Oh, that puzzling, but capable, 10.1-in. Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet on LTE

Everything about the new 10.1-in. touchscreen Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet, which runs Windows RT 8.1 and includes LTE wireless, screams for the tablet-buying public’s attention even though it remains a puzzling entry into the market.

Having used a review unit for a few days, I can say that Windows RT 8.1 running on an ARM-based quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, 2.2 GHz processor works just fine, despite the concerns of industry analysts.

When the 2520 was announced in October, it was priced at $499 with 32 GB, minus a separate keyboard that doubles as a cover.

Last week, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless put it on sale for $399.99, minus keyboard, with an added two-year wireless contract.


Also, for a limited time, Nokia is offering the $149 Power Keyboard for free to be delivered by mail in several weeks. It offers five hours of extra battery life and a touch pad below the keypad, and works as a cover or a stand for the tablet.

With ARM and Windows RT 8.1, the 2520 provides snappy performance, access to what Nokia calls the “full version” of Office functions for Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and seems, initially, to conserve battery power well—the hallmark of ARM processors used in smartphones. (Of note: Microsoft says its own Surface 2 tablet running Windows RT 8.1 runs the Office Home and Student 2013 RT edition, and the Microsoft license for the 2520 says its Office apps are part of Office Home and Student 2013 RT. As of this writing, I can’t say whether “full Office” means anything special. )

I am left wondering why so many analysts have debunked Windows RT on ARM, although it’s admittedly a significant detriment that the 2520 and other Windows RT devices won’t run older Windows apps, which means that 2520 users are left with choices from about 112,000 Windows Store apps—a fraction of those available to iOS and Android tablet users.

Clearly, the 2520 could be a great tablet-laptop for a student, small business user or even a larger business that doesn’t need to rely on legacy apps for some workers—say a startup branch or a field office that is creating a new line of business.

Lumia 2520's biggest concerns: shelf life, price and keypad

If it sounds like I’m gushing too much, potential buyers shouldn’t overlook a number of troubling concerns that really aren’t inherent to the tablet’s very capable hardware and software. They include the 2520’s shelf life, price, and keypad.

The biggest concern I have is what will happen to the 2520 once the $7.2 billion merger of Nokia’s mobile business into Microsoft is finished sometime next year. Does the 2520 replace the new 10.6-in. Microsoft Surface 2 ? Or can the two devices possibly coexist in the same manner that Samsung deploys with a number of Galaxy tablets ranging from 7-in. to 10.1-in. display sizes? Nokia and Microsoft haven’t said what they plan to do with both devices, post-merger.

Price is also a big concern, with the Surface 2, which operates on Wi-Fi only and doesn’t operate over cellular, going for $50 less that the full $499 price for the 2520. The only way around that cost is to get a wireless contract for use with LTE in the U.S. Clearly the carriers and Nokia anticipate that as tablet buying increases, more users will want cellular connections that are more abundant than Wi-Fi. College campuses have plenty of Wi-Fi hot spots, but business travelers might like the idea of working in a cab or other places between meetings where cellular is the only way to connect.

The Power Keyboard adds a steep price of $149 (after the free offer ends) to the 2520 and isn’t even shipping yet, which is a bit mind-boggling. Either Nokia wants this device used as a two-in-one tablet-laptop or it just wants to see how it flies initially as a standalone tablet to compete with many Wi-Fi-only tablets, some in the $300 range, or less. For example, a full-blown Windows 8.1 tablet from Dell,the Venue 8 Pro, with an 8-in. display and Wi-Fi and an Intel Atom processor is selling for just $300.

On the other hand, the iPad Air with a 64-bit A7 processor and 32 GB with cellular is $729, fully $229 above the full 2520’s price.

Not so stylish, at least next to the iPad Air

It’s probably not even fair to compare the 2520 and the iPad Air, which has a sleek look and feel, compared to the boxy, sharp-cornered 2520. The iPad Air is 1 pound and has a smaller 9.7-in. display, while the 2520 is 1.3 pounds (22 ounces) and has a 10.1 display. The Surface 2 is 1.5 pounds with a 10.6-in. display.

In the hands, the 2520 just feels heavy and is less stylish than even the Surface 2, although Nokia’s device has a stunning ClearBlack display at 1920 x 1080 that works well outdoors due to an ambient light sensor. It’s not a perfect outdoor device, however, and I found I could still get plenty of annoying reflection off my face and other outdoor features on the Gorilla Glass cover.

Nokia rates the 8000 mAh battery in the 2520 as offering more than 10 hours of playback over Wi-Fi, and a quick charging ability to reach 80% of capacity in one hour. I didn’t test out all the battery duration claims yet, but the quick-charge was noticeable.

Lately, Nokia has made a big splash with its camera capabilities in its Lumia smartphones although the features in its first Windows tablet are more modest, with 6.7 megapixels in the rear camera and 2 megapixels in the front. The rear camera does record 30 frames per second video, which is a noticeable improvement over many other tablets. Two front-facing stereo speakers enhance the video playback capability.

The 2520 also supports Miracast, DLNA and MicrosHDMI, which means you can easily share content from the device to another screen. NFC sharing of data is also available.

At launch, Nokia emphasized the new DreamWorks Animation Dragons Adventure game on the new tablet, which I tried to launch with no success after several tries.

Summing up the Lumia 2520 tablet and Windows RT

Nokia’s bid with the Lumia 2520 shows there is a future for Windows RT tablets, and I say that even though I’ve been an RT skeptic. It’s good to have plenty of tablet OS choices although Android will dominate the tablet market for a long time. ARM processor manufacturers like Nvidia and Qualcomm seem to be driving the modest progression of Windows on ARM with Windows RT and they are capable companies that aren’t likely to abandon the RT concept any time soon. I know that recent reports indicate the demise of Windows RT, so we'll just have to see what it means for the Lumia 2520 and Surface 2.

Windows has had a grip on desktop computers for decades, although now the times-they-are-a-changing. Whether Microsoft with Nokia under its wings sticks with the 2520 per se, or just moves forward with other Windows RT and full Windows Pro tablets, it’s a legitimate platform for users to consider on tablets—especially for access to familiar Office functions.

Taking the Windows RT OS on its own, I really like the Live Tiles touchscreen concept and some small features like the Charms Bar, which you reach by swiping in from the right edge. With that quick swipe, you have easy access to search, share, settings and other functions, and even a pop-up with digital time, date, wireless signal indicator and battery meter. As I say, just a small indicator of what the OS is capable of offering.

All those Charm Bar functions are possible within easy reach on iOS and Android devices, of course, but the Windows RT 8.1 can definitely compete on functionality and in many other ways.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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