Last time we looked at a Nokia Windows Phone, it was the small but cheaply formed 520, a device which has perhaps changed the fortunes of the WP platform more than any other - opening it up to a whole new part of the market - a part near the bottom that previously only Android could reach.
And perhaps here we have another game changer. The 1320 is, once again, one of Nokia's poor relations – costing just £300 compared to the £500 of the 1520, its higher-spec’d phablet stable mate.
At 16.4 x 8.6cm, however, the 1320 and its 6-inch screen dwarfs Nokia's previous market pleaser. It isn't just bigger. It's monstrously more massive. Epicly more enormous.
Want to know if it'll fit in your pocket? Just see if you can jam in two normal phones side by side. Want to know if you like the feel of it? Just trying talking into your iPad mini / Kindle Fire / small paperback book.
I’m sure the feeling would pass over time but I did not get the impression I was receiving the most admiring glances as I manhandled the 1320 from my jacket pocket with both hands on the busy 7.27 to Victoria.
So is it big? Yes it is. It makes the Galaxy Note look dainty. Is it unweildy? Here the answer is less clear. Unless you're looking to test the Coring Gorilla Glass for bounciness, I wouldn't try operating it one-handed. However, once you are used to the sheer mental shock of the scale and the fact that you won’t have a hand free, the phone is surprisingly comfortable to hold. A little on the heavy side, perhaps, but the sheer magnitude of the front does emphasize the relative thinness of the device.
The styling and case is almost identical to the 520 (and also the 820, 620). With a removable and rounded tactile rear plastic cover offering the ability (which I'm assuming someone must value) to personalize the phone by swapping for a variety of different coloured shells. Unlike the 520, however there is no battery to be found under the cover. That said, at 3400 mAh, the device should keep you in business for well over a day.
Whilst the signature design of Nokia's Lumias - both unibody and with removable shells - is mostly satisfying and attractive, those which can be disassembled seem to fall into two camps – the ones whose backs will not come off at all and the ones that come off all the time. The 520 was in the later camp. The 1320 is in the former, fingernail-snapping group. Given the lack of replaceable battery, once you've managed to break in and install your SIM card and SD card (up to 64Gb, and you’ll need one, there’s only 8Gb on board), you're unlikely to either want or need to repeat the experience.
All the rest – button placement, sockets and so on - are as per the Lumia standard: volume, power and camera key on the right; three keys on the front: home, search and back - in this case capacitive; and headphone and micro USB socket (top and bottom respectively). And that's it. Nothing on the left and just the camera and flash on the back, along with a hole to let the sound out.
Did I mention how large it is? So we ought to talk about the screen, which makes up most of those cubic meters. The 6 inches are made up by a resolution of 720 x 1280 (245 ppi). That shouldn't be super sharp. Compare it with the 332ppi of the 925 (which actually has more pixels in total on its 4.5 inch screen), or the iPhone, or the 367ppi of the big brother 1520, and you might think it would disappoint. In reality though, it functions just fine for most tasks.
The blacks aren't as pin sharp as Nokia is capable of, and pixels can be a little more visible. But then again, if you're buying this phone, are you likely to have 20/20 vision?
For playing games (e.g. Solitaire with near life-sized cards), watching Netflix (e.g. Arthur with near life-sized Dudley More), composing an email (with a near life-sized keyboard), looking at (near life-sized) picture of your holiday, or even for looking up synonyms for the word "enormous" on Google, the momentously epic screen works very well.
Add Nokia's Glance Screen - a great feature that now shows alerts as well as just the time when the display is off - and it's a very compelling package. What is most striking perhaps is that for the time you are carrying out these tasks, the device feels much more like a mini tablet than a maxi phone. Portability and pocketability are exchanged for convenience. The screen is just as large and certainly better quality than you’ll find on the back of most airline seats or on the front of most pocket games consoles. And it is large enough to make elements of Windows Phone, such as email, Word or Excel a totally different and more useful experience.
Phone calls are not really what the 1320 is for, of course. But you can do it if you can bear the looks from those around you. Normally a mixture of incomprehension and pity. Call quality is good, and there is the added benefit of sun-protection, or – if you prefer – being able to hide from people you don’t want to talk to. Fit two if you are a shire horse.
What was left out of the case to shave off £200 from the price of the 1520? The answer is simple: great camera, NFC and wireless charging. Obviously the last two don’t really matter. The first however, may be more important. Since carrying the device round will fill up your handbag / man bag / pockets, you probably won’t haul a proper camera around too. At 5 Megapixels with a flash, the camera is far from useless, but don’t expect any of the magic you’ll get from Nokia’s flagships (or indeed Apple’s or Samsung’s).
Interestingly, and unlike the 520, Nokia managed to scrape together the pounds needed to keep the device’s compass and a reasonable amount of memory, which means that it will run practically all the apps you’ll find on the rest of the range.
In the box
The only real difference about unboxing the 1320 from any other phone in the line is how much of the box the phone takes up. As you lift the lid, you’ll see that every inch is taken up with phone. Underneath, as usual, cheap unusable headphone (why does no one learn from Apple on this, how much would it cost to give customers a nice surprise?) a USB cable and a foldable plug.
