Nokia Lumia 2520 – A Windows RT 8.1 Tablet Review

Written by on December 30, 2013 in Blog, Review, Tablets, Windows 8 RT with 6 Comments

“Work. Play. Life. In perfect sync.”

Intro

I briefly had the Nokia Lumia 2520 when it was first released. Various issues were encountered, mainly OS and third-party app performance woes. However, there were many hardware features I was blown away by. After using 8-inch Windows 8.1 devices for over a month, I was happier with the Modern UI than ever. Over the holidays, I used the Toshiba Encore 8 as my primary device. Away from home, it was my primary computing device and companion. Although still very impressed with the 8-inch form factor, I was longing for more. More screen real estate, better screen resolution, louder speakers, perfect HDMI out and, the dream feature… LTE. Hotel WiF was barely acceptable, and although I own an LTE hotspot, it is just one more item to carry. A svelte 10-inch tablet can weigh little more than an 8-inch tablet and LTE hotspot combo. The Nokia Lumia 2520 is the lightest 10-inch class Windows tablet, and the only modern LTE capable offering. I decided to give it another chance, opting again for the AT&T variant in matte “silk” black. Was it worth revisiting?

The Hardware Experience

“Wow. Now that’s a display.”

The current crop of 8-inch Windows tablet have “nice” displays. They can get the job done, and can even be impressive under the right conditions. Compare them to a high end 10-inch class device from Apple, Samsung or Microsoft and they immediately fall short. Nokia put a best in class 10.1” 1920×1080 TrueColor ClearBlack IPS LCD panel under Corning Gorilla Glass 2. With 650-nits of brightness, it offers jaw dropping wide angle viewability and enhanced outdoor readability. This display is housed in a tablet that is 1.35-pounds and smaller in every dimension that the Surface 2. (The Surface 2 does have a 10.6” display versus the 2520’s 10.1”)

I am in awe of the display’s quality. Every photo and video played on the 2520 looks amazing. It rivals all the “Retina” displays I have seen from Apple, LG and Samsung. The viewing angles couldn’t possibly get any better than this. And yes, it is surprisingly viewable in most outdoor conditions. The Surface 2 has a great display, and in my option is second only to the 2520 in the world of Windows tablets. Some might prefer the Surface 2’s display for being both larger and “cooler” in its color reproduction. The 2520 has a yellowish tint that is only noticeable on a white background. This yellowish tint seems to allow for more accurate photo and video reproduction, due to the “cinema” like quality it brings. In general, color reproduction is very subjective.

What isn’t subjective is light bleed. Every reviewer, and both units I have tested have substantial backlight bleed. This is a sign of poor manufacturing. It is only noticeable on a pure black background, and the intensity is directly linked to current brightness levels. Each display shows signs of a differing amount of backlight bleed. Most of the time, the quality of the display overcomes this. Thanks to the 1080p resolution, most videos fill the screen. However, with anything presented in letterbox, the light  “bleeding” in from the edges of the screen will be noticeable. I find when the tablet is more than a few inches from your face, it is barely noticeable.

“Who needs external speakers?”

While composing this review, I was listening to Vevo and the Top 25 Music Videos of 2013. The music is coming from the 2520’s front facing stereo speakers. At a volume level of only 22/100, I am as impressed with the speakers as I am with the display. 50 is perfectly loud, with anything above 70 able to fill a small room. There is literally no distortion with any media. Front facing speakers do make the bezels larger, but they are worth it. Previosly seen on select Samsung tablets and the HTC One, front facing speakers are game changers. Everything is more enjoyable, being both louder and clearer. I can’t imagine ever pairing or attaching external speakers to my Lumia 2520. The Surface 2 has nice quality sound, but the speakers are side facing. The 8-inch devices I have tested have side firing speakers (or in some cases a single speaker) that usually distort with various types of content or volumes.

“Work. Play. Everywhere.”

The Lumia 2520 is about 1/3 of a pound heavier than the Toshiba Encore 8. Thanks to the 10.1” screen and overall size of the 2520, the weight is nicely distributed. Therefore, it is less dense feeling that the Encore 8. I am able to hold it in both landscape and portrait with ease. It does get cumbersome in portrait mode after a long period of being held. However, it can be propped up fairly well for reading Kindle books, Bing News articles and catching up with my Pocket links via Latermark. The in hand feel is excellent thanks to the curved backing and sides of the device. The corners can get a little sharp feeling after prolonged use. This is only noticeable if you have the tablet’s corners wedged into the plan of your hands. The matte back has just enough gripping to not fall right out of your hands. It also picks up far less fingerprinting than the glossy offerings on Verizon and other international carriers.

