Mobile World Congress 2013: Nokia Lumia 520: First Look at the Windows Phone Budget Hero [VIDEO]

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By David Gilbert | February 26, 2013 3:22 AM EST

The launch of the Nokia Lumia 520 at Mobile World Congress marks a seminal moment in the life of the Windows Phone platform. If this €139 phone can succeed, the whole ecosystem could benefit.

Nokia is by far the most high-profile partner Microsoft has on its Windows Phone platform and as such it is vital that Nokia phones sell well in order for the eco-system to have a chance of growing - and one day possibly challenging Apple and Google.

So far progress has been painfully slow. Nokia's devices have been hit-and-miss, but the end of 2012 saw the launch of a number of smartphones have been received positively by the media, particularly the Lumia 920 with its superb camera.

However Nokia, and indeed the Window Phone manufacturers as a whole, have failed to break into the budget end of the market, which is where the Lumia 520 comes into play.

Costing just €139 (before tax and operator costs) it is aiming to be the first affordable WP8 device, potentially disrupting the market currently dominated by low-cost Android smartphones.

Stephen Elop, Nokia CEO, spoke at the launch of the Lumia 520, claiming the Finnish company now has the most "innovative portfolio of products2 on the market. This is an extension of the tagline for the Lumia 920, which was called the world's "most innovative smartphone."

Trickling down

And there is a correlation here. Elop said that innovations first implemented in high-end Lumia smartphones are now trickling down to budget models like the Lumia 520.

In this case the features are a sensitiv screen which can be used with gloves on and some of funky camera lenses. Not ground breaking, but certainly a good omen for the future.

Design

The Lumia 520 continues the design language of the rest of the Lumia line up, with the most distinctive aspect being the bright and colourful polycarbonate casings. Available in the usual Lumia colours of red, yellow and cyan, the Lumia 520 is certainly more distinctive than any one of a dozen or more low-end Android smartphones.

As if trying to explain the reasoning for the bright colour range, Nokia said people are more likely to recommend a colourful phone to friends than a black or white one - so it seems there is method to the Nokia craziness.

The phone looks and feels solid, much like the slightly higher-end - though smaller - Lumia 620. Unlike the Lumia 620's full flat design however, the Lumia 520 has a curved back.

The finish on the phone is not up to the premium feel Nokia achieved with the Lumia 920, but considering this is around £400 cheaper, this is no surprise.

The phone's 4in screen has a low 480 x 800 resolution and it is clear this is where a lot of the cost cutting has been made. The Windows Phone interface does help make up for some of the low resolution, but open some pictures or text in the browser and the panel's poor resolution is clear to see.

Performance

In terms of performance, the phone worked perfectly well in my brief time with it, with the fast and intuitive Windows Phone interface zipping along.

The 1GHz dual core processor will probably struggle with tasks like streaming HD video or playing 3D games, but for a budget device, the performance is more than acceptable. The low 512MB of RAM also means apps will open slower than on more powerful devices.

Nokia also announced in Barcelona that the Windows Phone Marketplace now has 130,000 apps. While this indicates some growth, it is precisely this area where Nokia and more generally Microsoft, lets us down.

There are significant gaps in the app catalogue and until such time as these are filled, the system will feel somewhat patchy.

A lot to like

There is a lot to like about the Lumia 520. Nokia has made a solid smartphone which is comfotable to hold and has enough processing power to carry out the most essential tasks.

Nokia also gives you access to its Here suite of apps, which is the rebranded Nokia Maps, letting you access offline maps rather than wracking up big roaming charges.

The phone is missing a front-facing camera, and the rear five megapixel one lacks a flash (though does at least have auto-focus) but for a phone at this price, it's unsurprisingly some things are missing.

Nokia will be hoping this phone is a big success for it and the announcement that China Mobile will be offering it on its network should give the budget phone a big boost.

Windows Phone needs a budget hero, and the Lumia 520 could just provide it.

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