We spoke last time about the ups and downs of being a Windows Phone fan. The design purity of the original remains hugely attractive. However the sluggish nature of the platform's development belies the importance which Microsoft must, surely, place on the project. Years come and go with little or no change to the end-user experience. Meanwhile Apple and Android pile on the features, and of course those two platforms also benefit from intense investment by app developers. This means that there's always something to look at and explore on the devices.
Microsoft's glacial pace of development has had two growth spurts. When the platform was first released, superseding the Windows Mobile era, it was very much like swapping an battered old Ford for a shiny new BMW. Then a couple of years later, when Microsoft released 7.5 (aka Mango), a further dramatic leap forward was made (perhaps a series upgrade). In the three years since then, little has changed outwardly with Microsoft preferring to focus on swapping the kernel and pursuing a single developer platform for phones and tablets.
The release of Windows Phone 8.1 will show a further Mango-style jump forward - the first really significant changes for almost three years. And while the review device did not have 8.1 installed, it can be expected to arrive imminently on all current WP8 devices, including this one. With it will come a voice assistant called Cortana (a la Siri), Notification Centre – a seductive feature, if one which is somewhat at odds with the existing Live Tile design – and a long list of other changes which bring WP close to parity with Apple and Google.
All good stuff. However there is one race where Microsoft seems destined to forever be in third place - the applications on the device. As we’ve said before, this isn’t just about missing apps but about the speed of development of the apps themselves. Yes, there are – for example – Starbucks apps on WP but they pale in comparison with Android and iOS. Look at Kindle. The Windows Phone version is fine, so long as you only want to read books. IOS and Android add periodicals. Windows Phone users need to be endlessly patient, waiting for Microsoft and waiting too for app developers - think of Instagram / Path / Vine, each of which tooks 6-18 months to make the jump from other platforms.
Putting more on the screen
One of the few changes in recent service releases of Windows Phone has been increased support for larger screen sizes such as this one, including the addition of a third column of tiles on the homescreen (8.1 will see this made available for smaller screens). The combined effect of this and the sheer scale of the 1320 is that you can chose to fit an enormous amount on your homescreen (without scrolling), or to get greater detail from the apps which are present). It’s a bit of a mixed blessing. Yes, it would have looked absolutely absurd without it. But it feels very overloaded with it. It is also difficult to see now how WP is not essentially converging with the “sea of gadgets” view of Android, whereas the initial design was quite distinctive. That said, the use of a simpler, flatter and more icon-driven design does at least make the ‘sea’ look a little calmer.
The home screen is the exception in having been reviewed by Microsoft for information density. The rest of the OS is simply larger. I had expected this to grate. And it can feel quite wasteful. Yet the overriding impression is that the simplicity of the basic WP platform adapts well to a larger surface area. Those who have previously found touch screen interfaces too fiddly should find the 1320 a breeze as the “hit areas” for selections are massive. Certainly, WP8 seems to scale up better than Windows 8.1 would scale down to screens of this size.
For the most part, you can operate any Nokia Lumia without need to plug it into your computer. This is just as well as the companion software is about as sucky as it gets. It’s shocking that Microsoft would release something so unusable, unstable and buggy, especially when the predecessor (the Zune tool) was fully featured. If you must sync with a PC, use the “desktop” version against iTunes. It is the least sucky route. And a total own goal.
Speculation is that the market will drive Apple to release larger iPhones. Common wisdom has it that consumers want larger and cheaper devices and the Cupertino giant must play ball. Well in that regard at least, it’s a good thing that Steve Jobs is not around it witness it, as I would assume he would rather chug sewage than have his company produce something as fundamentally clunky (that’s not to say non-useful) as a phablet. The iPhone, the Nokia 925 and many Androids are things of elegance and balance. And yet it is hard to imagine a phablet that will fit that mould. The name alone seems to condemn the category to a second-class existence.
But not all phone owners care about this stuff. For every Maserati owner there are many more with Fiat Puntos – the sensible majority who choose value and practicality over aesthetics, function over form. And I have no doubt that phones will become larger and larger to suit the needs of this majority. For that market, the 1320 offers great value. Equally WP8 as it is now, and how we can hope it will develop in the future offers a great platform. Not as insanely fiddly as Android (prepares for barrage of abuse) nor as illogical and ugly as Apple’s current offering, it shows how design can make the complexities of having a Smartphone more approachable.
Stephen Fry once used the question of which phone he would grab if his house were on fire. He ended up unable to choose between the iPhone and his other favourite at the time (the underrated Blackberry Z10).
Well, I’d have to think long and hard about it. On balance, if my house was on fire, I probably wouldn’t throw the 1320 in. But I certainly wouldn’t bring it out with me. Not least for fear that it might slow down my escape.
Still, if I had to choose a phone to use to watch a movie on a flight, to Skype with, or to cheat with in a pub quiz, the iPhone might stay in my pocket. In some circumstances bigger is, indeed, better.
Many will find Nokia’s budget slab too much to handle, others will undoubtedly find it too much to miss out on.