Nokia Lumia 520

Pricing is absolutely this phone's primary value proposition, but the essentials all seem to work, the hardware is sturdy and the camera is better than average.

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The model as reviewed was the T-Mobile Lumia 521. It is identical in specifications to the Lumia 520 released in Australia.

If you're all about value, then mosey on up to the Nokia Lumia 520. For a great off-contract price, the Windows Phone 8 device brings on solid performance and Nokia's signature apps for a bargain price.

Its biggest drawback — besides the obvious step-down in screen and camera quality compared with the earlier Lumia 810 and upcoming Lumia 925 flagship — is that the 520 lacks LTE support. However, it still packs HSPA+ network speeds, so it's no slouch on Australian 3G networks.

Most sub-AU$200 smartphones give you exactly what you pay for. Cheap, functional hardware that sometimes struggles with the OS demands. The Lumia 520 delivers an above-average experience that more than fits the price, so long as you don't require LTE data speeds.

Design and build

The square-faced polycarbonate Lumia 520 is available in a range of colours and is smaller than its other Lumia brethren — 12cm tall by 6.4cm wide — but still typically thick at the standard 11mm deep.

At 130 grams, it feels sturdy and substantial, and the prominent curve of the back plate balloons out to fit comfortably in the hand. It slid into my back pocket just fine, though its curvy dimensions did cause it to protrude a bit.

Nokia's Lumia 520 is the company's least expensive Windows Phone yet.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

The overall design is nice, but the Lumia 520's faded display keep it in its budget place. Neither is it very bright at automatic settings. I needed to turn off automatic brightness and set the screen to medium strength to make my peepers happy.

Speaking of that screen, the 520 sports a 4-inch LCD WVGA display (800x480-pixel resolution) that lacks the glare-fighting ClearBlack filter and lustrous sheen of Nokia's high-end Lumia line. That's an expected trade-off for struggling to hit a lower cost. However, Nokia did include the high-screen sensitivity of other Lumia phones, which means that you won't have to shuck off your gloves to operate the 520.

I find typing more comfortable on Lumias with larger screens, but 4 inches is hardly small and thankfully, the standard Windows Phone keyboard is nice and accurate.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Now for a tour through the other external hardware appointments. There are those signature oblong Lumia buttons on the right spine to control volume, power and the camera shutter. Up top is the 3.5mm headset jack, and down below is the micro-USB charging port. The Lumia 521 has no front-facing camera (another cost consideration), but there is a 5-megapixel shooter on the back — no flash, though.

You may not know it by looking, but you can peel back the back cover to get at the micro-SIM and microSD card slots below decks. It was hard to pry off the first time (hint, curl your fingers and pull the cover toward you), but it loosened up after that.

OS and apps

A Windows Phone 8 OS at its base, the Lumia 520 also includes all of Nokia's custom software that helps set its phones apart from other manufacturers' Windows phones.

You'll find Nokia's Maps and Drive apps with turn-by-turn directions, Nokia Music, which does song mixes and various other apps to enhance the native camera experience. Lenses, apps that hook into the camera app, add extra shooting modes and options like Panorama and Smart Shoot, nice touches for otherwise bare-bones hardware.

As a reminder, Windows Phone lets you change theme colours, task-switch and voice search, plus identify songs and change the sizes of the home screen's dynamic live tiles.

The OS has all the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS connections you'd expect, plus support for multiple email inboxes and social networks. There's no NFC on board, so you won't be able to use the Tap + Send feature to share photos, for instance. Wireless charging also fell by the wayside in an effort to keep costs down.

Camera and video

Although the 5-megapixel camera has no flash, it took decent photos. Images looked better when taken in scenarios with abundant, even lighting, though even a low-light photo of dessert looked much better than on other cameras.

This photo of CNET's home office is totally usable, but not as sharp or colourful as other cameras.
(Credit: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

On the whole, the Lumia 520 doesn't produce photos as distinct, detailed or rich as other smartphone cameras. That said, the photos are better than average for the phone's price. In other words, you'd never buy the Lumia 520 for the camera, but budget-seekers should be pleased with what they get.

These berries never quite got into focus, but the bright reds are at least accurate.
(Credit: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

As usual with Windows Phones, shot-to-shot times are slower than what they are on other smartphones. It's very possible to miss a moment. That said, I do greatly appreciate built-in autofocus.

