Nokia has joined the tablet bandwagon but has its smartphone nous translated onto the big screen?
Since Apple revolutionised tablets in 2010 with the iPad, the market has been flooded with hundreds, if not thousands, of devices from numerous brands, in different shapes and sizes.
All the usual suspects have tried to make their presence known. HTC, Sony, LG, Motorola, Samsung, relative newcomers such as Huawei, ZTE, Asus, Lenovo, and a plethora of fly-by-nights from the factories of China have tried – and largely failed – to make an impact.
One notable absentee has been Nokia, which has opted to sit back and watch how the market pans out. Until now.
With analysts predicting tablets will outsell PCs within the next two years, and with the number of users worldwide set to top 600 million this year, Nokia has made its play with the Lumia 2520.
But has it been worth the wait? On paper, the device ticks all the boxes. It’s 4G, has an HD display, 6.7-megapixel rear camera (2.1MP front-facing), NFC, GPS, WiFi, quad-core processor (Snapdragon 800), and 32GB of expandable memory.
It is also comparatively cheap at £399, particularly when compared to, say, the iPad Air equivalent (32GB WiFi), which costs a whopping £579. There is no WiFi-only version of the Lumia 2520 as it is designed to be connected at all times, not just at home or at work.
Features don’t always guarantee sales. Usability and likability was, and continues to be, the driving force behind the iPad, which has racked up sales of more than 170 million to date and around 60 per cent of the total tablet market.
Perhaps unfairly, that could be Nokia’s biggest challenge in convincing you to buy its tablet.
Like all Lumia smartphones, the 2520 runs on Windows, or Windows RT 8.1 to be exact – a touchscreen, slightly watered-down tablet version of Windows 8 that you’d find on a PC.
While Windows Phones continue to rise in popularity, the fact remains that most successful tablet devices and smartphones run on iOS and Android.
Before we discuss the pros and cons of Windows, let’s first take a look at the exterior.
The 2520 is unmistakably Nokia, resembling a blown-up version of a Lumia smartphone.
The device is effectively made up of two parts, with (in our case) the red polycarbonate tough plastic material (also available in black) covering the rear but spreading over to the
front, creating a pleasant-looking border around the screen.
The shape departs heavily from most current tablets, adopting a 10.1-inch by 6.6-inch screen, giving it the look of a widescreen TV, accompanied by smooth but still pointy edges. Because of the size, the device is intended to be used in landscape mode, which suits the Windows operating system well. More on that later.
If you do wish to hold it in portrait, the screen will flip around. Be warned, despite being only 8.9mm thick, it weighs a hefty 615g (almost 200g more than the iPad Air), and feels very top-heavy, so it’s liable to fall out of your hand.
If you are prone to dropping things, fortunately the Lumia 2520 is equipped with a Gorilla Glass 2.0 screen (20 per cent thinner than original Gorilla Glass), which should help avoid unwanted cracks and scratches. Overall, the device feels well made and able to withstand a knock.
As it’s Nokia’s first tablet, it’s worth mentioning a few things about the device layout, as it differs considerably from traditional models.
There are no physical buttons on the screen, with only the front-facing camera along the top and a small Windows Logo, which acts as the home button when the device is switched on, visible.
The only physical buttons are positioned along the top: power and volume next to a small, well-hidden micro-SIM and memory card slot that boosts capacity to a maximum 64GB with a microSD card.
Curiously, down the right side of the device are two exposed ports: micro-USB and micro-HDMI (to connect to a TV), which is something I’ve not seen on a tablet.
Oddly, Nokia has opted for a 2.5mm charging pin rather than the traditional USB down the left side. Confusingly, it looks almost identical to the 3.5mm headphone jack placed at the opposite end.
Clearly Nokia is looking to fill its coffers by people wanting or needing a spare charger, although the official website didn’t appear to stock them.
The back of the device, which cannot be removed, is a largely plain affair, with only the 6.7-megapixel Zeiss camera lens in the top left visible.
As mentioned, the 2520 runs on Windows RT 8.1 – the same software used on the comparable Microsoft Surface 2 tablet.
This was my first experience of using Windows RT and I have to admit, having used it for more than a week, I am surprised by some of the criticisms sent its way.
It’s refreshingly different to the tried and tested Android and iOS models before it – most notably in its appearance, which makes others look a little dated.
For example, rather than the now-familiar grid of icons, Windows is made up of Live Tiles (apps), all in different colours, shapes and sizes, presented on a very wide “Start” home screen.
Many of the tiles provide live information without being opened. For example, my screen shows me the latest rolling news headlines with pictures, my most recently received emails, local weather reports, Facebook updates, calendar appointments and pictures taken on the device or saved in my SkyDrive account (which we’ll come to).
The default set-up has 32 tiles in place on the Start screen but not all can be viewed on the 10.1-inch screen. Instead, you have to glide your finger left or right to gain full visibility.
Alternatively, you can pinch the screen to zoom out for full visibility and then tap the area of the screen you wish to zoom in on, but that’s a long-winded and rather unnecessary method.
