Nokia Lumia 521 - Review

Nokia Lumia 521 - Review

The Nokia Lumia 521 is an entry level Windows Phone 8 device and the T-Mobile variant of the popular Nokia Lumia 520. Its specs include a 4 inch display with a 480 by 800 pixel resolution, 8GB of internal storage which can be expanded through microSD, a 5 megapixel rear camera and a 1GHz dual-core processor with 512MB of RAM.

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Its popularity grew due to its affordable $150 off-contract price which has since reduced to as low as $95 through select retailers.

  • Dual core processor
  • Great pricing for decent specs
  • Lacks LED flash with camera
  • Lacks front facing camera for video calls
  • Tends to slip out of hand

As we mentioned before the Nokia Lumia 521 is a variant of the international Nokia Lumia 520 built exclusively for T-Mobile. A version of the Lumia 521 is also available through Metro PCS without T-Mobile's branding. The device was originally priced at $150 off contract aimed at new smartphone users. The Home Shopping Network (HSN) has since offered several deals offering the device as low as $80. While writing this device I found the following offers on the Lumia 521 through Nokia. Keep in mind that The T-Mobile offer requires a plan with the carrier.

The Lumia 521 is physically identical to the Lumia 520, but is only available in White. Luckily the Microsoft Store offers the colored shells for the Lumia 520 for just $12 which should perfectly with the Lumia 521.


Wherever you choose to purchase the Lumia 521, it will come in an extravagant T-mobile package. The carrier clearly wants the customer to know that the device is best suited for the T-Mobile network, though it should work find on AT&T or any other GSM network around the world. We chose to purchase our device from the Microsoft Store as they were willing to match the price set by any retailer.

Despite overdoing it with the packaging, the Lumia 521 only comes with a simple USB cable for syncing your data and a power cable for charging your device. T-Mobile has also included a SIM card ready for activation on their network along with the usual manuals and booklets to get you started with your brand new Windows Phone.


The device itself features a rectangular front with tapered edges. It fits nicely in your hand, but its shell is extremely slippery when using the device and we found it slipping out of our hands in more than one occasion. The device is mostly constructed out of basic plastic, but it feels sturdy and solid in the hand.

The back cover (shell) can be easily removed to gain access to the micro SIM and microSD card slots. As we mentioned before you can easily interchange this back shells to customize the look of your device.

The speaker is also located in the lower right side of its rear. Sometime we found quite frustrating as your audio level is reduced when the phone is seated on its back.

All the buttons are located on the right side of the device with the volume rocker on top, the power/lock key in the center and the dedicated camera key at the bottom. The keys are easy enough to press, but you have to use your entire thumb as pressing with your fingertips causes the phone to (almost always) slip out of your hands. The two stage camera shutter key on the other hand is best placed for two handed use and a long press of the camera key will even wake a locked device and take you directly into the camera.

On the top of the device you will find the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack and since the Lumia 521 packaging does not include a free pair of headphones, you will have to add a pair of your own.

The micro USB port is located at the bottom of the device and can be used to sync your device with a computer or to transfer your files. Nokia has provided a short microUSB cable in the packaging, but you may need a longer cable to connect your Lumia 521 to a larger computer.

The Lumia 521 has a 4 inch IPS LCD display which has a 480 by 800 pixel resolution. The display itself is reasonably good for a device of its class with acceptable viewing angles and pixel density. At its full brightness the Lumia 521 performs quite well outdoors, and while the screen does tend to get dirty at times, it quite easy to clean. Like most Lumia models, the Lumia 521 features a super sensitive touch layer that allows you to use your device even if you have your gloves on.

Above the display you will find the speaker grill above the Nokia Logo. The Lumia 521 also has an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor located above the display, but they are not openly visible. The Lumia 521 unfortunately doesn't feature a front facing camera, which is one of the compromises of its lower price.

Below the display you which include a ular Windows Phone keys which include a back button, a Windows button and a Search button

You get 8GB of internal storage with your Lumia 521 which you can choose to expand through the microSD card slot. The internal storage should be more than ample for regular users as your photos can be easily stored on SkyDrive to save space. However if you want to install and play many games you will have to consider investing in a microSD card.

The device features a 21.1Mbps HSPA+ modem which translates into 4G speeds (not LTE though). You also have Wi-Fi connectivity, Bluetooth along with A-GPS to take advantage of HERE Drive, Maps and Transit.

The Lumia 521 is powered by a 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus processor with 512MB of RAM. While it may not have the same power displayed in the newest Nokia Lumia 1020, the device is more than capable of smoothly running nearly every app in the Windows Phone Store.


The Lumia 521 runs the newest version of Windows Phone 8 which includes the dynamic live tiles, kids corner and Nokia services like HERE offline maps. You even have Nokia exclusive camera lenses, but you won't get much use of them from your regular 5 MP camera.

The web browsing in managed by Internet Explorer mobile, which does an OK job browsing most websites. Websites with heavy graphics tend to take a little longer to render, but you should generally have no issues doing some quick browsing.

The Photos app on Windows Phone lets you browse through the images on your device along with the photos on your SkyDrive. You can use the Nokia Creative Studio app to further edit your photos.

The music player sorts your tunes by artist, album or playlist. The location of the speaker is quite frustrating though as the audio sounds muffled when your device is placed on a table. You can access your music collection through the Music+Videos app or using Nokia Music.

You can learn all about Windows Phone 8 in our exclusive review below.

Windows Phone 8 Windows Phone 8 - Review
Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 is the successor to Windows Phone 7 and brings the same dynamic live tile experience, which is now customizable. Microsoft has also introduced several improvements and enhancements to the platform. Here is all you need to know


The handset has a single 5 megapixel camera located at its rear but lacks an LED flash. While its definitely is far from the best camera from Nokia, it takes decent daytime photographs. As most phones in its category, the Lumia 521 captures a maximum of HD 720p definition, and it comes out with smooth 30fps.

The Lumia 521 has a pretty basic camera interface with a few presets including, a macro mode. You can set your backlight, ISO, white balance, exposure and aspect ratio. The automatic mode on the Lumia 521 works quite well, producing accurate colors and detail in your photos during daylight. We even appreciated the color representation on the camera during low light photos, but were put off by the amount of noise.

You can download the Panorama and Cinemagraph apps (if they are not installed already) from the Windows Phone Store to further enhance the camera experience.


The call quality on Lumia 521 is average in most cases, where we were able to make and receive calls without any issues. There were some cases when a lower signal would produce some distortion in the receiving end, but we didn't see anything to complain about in most cases.


The battery as we mentioned before is accessible and replaceable. Nokia promises nine and a half hours of 3G talk time and 61 hours of music playback with the device. While we weren't able to confirm these specs in our tests, the 1430 mAh battery was able to last through a work day with some vigorous all round use.


All in all, the Nokia Lumia 521 is one of the best value for your money devices available at this time. You get the smooth flowing Live Tile Windows Phone OS backed by some very responsive hardware, and even though the Lumia 521 is an entry level device in performs in par with most Windows Phones.

Nokia even sweetens the deal by adding some unique features like the super sensitive touch display, which can be operated with your gloves, and the free HERE offline navigation suite.

But the best feature of the Nokia Lumia 521 by far is its price, which sometimes drops as low as $85. This puts it in the range of feature phones, and even the lowest Android smartphones cant match this price most of the time. The Lumia 521 is clearly unmatched as one of the best valued all rounders and is a worthy choice for your next smartphone.

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