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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  • Crono - Thursday, August 8, 2013 - link

    I love my Lumia 521. It's not my main phone - I have an HTC One for that - but it's amazing what $80 (got it from the HSN sale) gets you with Windows Phone. I had a HTC Trophy, Dell Venue Pro, Lumia 710, and a Lumia 920 (for a short while) before that, so I'm not new to Windows Phone, but this is the best budget phone of the lot. A similarly priced Android phone would either be hopelessly old and/or laggy with not enough RAM.

    Nokia can definitely beat Android at the low end since it runs so consistently even on older or lower specification hardware. The only problem is the profit margin is so low at that those points, but at least they are moving in the right direction with overall marketshare. And it's hard to argue what they are doing with their camera hardware and software, though one could argue that's a niche (but rather large niche) market.
    Reply
  • IntoxicatedPuma - Thursday, August 8, 2013 - link

    I've had mine for about 2 months now but use it as my main phone (had a Nexus 7 that I used for browsing/movies etc but gave that to my dad) and other than the battery life I've been really pleased with it. I'd really like to upgrade to a premium Windows Phone, and while the Lumia 1020 is really enticing I'd like for something more like a Galaxy Note. Reply
  • Wolfpup - Thursday, August 15, 2013 - link

    I've had a 521 a few months too, and am really impressed. It doesn't come across as "good for the price" but more just "good". The article kind of overemphasizes the speed I think...it runs well, faster than higher end Android devices I have. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    WP8 is a great platform for the aging population. My parents, in the 60's, found the interface easier to use than Android, and my Mom now shopping for a tablet is leaning toward Windows 8/RT over an iPad because of how iOS doesn't give you information without going into an app (no widgets, no live tiles, etc)

    WP8 is incredibly simple, that's why its good for people who are coming from dumb phones, and that's why it makes sense on budget hardware. Android will always be king of features and customization, and iOS will always be king of of apps, which is actually its biggest drawback. iOS needs an app for everything, because without them, it does nothing.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    I've been saying for years now that WP will eventually be Android's biggest competitor, not iOS... iOS will always have the diehard Apple audience, and how much market share they retain beyond that is entirely in Apple's hands (if they mess up they could turn into the Mac of the mobile world, low market share while dominating the high end market). The real battle's gonna be between WP andAndroid, and as much as I like Android I certainly hope WP remains relevant. Attacking Android from the low end like this will certainly aid with that, current low end Android phones tend to cut way too many corners. Reply
  • BryanDobbins - Saturday, August 17, 2013 - link

    my classmate's half-sister makes $88 every hour on the computer. She has been without a job for six months but last month her pay was $21529 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site... http://xurl.es/mcduf Reply
  • jeffkro - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    windows is desperate for market share so they are basically giving the phones away Reply
  • sri_tech - Thursday, August 8, 2013 - link

    Its really a fantastic phone for the price. It helps in bringing first time smartphone buyers and people who are hesitant about WP to the platform because its so cheap for an no-contract phone.

    That is why it is the best selling no-contract smartphone(both T-mobile and AT&T variants) on Amazon for some time now.
    Reply
  • Crono - Thursday, August 8, 2013 - link

    Agreed. People always say how easy iPhone and iOS is to use for the average, non-tech-savvy user (or their proverbial or literal grandmother), and that's true to some extent, but Windows Phone is even easier to use. Pair that with the low cost and decent build quality of a Nokia phone like this and you have an easy to recommend phone for those who are new to smartphones.

    One thing worth noting about this phone, too, is that OEM batteries are fairly cheap. I picked up 3 batteries for $6 each with free shipping, though you can find them for even cheaper then that. Turns it into a great emergency backup phone. It also makes an excellent music player (especially with free Nokia Music app, Pandora, and/or paid Xbox Music/Zune Pass subscription) with a decent amount of storage with a microSD added in.
    Reply
  • steven75 - Thursday, August 8, 2013 - link

    The problem for WP, as pointed out in the review, is that iOS is both easy to use *and* not feature deficient. So you don't really gain anything over iOS by going to WP. Reply

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