Thanks to the Snapdragon 800 processor, at no point did I experience slowdown or irritating stutters while navigating the device.
Nokia has spoken at length about investments made to provide a “best-in-class” screen – and it has to be said it’s money well spent. The screen is HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), and while not as highly specced on paper as the iPad Air, it is as good as anything I’ve seen and copes with every light condition we threw at it. There was almost no reflection, even in direct sunlight.
Equally, the image and colours remain the same, whatever angle it’s being viewed at, which avoids a real annoyance when more than one person is looking at the screen.
Options to customise the device are extensive. Aside from the multitude of colours for text and background, all tiles can be moved, resized or deleted with relative ease. Simply press down on the tile for a second or two and a menu will appear below with straightforward instructions.
If you wish to remove a tile from the home screen, but not un-install it, select “Unpin from Start”. This will send it to the Apps screen, which can be accessed simply by gliding your finger upwards anywhere on the Start screen.
All apps downloaded to the device – which can only be done via the Microsoft App store – will automatically appear in this section. Should you wish to place it in the main home screen, follow the same holding down process and select “Pin to Start”.
The subject of apps has always been a murky area for Windows, but progress is being made. There are currently more than 150,000 apps available, which might sound impressive but is still a long way short of Apple’s half a million and Android’s million-plus.
Still, the store is very well designed and apps are easily found using the extensive menu and categories available (such as games, social media, entertainment, photo, music, video, sports, books, news, health and fitness). There should be plenty to keep you occupied, with all the usual suspects, Twitter, Facebook (which really benefits from the large screen), Netflix and games such as Angry Birds all present.
In addition, Nokia has included a number of its own apps too, such as the very under-rated Nokia Music, allowing free music streaming, Nokia Storyteller and its “Here” maps.
Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 is also included (worth £109), allowing you to access popular and familiar products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook.
Selecting any of these products, which appear as individual tiles on the Start menu, takes you to a separate screen that looks identical to a traditional Windows PC desktop. It’s a very familiar process.
You can even split the screen, allowing you to multitask – such as watching films while you’re supposed to be working.
The device also encourages the adoption of Microsoft’s quite brilliant cloud-based service SkyDrive, which also comes pre-loaded. SkyDrive allows you to store content such as pictures, videos and documents online rather than on the device. This means you can access, view or edit your content from any connected computer or device – including non-Windows run devices such as the iPhone, provided the app is downloaded.
Users must have a Microsoft account to access SkyDrive. This can be set up during the initial start-up process when first switching on the device – or from a PC.
Nokia is fast developing a solid reputation for its quality cameras – namely the 1020 phone, which has a whopping 41 megapixels. But even those with smaller lenses have fared well. I still have pictures in frames taken from the 5-megapixel N95, which, like the Lumia 2520, included a Zeiss lens.
The 6.7-megapixel rear-view camera (1080p resolution) on the 2520 was, however, a little disappointing. This was particularly true in low-light environments indoors, where the autofocus struggled, leaving images often grainy rather than sharp. There is also no flash.
In decent light, though, it performs admirably. But again, it’s nothing to shout about.
The 2.1MP front-facing camera fares well too, and will no doubt satisfy those looking to copy David Cameron and Barack Obama by doing a selfie or a video chat on Skype, which comes pre-installed.
Just to confuse things, there are two camera apps on the device – each with its own set of controls and functions. It’s a confusing shambles. For example, the default camera doesn’t allow zoom during the taking of pictures, while the Nokia Camera does – albeit an unimpressive 4x zoom.
Another example: the default camera captures 14 frames per picture taken – allowing you to choose and save the best one using a dial. It’s an excellent service. The Nokia Camera app doesn’t.
The controls between the two differ greatly, making it all very confusing. It’s a poor performance compared to many tablets out there.
Video capture is also available and can be performed using both the front and rear-facing cameras, and accessed by both camera apps – this time with very little difference.
The rear camera offers HD recording (1920 x 1080 pixels) and 30 frames per second aided by the Zeiss lens. It performed well, with decent capturing of sound, and rarely struggled in not-too-drastic lighting conditions. The front offers a more basic 720p resolution – good enough for relatively close-up video calling.
The Lumia 2520 packs a sizeable non-removable 8,120 mAh battery which, according to Nokia at least, provides a whopping standby time of 25 days.
To its credit, rarely was battery power a problem, and with moderate use it was still going strong after three days – which by any account is impressive.
Even if you do get caught, provided you brought your charger with you, you can have 80 per cent charged within the hour.
Given the history of successful devices running Android and iOS, the Windows-run Lumia 2520 may be unfairly viewed as too much of a gamble by some.
While the screen quality is fantastic, and the size very suited to the general make-up of Windows, an additional keyboard is essential if the device is going to be used for writing, particularly with Word.
I also found myself craving the use of a mouse too, as correcting spelling or grammar is awkward on a touchscreen. The prospect of spending an extra £150 is unlikely to satisfy many, who might choose to look elsewhere.
That aside, I experienced few, if any, performance issues with the device. Even when running multiple apps, the Qualcomm snapdragon 800 processor kept everything running smoothly and with no delays.