Speaking of Nokia's camera app, it's worth noting the differences between that and the stock Windows camera app, which you can also use if you prefer. Though Nokia's app is missing a panorama mode, you might want to use it anyway because of that tap-to-focus feature. Just keep in mind that whereas the stock Windows app lets you snap a photo by tapping anywhere on screen, with Nokia's app, you have to hit the shutter button, specifically.
For first-time Windows tablet owners, this might not be confusing, but if you're graduating from an older Windows 8 device, you'll need to re-train yourself quickly, or else you risk losing photos that you thought you took, but didn't. (Yeah, I'm talking from personal experience here.) Truly, though, that tap-to-focus feature is nice to have, though the camera does such a good job focusing itself that you might not even need it for daytime shots. As we said, however, it can be a godsend in low-light conditions when the camera doesn't know what it's supposed to be looking at.
Otherwise, there aren't any options in the Nokia Camera app; you can change the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 4:3 and that's about it. In other words, you won't enjoy the same scene types, ISO, exposure or white balance settings that Microsoft offers in its stock Windows Phone 8 camera app, so the experience of using the camera here is a bit different than it was on the Lumia 720. Fortunately for all of us, the camera does just fine in auto mode, which means you can achieve generally good results even without manual options.
That's true of still photographs, anyway. Video recording feels like more of an afterthought, as it did on the 720. Our 720p/30fps sample clips showed the same balanced colors as our photos, but the video occasionally slipped out of focus, and there's no image-stabilization technology to help mask camera shake. The sound quality is also a bit weak, in part because the mic setup doesn't always cancel out wind noise.
Performance and battery life
Just like the new Lumia 1520, the 2520 runs Qualcomm's latest and greatest processor: a quad-core, 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 chip, paired with a quad-core Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. Until recently, we've mostly seen the 800 used on Android devices, with the Lumia 1520 being the first Windows Phone device to make use of it. Likewise, this is the first Windows RT tablet we've seen with an 800 chip, though admittedly, the only other RT device is the Surface 2, which has Tegra 4. At any rate, we now have proof that the 800 is just as capable of handling Windows RT as it is Android and Windows Phone. Programs launch quickly and it's easy to navigate menus and cycle through open apps. Occasionally, the display didn't respond when I used a single finger to tap an on-screen object, like a backward-navigation arrow. Thankfully, those hiccups were the exception, not the rule.
Don't be fooled by Nokia's battery life claims. Though the 8,000mAh battery is technically rated for eight to 10 hours of use, the 2520 actually lasted through 13.5 hours of video playback. That was with the tablet connected to WiFi and with the brightness fixed at 50 percent (no small feat, considering the brightness goes up to 665 nits to begin with). To put that in context, that's one hour less than the Surface 2, which, again, has a less-bright display. Besides, once you get to the point where 13.5 hours counts for shorter battery life, do we really want to quibble about an extra hour? No. No, we don't.
Once you do run out of juice, the tablet recharges to 80 percent within an hour. As for the optional keyboard case, which packs a five-hour battery of its own, it took our total runtime to 16 hours and 19 minutes. So we didn't get a full extra five hours, but considering the case is rated for five and the tablet is rated for 10, we still got more runtime than Nokia said we should.
Pricing and configuration options
Curiously, Nokia says it currently has no plans to release a WiFi-only version of the 2520. That means if you're going to buy it, you're going to buy it with LTE. Unsubsidized, the price is $499 with 32GB of storage, putting it well below the price of a 32GB iPad Air with LTE ($729, to be exact). Even so, a WiFi-only version would have been nice because it would have driven the price down even lower -- a helpful thing when the keyboard dock costs an extra $149. That said, the 2520 with LTE will come as a relief to many a Windows fan: After all, this is the only Windows RT tablet with a cellular radio, so even if you would have paid more for a 4G Surface 2, this is your only option.
Here in the US, at least, the upfront cost for the hardware drops to $400 if you buy it on either AT&T or Verizon, but in both cases you have to commit to a two-year agreement to get that "discount." Some other details you should be aware of: Both AT&T and Verizon retail stores are selling the black model only, though Verizon will also be offering the red version to online customers. Also, if you strike early, AT&T is holding a promotion wherein the price of the tablet drops to $200 if you buy a Lumia 925, 1020 or 1520 at the same time.
It seems a bit silly to write this section, given how much I've already compared the 2520 to the Surface 2. That said, you might appreciate a more concise recap. In brief, the Surface 2 costs less, with a starting price of $449 for 32GB, but you lose the LTE connection you'd otherwise get on the 2520. The Surface 2 is a bit heavier, but also a bit more comfortable to hold, given its chamfered edges. Still, all things considered, the 2520 is easy to use in tablet mode.
As a laptop, though, the Surface 2 wins, just because its keyboard covers are less cramped (especially the Type Cover) and its kickstand was designed to be used for in-lap typing. Battery life and performance are roughly equal, but the 2520's 665-nit ClearBlack display easily trumps the one on the Surface 2. It's a tough call -- both are great products. In our view, it comes down to how often you think you'll be typing with it in your lap. If the answer is "often," you might still want to consider the Surface. Otherwise, the Lumia 2520 is the more well-rounded option.
In addition to the Surface 2, the 2520 also invites comparisons with the iPad Air. Both have nice screens and similarly long battery life, though the iPad has a fuller ecosystem. Then again, as mentioned earlier, the Lumia 2520 is much cheaper, considering it costs $499 unsubsidized with LTE and 32GB of built-in storage. For the same price, you could only leave the store with a 16GB WiFi-only iPad. Then again, the comparison is silly, in a way: If you're dead-set on iOS, you probably aren't considering a Lumia 2520, even if the price is lower.
Considering the Lumia 2520 is Nokia's first Windows tablet, the company produced a strong product its first time out. Because it's so lightweight, the 2520 is easier to use in tablet mode than the Surface 2, and that stunning 665-nit display makes the experience even sweeter. Add to that long battery life, a high-quality camera and some generous pricing ($499 with LTE and 32GB of storage), and it's pretty clear Nokia did good.
At the same time, Nokia didn't get everything right: A cheaper, WiFi-only version would have been nice, and the polycarbonate lid, as pretty as it is, picks up scratches a bit too easily. More than any of that, my most serious complaint has to do with the typing experience: Though the optional keyboard itself is serviceable (and adds a few extra hours of battery life), it's uncomfortable to use in the lap, making on-the-go productivity a little more difficult. If you want a tablet that can pass muster as an occasional laptop replacement, you're still better off with the Surface 2, which was redesigned specifically so that it would be easier to use in the lap. Otherwise, if you want a Windows tablet that's mainly just a tablet -- or if you need a tablet with 4G data -- the 2520 is a strong choice.
Edgar Alvarez and Daniel Orren contributed to this review.