Well, this is awkward.
Nokia has launched a Windows RT 8.1 tablet that competes directly with Microsoft's Surface 2. It's a curious situation, as Microsoft recently acquired Nokia, and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop—his spotty track record in Finland notwithstanding—might soon become Microsoft's new chief executive.
What happens if the new Nokia Lumia 2520 is a better tablet than the Surface 2? Which hardware becomes Microsoft's flagship low-end tablet? And can both the Surface and Lumia tablet product lines survive the Microsoft-Nokia marriage, not to mention widespread consumer ambivalence to Windows RT tablets?
Those questions are fun to ponder, but ultimately the answers may not matter much. Microsoft just wants happy Windows RT users, and it doesn't care which hardware line brings new customers to the table. Surface, Lumia, whatever. May the best brand win. Hell, any win for Microsoft in the mobile arena is a step in the right direction, especially because no other manufacturers are throwing support behind Windows RT.
And the good news for Microsoft is that the Lumia 2520 might be able to attract a few buyers who checked out the Surface 2 but couldn't bring themselves to pull the trigger. It's a decidedly un-Surface-like slab of industrial design, and that's saying something meaningful given how difficult it is for one tablet, any tablet, to differentiate itself from another.
Groovy design, curious ports
Decked out in glossy red plastic, the Lumia 2520 evokes the pop-art whimsy of 1970s product design. Corners are soft. Edges are chamferless. Sitting next to the Surface 2, the Lumia tablet looks like Andy Warhol sitting next to Darth Vader. Nokia has done a great job in creating visual separation between its first foray into the tablet market and Microsoft's own tablet line, and from a purely aesthetic perspective, there's something undeniably inviting about the 2520's candy-coated shell.
That shell, however, flexes a bit if you manhandle the 2520 with malicious intent. The Lumia 2520 can't match the Surface 2's steadfast resolve in the "Will it bend?" test, but although it's exactly as thick as the Surface 2 at 0.35 inch, it weighs a bit less—1.35 pounds to the Surface 2's clean 1.5 pounds.
Like most tablets, the 2520 is short on ports, but the ones it does include are notable. On the top edge is a tray for inserting a MicroSD card, increasing the stock 32GB storage capacity to 64GB. But that tray also plays host to a SIM card as well. That's right: While Microsoft's Surface line currently eschews the nation's wireless infrastructure, the Lumia tablet can link into AT&T's and Verizon's 4G LTE networks. Clearly, a handset company such as Nokia has a vested interest in pushing data plans, and if you purchase the Lumia 2520 on a two-year contract, the tablet's price drops from $500 to $400.
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