Case Logic impressed me with their SureFit Folio for 7-8” Tablets, as it was a perfect fit for the Toshiba Encore 8. I decided to try the larger variant, aptly called the Case Logic SureFit Folio for 9-10” Tablets.  It is easy to place the Lumia 2520 in the case, and very simple to remove it. The horizontal and vertical stand options work even better at this size. The folio is slightly larger than it needs to be, but works perfectly. This helps to show how small the 10.1” tablet is compared to other offerings. The matte black 2520 looks great inside the black version of the Case Logic. Like the Toshiba Encore 8 before it, the Nokia Lumia 2520′s weight feels more manageable in the case.

I feel that for work and productivity scenarios, the Lumia 2520 will be in the case. For play and consumption, it’ll likely be kept loose. No matter where the device is used, the standout addition of LTE will come in handy. The built in LTE if perfectly integrated with the device. A micro SIM comes pre-installed, or you can pop in a compatible SIM linked to a current AT&T tablet plan. Nokia bundles two AT&T apps. One manages your mobile data plan account and monitors usage. The app can also direct you to the nearest AT&T mobile hotspot which can be used for free on this and other AT&T linked devices. 5GHz WiFi is onboard, and gives the device better 802.11n reception than others. The second app is for tracking your family plan devices. Don’t worry, it can be completely removed. The on board LTE is as fast and capable as any AT&T LTE device I have used, and it can be setup as a mobile hotspot. Up to 8 WiFi enabled devices can share the 2520’s LTE connection.

Thanks to a proprietary charger,the Lumia 2520 can charge up to 80% in less than an hour. The 8120 mAh battery offers up to 25 days of standby time and approximately 11-hours of battery life. Some reviews have gotten slightly less (8-9 hours) while others, including myself, are seeing more (12-15 hours) of battery life. Your millage will vary depending on usage, but it should be more than sufficient to get you through one, two or maybe even several days. The proprietary charging port looks like a 3.5” audio jack, which troubles many. I am indifferent, and happy to have a high output charger in the box and one that won’t take up the precious USB port. The micro USB port on the 2520 can use both micro USB 2.0 and 3.0 adapters. I have only tested it with a standard micro USB 2.0 OTG adapter, which works great. I will be ordering a micro USB 3.0 OTG cable to test with as well.

I’m not a big camera guy. For a tablet, the Lumia 2520 has a solid rear camera. 6.7MP with ZEISS optics offers best in class photos… for a tablet. The front facing shooter is more important to me. This device has a 1.2MP wide angle lens and optics. It works good enough for Skype video calls and quick selfies. If of course, selfies are your thing! Not to be forgotten is the inclusion of GPS. Microsoft Maps and HERE Maps are both included, although I prefer the newer Bing Maps Preview. The GPS unit features a Magnetometer, A-GPS and A-GLONASS. Let’s not forget that micro HDMI is onboard as well. It works perfectly, offering extended desktop and mirroring options right out of the box. Pure 1080p video at 60Hz is pushed out along with audio.

The Software Experience

The device is stock Windows RT 8.1. Although custom compiled for the Lumia 2520, it is no different in features from the Surface, Surface 2 or other RT-based tablets running Windows RT 8.1. Along with the AT&T and various mapping apps mentioned above, Nokia includes a few others of their own. Nokia MixRadio is better than ever, and in my opinion is one of the best curated radio services around.  The Play Me feature is nearly spot on for my tastes. For offline usage and unlimited skips, along with higher quality streaming, Nokia asks $3.99/month for a MixRadio+ subscription. Most will do just fine without it. HERE Maps was mentioned above, and it joins Nokia Camera, Nokia Storyteller, Nokia Video Director and the My Nokia apps. None of them are big draws for me, but the included and useful photo and video tools set this device apart from the Surface 2.

In general, I feel Windows 8.1 is optimized for x86 class devices. The Snapdragon 800 and 2GB of RAM on the Lumia 2520 performs admirably. However, the first launch of applications after reboots take longer than on the Intel Atom Bay Trail devices previously tested. Once launched, they perform well and multitasking is fairly fluid. Some apps, specifically the Windows Store do seem to experience hiccups when transitioning in and out of them. Also, some apps take longer to refresh when switching between portrait and landscape orientation. I have only had one or two apps force close, but I believe it was do to me fiddling with the screen resolution and zoom settings. After a clean boot, and stabilization in settings, the experience has been solid. 40 Windows updates were available to download upon first boot, and many Modern UI apps have been updated since I last tested Windows RT.

