, at this price range.
 

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
Battery
The battery is 1430maH and it sucks. If you use the phone like I use my smartphones, it won't last the day. On the plus side, it is removable, and it is quite small and lightweight, so carrying around an extra might not be too bad for some users.
I thought I would respond to this. I am getting about 30% battery drain overnight (6-7 hours) running idle. That means nothing in the background. Reception inside is pretty bad (so TMO might be out as a result), so that could definitely be playing a large role in battery loss.
 

AppleRobert

macrumors 603
Nov 12, 2012
5,638
1,102
Try planet earth amazing scenery on YouTube and let me know what you think about the picture and sound. It is about 13 minutes long.

The 820 is just about the same PPI and resolution and I was shocked to be honest.

I cannot go past 15 for volume (out of 30 maximum) without disturbing others. Loudness is not a measure of quality per se but surprisingly it delivers with a very good sound.

The picture quality spoke for itself. :)

I experienced no battery drain overnight after I charged the 820 full.
 

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
Try planet earth amazing scenery on YouTube and let me know what you think about the picture and sound. It is about 13 minutes long.

The 820 is just about the same PPI and resolution and I was shocked to be honest.

I cannot go past 15 for volume (out of 30 maximum) without disturbing others. Loudness is not a measure of quality per se but surprisingly it delivers with a very good sound.

The picture quality spoke for itself. :)

I experienced no battery drain overnight after I charged the 820 full.
Just watched it, although not the whole thing. It does sound great. I was able to get it up to about 22/30 before it started sounding sort of tinny. Video looks great too.

Battery has been off the charger for about 16 hours now, and it is down to 12%. That is without doing anything on the phone aside from watching bits of that movie, as well as receiving maybe ten emails (none of which I actually checked on the phone).
 

sectime

macrumors 6502a
Jul 29, 2007
530
0
Try planet earth amazing scenery on YouTube and let me know what you think about the picture and sound. It is about 13 minutes long.

The 820 is just about the same PPI and resolution and I was shocked to be honest.

I cannot go past 15 for volume (out of 30 maximum) without disturbing others. Loudness is not a measure of quality per se but surprisingly it delivers with a very good sound.

The picture quality spoke for itself. :)

I experienced no battery drain overnight after I charged the 820 full.
I'm. Partial to Big Buck Bunny on YouTube for screen tests ��
 

AppleRobert

macrumors 603
Nov 12, 2012
5,638
1,102
I'm. Partial to Big Buck Bunny on YouTube for screen tests ��
Thanks and I'll try that on devices I own.

I do not know if the 820 is worth the extra money I spent over the 521 just to try Windows 8. I already own the ONE so the 820 may be overkill. I like it though and I do prefer the bigger screen, ram and camera. Time will tell if I keep it.
 

sectime

macrumors 6502a
Jul 29, 2007
530
0
Thanks and I'll try that on devices I own.

I do not know if the 820 is worth the extra money I spent over the 521 just to try Windows 8. I already own the ONE so the 820 may be overkill. I like it though and I do prefer the bigger screen, ram and camera. Time will tell if I keep it.
If the 820 had WiFi calling as was promised, I would have bought one instead of the 521. Though I don't currently use the phone for calls, it's nice to have the feature if needed.
 

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
I know I keep harping about the battery here... Anyway, a couple screens. You decide. The only usage the phone saw in between screens was a single speed test.



----------

If the 820 had WiFi calling as was promised, I would have bought one instead of the 521. Though I don't currently use the phone for calls, it's nice to have the feature if needed.
One thing, unclear to me, is whether wifi calling uses minutes. Granted, my minutes are unlimited, but I am speaking in general. If it does, the only real advantage I see with wifi calling is that it gives you "reception" where there is none. Unfortunately, if you pick up a call on Wifi, you need to stay on that wifi signal as well. If you move out of range, even if you do have cellular signal, the call is dropped. I understand this is likely a technical limitation though.
 

AppleRobert

macrumors 603
Nov 12, 2012
5,638
1,102
WiFi calling I am using my older HTC Rezound so I do not need it with the 820. I do not do it very often but the phone no longer has cellular service so I do not think WiFi calling uses minutes off of a phone under contract.

I have a google number and use talkatone app.
 

sectime

macrumors 6502a
Jul 29, 2007
530
0
One thing said:
Wifi calling really helps with battery drain. There seem to be various old plans that wifi calling is free, my prepaid plan uses minutes on wifi.
 

MuffCabbage

macrumors regular
Nov 11, 2012
179
0
I know I keep harping about the battery here... Anyway, a couple screens. You decide. The only usage the phone saw in between screens was a single speed test.

[url=http://i693.photobucket.com/albums/vv294/LordoftheReef/th_temporary_zps2093f12a.png]Image[/URL] [url=http://i693.photobucket.com/albums/vv294/LordoftheReef/th_temporary_zps07cd390d.png]Image[/URL]

----------



One thing, unclear to me, is whether wifi calling uses minutes. Granted, my minutes are unlimited, but I am speaking in general. If it does, the only real advantage I see with wifi calling is that it gives you "reception" where there is none. Unfortunately, if you pick up a call on Wifi, you need to stay on that wifi signal as well. If you move out of range, even if you do have cellular signal, the call is dropped. I understand this is likely a technical limitation though.
Def shouldn't be getting that battery discharge rate. 521 is supposed to be pretty good with battery compared to the average WP/iPhone.
 

lordofthereef

macrumors G5
Original poster
Nov 29, 2011
12,886
3,415
Boston, MA
Def shouldn't be getting that battery discharge rate. 521 is supposed to be pretty good with battery compared to the average WP/iPhone.
That's my feeling as well. Dang thing is sold out everywhere too. Thinking ill try my luck with a spare battery when I get around to it haha. Not my daily driver, so in not stressing about it too much.