Nokia Lumia 1020 $299

4th Sep 2013 | 23:08

Nokia Lumia 1020

Can a brilliant camera alone save the once-great brand?

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Great camera; Slim design; Good battery life;

Dislike:

Windows Phone 8 app ecosystem; No expandable memory; $299 is a little pricey;

Introduction and design

Ratings in depth
Nokia Lumia 1020 review
Nokia Lumia 1020 review
Nokia Lumia 1020 review
Nokia Lumia 1020 review
Nokia Lumia 1020 review

To review the Nokia Lumia 1020 is to review a compact camera that happens to have some phone features tacked onto it. Essentially, you would only buy this thing for its 41MP PureView camera with Xenon flash. If you weren't already a Nokia fan, why buy Windows Phone 8?

When we first heard about the 41MP smartphone camera in the Nokia PureView 808, our initial thoughts were, "What a shame to put such a nice camera on a Symbian device." Now that the camera is coupled with a marginally better platform, we can breathe a small sigh of relief.

If you're familiar with the Lumia line of phones, the 1020 shouldn't look that foreign to you. Its curvature and overall shape are reminiscent of the Lumia 920, and the smaller Lumia 820.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

On the face of the device, you'll find a 4.5-inch 1280 x 720 touchscreen display. The left edge of the device, if you're facing the screen, is clean and free of any buttons or ports. The right side has a volume rocker, power/standby button and a dedicated camera button.

At the base of the device you'll find the micro-USB charging port and speaker/microphone. Up top, there is a SIM card tray, 3.5mm headset jack and another microphone for noise cancellation.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

The back of the device is perhaps the most noticeable, with its large camera module, Xenon flash, LED light and camera lens. It protrudes enough from the device that it never lays flat on its back.

The following video is sponsored and made by O2 Guru

Even without the bulky camera, it's a substantial device as far as modern smartphones go. It's not the slimmest or lightest by any means, but it is somehow slightly slimmer and lighter than the Lumia 920.

To give you an idea of its dimensions, this Lumia phone is 130.4mm tall, 71.4mm wide and 10.4mm thick and weighs 158 grams. As you can see, it's pretty wide and bloated by today's smartphone standards.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Despite its size and weight, you eventually get used to maneuvering your way around the device. It's the camera that makes it tricky to hold. Do you keep your fingers around it, or grip the phone right over the camera? Decisions, decisions.

Our review model came in matte black, and it's slightly more slippery than its glossy predecessors. The Lumia 1020 also comes in yellow and white.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

For those of you interested in internals, there is a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 32GB on-board storage and a 2,000 mAh battery.

Interface and performance

Windows Phone 8 resides inside the Nokia Lumia 1020, and if you've ever used Windows Phone before, it will be incredibly familiar to you.

This version of Windows Phone 8 is called Amber, available only to Nokia devices, and it's the latest version of the Microsoft platform. It adds a few nifty new features to the software, but it's not a major overhaul of the platform or anything.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

You can do new things with the Amber update like double tap the display to turn it on, or flip your phone over to silence it. And if you love customizing your device, there are a handful of new wallpapers added.

Otherwise, it's just plain old Windows Phone 8. The live tile system works pretty nicely to give you app updates and any other relevant info you might want to see. The tiles are also customizable in size, so you can make them large or small and arrange them into clusters when you shrink them down.

If you swipe to the right from the main screen, you'll see a list of all your apps, including the settings. It's a mostly intuitive platform, but what it's seriously lacking is third-party app support.

Most of the big-name apps are on Windows Phone 8, like Facebook, Twitter, CNN, Foursquare and more. But it's also missing incredibly popular apps like Instagram and Vine. This lack of app support is what usually turns people off from adopting the Windows Phone platform.

Another sorely missing feature is a centralized notification system. With iOS and Android, you can see all your notifications and updates in a drop-down pane, whereas Windows Phone 8 leaves you guessing with the live tile system. If you get a notification for an app that isn't immediately within view of the display, you have to scroll around just to make sure you haven't missed anything.

In terms of everyday performance, I experienced no lag or hiccups at all. Well, other than the camera, but we're going to cover that issue. Scrolling through the home page or within apps is smooth, unlike the Android experience on some handsets. The apps and tiles have cool animations, too, when you're opening or closing them or watching your notifications.

