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Nokia Lumia 2520
Nokia Lumia 2520

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Nokia Lumia 2520 review

Finland’s first Windows tablet brings a few extra tricks to the table

Whenever I’m using a Wi-Fi-only tablet, I invariably leave it at home or work — places I know that Wi-Fi networks are reliable and fast, where the device will actually be useful to me. That’s why LTE seems like such a natural addition to a device, bringing that connectivity everywhere — but it’s an extra cost, that can be hard to justify. And apart from the iPad and a handful of Android tablets, there aren’t that many LTE tablet options out there anyway. So most people buy Wi-Fi-only tablets, and use them only in the few places where they can be connected.

Nokia’s new tablet, the Lumia 2520, changes that up a bit. The Finnish manufacturer’s first tablet, a direct competitor to Microsoft’s Surface 2, has a big trick up its sleeve: it’s only available with built-in LTE, which isn’t even yet an option on the Surface line. It’s available from Verizon and AT&T now, starting at $399 with a data-plan agreement. The 2520 is designed to be completely and entirely mobile, a tablet you bring everywhere and do everything with.

The 2520 looks and feels familiar — it’s pretty much just a blown-up version of Nokia’s Lumia line of smartphones. But if you’re shopping for a new Windows tablet, which should you go with? Do you stick with Microsoft’s offering or do you take a chance on a first-time Windows tablet from Nokia?

A Finnish finish

The Nokia Lumia 2520 derives a good deal of its heritage from Nokia’s Lumia smartphones. If the 6-inch Lumia 1520 was a stretched-out Lumia 720, the 10.1-inch 2520 is a stretched-out version of that. It looks like three 1520s put side by side and fused into one big screen.

The 2520 is all plastic, unlike the hard magnesium of the Surface 2. It’s almost like the antithesis of the Surface 2 — it’s warm and inviting, soft and round, as opposed to the cold and calculating, hard and angular Surface 2. The 2520 is a little bit more comfortable to hold as a result, but the glossy finish is a human-grease and fingerprint magnet and it’s a chore to keep clean. It’s also very prone to scratches — in the few days I’ve had my review unit, it’s collected all kinds of scratches from putting it down on desks, counters, and other surfaces.

At 1.36 pounds, the 2520 is slightly lighter than the Surface 2, but both are significantly heavier than the 1-pound iPad Air. Holding the 2520 in one had quickly becomes fatiguing, especially compared to the featherweight Air. The 2520’s height and width are just a tad smaller than the Surface, but the rounded finish makes the tablet feel much smaller in your hands than Microsoft’s creation.

My review unit is the same bright red color that the 1520 comes in, and it’s just as eye-catching. (Both AT&T and Verizon sell the 2520 in black, only Verizon offers the red color.) Remarkably, there is virtually zero branding on the front of the tablet, save for the Windows flag for the Start button. But around back things fall apart, and Verizon’s garish logos mar what is otherwise a clean design.

The rounded profile and plastic build of the 2520 mean you give up a few things compared to the Surface. There’s no kickstand and no full-size USB port. The 2520 does have a Micro USB 3.0 port, Micro HDMI port, and a microSD card slot (Nokia’s Power Keyboard adds two full-size USB ports, more on that later). Nokia provides very few accessories in the box with the 2520 — the only thing accompanying the tablet is its charger, which uses Nokia’s proprietary connector. I was a little bummed that the 2520 doesn’t use the same Micro USB chargers as Nokia’s smartphones, and the Surface’s magnetic charging connector is far more elegant than the 2520’s barrel connector.

Without those extras and no kickstand, the 2520 feels very much like any other 10-inch tablet. Its 16:9 display is great in landscape orientation, but it’s cumbersome to use in portrait mode for reading and other tasks. The 1920 x 1080 pixel panel looks great — it’s really bright, has the same ClearBlack technology that Nokia uses on smartphones, and can be used outdoors without issue. It’s great for browsing the web, playing games, and watching videos, but it’s a bit too contrasty and harsh when you want to read a book. The 2520 has a pixel density of 218PPI, which is less than the iPad Air and other tablets in this range. But while pixels are visible if you look closely, for the most part it’s not an issue and text is crisp enough to my eyes.

Below the display are front-facing stereo speakers that sound great and don’t get distorted when cranked to their fullest volume. Above it is a 2-megapixel wide-angle camera for video chats. Nokia also includes a 6.7-megapixel camera on the back of the tablet for those times when you want to use a 10-inch tablet to take photos. The power button and volume rocker are found on the top edge of the tablet, which work when it’s in landscape, but can be easily bumped inadvertently when in portrait. Same for the capacitive Start key below the display — I don’t think I picked up the tablet a single time without hitting that by mistake.

