Nokia Lumia 2520 hands-on

Nokia's Lumia 2520 Windows RT tablet has been some time coming. The company's last attempt at full Windows, the Nokia Booklet, proved too expensive and too slow, and Nokia's enthusiasm for big-screen devices has waned ever since. The Lumia 2520 changes all that, however, a 10.1-inch alternative to the full-sized iPad and numerous Android tablets, cladding Windows RT in the distinctive and colorful polycarbonate Nokia's Windows Phone range has become known for. Read on for our first-impressions.

You can't mistake the Lumia 2520's lineage. Nokia may have opted for plastic rather than metal, unlike Apple's approach, but the polycarbonate is sturdy stuff and the tablet doesn't feel either thick or unduly heavy. In fact, it tips the scales at 615g, and is reasonably easily held in one hand. Oddly, though it's only 150g more, the Power Keyboard accessory makes the whole thing feel considerably heavier and bulkier. It's the thickness – a combination of the fold-around cover and the extra bulge to accommodate the 5hr battery and twin USB ports – that really adds to the heft; Nokia tells us it has no plans to release a keyboard-only version.

Nokia is particularly proud of the Lumia 2520's display, and with good reason. It's not just resolution – though being Full HD doesn't hurt – but brightness and viewing angles, with the slate cranking up to 650 Nits at most. You won't need that sort of brightness indoors, but the promise is far improved outdoor visibility. Either way, colors are bright and vivid, and the backlighting is even.

Underneath the display are two speakers, small but still powerful enough for video consumption. We can see users repeatedly confusing the headphone and power sockets, both on the left edge, and trying to plug one into the other, however, while the absence of a microSD slot seems miserly. Instead, you get a microUSB 3.0 port (the USB on the Power Keyboard cover are only USB 2.0, mind) and an HDMI output that you'll need an adapter for.

Windows RT has earned a mixed reputation since Microsoft first released it, in no small part because of the potential for confusion between it and "full" Windows and which apps it will run. Microsoft is pushing that hard, even in the face of waning OEM interest, but Nokia tries gamely to fill in some of the gaps with a suite of mostly exclusive apps that will come preloaded – or be available for – the Lumia 2520.

HERE Maps fits the gap that the absence of Google Maps leaves, and Nokia's easy synchronization of destinations, custom points-of-interest, and other saved locations between tablet and Windows Phone makes adopting it straightforward if you're all-aboard the Lumia train. Video Director is another success, making chopping together clips easy to do with a fingertip, and the preconfigured themes are fresh and lively (or at least they will be until they become commonplace on YouTube and Facebook). Unfortunately you can't use music from Nokia Music for the backing, and nor can you record voiceovers.

Perhaps Nokia's strangest decision has been to bypass a WiFi-only version of the Lumia 2520. Instead, the slate will only come in a single SKU – LTE+WiFi, with 32GB of storage – which Nokia says is because it makes most sense as a "connected tablet" rather than something left at home on the coffee table or nightstand. The $499 unsubsidized price helps, ambitiously low considering what some rivals charge for their WWAN-blessed tablets, though it's unclear how much further it will drop even when carriers are onboard.

Nokia tells us it expects operators to push the Lumia 2520 as an ideal adjunct to the growing number of shared-data plans, where a single monthly allowance is shared out between two or more devices, whether smartphones, tablets, portable games consoles, mobile hotspots, or something else. Our concern is that, even when that's the case, carriers don't tend to trim much off the price of the tablets they offer.

Is the Nokia tablet a slate for work or play? The surprisingly tactile Power Keyboard makes text entry easy, though we're not fans of the bulk it adds, especially considering Nokia is positioning the Lumia 2520 as a true mobile companion. Microsoft's addition of Outlook to the Office bundle that comes preloaded would seem to suggest enterprise use, but Nokia's apps, like Video Director, Dragons Adventure, Nokia Music, and Storyteller are resolutely consumer-centric.

Nonetheless, it already feels like it's shaping up to be the best Windows RT option for the mass market, however niche-within-a-niche that is. That's down to the efforts Nokia has put into its applications, though it still needs to capitalize on the cross-platform Windows/Windows Phone ecosystem (something which Microsoft, despite the obvious possibilities with Xbox and all, has generally failed to take advantage of) if it wants to drive both Lumia phone and tablet adoption. We'll know more when the first Lumia 2520 units start arriving, sometime in Q4 2013.