Camera

The camera module in the Lumia 1020 is large. Every time you take the phone out, you'll notice it, and so will everyone else around you. While the smartphone itself is smaller than its predecessor, the Lumia 920, the camera makes it feel a little more unwieldy.

You'll notice immediately that the camera features a Xenon flash, which has a white balance closer to daylight or about 5,600-5,800 Kelvin, rather than the blue hue given off by LED flash units you'd find on most smartphones. The flash is powerful, too, so in the event you need to use it, you'll have a good range of coverage.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Nokia also claims that the flash pulse is very fast, so that you can freeze your subjects while retaining ambient light. While flash photography on a smartphone is rarely ever pretty, it's not bad on the Lumia 1020.

When you first turn on the phone, you'll be guided through the camera software. Nokia takes you through all the controls and features of the camera, and you're given tips on how to make the best of it.

This tells us what Nokia really intends this phone for, and it's not spending all day browsing the Internet. Once you're done with the tutorial, you're ready to use the camera. Or the phone, if you'd like.

Nokia Pro Cam is the default camera app, and it's intuitive enough if you have any experience using a DSLR or compact camera. It offers more control over focus and exposure than most smartphone cameras, but Nokia's claim that many of these features are found only on a DSLR isn't entirely true.

You can also ignore all those fancy features and just tap to focus and let the auto settings on the camera do the rest for you.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Now, just because the Lumia 1020 has a 41MP camera, it doesn't mean you're going to be shooting 41MP photos all the time. By default, you're storing 5MP oversampled photos, and I'll explain what that means later. If you set the aspect ratio to 16:9, you'll be taking 34MP photos. Change that to 4:3 and you're taking 38MP photos.

The 5MP images are the ones you can share on Twitter, Facebook or via e-mail, just as you would on any other smartphone. The big photos (34MP and 38MP) have to be transferred to a computer if you want to edit, print or share them. The file size would be too large to share or transfer over AT&T's network, and would it would kill your data plan limits in no time.

Because of the massive resolution of the photos, you can crop them down dramatically without suffering from too much loss of quality. Alternatively, you get up to 3x lossless zoom while shooting photos. That means you can zoom on your phone like you would on other smartphones, but image quality and details won't degrade, and the end result would still be a 5MP image.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

If you're interested in the way this works, you can read Nokia's white paper on the 41MP PureView camera. But here's a quick version of how oversampling works in this case: Nokia uses several pixels to act as one pixel to gather more data and details in a photo. Instead of a 5MP sensor capturing 5MP images, you have a 41MP sensor whose pixels act in such a way that it captures 5MP images.

Yeah, it sounds complicated and the white paper goes into more detail than I can explain here, but all you need to know is that your 5MP photos will look a hell of a lot better than, say, photos from a phone with a standard 5MP camera (like the iPhone 4).

Now let's talk about actual performance. Image quality on the Lumia 1020 is great for a smartphone, let's just get that out of the way now. In auto mode, photos are generally well exposed with good dynamic range. Details are clear and sharp, and colors are accurate and rich. Most smartphone photos aside from the iPhone tend to be a little flat out of the camera, but the Lumia 1020 offers good color and contrast without having to edit photos.

Our biggest gripe with the device is the camera lag from the time it takes to fire up to taking actual photos and taking photos in rapid succession.

The Lumia 1020's camera takes a whole second longer than the iPhone 5 camera to get started. You may be thinking that isn't much time at all, but it's long enough to miss a critical moment. Because of the massive file size, it also takes a long time process and save, which means you can't go shooting several photos at once. You have to wait, then wait some more.

When you press the shutter, whether it's the on-screen button or the physical one, the camera takes a second to focus and to snap your photo. Sometimes it works a little faster, sometimes it doesn't. This means action photos or photos that require you to get a shot at just the right moment are rarely ever going to work out. On the other hand, still life pictures are just fine. You can take photos of your meals all day without worry.

The camera is undoubtedly the selling feature for this phone. Otherwise, it's just another Windows Phone device from Nokia. So the questions you have to ask yourself are, "What am I going to do with these photos? Do I really need 34 or 38 megapixels? How often do I crop my images? How often do I zoom? Will it replace my point-and-shoot or DSLR?"

