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AT&T Wireless Nokia Lumia 1520 review: Fabulous new Windows 8 phablet

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AT&T Wireless Nokia Lumia 1520

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AT&T Wireless's new Nokia Lumia 1520 offers a Windows 8 "phablet" with a spectacular display, speedy performance and smooth integration of Microsoft's flagship products, including XBox, SkyDrive, Word, Excel and OneNote.

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Windows 8's Live Tile interface suits a smart phone or tablet well, with its ability to add various types of content to the start page, such as contacts, photo albums, music playlists, Web sites, OneNote items and driving directions. With a 2.2GHz quad core processor and 2 GB of RAM, the device buzzes through app installations in a flash and runs apps smoothly.

The Lumia 1520 boasts a stunning 6" display for gorgeous video playing and crisp, clear text for reading articles and messages. The large amount of screen real estate makes it easier to read Kindle books and news articles than on smaller devices. It measures 6.40" by 3.36" by .33" and weighs 7.26 ounces. For comparison, Samsung's Galaxy S4 with its 5" HD display measures 5.5" by 2.81" by .36" and weighs 5.29 ounces.

The Nokia Lumia line of Windows 8 phones has apparently made camera functionality a big selling point, and the Lumia 1520 brings a 20 MP barn burner to the table, featuring autofocus, optical image stabilization, ZEISS optics, 2x zoom and dual LED flash. The camcorder takes 1080p HD video, and the camera also takes 1.2 MP wide-angle front-facing images.

The camera has such a wide array of settings that it may seem intimidating to those who just want a plain, point-and-shoot experience. Its size may also prove awkward to use for those with small hands. If you don't mind the device's size and you approach complex camera settings with gusto, you'll like how the Nokia Pro Camera lets you fine tune your photo taking.

The Lumia 1520's 16 GB of internal memory should provide plenty of space for apps and a fair amount of media, though using cloud storage with auto-upload will make sure your videos and pictures are copied to the cloud so you can clear them from the device periodically to save space. Unlike the normal-sized Lumia 925 Windows 8 phone, the Lumia 1520 also lets you add a microSD card for additional storage of up to 64 GB.

Though Dropbox doesn't offer a supported Windows Phone app, Dropbox apps exist in the Windows app market. However, SkyDrive gives you significantly more free space than Dropbox, and AT&T Locker offers another option for cloud storage, with 50 GB of free storage.

If you use cloud storage like Skydrive or Dropbox, I recommend disabling auto-upload when you plan to take a lot of pictures away from home. Uploading dozens of photos to the cloud, especially the extremely the large files a hi-res camera generates, can drain the battery juice on any phone in a hurry.

The Nokia 1520 doesn't seem weighted down with pre-installed "bloatware." It does come with useful apps like the mobile version of Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel and OneNote, letting you easily open compatible files stored in SkyDrive. The device also comes with Vimeo and Hulu Plus pre-installed.

The Lumia 1520's onscreen keyboard, similar to iPhones and other Windows 8 phones, shuns multi-function keys in favor of letter-only and number-only layouts, something that seems behind the times in comparison to most Android and Blackberry devices. Some users may prefer this more simplistic keyboard layout, though. You also have the option of speaking commands and dictating your messages, similar to the voice commands available on most other smart phones.

I found battery life on the Nokia 1520 impressive. Compared to my tablet, it didn't seem to drain quickly watching videos or playing games. The battery lasted a couple of days with the phone sitting idle, collecting emails.

AT&T Wireless's mobile network expansion efforts in the past couple of years have resulted in a far-reaching, robust 4G LTE network, and its 4G LTE phones like the Lumia 1520 fall back on the somewhat slower HSPA+ when they can't pick up LTE. Other 4G LTE carriers' devices revert to the significantly slower 3G technology when they can't find a 4G LTE connection.

In addition, AT&T has invested heavily in expanding its Wi-Fi access points in many public places like stores and restaurants, and its phones can auto-connect when they find an AT&T hotspot to help customers conserve their monthly data allotments. The company also offers some nifty add-on features (at additional monthly cost) such as AT&T Family Map and AT&T Mobile TV.

A major drawback to Windows phones is the lack of support from app writers, resulting in the inability to play popular games like Words With Friends. You can, however, get another Scrabble-like game called Words By Post. You can also download Angry Birds Go, Pandora, YouTube and Amazon Kindle.

You can find free and paid versions of many popular XBox games as well. Spotify is available, but only works if you have a premium subscription, unlike with Android and iPhone devices, on which Spotify now works as ad-supported if you don't pay for it.

Parents may appreciate the ability to use Windows Phone 8's Kids Corner for creating separate profiles for the little ones, with only approved apps available to them.

Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's smart phone business shows that they intend to continue fighting for market share in the already crowded smart phone market, up against trendy iPhones and amazing devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4. While it might seem like a losing battle, the last time Microsoft went up against Apple, the latter barely survived the fight.

You may recall the days when mobile phones were huge monstrosities which gradually, over the years, morphed into smaller and smaller devices, until having the smallest, thinnest cell phone became almost a status symbol. It seems like mobile phones may have come full circle as they've transformed into mini-computers capable of doing many of the same things your personal computer does. Combination phone/tablet devices like the Lumia 1520 take this metamorphosis a step further by increasing screen size while maintaining full mobile phone functionality.

The Lumia 1520 would thrill smart phone users who need large, easy-to-read text and those with large hands or fingers that have problems with small onscreen keyboards. Those who want a premier camera with a complex array of settings may also delight in the Lumia 1520, as would heavy users of One Note and gamers who want to take their XBox games on the go.

Costing $199.99 on contract, the Lumia 1520 offers a great choice in a combination phone/tablet device, which some believe will be the next big thing in mobile devices.

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