Phablet fun means size is everything at the bleeding edge of technology
Bigger is better. That seems to be the consensus regarding smartphones. The iPhone and Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact aside, manufacturers are starting to push into tablet territory with their latest flagship phones: the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, for instance, sports a display measuring 5.7-inches across. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra meanwhile measures in at a whopping 6.4-inches. Yes, it honestly still makes calls.
Not one to be left out of the “phablet” fun, Nokia late last year brought out its own six-inch Windows Phone, the Nokia Lumia 1520, and now it’s back with a budget follow-up.
Meet the Nokia Lumia 1320, a six-inch 4G warhorse with a SIM-free price under £300 (around half the cost of a top-of-the-line Samsung Note). Is it every bit as good though? Well, it would be if it wasn’t for Windows Phone.
Slick slab design
Nokia has been making candy-coloured Windows Phones for three years. By this point, we almost know what to expect – not that that’s a bad thing.
The 1320 channels the exact same design language as its Lumia predecessors, with a smooth, robust polycarbonate shell, curved edges and a monolithic front face unmarred by physical buttons. It still looks great, and at 9.8mm deep it’s not too thick to comfortably handle on a regular basis either.
This time though, it’s writ large.
The 1320’s display measures a huge six inches diagonally. It sounds daunting, but it isn’t necessarily. As Samsung has proved by selling millions of massive Notes, the screen size itself isn’t a problem.
Adding extra bulk with an enormous bezel is, and luckily Nokia has avoided making this error (which crippled HTC’s humongous phablet effort, the HTC One Max): the Lumia 1320 is very manageable despite its size.
It’s almost all screen, with a narrow frame on the top and bottom, which gives you oodles of space for watching videos, reading articles or just thumbing out emails with an “embiggened” keyboard.
What has changed with the display, however, is the pixel density: to cut costs, Nokia has used a 720p IPS LCD screen. The very bleeding edge of tech has pushed on – this is technically still HD, but its 1280×720 resolution means a lot fewer pixels than you’ll find in a crisp 1920×1080 “full HD” display, on the likes of the Lumia 1520 or HTC One. Not that this is a compromise, per se. At a push, you can make out the pixels. Text looks ever so slightly blurry compared to a smaller phone with a sharper resolution.
But we’re splitting hairs. The difference is barely discernible, and unless you’re a real smartphone screen connoisseur, you probably won’t notice, especially when you consider Nokia hasn’t skimped on other important specs. The Snapdragon S4 processor, for instance, powers top-of-the-line phones including the HTC One and LG G2, and absolutely flies here. You won’t have any problems with taxing 3D games here (except finding them – but more on that later).
Better still, Nokia’s included LTE support, meaning the Nokia Lumia 1320 enjoys the same super-fast 4G speeds as the latest flagship smartphones. So long as you have coverage in your area, you’ll come to love the instant downloads, as well as rapid uploads if you’re constantly sharing pictures and video away from WiFi.
Despite all this power, battery life (one of the real advantages of phablets) is solid. You’ll easily clear a day of constant email syncing, browsing the web and watching videos, as you would with a Galaxy Note 3. With casual use, you could easily manage a whole weekend.
So really, what’s the catch, we hear you asking. A slightly fuzzier screen to save £200? There is one area where Nokia has cut corners: it’s the camera. The five-megapixel sensor on the 1320 is pathetic compared to the outstanding 1020 and Lumia 925 snappers.
It suffers from weak low-light performance and visible mottling outdoors if you don’t keep still – Nokia’s excellent camera app with slide out settings toggles from the Lumia 1020 is also sorely missed here. But it’s still far from the worst we’ve ever tested, and it’s also worth noting that the Nexus 5, our favourite sub-£300 smartphone, also has a bobbins camera.
Windows Phone Fail
So far so good, right? Sadly, much of Nokia’s hard work comes undone, courtesy of the software. Android has matured drastically since launch in 2008, is far less intimidating than in its pre-“Jelly Bean” days, and now boasts a store with more than a million apps and games.
Windows Phone, by contrast, doesn’t seem to have aged a day: it remains as pretty as ever, and just as vacuous.
The start screen is a pleasant way to navigate apps and inboxes, and with that blazing CPU under the hood there are certainly no slow down problems. But Microsoft labours on, blindly refusing to fix glaring issues.
You can’t change your keyboard layout. There’s still no decent universal notification centre, and Internet Explorer is a UI mess, hiding tabs away behind multiple clicks and sometimes rendering web pages very oddly indeed.
The Windows Store lags behind its competitors on quality and quantity of must-have apps and services. Vine and Instagram are both available on the platform at long last (in fact, they come preloaded, along with WhatsApp and a few branded apps you should ignore, especially novelty card purveyor Funky Pigeon), while there’s even an excellent pixel for pixel Flappy Bird clone to play.
Windows Phone simply isn’t meant for a screen this size. Beyond an extra column of tiles dumped onto the homescreen, the massive screen offers little in the way of advantages. You can’t run apps side by side as you can on a Galaxy Note. You can’t adjust the size of the keyboard to suit your thumbs or swipe to type, and there’s no stylus for writing or grabbing quick screenshots. It’s just the smaller screen experience, stretched out and blurrier.
The content to watch on it is missing, too. There’s still no official YouTube app, while Microsoft only recently added TV show and movie rentals to its download service, something Apple has offered on the iPhone for more than six years. Windows Phone has always felt late to the party, but rarely more so than in the big screen smartphone space.
Lastly, there’s the price. At a SIM-free price of around £280 online, it’s only a fraction cheaper than Google’s phenomenal Nexus 5 Android smartphone – and we know which has better apps. On contract pricing, that small difference melts away entirely, with contracts for both on 4G at around the £21-per-month price.
In other words, it’s just not that cheap, not while Google and LG continue to undercut the market with the Nexus Program.
Nokia’s done a marvellous job cramming some spectacular specs into a huge display and taking the price down. Indeed, unless you really need a better camera, we’d recommend the 1320 over its bigger brother, the 1520, even if you can afford the latter.
Do you really need a Windows Phone phablet though, really? The Lumia 925 and 1020 were large enough for many, and the lack of software taking advantage of the big display – for which the Galaxy Note does not wont – means those extra inches on the 1320 do little or nothing, just leave you looking faintly ridiculous when answering a call. Better off spending your money on an Android phablet instead, we think, or at least Google’s Nexus 5.