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Allow us to answer that last question for you: no. While the Lumia 1020's software offers you more control than your average smartphone camera, it doesn't offer you the same control or flexibility as a point-and-shoot camera or DSLR.

At worst, a point-and-shoot will let you adjust your aperture for depth-of-field adjustments. The Lumia 1020 doesn't do that. Moreover, your average point-and-shoot camera has a bigger imaging sensor than the 1020, and likely better optics, so image quality, dynamic range and high ISO noise performance is better.

There's also no sense in comparing the 1020 to a DSLR, because even the most basic DSLR with a kit lens will outperform the 1020 in any situation.

At this point, you may be asking yourself whether the Lumia 1020 will replace any of your dedicated cameras. It won't. But what it will do is give you better image quality than any other smartphone on the market today, and if you use your phone to take 90% or more of your everyday photos, you can't do better than that.

Sample photos

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Low light photos are generally good and have very little noise.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review camera samples

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

You can edit photos within the Lumia 1020. This was adjusted for contrast and white balance.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Details captured are good, but as you can see depth-of-field isn't very shallow.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Due to massive shutter lag and startup time, getting the right moment is very difficult. I got lucky here with the composition.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review camera samples

The 41MP PureView camera offers decent dynamic range. You can see details here in the shadows as well as the highlights.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review camera samples

Once you've taken your photos, you can get creative with editing in camera. This was adjusted for contrast and color saturation within the Nokia Creative Studio.

Call quality, connectivity and battery life

Call quality on the Lumia 1020 is great for a camera. Our friends sounded clear through the earpiece and via speakerphone, and they reported hearing us just fine, too. We were on AT&T's network in San Francisco.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

When outdoors, especially with a lot of ambient noise, it gets a little harder to hear callers. The earpiece isn't as loud as other smartphones on the market, like the HTC One.

The device also supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and LTE bands 2, 4, 5 and 17. We got decent speeds over AT&T's LTE network, which was plenty fast for browsing the web, looking at Twitter and stalking photos on Facebook.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Battery life is also good. The 2,000 mAh unit inside seems paltry compared to the Android beasts out there, but it easily lasted us a day of regular use. If you're checking e-mail occasionally, sending and receiving text messages, browsing social networks and taking pictures, you should be fine during your work day on a full charge.

Verdict

We give the Lumia 1020 3.5 stars because of its camera. We'd probably knock off the half star if it weren't for the 41MP shooter. While this Lumia phone is a premium device, its platform is its major drawback. And though the camera is the best there is on any smartphone in the market, you're probably going to spend more time interfacing with the operating system than shooting photos.

We liked

The camera is the obvious winner here. While 41MP seems like overkill for a smartphone, it does have its benefits. Images are sharper at larger sizes, and the 5MP photos are more crisp than what you'd normally find on any other 5MP or even 8MP smartphone camera. Lossless zoom is also nice to have, coupled with the full resolution photo of the entire scene that's stored along with the zoomed-in photo. To top it off, battery life wasn't bad on the Lumia 1020, so that gives us a little confidence when leaving home without a charger or battery pack.

We disliked

Unfortunately, Windows Phone 8 still has a way to go in terms of competing with Android and iOS. Aside from a lack of great apps, the platform desperately needs a better notification system. It's easy to miss e-mails, messages or app notifications if the tiles aren't in plain sight. Because of these things, the highly advanced camera just doesn't seem all that appealing. It would be like putting a Ferrari engine in a 1998 Toyota Corolla. We would probably give it better consideration if it didn't cost so much, either. $299 is steep for what you're getting with this device.

Verdict

The incredible camera on this phone would benefit from apps that are found on iOS and Android, but missing on Windows Phone 8. Apps like Instagram, Snapseed and Vine would be terrific additions to Windows Phone 8, and it would really help this camera shine. But with the lack or slow development of those types of apps, there is more incentive to go with Android or iOS.

We would recommend this phone for those who don't spend too much time in apps, and find themselves messaging and e-mailing and browsing the web more than playing around in apps.

In terms of the camera, we can't say this will replace your point-and-shoot or compact camera. However, if you're looking for incredible smartphone camera photos and the flexibility of huge image files while making a few concessions by switching to Windows Phone 8, we might be able to recommend this phone for you. Except it's $299 on contract and that's just a tough price point to justify for the Lumia 1020.

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