I was surprised to see that the 521 (and 520) had an IPS display when the specs were finalized, because I fully expected the display to be one of the biggest sacrifices made for the sake of the budget. I suppose it’s not too much of a surprise, given that the 620 has quite a good display.

In person, the 521 display is pretty middling. It’s not a bad panel, but it’s not that fantastic either. Maximum brightness isn’t that great at 342 nits—that’s decent enough for most situations though not quite bright enough for comfortable viewing in broad daylight. The black levels aren’t anything to write home about either, so contrast ratio is pretty low by the standards of the phones we typically look at, though its worth pointing out that we focus primarily on far higher end smartphone hardware. Compared to a contrast ratio chart from a couple of years ago, the 521 is about average. The white point of 6336K is very close to neutral, and color reproduction is pretty solid as well.

Contrast Ratio

Brightness (White)

Brightness (Black) What kind of kills the 521 display experience though isn’t the panel itself, since that’s pretty decent; it’s the gap between the LCD and the glass. That turns what would be a very respectable viewing experience into an ultra reflective mess anytime you venture outdoors. As a result, you end up wanting to crank the display brightness higher than normal (which is why I rarely used the automatic brightness setting). The extra glare brought on by the air gap is rather distracting and ends up being quite the downer in a lot more usage scenarios than just outdoor. In office-style overhead lighting, too, the glare can be quite terrible and generally ends up degrading display quality by a noticeable amount.

Given the price point, it’s hard to fault the 521 too much and I must admit that I have somewhat of a skewed perspective. When you’re used to carrying a One, an S4, or another device with a screen of that caliber, the step down to a far lower quality WVGA panel seems pretty drastic. But the colors are vibrant, viewing angles are predictably stellar, and overall the panel looks pretty good, so there are a lot of positives to focus on.

The brightness controls for Windows Phone are a bit finicky—you only get four options: low, medium, high, and automatic. The brightness steps are pretty reasonable, starting with low at 74 nits, medium at 191 nits, and high at 342 nits. There is no iOS or Android style brightness slider, so you’re basically stuck trusting the light sensor or one of the three presets.

Performance, IE10 Mobile, and Cellular The Camera: 5MP, f/2.4 lens
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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • jeffkro - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    windows is desperate for market share so they are basically giving the phones away
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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