Believe it or not, Nokia have never made a tablet before – at least since their Damascene conversion to the church of Windows. Apparently Nokia held off until they thought they could do something new and different – and the Lumia 2520 is the result.
Nokia are, of course, in an interesting position: Just a few years ago they were the undisputed kings of mobile, but the smartphone revolution started by the iPhone left them floundering. Can the come-back continue? Is the Lumia 2520 the glorious comeback tour, with the right mixture of classics and new material… or is this the old band getting back together out of grim financial necessity, with the enthusiasm gone and the animosity between the band members only dulled by the paycheque? Read on to find out.
In my mind, Nokia have built up something of a reputation for solid hardware. The old brick-like 3210 took a lot of punishment back in the day. And whilst I’m not sure the Lumia 2520 could survive the same amount of trips tumbling down the stairs, owing to it’s large 10.1″ screen, it definitely feels solidly built.
The screen itself is full widescreen HD – running at 1920×1080, with a pixel density of 218ppi. Whilst this is slightly less than the iPad with Retina display, graphics still look crisp and the edges of boxes on screen appear sharp.
The backing plate is made of plastic, which whilst obviously not as classy as metal still feels solid. And what’s cool of course about Nokia phones in general is that they’re available in a number of different colours, rather than just bog-standard white or black (or if you’re lucky, grey!). Which gives the hardware a little bit more personality. According to a Nokia the colours work too – with a “significant majority” of Nokia sales going on colourful phones – and the coloured devices also get a higher approval rating from consumers.
Spec-wise, it’s a powerful little machine: there’s a 2.2ghz Snapdragon processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB flash storage – expandable by another 64GB with an SD card. And Nokia claim that the battery (which can’t be removed) will last for up to 25 days on stand-by.
Connectivity-wise the 2520 has everything you expect in a modern tablet: Wifi and Bluetooth, NFC, and there’s a mini HDMI out for good measure. Perhaps most interesting is that the 2520 comes with 4G built in – just add a SIM card. In fact, unlike the iPad you can’t even get a non-4G version.
So it’s definitely got Nokia’s track record for good hardware. To torture my musical analogy a little further, it’s clear the band still haven’t forgotten how to play their instruments and still have something there – but does the new material match up to the old classics?
Power up the device for the first time and you’re greeted with the familiar experience of choosing your language and logging into your Microsoft account, where all of your settings will be synced. Then rather than throw you on to the home screen, you’re told the device is going to restart and install updates. Then it hits you: This thing is really running Windows.
The philosophy behind Windows 8 is that you get the same experience, on every device. So in Microsoft’s ideal world your phone works the same way as your tablet, as your desktop, and even your Xbox – which is why all of these platforms have moved towards the box-driven “Metro” user-interface. Unfortunately I remain unconvinced that this is a wise idea, flawed at a very simple level: we use different types of input into all of these devices. Fingers are used to control tablets and phones, mouse and keyboards for computers and controllers, voice and flailing motion controls for Xbox… with this mind… can a user experience really be consistent? Can an interface really be designed with all of these in mind?
Luckily for prospective 2520 owners, the tablet interface appears to be the main driving force – the user experience isn’t anywhere near as maddening as using Windows 8 on a PC. But it’s perhaps telling that every time the operating system’s Windows heritage pops up, it diminishes the experience.
When you’re in apps and doing activities that were built with tablets in mind, it’s more or less fine – and the on-screen keyboard is nice to type on (perhaps due in part to the very satisfying sound effect played when you hit a key), and scrolling around is smooth. There’s none of the wonkiness of earlier Windows incarnations – it’s fast to switch around what you’re doing and it broadly feels like a premium device.
As I say though – as soon as ‘real’ windows exposes itself, things become a bit weirder. Buttons sometimes seem a bit too small for a fat finger (as if they’re expecting a mouse), and at times it feels as though your finger is guiding around a mouse pointer rather than pressing on things. Case in, er, point – one of the first things you have to do on the tablet is enter in a code that Microsoft will email to you (to verify the new device…) and after clicking in the box to enter the code and having the keyboard pop up, when I started typing, the cursor was no longer in the box and my typing wasn’t working.
But don’t get me wrong – if ‘slickness’ is a major factor, then it’s probably about on a par with Android which too can be clunky at times – just don’t expect the polish (and indeed, debatable limitations) of an iPad.