The Windows RT experience is now closer to that of the original Surface. I believe the regular updates made by Microsoft will make both the Lumia 2520 and Surface 2 as solid as first generation devices. It was not pretty when Windows RT 8.1 first shipped a couple months ago. I  am glad to see things have become substantially more stable and responsive. In fact, Splashtop and TeamViewer are running well enough, that I don’t long for VPN and the Microsoft RDP app. VPN was one of the only reasons I was drawn at all to x86 Windows. That and no WebEx client being offered are the only “bummers” in my opinion. All my other apps runs nearly as well or slightly better than the same apps on the x86 based Toshiba Encore 8. The only app specific issue encountered is 1080p YouTube-based video playback. Hyper, my YouTube client of choice, and a couple other similar apps, have issues playing sound in sync with 1080p video. The same video clips playback fine direct from YouTube in IE 11.

I don’t want to deep dive the software experience just yet. I have written about RT while reviewing the original Surface and Surface 2. I like what I see right now, as stability and performance are key to having a positive experience. I will continue using this device as my daily driver, and will put Windows RT 8.1 to the test at both home and work. More and more Modern UI apps are seeing updates, while others are just joining the party. RT might being nearing end of life, if some rumors are true. Whether or not it lives on or fades away in 2014, this is definitely the golden age of Windows RT. Hopefully the same will soon be said for Modern UI applications.

The Verdict

“Much better.”

It is the first thing I said after a few hours of usage with the Nokia Lumia 2520 I received a couple days ago. It is far more stable and provides an all around pleasant experience versus that which I had with the Surface 2 in October and my first Lumia 2520 in November. I plan to keep using the 2520 at least through January. If the experience stays as good as it is today, I can see this becoming  my tablet of choice for the first half of 2014. I love the larger and higher quality screen, stronger speakers and the flexibility brought by LTE. It will definitely go a few more places with me than the Toshiba Encore 8. Or so I believe. Over time, maybe the added size and weight will be a deal breaker? Either way, it is great to know I have found solid options. I’m sure CES will bring more options as well. Since those won’t likely ship before Spring or Summer, hopefully the Nokia Lumia 2520 continues to impress me.

The Nokia Lumia 2520 for AT&T is available from Amazon, AT&T and the Microsoft Store.

* I’d like to add that the device evaluated for this review did suffer from a pixel anomaly. This device has what Apple refers to as “foreign material” trapped below the glass. (I have previously owned an iPad with Retina Display tablet with the same condition.) Amazon immediately offered to send a replacement unit. It is due to arrive after this post goes live. The original Nokia Lumia 2520 tested in November did not have any such anomalies.

 

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  1. Joe says:

    Surface 2 is better, although the 2520 does have LTE. I also can't help but laugh at your BayTrail Atom comments, especially considering the Tegra 4 and Snapdragon 800 both have far better graphics performance than BayTrail, which has crap graphics performance. The BayTrail has great CPU performance. It's GPU however was gimped to an extreme degree.

    "In general, I feel Windows 8.1 is optimized for x86 class devices. The Snapdragon 800 and 2GB of RAM on the Lumia 2520 performs admirably. However, the first launch of applications after reboots take longer than on the Intel Atom Bay Trail devices previously tested. "

    Please stop with the silly suggestions that the BayTrail tablets are faster. That is complete nonsense! The BayTrail tablets you guys are using have far lower resolution screens. It's not even a reasonable comparison. It's far easier to push 1280×800 compared to 1920×1080.

    • JohnTW says:

      I am referring to how it "feels" using the device, not benchmarks. BayTrail tablets launch applications noticeably faster than ARM based Windows 8.1 tablets. Test them side by side.

      Surface 2 might be better for your use case, but not for mine. 10.1" inches is better for me, as is a higher quality and brightness display and world's better speaker performance.

  2. JohnTW says:

    Just took delivery of the replacement Lumia 2520. No more "pixel anomalies" but similar backlight bleed.

  3. Darlington Jones says:

    Why would anyone want to buy RT when you can get a Transformer T100 for $299. Sure, the hardware is inferior to the 2520, but I really don't care. And judging on how many have sold over the holidays, the masses don't care either. It's a no-brainer. Full Windows experience for $299.

    • JohnTW says:

      Hardware quality is more important to me than just about anything. I don't need the "full" Windows experience in a tablet. But many do, and the Transformer T100 is a great device. Just because it works for you, it doesn't mean it will work work for everyone.

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