Quad-core because you have to
The Lumia 1520 comes with a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM--the same specifications as in Samsung's reigning phablet, the Note 3. This is Nokia's first quad-core phone, but unlike Android, Windows Phone has always been optimized to run on very specific hardware, which is why Nokia has been able to get away with dual-core processors all this time. That extra processing power ensures smoother transitions between screens, faster-loading apps and games, and quicker camera shots compared with its predecessors. It also future-proofs the phone for the large influx of games that are apparently making their way to the Windows Phone platform.
All of those pixels and all of that processing power could have used a better battery pack. On standby, the Lumia 1520's 3400mAh battery lasts a long time, but if you watch video and play games at full brightness, you'll see the battery meter drop fast.
A rival for your point-and-shoot
Nokia's best bet is to continue marketing its handsets as the premier camera phones. It made a big push to drive that idea home with the launch of the 41-megapixel Lumia 1020, and with its assistance in urging popular apps such as Instagram and Vine to come to the Windows Phone platform. It also bundles its phones with its own specialized camera apps, including Refocus, which lets you tweak the focus point of an image even after you've shot it, and Storyteller, which creates "stories," or photo albums, from your photo gallery based on where you took the images.
The 1520 features a 20-megapixel camera with a smaller sensor than that of its photography-centric sibling, the 1020. It employs a dual-LED flash, which produces better lighting in images that require it. In our tests the 1020 fared better with almost everything else, including low-light photography, close-ups, macro focus, and video stabilization, but it was much slower at snapping photos. Here are a few comparison shots.
A bigger Start screen
The Lumia 1520 sports an expanded Start screen with an extra column of live tiles to make proper use of all that display space. It also comes with handy features such as the ability to double-tap to wake up the device, and Glance notifications, which subtly pulse the date and time and any messages you may have received while the screen is off. The 1520 is also preloaded with the Nokia Black update, so it includes support for Bluetooth 4.0 LE. The update will eventually make its way to other Nokia phones soon.
We need to talk about Windows Phone
Although this isn't a review of the Windows Phone platform, it's hard to ignore the fact that Microsoft's mobile OS is still missing a few key features. For starters, it has no easy-access settings panel where you can adjust the brightness of the display or toggle the Wi-Fi on and off, nor does it offer any sort of central notifications center beyond the lock screen. Microsoft expects you to drop in a live tile to create a shortcut for these sorts of things, but that just results in an overly crowded Start screen with tiles that are difficult to distinguish because most of them are the same color.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.