Handsome design in a budget package, let’s take a look at what is hiding inside this good lookin’ phone.

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Nokia continues to barrage the market with their Lumia series of phones. The second generation all come loaded with Windows Phone 8 OS, and a plethora of hardware specs ranging from the bulky high end 920, mid-range 720 (not available in Canada) and this little budget champion – the 520. Stripped of some of the niceties found in the Lumia 720 (not available in Canada) and 920, it still possesses their impeccable design. For the price ($200 off-contract, free on a 2 year contract), it is a worthwhile sacrifice. I should mention that there is also the Lumia 620 (available with Telus) and 820 (not available in Canada) to consider, but those phones are neither here nor there in terms of specs, and design-wise they certainly are the ugly-ducklings in the family.

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With the Lumia 520 you’re getting a 4″ LCD screen, packing a 400 x 800 pixel count that performs decently at best. The blacks are faded and the screen lacks a sense of pop you’ll see in most newer phones today, but the viewing angles are quite good. Its guts consist of a 1 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor with 512 MB of RAM, and 8 GB of on-board memory, plus an easily accessible micro SD slot. The battery is a smaller 1430 mAh Li-Ion, which in the real-world will easily give you a full day of heavy usage. During my time it easily lasted 2 days. It is a smaller battery than the 720 or 920, but it is running a much more modest beast resulting in better battery life than its siblings. The camera is a moderate 5 MP shooter, lacking any sort of flash or some of the sensor technology found in its pricier brethren. That said, it takes decent enough photos. Autofocus performs well at all distances, and shutter speed (speed at which pictures are taken) is little to none. A credit mostly to the WP8 UI, it is clean and has a nice set of tools to adjust the camera parameters. Don’t expect anything more than social media quality photos and you’ll  be satisfied with camera performance.

So, nothing remarkable but nothing to scoff at either. For $200 it will do quite nicely.

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To describe Windows Phone 8 in one word, I would say it is impressive. Even on a lower spec device, the OS and the transitions were near flawless without any noticeable lag. The keyboard is very responsive, and messaging/emailing is smooth. The built-in email app is clean and simple – a design ethos that applies all over Windows Phone 8. The music and video app is seamlessly connected to your own library plus the mass Xbox library. Transitions between apps and menus is always clean, even with all the animation there is no slow downs. Hook it up to a USB and you can drag and drop files in to folders and apps to your hearts content – something you simply can’t do on Apple phones.

Only once you move past the core apps, you will begin to notice some slightly longer load times. Facebook takes a few seconds to fire up, as well as some slow loading web pages and maps. In general the browsing experience is a little lackluster, but that is more an issue with Internet Explorer rather than phone. Google Chrome is a lot more intelligent when it comes to loading pages in a mobile friendly format, even when the website isn’t designed for mobile. Explorer on the other hand will often not scale text to screen size, causing you to slide left to right quite often when reading web pages.

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Clean cut is the theme with Windows Phone 8 OS

Here we arrive at the main gripe with Windows Phone 8, as an OS it is still developing and therefore its app selection is not as broad as Android or iOS. Household favorites like Google Chrome and Instagram are still missing from the Windows app store. Nokia has done their best to fill in the gaps, with well designed Map, Weather and even Picture Editing applications. However, because the Nokia and Windows apps do not have as large as a social network – they are not as effective. In another year or so, I’m sure that changes because the Windows OS is here to stay. With the backing of full PC/Tablet Windows 8 and soon the Xbox One. The design, the apps, and the ecosystem will only get better. If there is one OS that’s going to gain any foothold behind Android and iOS it would be Windows Phone 8.

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There is quite a selection sub-$200 phones out on the market to choose from. The Sony Xperia J from Bell, or the Samsung Galaxy Ace II X from Telus, both 4″ phone with similar specs. The Samsung has a heavily skinned Android OS running on it which is prone to slow down, the Sony as well but it has tested better in every day use. The Sony does have a better camera, a front facing camera (for Skype) and the cheapest price tag $180. If you want the Android ecosystem and apps then I’d recommend this. Past Android, there is the Blackberry Curve which you should not even consider. iPhones are impossible to find in this price range unless you like one that is a few years old, which I would not recommend either.

Lumia 520, Xperia J and Ace II X

Lumia 520, Xperia J and Ace II X

Currently the Lumia 520 is available with Rogers for $200 off-contract or $0 with a 2-year term. Telus and Koodo mobile also carry the phone with competitively priced plans.

All things considered, the Nokia and the Windows Phone 8 OS have accomplished something that Android has always struggled with: producing a premium phone experience on a low end device. Android struggles to perform on low-end devices because manufacturers like Samsung and LG will load Android with bloatware and skins that are not optimized for weaker processors. With Windows Phone 8, you are always getting the core experience without any significant skinning or nonsense. And because of that, Windows OS shines on these low-spec devices. The Lumia 520 stands head and shoulders over its peers.

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The artist behind Knighteen Fifty Five. I'm a (former) designer, (still a) Jaguars fan, a (former) movie critic, a gadget geek and all-out stand down sorta guy.

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