Review: Nokia Lumia 521 for T-Mobile
The 521 runs Windows Phone 8 from Microsoft. Handset makers and carriers aren't allowed to mess with the user interface, so the user experience on the 521 looks and feels just like it does on other WP8 devices.
The lock screen has customizable alerts that pop-up when the screen is locked. You can choose which alerts reach the lock screen and which don't, as well as pick which type of alerts are more prominently displayed on the lock screen.
The Start screen is somewhat customizable. The Live Tiles can be resized in small, medium, and large variations, and of course the Tiles can be arranged however you wish. Plenty of (but not all) Windows Phone 8 apps support the Live Tiles feature, which makes the Start screen ever-changing and updating with new content. Some of the best Live Tiles include those for the People Hub, Photo Hub, and the Facebook app.
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The rest of the menus behave more or less the same as with earlier versions of Windows Phone. All of the apps stored on the device are accessible in an alphabetical list in the main app menu.
The Lumia 521 has a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. Windows Phone has always been a snappy smartphone operating system and the S4 engine under the hood provides more than enough motivation to keep the 521 feeling speedy. You'd never know the 521 has only 512MB of RAM.
The phone app is simple to use and offers a standard set of features, such as hold, mute, speakerphone, merge calls, and send to Bluetooth. It's easy to text or call a number stored in the call log, as well as add it to a contact.
The People Hub ties in users' Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profile data, as well as their basic contact data. It's the most feature-rich contacts app out there, and provides consistent updates and notifications about those with whom you converse the most. It is also easy to keep your contacts organized into groups and synced with Microsoft's online services.
The stock messaging tools are unchanged on the Lumia 521 when compared to other WP8 devices. The email app is excellent, though it stops short of being as awesome as Gmail on Android (or on the iPhone, for that matter.) Social networking - which is built into the People Hub - is quite useful.
The two features that really set Windows Phone 8 apart are Groups and Rooms. These are both subsections of the People Hub. They essentially let you manage, communicate with, share photos with, and coordinate calendars between small groups of people. Groups are meant to be larger social and/or work circles, while Rooms are meant to be smaller collections of your closest family/friends.
The text messaging app also encompasses Facebook messaging and Skype IM. It used to include WIndows Live, but Microsoft has moved all Windows Live users to Skype. If you want to include Skype messaging, you have to first download the separate Skype app and sign in. Only then will your Skype contacts be loaded into the messaging app. Once they are, you can see who's online and who isn't. I have always liked that WP8 puts all your messaging services into a single app with a unified interface.
Despite having certain social networking functions built into the People Hub, you need to download the full Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn apps if you really want to interact with your social networks in depth.