The camera, on paper, looks pretty competitive. The 5MP resolution won’t blow anyone away, but as we’ve noted recently and before, resolution isn’t the biggest deal in the world. The plastic optical system with a f/2.4 lens indicated some promise, though. This being Nokia, obviously the natural expectation is for the imaging system to hold its own.

And for the most part, it actually does. The image files by default are 16:9 aspect ratio, with a resolution of 2592x1456. This isn’t exactly 16:9 actually—that would be 2592x1458—but it’s near enough to make no difference. The rest of the camera interface is pretty much the same as what we’re used to in most other Windows Phones, with the exposed manual control options being limited to ISO, exposure, white balance, aspect ratio, and four scene modes. And I know I covered this before, but I really liked the camera button; it’s a shame that more phones don’t have solid two-stage camera buttons with good, positive feedback.

In well-lit scenarios, image quality is pretty solid, with good colors and reasonable sharpness. It won’t blow anyone away, but this is easily on par or ahead of where we were in terms of smartphone imaging before the Galaxy S2 and iPhone 4S came out in the latter half of 2011. What actually surprised me was that the images looked pretty solid when viewed at 1:1 on my 30” display (the 2560x1600 resolution is very close to that of the image output, which made it easier). Definitely much better than I was expecting, and actually better than many of the smartphone camera stills that I’ve accumulated over the years, particularly ones more than a year old.

The low light story is mixed. On the one hand, the lens is bright enough to give you pretty reasonable images in dimly lit situations, with good detail and not as much of the grainy mess I was expecting. It's worth noting that in dimly lit scenarios, the shutter speed is a bit slow so it's pretty easy to end up with blurry images if you aren't careful. These are usable, social media-worthy photos though, and that’s really all that can be asked from a phone like this. On the other hand, there’s a distinct lack of fancy features. Like a flash. Yeah. So while the 521 is a decent low light camera, if low light is really closer to no light, you’re out of luck.

As noted before, there’s no front facing camera either. It’s not a huge deal for me, because I rarely make use of the feature—Skype video calls from my phone just aren’t part of my normal usage model—but it’s something that could count as a pretty big omission for some people, particularly internationally. I think an LED flash and a front facing camera probably could have been included for not that much more, perhaps an increase of $10 on the price would have covered it, but I can understand why Nokia would be so hesitant to increase BoM costs on a device like this.

The IPS Display Windows Phone 8 and Final Thoughts


View All Comments

  • Crono - Thursday, August 08, 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 08, 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 runs well, faster than higher end Android devices I have. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, August 09, 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 09, 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... 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 08, 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 08, 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 08, 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

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now