As an option, Nokia is offering a $149.99 Power Keyboard cover for the 2520. (The company is offering it for free by mail with any Lumia 2520 purchase through December 2nd.) It adds a full keyboard, trackpad, two USB 2.0 ports, and an included battery to give the tablet even more time away from an outlet. There are no pairing headaches and there’s no Bluetooth nonsense to mess with — you just snap it on and it works. It can prop the 2520 up and accommodates working on your lap a bit better than the Surface 2, but the angle is fixed and much like the original Surface, it’s a bit too upright.

The Power Keyboard also adds a significant amount of weight (the whole package weighs a hefty 2.6lbs) and thickness to the 2520, thanks in part to the battery and thanks in part to the cumbersome trifold design Nokia employs. It’s a shame what it does to the 2520’s otherwise sleek design, and I’m not sure the tradeoffs for the cover are worth it. Microsoft did an excellent job keeping the keyboard cover for the Surface slim, and I wish Nokia had done something similar with the 2520.

The keyboard has chunky, raised keys that are significantly more separated than the rather flat keys on Microsoft’s Type Cover. But it lacks any sort of backlighting, and I found that I was faster typing on Microsoft’s version than Nokia’s. I did manage to type this entire review on the Power Keyboard, so it’s not completely unusable. Neither will replace a laptop keyboard for me, but they are both easier to use than the on-screen keyboard included in Windows.

And then there’s the trackpad. It’s a good thing that the 2520 has a great touchscreen, because the Power Keyboard’s trackpad is abysmal. It’s sticky, unresponsive yet jumpy, and tiny. It supports two-finger scrolling, but barely — I frequently had scrolling issues with it. Additionally, the scrolling is set to be inverted (scrolling down pushes the screen up and vice versa — Apple calls this “Natural Scrolling”) and the options to set it back to the traditional scrolling for a mouse are nowhere to be found in the system.

The Power Keyboard has its flaws, but until there is a better third-party ecosystem for Nokia tablets (which, by all accounts, won’t happen anytime soon), it’s a logical purchase if you’re interested in the 2520 at all.

Mobile Power

The big selling point for the Lumia 2520 is its built-in LTE connectivity, which is not even an option on the Surface 2 until next year (and will likely cost more than the 2520). It’s compatible with either Verizon or AT&T’s networks (I tested the Verizon version), and it works excellently. I’m a big fan of tablets with built-in cellular connectivity, as I tend to leave Wi-Fi-only models at home more often than not. The 2520’s LTE let me work and play during my daily commute on a train without having to worry if there was Wi-Fi around or hassle with tethering my smartphone, which is mighty convenient. Windows RT isn’t that great when you don’t have an internet connection, but when you can have internet anywhere, it’s not that bad. As a result, the 2520 is a significantly more portable device than the Surface 2 or any other Wi-Fi only tablet, and I don’t think it was a mistake for Nokia to only offer LTE versions.

The 2520’s price tag ($499 for a 32GB version, or $399 if you’re willing to sign a contract with AT&T or Verizon for service) is shockingly low for a tablet with integrated LTE and is only $50 more than the Wi-Fi-only Surface 2. You don’t get the Microsoft perks that come with the Surface, such as 200GB of SkyDrive storage or a premium Skype membership, but you do get the ability to use the 2520 virtually anywhere there’s a cellphone signal, and that’s pretty valuable.

The 2520 has a rather massive 8,000mAh battery and I found it more than adequate. Using the tablet virtually all day to play games, browse the web, email, and write still left me with plenty of gas in the tank. On our rundown test, the battery lasted 10 hours and 47 minutes on Wi-Fi, well beyond the Surface 2 and right up there with the best tablets on the market, including the iPad Air. Needless to say, I didn’t find battery life to be an issue on the 2520, and frankly, I didn’t really need the extra battery offered by the Power Cover (it adds 50 percent more battery life, according to Nokia). I would have much rather had a thinner, slimmer cover that made the 2520 easier to carry in my bag. Though I don’t like Nokia’s proprietary charger, it does manage to charge the 2520 in record time (Nokia says the battery can charge up to 80 percent of its capacity in just one hour), so I spent less time at an outlet and more time using the tablet on the go.

