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Review: Nokia Lumia 521 for T-Mobile

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May 31, 2013, 1:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia churns out another capable Windows Phone with the Lumia 521 for T-Mobile. See if this budget smartphone is the right pick for you in Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

Is It Your Type?

If you're looking for an entry-level smartphone and would like to explore an alternative to Android and the iPhone, the Nokia Lumia 521 is a great deal at $150. It offers the full Windows Phone experience in a compact and inexpensive piece of hardware.

Body

Nokia's modern design language is unmistakable. The bulk of the company's Lumia-branded smartphones use brightly colored polycarbonate to stand out from the me-too, black-on-black slabs that make up the bulk of the smartphone market. The Lumia 521 continues this trend.

Despite Nokia's take on materials and color, the Lumia 521 is clearly the bottom rung in Nokia's smartphone ladder. Its look is blunt compared to the refined look of higher-end devices, such as the Lumia 925. It looks like the entry-level smartphone that it is, but with slightly more panache than what we might see on a similar Android phone thanks to the white, wrap-around shell that forms the bulk of the 521's shape. In fact, the shell forms the entire back and side surfaces; the 521's guts sit within the shell. The contrasting flat black glass front gives the 521 a well-defined shape and appearance.

 

Body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The polycarbonate shell feels strong. The smooth contour that gently curves from one end to the other is comfortable against your skin. Unlike some of Nokia's other white Lumia smartphones, the 521's white shell has a matte finish. I much prefer the look and feel of the this finish. The compact nature of the size and the curved sides let the 521 fit snugly in your palm. The build quality of the device is good overall, and it will slip easily into pockets.

As with other Lumia designs, the 521's screen is swimming in a huge bezel. The thick black borders make the screen look smaller than it really is. There are three capacitive buttons below the display that access the Windows Phone back, Start, and Bing functions. The buttons worked well and provided plenty of haptic feedback.

The rest of the buttons conform to Nokia norms and are all located on the right edge of the 521. The volume toggle, screen lock button, and dedicated camera button are all black and offer excellent profiles. Not only are they easy to find, but they have fantastic travel and feedback. I did, however, find myself accidentally turning the screen on/off when gripping the device thanks to the lock button’s positioning in the middle of the side edge. The standard stereo headphone jack is positioned on the top and the microUSB port is tucked into the bottom.

The battery is removable, but to get at it you have to first remove the outer shell. It's a little bit of a pain, if you ask me. You have to use both hands and really dig your nails into the top seam to separate the two halves of the phone. The battery has to be removed in order to access the SIM card and microSD card slots.

The Lumia 521 may not have quite the good looks of some of Nokia's other efforts, but it’s no threat to Nokia's solid design DNA. Add in the solid functionality and you have a hardware design that feels a step above its price range.

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