The Nokia Lumia 520 smartphone represents outstanding value for money.
Design & display
The Lumia 520 comes in bright colour options and is one of the most compact smartphones we've reviewed. It's certainly not the thinnest smartphone on the market at 9.9mm thick, but the light weight of 124g combined with its svelte frame makes it very comfortable to hold and use.
The Lumia 520 has a completely flat front surface taken up largely by the display but the sides of the phone taper inwards towards the back, creating a design that's both attractive and ergonomically friendly.
Nokia will sell optional snap-on covers for the Lumia 520. The company used the same feature on the slightly more expensive Lumia 620, so it seems to be a common trend with entry level devices.
The cover is a little difficult to pry off and you'll need to remove it (along with the battery) to access the microSD card slot. There's 8GB of internal memory on-board.
The Lumia 520 is available in black and yellow colour variants in Australia, while Nokia's official snap-on covers for the device are available in white, red and cyan. The yellow model we reviewed has a grippy, matte finish but it shows up dirt and marks quite easily and is therefore difficult to keep clean.
The Nokia Lumia 520 has standard Windows Phone keys below its display (back, home and search buttons) along with side-mounted volume controls and a power/lock screen key.
There's also a physical camera shutter key which can be held down to jump straight into the camera. All keys are well positioned and provide good tactility.
The Lumia 520 has a 4in, IPS display with a respectable resolution of 800x480. That resolution provides a pixel density of 233ppi, which is slightly less than the Lumia 620's 3.8in screen but more than most budget smartphones at this price point.
The screen does a reasonable job at displaying the attractive Windows Phone interface, but colours do appear washed out, viewing angles are poor and the screen can be tough to see in direct sunlight.
Software & performance
The Nokia Lumia 520 may be a budget phone but it certainly doesn't cut corners when it comes to functions. You get all the same software features that Microsoft includes in Windows Phone 8, along with the various apps that Nokia pre-loads.
Nokia's range of apps and features are particularly impressive. The Here Maps application is more comprehensive than Apple Maps and even betters Google Maps on Android phones in some ways. It allows you to download a range of maps from entire countries to use when you don't have any mobile network coverage.
In addition, Here Drive+ Beta provides free turn-by-turn navigation in a clean and easy to navigate layout. The ability to download maps means the navigation service doesn't use any mobile data, just the Lumia 520's built-in GPS chip.
The Windows Phone 8 OS itself also has some excellent core features and they're all available on the Lumia 520. All users receive 7GB of SkyDrive Storage for free. The built-in, free Microsoft Office app handles Word and Excel documents with ease and is without a doubt the best office client on any mobile platform.
The Xbox Music service is also decent value at $11.99 per month or $119.90 per year for unlimited music streaming.
The biggest downside to the Nokia Lumia 520 is the lack of popular third-party apps. Many apps we use on a daily basis on iOS and Android simply aren't available on Windows Phone. The store continues to expand and improve over time, however.
Disappointingly, the price of paid apps on the Windows Phone platform seem higher than competing platforms, a particular concern for cheap handsets like the Lumia 520.
Performance is excellent for a budget smartphone. The Lumia 520's 1GHz dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM might not sound like much on paper but that's irrelevant as they make for a smooth and fast user experience.
Scrolling is smoother than almost any Android phone, there is no lag when switching between apps and performance is consistent and snappy.
There is one significant issue with the Lumia 720's 512MB of RAM, however. There are some games in the Windows Store that require a minimum of 1GB to work. The likes of Temple Run and Real Football are two examples of games that aren't compatible with the Lumia 520.
Camera & battery life
The Lumia 520 has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with single LED flash. The camera doubles as a 720p video recorder. Still images captured are of a reasonable quality and good enough for a budget smartphone.
Images can be a little noisy depending on conditions and low-light performance is poor but colour reproduction is accurate and most photos we snapped were in focus.
Adding significant value to the Lumia 520's camera are Nokia's camera modes, which it calls lenses. The Smart Shoot lens is the only one that came preloaded on our review unit. It captures multiple photos and then allows you to remove elements from an image, like someone walking in the background of your photo.
You can easily download extra lenses from the Windows Marketplace. Panorama lens allows you to capture panorama shots, while a cinemagraph mode captures movement and turns still shots into a GIF file.
The Lumia 520 has decent, but not outstanding battery life. Most users should easily be able squeeze a full day of use out of the device before needing to recharge it, though we averaged about 16 hours per day.
The Lumia 520 is available now through Telstra for $179 while Allphones, Dick Smith, Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi are selling the device for $229.