Nokia Lumia 1520 is hard to miss and hard to hold

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The sleek Nokia Lumia 1520 smart phone features a gorgeous 6-inch display with a tiny bezel, a great 20-megapixel camera with cool features, and a practically immortal battery. But this Windows phone is huge, so big that nobody but an NBA star will be able to manage it with one hand.

The phone measures a seam-shredding 6.40 x 3.36 x 0.33 inches, approaching the size of a small tablet. You'll probably need two hands to operate it, and you're likely to draw stares when you hold this slab up to your head to make or take a call.

Still, depending on what you need, it might be worth the effort. Our initial tests of a press sample found the 6-inch display ultra sharp even in bright sunlight, and its camera produced excellent-quality images. The mega-capacity 3400mAh battery delivered more than 24 hours of talk time on a single charge.

Dazzling performer

Smart phones with large, sharp displays are ideal for watching videos, browsing Web pages, and reading e-books. And the Lumia 1520's ample 6-inch HD display is easily among the best we've seen for those tasks.

This Nokia comes with the latest version of Windows 8 (Update 3), which not only adds support for such large displays, but also leverages their generous viewing area to show you three columns of Windows Live Tiles instead of the typical two. Another Update 3 benefit: support for quad-core processors, such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, which helps make the display more responsive and allows videos to play with fewer jitters. Indeed, videos played on the Lumia 1520 look fantastic.

A real whopper

Eye-popping display aside, the Lumia 1520 tests the limits of what passes for a smart phone. It's all but impossible to perform most operations with one hand, and this phone is even hard to grip with two—especially when you try to use it as a camera. Its thin, rounded edges are rather slippery, and reaching for on-screen camera menus when both hands are gripping the phone takes some effort.

Thankfully, the side-mounted shutter release is close enough to your fingers to make snapping pictures or starting video recording less of a stretch. The phone also weighs more than 7 ounces, which means you'll be looking for a lap or stand to rest it on after a few minutes of use.

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Sharp camera

The phone's 20-megapixel camera (it uses only 18.7 megapixels for photos) has a short shutter lag and produced excellent-quality pictures at ISO settings up to 1600. It also did very well under low-light conditions—most likely aided by its image stabilizer. In fact, the Lumia 1520 grabbed details that would have been obscured by grain and shadows on other phone cameras.

But video recorded at 1080p was only decent—adequate for uploads to Facebook and YouTube, but no match for the very good videos you can take with an iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Great controls

Like the Lumia 1020, this phone comes with a Pro Camera app that presents an arc of a half-dozen individual controls for manipulating exposure levels and other adjustments. They include manual-exposure settings such as shutter speed, ISO, manual focus, white balance, and exposure compensation.

Consumer Reports' camera expert Terry Sullivan found those controls to be nicely designed and easy to use. You can slide the controls to make precise selections, which worked pretty well in our trials. You can also set the camera on Auto and let it select those settings for you.

The adjustments made using the Lumia's Pro Cam app appear instantly on the display, preventing unpleasant surprises. One thing we really liked: The interactive tutorial, which shows you real-time changes to images as you change shutter speed and other exposure settings. For instance, when you switch to a slower shutter speed, the tutorial demonstrates the effect by showing you the long trails left by the taillights of cars moving along the highway at night.

Bottom line

The Nokia Lumia 1520's long battery life and bodacious display may be ideal for media-addicted smart-phone buyers with a touch of tablet envy, though accessing its phone or camera functions will be a bit of a stretch for some people.

—Mike Gikas

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