Our smartphone benchmarks are centered around browser-based tests, and this is one area that really shows how far behind Internet Explorer 10 Mobile is relative to the mobile versions of Safari and Chrome. The other part of this is looking at Krait 200 at 1GHz versus the higher-clocked parts we see in the more expensive Windows Phones, which allows us to look at relative performance on the same software platform.

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1—Stock Browser

Google Octane Benchmark v1

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark Sunspider performance is actually quite good, especially compared to other Krait 200-based devices like the One X and AT&T Galaxy S3. Where it falls off is in everything else—Kraken and Octane performance is just horrendous in comparison to the modern smartphone platforms. I didn’t think it was actually possible to see numbers that high in the Kraken benchmark until I ran it a half-dozen times on my 521 review unit as well as a friend’s Lumia 920. Microsoft clearly optimized for Sunspider, as we’ve seen over the years, and while that lets them stay competitive in that one benchmark, it doesn’t really mean anything as far as having decent or even acceptable browser performance. It’s just sad.

Between the 920 (MSM8960, so dual-core Krait 200 @ 1.5GHz and Adreno 225) and the 521, there’s a definite performance delta. Obviously, this comes through in roughly 50% faster benchmark numbers across the board, but in day to day use, it mostly makes itself felt in slower application loading and multitasking/task switching, which is also related to having just 512MB RAM instead of the 1GB of the 920. Multitasking in Windows Phone has never really sat well with me, because it’s not really multitasking in the traditional sense—the need to completely close and rehydrate tasks makes resuming applications exceedingly slow. Microsoft has always seemed to have an issue with app load times with ARM devices—this has been true since day one with Windows Phone, and is a problem with Windows RT tablets too—so the resulting combination can really kill any desire to run more than one task on your phone at a time.

I couldn’t run GFXBench (DXBenchmark) on the 521 because it didn’t meet the 1GB RAM requirement necessary to run the benchmark. I actually wasn’t even aware that GFXBench had such a requirement in place until I tried to install it on the 521. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much—we’re pretty familiar with Adreno 305 by now, and it seems to be the go-to GPU for Qualcomm’s new series of dual-core Krait 200 SoCs. In a platform that deemphasizes silicon performance in the end user experience as much as Windows Phone seems to, I’m not sure that the performance delta between this and Adreno 225 makes too much of a difference, particularly with a far lower-res screen. We’re starting to see the more 3D intensive games require 1GB of memory to run, so this isn’t the device for the hardcore gamers. It does fine with the typical slate of casual games though—Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, and the like.

The air interface is probably something you could point to and say is a bit lacking—in this day and age, dual carrier HSPA+ is almost an expectation on T-Mobile and international non-LTE devices. But honestly, you don’t end up missing it much. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network is quite robust both in Seattle as well as in Silicon Valley, the two places I spent time testing the 521, so 10+ Mb/s was basically the norm.

I couldn’t figure out how to get the Windows Phone SpeedTest app to email a CSV of the test results, so no graphs with binned speed tests like we have on Android reviews. We’ve had a lot of experience with T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network over the years though, and it tends to be very good in most metropolitan areas. Obviously, there’s a significant jump in speed between HSPA+ and LTE, but the real-world difference between single and dual-carrier HSPA+, at least on T-Mobile, seems to be much harder to discern perceptively. The lack of DC-HSPA+ is still a bit of a disappointment, but I’m not nearly as cut up over it as I was when I saw it on the specsheet.

Battery Life The IPS Display
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  • toraji - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    it truly is Reply
  • toraji - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    You did make a good decision the htc 8x is an awesome phone the only thing you miss out on are the free nokia apps, you can buy them in the store though
    I am sure they will love their phone
    regards
    t
    Reply
  • JBaich - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    My only question is regarding IE Mobile. On my Lumia 1020 the mobile browsing experience compares side by side *very* favorably with my (black) HTC One (not X) with 4.3. I was actually amazed by how smooth mobile IE was when I first started using the 1020. As such I'm surprised by your negative experience with IE. Surely you are justified, or you wouldn't be writing for Anandtech. Reply
  • MatthiasP - Sunday, August 11, 2013 - link

    Nokia makes such fantastic phones in any price range but is so handicapped my Microsoft's halfhearted commitment to the Windows Phone OS. Reply
  • ESC2000 - Sunday, August 11, 2013 - link

    I'm really excited to see this and I hope it does well on T-mobile because something needs to put pressure on the ripoff that is AT&T and Verizon contract-subsidized phones. People balk at spending $600 or $700 for an unlocked unsubsidized phone even though they pay way more in the long run with the big carriers, but $129 is not too tough to swallow. Of course people could also just wait until the end of their contracts and use their old device on t-mobile's BYOD plan.

    The one thing that gives me pause about this phone is the RAM. Is it sufficient? I know the ipad mini's 512 GB RAM seemed woefully low in late 2012 and now it is almost another year later. I don't know what causes it but my brother's mini does lag, especially when pressing the home screen button.
    Reply
  • petermarker - Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - link

    Pretty cool to see Nokia make good budget phones, I think this is a good market for them. I actually prefer this phone to the craptastic old Android phones being peddled on prepaid. http://www.allprepaidplans.com Reply
  • beck2050 - Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - link

    Remember when IDC forecast Windows Mobile would take 40% of the smart phone and tablet market by 2014. They can barely give these things away. Reply
  • killer8 - Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - link

    I'd just chime in that I sold my Nexus 4 and just use a Lumia 521 now. Obviously the Nexus 4 is a better phone in almost every way, but as someone who is a light to moderate smartphone user, it was too much phone for the money compared to the sheer value of the 521.

    What I like about the Lumia 521 most, besides the price, is Office built - in, especially OneNote, which syncs with my desktop version seamlessly.

    The Lumia 521 lasts for days on a signal charge with moderate usage. I've not had a single weird overnight battery drain yet. Nor lock ups.

    Web browsing is the only thing that can be notably slower than the Nexus 4, due to it's 512MB RAM. Otherwise, the phone runs totally fluidly. No random lag ups and so on, still so common even on the Nexus 4 at times, depending on how well the app is behaving.

    Compared to crap sub $200 Android phones, the Lumia 520/521 is hands down the winner.
    Reply
  • siniranji - Friday, August 16, 2013 - link

    I find this phone very interesting and moreover after hearing android troubles & hanging problems, stable OS is the need of the hour, and windows 8 wins in this category. Everyone needs a phone fast and economical but good at performance front as well as not power hungry. Once in two days charging is acceptable. Reply
  • Calista - Sunday, August 18, 2013 - link

    I picked up a Lumia 520 because I was curious what WP had to offer and I must say I'm impressed what $85 can buy us nowadays. A few reviewers have been complaining about the dull screen, but I must say it work just fine. It's fluid, feels logical and it's easy to navigate.

    I don't plan to replace my HTC with the 520, if jumping OS ship I would get a 920 or similar high-end unit but as previously mentioned - considering the low price it's certainly an impressive phone and I hope it will bring both MS and Nokia a larger market- and mindshare. It's well deserved.
    Reply

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