What is it they say about the best-laid plans? I had expected to cart my trusty Nokia Lumia 1020 around during our home swap in Barcelona because it takes amazing photos and has a camera grip that supplies additional battery power. But when AT&T refused to unlock the handset so I could use a local SIM, I had to turn to Plan B. And it's worked out nicely.

I wrote about my travails with AT&T Wireless and my cellular data issues in What I Use (Home Swap): Cellular Internet Access. As you may recall, despite the fact that I've been with AT&T for seven years, pay for three phone lines, and didn't acquire my Lumia 1020 through the firm as part of a contract, it refused to unlock the phone. So even though I was able to use a cheap local 4G SIM in the one unlocked phone I did bring—a Google Nexus 5—what I really wanted was a way to attach that cheap SIM (with 2 GB of data connectivity) to a phone with a high-quality camera I could use for our vacation photos.

Casa Batllo

Maybe I could unlock another phone?

I'm not exactly an average traveler, and since this was a home swap—i.e. I'm still working while away—and not just a vacation, I brought a number of devices for a variety of reasons. Three would meet my family photo camera needs: A Lumia 1520, a Samsung Galaxy S5, and an Apple iPhone 5S. The latter two were purchased from AT&T in the past year, so they were out of the running in the sense that AT&T would almost certainly never unlock them for me.

A new coffee mug photo?

But the Lumia 1520 was a possibility. I didn't get it from AT&T. It has microSD expansion, so it can store a ton of photos. And its 20 megapixel camera is superb, surpassed only by that in the 1020, normally. But since it was recently upgraded to Lumia Cyan, the camera has improved, especially for low-light photos. Yes. This would be an excellent choice, if only AT&T would unlock it.

La Sagrada Familia

So I went through the same approval process I had earlier with the 1020, just for the heck of it. Given what happened with the 1020, I didn't expect a positive outcome.

Naturally, AT&T immediately approved my request and provided an unlock code.   

The next day, I headed down to the local Orange store, gladly paid 20 euros for 2 GB of data on a pay-as-you go SIM, and put it in the 1520. So I could just leave the thing connected and online for the rest of the trip (well, aside from a side-trip to Tangiers, Morocco, which wasn't covered by the Spain-only SIM). Success.

La Sagrada Familia

If you recall my experiences with the Lumia 1020 last summer in The Netherlands and Belgium—see Lumia 1020: Nokia's Newest Phone Goes on Vacation and Lumia 1020: 1500+ Photos—you know that I took thousands of photos last August and that they were among the best we'd ever taken on such a trip. The Lumia 1520 has acquitted itself in an identical fashion. Aided in part by the crisp, clear and sunny Spanish and Moroccan skies, the 1520 has taken some absolutely fantastic photos this summer and reliably recorded some incredible memories.

La Sagrada Familia (Nokia Panorama)

Up front, however, I had two or three concerns about the 1520, compared to the 1020.

First, there's no extended battery for the 1520, whereas the camera grip provided this capability for the 1020, providing all-day battery life no matter how many photos I took. This hasn't proven to be an insurmountable problem, as we're only out for half-days mostly, and I can recharge the phone at the apartment when needed. For the Morocco side trip, where we were offline and disconnected for a couple of days, I carried around a Nokia Universal Portable USB Charger DC-16, however. This (and being in Airplane mode) got me through dawn-to-dusk days of photo taking in Africa.

View of Barcelona from the top of La Sagrada Familia

Second, the Lumia 1520 is a ludicrously big device, and is slippery to hold, as well. So far—we're about two weeks into the trip as I write this, and maybe a week into my time using the 1520 exclusively—nothing stupid has happened. But I do worry about fumble-fingering it.

Passeig de Gracia

(A third issue. The 1520 also lacks the 1020's camera strap, which sounds like a minor issues, but I've really grown to rely on it.)

Font Magica de Montjuic

When I wrote in the past about the Lumia 1520 and complained about its too-large size, I've heard from people who love the device that they actually prefer the largeness of it. I can say I'm getting used to it. I would still prefer a 5-inch device, like the Lumia Icon/930, and maybe the rumored Lumia 830 will someday fill this gap for me. But regardless of the size of the 1520, I'm happy to be able to use it.

And here's a weird side note: In picking up the Galaxy S5 last night, I noticed something odd: This handset's very large screen ... suddenly seemed small. I guess I really am getting used to the 1520.

Parc Guell

A few other notes.

My photos won't backup to OneDrive until I'm on Wi-Fi, so that happens in the apartment each night automatically. But I also download the larger versions of each image—the 1520, like the 1020, provides two versions of each photo, in this case a 16 megapixel "original" and a 5 megapixel version for sharing—to the Surface Pro 3 and then sync those versions to OneDrive as well. This provides enough redundancy, I think. And when I get home, I'll copy the photos to the home server, where they will be backed up again, in this case to Crashplan.

Well, I *did* ask for a beer as big as my head

Out in the world taking photos, I don't do anything special. I've been using the excellent Nokia Camera app in full auto mode for the most part, and I always disable the flash. With the Lumia Cyan firmware update, you can optionally enable a new Nokia Camera feature called Living Images. This creates a short (like under a second) video each time you take a photo. So when you browse your photos on the camera using a compatible app (Nokia Camera and the camera roll, of course, but also Nokia Storyteller), your pictures kind of come to life in ways that are often pretty delightful. I'm not sure if there's a battery life or performance hit for enabling this feature, but the camera performs very quickly. In fact, that picture taking performance is a noticeable and desirable improvement over that of the Lumia 1020.

Barcelona from the water, high-speed boat

I try to share at least a few photos a day on Facebook, not so much because I think my life is interesting but to let friends and family back home know we're alive and well. (I share large albums of events from the PC.) This works fine for the most part, but the Facebook app for Windows Phone remains a sad joke and a real Achilles Heel for the platform. You can't do basic things like view comments to a set of photos (or an actual photo album) from the Windows Phone version of the app, and if you are uploading one or more photos, you have to make sure the app stays front and center and the phone doesn't shut off the screen: If you don't, your upload cancels. Yes, really: Facebook for Windows Phone cannot upload in the background. In 2014.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

Facebook aside, I'm very happy with how the Lumia 1520 has performed, and getting it on a cheap mobile data plan has really put it over the top.

The photos here are only from the first 10 days of the trip. I'll post some more later.

As in Mexico, Spanish beer is light and not exactly craft quality ... but is perfect for the climate