The other frustration with Windows as a platform is not even Microsoft’s fault. To be blunt, there simply isn’t enough apps. Whilst Microsoft have done their utmost to create a viable ecosystem – going so far as to pay third party developers to port their apps over to the Windows platform, there are still some big gaps. Whilst Nokia are trumpeting the likes of Vine and Instagram being available on the platform… there’s no YouTube app. A search of the store reveals a bunch of knock-off “YouTube viewer” apps not made by YouTube themselves – making it feel more like a car-boot sale than the premium experience you get on iOS. Even the Facebook app looks like it’s just HTML5 wrapped up and called an app (something Microsoft have been accused of doing before).
There is one thing to it’s credit though, that will be especially of interest to business drones: The Lumia 2520 comes with Microsoft Office. And not some lame office viewer: full featured, singing, dancing Microsoft Office – with Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and Onenote. Now you can not only take work home with you – but you can take it to the beach too.
When you boot into Office, rather than load each app as a full screen thing like you might expect on a tablet, the action switches to a traditional Windows-type interface – complete with taskbar and time in the corner. What’s weird is that full office is… exactly the same. Not just the same functionality but the apps are identical. This leads to the unusual situation of you now having to browse a traditional Windows computer – but with your finger as the primary navigation device.
What’s weird about this is that everything immediately becomes a bit more fiddly – buttons are indeed smaller, and to type rather than have a keyboard pop up when you press on the MS Word page, you have to manually call up the keyboard using the button in the taskbar.
Still – if you can get over this then full Office could be incredibly useful.
What is perhaps worth noting though that though it is Windows you’re running, it’s Windows RT – which for many boring technical reasons isn’t quite old Windows – though it looks and runs nearly identically. Unlike the x86 version of Windows 8 found on laptops and desktop computers, RT will only run software – even windowed traditional-looking software that has been built with Windows RT in mind. So if you’ve got an old piece of software you really want to run on Windows on a tablet (say, Sim City 2000… not that I’m addicted or anything), then you’ll be out of luck. But the windowed possibilities does mean that this ersatz Windows experience does have a lot of possibilities – particularly with regard to multitasking. If the apps are there, there’s no reason why this tablet couldn’t do some complex things.
So again to the tortured band analogy: Whilst you may forgive the flaws if it were a new band just starting out (the second album could be incredible), seeing the band you idolised in your youth come out with some fairly average new material… well, everyone knows that nostalgia amplifies your recollection, but you can’t help but be disappointed that the banned haven’t knocked your socks off like they used to.
Now the big question: how much will it actually cost? The Lumia 2520 launches tomorrow and will be exclusively sold at John Lewis stores for £399.95. Each Lumia will come with a free 4G SIM card containing 200mb of free data – to show off the 4G capabilities of the device. Compare this to the iPad Air, which starts at £399 (sans 4G) and it’s priced quite competitively indeed.
Apparently if you buy it in the first couple of days (ie: tomorrow or Thursday) from the Oxford Street store in London too, they’re offering free engraving from a professional engraver. Which might make a nice bonus if you’re buying it as a present for someone.
Unlike the add-on bluetooth keyboards you can get for iPad and Android tablets, the Lumia 2520, like it’s kindred Microsoft Surface means business. Not included in the box – and not tested by me here, a hybrid cover and keyboard/touchpad can be picked up once it launches for an additional £149. (Launch expected soon, but not tomorrow with the tablet).
This cover not only gives you a more robust keyboard and and a laptop-style touchpad but also additional USB ports (you could even plug in a mouse!), and usefully another big battery to power from – so you can get even more usage out of your tablet. Whilst I haven’t tested this here – it certainly seems as though if you want to make effective usage of the more hardcore apps like Office, this keyboard add-on will be essential – so factor that into your decision.
So is it worth it? On the surface (no pun intended!), the Lumia 2520 is a powerful device that is both fast, moderately elegant and theoretically powerful. If gadgets existed in isolation it’d be easy to recommend – but of course, gadgets don’t exist in isolation. Once you’ve switched it on, the internet – and perhaps more importantly, the ecosystem – is all. Whilst there’s no doubt Nokia can turn out a good piece of hardware, the software is severely lacking – Windows as a mobile platform is still missing the critical mass of users and developers to make it a viable platform for the consumer.
If you’re looking to do some serious business then the office functionality might appeal to you – heck, if you don’t own a laptop and want to splash out on this hybrid complete with keyboard, it might just work out. But if you’re looking for a tertiary device – something the complement your computer and your phone, where you can sit back and watch a few videos, or read from, then it might be worth looking back towards Apple.