Windows on the go

Nokia has plenty of experience with Microsoft’s mobile-phone platform, Windows Phone 8, but the 2520 is the first device from the company to use the tablet-centric Windows RT 8.1 software. Though Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 have a similar look and feel, very little is shared between the platforms. If you happen to own a Nokia phone, none of your apps are accessible on the 2520 and vice versa — there’s no real advantage to owning both at the same time. (But even I can appreciate having a matching red Nokia tablet-and-phone set.)

Nokia has added a couple of special apps to the 2520 —its Nokia Camera app sits alongside Microsoft’s default camera, for instance — but for the most part, it offers the same software experience you get on the Surface 2. That includes everything from snapping two apps side by side (which works flawlessly on the 2520, and is by far my favorite feature of Windows), integrated system-wide Bing search, and accessing the vestigial desktop mode for the included Microsoft’s Office suite (and only Microsoft’s suite, third-party apps don’t work here).

Snapping apps side by side to use simultaneously is endless fun on the 2520. It’s not the same kind of multitasking you can do on a full Windows PC or Mac, but it’s more than the iPad offers. It’s an in-between solution and a nice compromise for tablets — while writing this review, I had my Twitter timeline permanently snapped to the left of my screen, so I didn’t miss a thing. That’s something that can’t be done on an iPad with a keyboard cover.

The 2520 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM, arguably the best mobile processor on the market right now, save for Apple’s exclusive A7. Though the Surface 2’s Tegra 4 isn’t slow, everything just flies along with the Snapdragon, and the rare video playback issues we saw on the Surface 2 are nowhere to be found here. Apps open swiftly, hi-def video playback is stutter-free, games perform excellently (though there are some graphical issues with Asphalt 8 that make it currently unplayable), and the overall experience is just fast. I am really impressed with the browser — Microsoft’s work on improving Internet Explorer and the Snapdragon’s extra muscle combine to offer a really great browsing experience, though controls for video playback are still too small and fiddly on the 1080p screen.

But for all its impressive power and performance, the app situation on the 2520 is the same as it is on the Surface 2 — all too limited. Many of the popular mobile apps I’m accustomed to using on an iPad simply aren’t available, and while Microsoft lists over 14,000 games available in its store, recent titles like Temple Run 2 are missing. It’s a long climb to match Apple’s towering selection of apps, and though Microsoft is making headway thanks to third-party developers stepping in (NextGen Reader is an excellent RSS reader and I found a suitable replacement for Pocket and even an app to play my Google Music library), it still has a long ways to go. Fortunately, the staples like Netflix, Kindle, Facebook, Twitter, and now Flipboard are here, so it’s not like the 2520 is completely barren.

I loved how mobile I could be with the 2520: if I had an LTE signal, I could use it to its fullest. I just wish that its fullest was a bit more full, I could really leave the iPad and all of its apps behind if I had a few more apps on the 2520 and the confidence that the apps of the future will come to it in a timely manner.

I really like a lot of what Nokia has done with the Lumia 2520, it’s a well-made, great performing tablet, with an excellent screen and really attractive price tag. Though the Surface 2 offers some more attractive options, such as the built-in kickstand, USB ports, and better and slimmer keyboard covers, I enjoyed using the 2520 much more due to its wireless connectivity and snappier performance. I didn’t have to rely on flaky coffee shop Wi-Fi, I didn’t have to nag friends and family for their Wi-Fi passwords if I was at their homes, and I didn’t have to deal with trying to tether my phone’s internet connection to the tablet. Having a fast internet connection that requires no hassle or work on my part can’t be overstated.

Nokia’s first tablet is not perfect – it could stand to lose a few ounces and the widescreen display is not great for reading in portrait – but it’s a really good device that is mostly held back by Microsoft’s still-growing mobile platform. Windows RT has come a long way since the original Surface – its performance issues are gone, and many of the niggling software complaints have been addressed – but it’s still not nearly as mature as other tablet software on the market.

The massive market for third-party keyboards for Apple’s iPad line has shown that people want to be able to do more with their tablets than just watch video and play with apps, and the 2520’s addresses that to some extent. If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution to replace your laptop that you can use virtually anywhere, the 2520 is the closest thing yet, but it’s not quite fully there.

Unfortunately, given Microsoft’s impending acquisition of Nokia, I’m not sure we’ll see another 2520 — Nokia may not ever get the chance to address its shortcomings. The 2520 is the closest direct competitor the Surface 2 has, and it’s hard to think that Microsoft won’t want to protect its baby. That’s a shame too, because on the path to the perfect all-in-one tablet / laptop device, the 2520 is few steps ahead of the Surface 2.

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