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printed April 20, 2014
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Review: Nokia Lumia 521 for T-Mobile

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Media

The Lumia 521 has the same XBox Hub and storefront that all Windows Phones do. The XBox Hub covers all the possible entertainment features, including gaming, music, and video. It's a good tool for managing and consuming content, though you'll need to use desktop software to sync your music to the device or sideload it via the microSD card.

 

XBox

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The Lumia 521 also includes Nokia Music, which is only being offered to Nokia's Windows Phones. Nokia Music is separate from Microsoft's XBox. It has its own store through which tracks and albums can be purchased, and offers streamed radio stations, personalized recommendations, and the ability to browse through local concerts.

 

Nokia Music

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Music sounded good through my favorite pair of headphones.

The only other options on board include T-Mobile TV, which is a for-pay service that's streamed over the network, and Slacker Radio. The T-Mobile TV app depends on a strong wireless connection, and it often adjusted resolution (downgrading or upgrading) on the fly depending on the signal strength. I found it to be jarring. If you're a YouTube fan, you'll have to download one of several YouTube apps from the Windows Phone Store yourself.

The limited resolution of the 521's screen means no HD content, and the smaller 4-inch screen wasn't as satisfying to watch as larger screens.

Camera

The camera application launches quickly with a long press of the dedicated button and is a snap to use for taking pictures. The menus and controls are all self-explanatory and don't take more than 60 seconds to sort out.

As with all WP8 handsets, the 521 supports “Lenses”. Lenses for the camera are third-party plug-in apps that perform specific actions with the camera. Nokia offers several exclusive lenses, which are not available to other WP8 devices. The 521 has the Panorama, Smart Shoot, and Cinemagraph lenses preinstalled, with more are available in the Windows Phone Store. You can open the lenses directly if you know you want to take a panorama, for example, or you can open them from within the camera app itself.

Cinemagraph is the most interesting of the lenses, if you ask me. It lets you create animated GIFs on your phone. It records about 3 seconds' worth of footage and then lets you select sections of the footage to animate and share via link.

 

Camera

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Photos

The 521 doesn't have a PureView camera, but it does capture 5-megapixel photos that are, for the most part, pretty good. I noticed the 521 had trouble with white balance when taking pictures inside. It’s a bummer that the 521 doesn't have a flash. White balance wasn't a problem when shooting outdoors. All the images I took - whether inside or out - were perfectly in focus and showed accurate exposure.

 

Photos

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Video

The 720p HD video that I captured with the 521 was average. It was sharp, motion was smooth, and exposure was mostly accurate. I noticed some jankiness with the white balance (again), but otherwise the video is more than worthy of your YouTube audience.



Picture Hub

The Microsoft-made Pictures Hub is a fine service for managing your photos. Not only can you manage your own, but you can browse through the photos of your Facebook friends, too. It makes sharing images a snap, and includes support for Microsoft's SkyDrive in addition to other third-party apps.

As far as editing goes, the native People Hub tools are limited to crop, rotate, and enhance by applying some exposure and other fixes. The 521 also includes Nokia's Creative Studio. Creative Studio was recently updated and it includes some excellent new features, such as the ability to blur the background, or use a tilt-shift adjustment tool to give photos a unique look. It has a pretty good feature set for those who like to explore their creative side, but also lets you manage basics such as white balance, color, and so on.

 

Photo Hub

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Apps

The Windows Phone Store has more than enough apps to keep you connected and entertained. Out of the box, there are too many T-Mobile apps on board. Some, such as the T-Mobile Account Manager, are actually useful. I don't need Angry Birds, CallerTunes, nor T-Mobile TV, though. Either way, all the T-Mobile apps can be deleted if you want to get rid of them.

Bluetooth

The 521 didn't give me any trouble when I paired it with my car's hands-free system or stereo Bluetooth speakers. Sound quality of calls through my car was good, and music wasn't bad through the stereo speakers, either. The 521 can also be paired to other phones, computers, and so on.

Browser

The 521's browser, Internet Explorer 10, is quick to render web sites. IE10 is full of features, such as support for tabs, but the one you'll appreciate most is better support for web standards, such as HTML5. The browsing experience would be a wee bit better if the 521 had a higher-res display, but the browser itself and connection to the network worked fine. For Windows Phones, IE10 is a good browser, though it still falls a bit short of the features offered by the Android and iOS browsers. There are alternatives available in the Windows Phone Store if you're looking for more.

 

Browser

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Clock

As with most smartphones, the 521 has a nice digital clock on the lock screen. It also displays the day of the week and the date. I wish the clock were bigger and customizable, but it is not. It’s easy to see outdoors, though.

GPS

Nokia HERE Maps has proven to be a powerful navigation tool on Windows Phone handsets. It offers a wealth of features that go head-to-head with the best that Google Maps offers on Android handsets. It helps users manage locations, share points of interest, and route directions. It's all free.

The Lumia 521 also has Nokia's full suite of location-enabled apps on board, including Nokia Drive, Nokia Transit, and others. These are individual apps that perform specific functions. Nokia Drive plots point-to-point driving directions, while Nokia Transit helps manage mass transit route planning. They are each powerful and work as advertised.

The GPS radio of the 521 itself worked perfectly. It pinpointed me quickly and accurately no matter where I was.

Microsoft Apps

Microsoft offers a handful of its own tools on the Lumia 521. SkyDrive, for example, is Microsoft's cloud storage service. All WP8 devices have access to 7GB of online storage for free. It is accessed online via your Outlook/Hotmail account. You can set SkyDrive up to automatically upload your photos for safekeeping, as well as store documents and so on. Office needs no introduction. On the 521, you can open/edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, as well as sync them to your personal (or corporate) computers. OneNote is Microsoft's extensive note-managing app. It functions similarly to EverNote.

 

Microsoft Apps

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Nokia City Lens

Nokia City Lens is an augmented reality application for finding stuff that's nearby. When you open it, City Lens turns on the camera. You pan the camera around and the app shows you what's nearby. You can simply tap one of the shops or restaurants it pulls up to see more information about it.

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