When it comes to evenness and tone, the Nokia Lumia 520 pretty much aced our studio shot.
(Credit: John Miller/CNET)

One telling test is our indoor studio shot. Colours were even and objects were more or less sharp. Smartphone cameras often throw a brown, red or blueish tint onto the scene. The 520, happily, did not.

In addition to taking photos, the Lumia 520 captures 720p HD video. Without a flash, you'll need to keep an eye on the environment, but overall, autofocus jumped in at the right times, and the picture looked as detailed and clear as you'd expect for 720p HD. I'd be more than happy to upload a quick video to YouTube or a social network, though I probably wouldn't want to film a full-length feature to play back on my large-screen HDTV.

A dim restaurant atmosphere didn't blunt the Lumia 520's ability to get a pretty clear snap of this cheesecake.
(Credit: Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Call quality

I was able to comfortably hold long phone conversations when testing the Lumia 520's call quality. There was some skipping in the flow and I had to set the volume to high to really hear, but beyond that, I didn't detect any background noise in my calls and voices sounded natural.

On his end of the line, my chief testing partner had a slightly degraded experience. Although he said I sounded loud enough, my voice came across echoey and hollow, though intelligible. He heard extra distortion on the high peak, and noticed that my voice quality was a little raspy.

I tested the speakerphone by holding the device at hip-level. Volume immediately jumped. Voices were natural and fairly clear, considering the nature of speakerphone. The audio quality wasn't excessively echoey or hollow, and though it didn't deliver absolute clarity, I could keep a conversation going indoors for quite some time without wanting to switch back to the standard earpiece.

Call quality didn't differ much from the switch to speakerphone and standard for my caller, though he did notice that turning on speaker mellowed the distortion peaks he heard when I spoke with the phone at my ear. Otherwise, the audio traits remained throughout the transition.


On the processor side, the Lumia 520 comes with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8270 dual-core processor. The 520 isn't as snappy as its more expensive Lumia counterparts, which means that the gamers among you may not see the same crispness or detailed gameplay in graphics-heavy games.

There's 8GB of internal storage; phone owners have access to 7.2GB of them and a smaller 512MB helping of RAM versus 1GB or 2GB in today's top phones on any platform.

The 520's removable 1430mAh battery is rated to yield up to 9.6 hours talk time and 15 days standby time. It has a digital SAR rating of 1.02 watts per kilogram.

Should you buy it or skip it?

Though it lacks 4G LTE support, the AU$179 Nokia Lumia 520 still gives you quite a bit for your money. Pricing is absolutely this phone's primary value proposition, but the essentials all seem to work, the hardware is sturdy and the camera is better than average.

This is a good buy for someone seeking a wallet-friendly smartphone off-contract.

Buy the Lumia 521 if you:

  • Want one of the lowest-cost smartphones around

  • Seek a handset off-contract

  • Value a strong camera with HD video capture

  • Enjoy the Windows Phone ecosystem

Skip the Lumia 521 if you:

  • Prioritize 4G LTE speeds

  • Seek slimmer, more-sophisticated hardware (hold out for the Nokia Lumia 925)

  • Decide that price is not an issue


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KatieC1 posted a review   
New Zealand

The Good:.... the windows software is great, no freezing

The Bad:camera, screen scratches, battery life, slow,

Moved from a Galaxy S2 to this - worst move ever!
Everyone says the camera is great but its beyond aweful compared to the S2, so pixelated its not even funny. 4hrs max of battery life, screen scratches faster than you can look at it, just not a good phone...


GraceK posted a comment   

Thanks for the info, you really help me in making a decision as I am not up to the latest technology but want value for money and this does sound like the phone for me.


nanorazor posted a comment   

"removable 1430mAh battery" should be a big plus


premacy2003 posted a comment   

My Son recently bought this phone and a 32B Micro SD Card. He spent less than $200. The phone is a gem specially considering the price. I have been an Iphone user for 5 years, but i really think this a great product. I am tempted to offer to swap. Very easy to use and learn. Great product, amazing value.


dawesi1 posted a comment   

looks like the perfect app developer phone!

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User Reviews / Comments  Nokia Lumia 520

  • KatieC1



    "Moved from a Galaxy S2 to this - worst move ever!
    Everyone says the camera is great but its beyond aweful compared to the S2, so pixelated its not even funny. 4hrs max of battery life, screen..."

  • GraceK


    "Thanks for the info, you really help me in making a decision as I am not up to the latest technology but want value for money and this does sound like the phone for me."

  • nanorazor


    ""removable 1430mAh battery" should be a big plus"

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