AT&T Nokia Lumia 1020 review: The best Windows Phone ever made

Summary:AT&T's Nokia Lumia 1020 is the best Windows Phone device ever made. Nokia provides the highest end hardware with advanced software and functionality.

AT&T Nokia Lumia 1020 review: The best Windows Phone ever made

I shared some of my initial experiences with the Nokia Lumia 1020 and some early photos captured around Seattle . After a week I returned the evaluation unit and purchased my own Lumia 1020 . After two full weeks with the Nokia Lumia 1020 it is easy for me to state that it is the best Windows Phone device I have used over the last three years.

In July 2010 I wrote the definitive guide to the Windows Phone 7 technical preview and I can still clearly remember how impressed I was with the refreshing user interface of Windows Phone. I continue to be pleased with the metro UI and use of Live Tiles, it still offers something different than iOS and Android.

Hardware

Nokia first released the Nokia N9 in September 2011, followed shortly by the Nokia Lumia 800. People were impressed by the new Nokia designs with curved front glass, use of polycarbonate plastic in the shell, a vivid color selection and a focus on imaging. Most Lumias today have these same base design features and Nokia is becoming recognizable due to them.

If you just look at the front of the Lumia 1020 then you might mistake it for a Lumia 920 or 928. You can tell a difference immediately when you pick it up though because the 1020 is 27.4 grams (0.97 ounces) lighter. While an ounce doesn't sound like much, you can feel it when holding the devices in hand side-by-side. I'm not saying the Lumia 920 was too heavy, but it had more heft than most other modern smartphones.

I am very pleased that Nokia went with matte finishes on all three colors of the Lumia 1020. I previously had a glossy white Lumia 900 and glossy red Lumia 920 and I ended up putting soft touch shell cases on those devices to help improve my grip on them. The glossy finishes also seemed to scratch pretty easily while I don't notice them on the matte finish so far. I personally find that the matte finish also gives the Lumia line a bit more premium look and feel. The yellow 1020 I have looks great with the black button and camera accents too.

The Lumia 1020 is the first Windows Phone to come with 2GB of RAM and while Windows Phone does well with fairly low specs, the increased RAM does help with camera and gaming functions. The display looks great with 1280x768 resolution in 4.5 inches and AMOLED ClearBlack technology. Nokia does a fantastic job with their displays and I have zero complaints on the Lumia 1020, even though other Android devices have higher resolution.

41 megapixel camera

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(Close-up of Rolo smore)

There are many articles and comparison regarding the Lumia 1020 camera, but I highly recommend you read the excellent analysis from Steve Litchfield in his camera feature article and in his 808 PureView vs Lumia 1020 comparison. Brian Klug also takes a detailed look at the camera and camera grip accessory.

The camera is absolutely fantastic and while the Xenon flash doesn't seem to perform as well as it does on the 808 PureView, it still beats out other modern smartphones. The camera module is large on the Lumia 1020 and if mobile photography is not that important to you then I wouldn't recommend the 1020 since you do compromise on size. Then again, I am getting tired of seeing blurry, poor quality pictures shared by family and friends and am actually a bit sad when those crappy photos are the only memories they have of those moments. The Nokia Lumia 1020 lets you capture those moments and remember them in vivid clarity later on while still giving you a very functional smartphone experience.

Feel free to check out my full resolution image samples on Flickr. Most of these were taken in auto mode using the Pro Camera utility. I plan to spend a LOT more time learning the ins and outs of the camera using the tutorials and am very pleased with the performance. It doesn't take quite as good of photos as the Nokia 808 PureView I have, but the OS is much more usable and I love the editing tools on the phone.

Lumia10204
(Downtown Seattle)

Nokia is also a leader in mobile phone video, which some people often forget about. Their video stabilization is unmatched in the smartphone world and the system in the 1020 is even more advanced than what we see in the 920, 925, and 928. The stereo audio recording is also pretty amazing and you can go to a concert and truly capture the experience to share later with family and friends.

I'll discuss some Nokia software enhancements a bit later, but there is a full suite of Nokia applications available related to the camera and Microsoft now even lets you specify which camera utility launches when you press and hold the physical camera button. The newest camera utility is called Nokia Pro Camera and the Lumia 1020 is the first device to get this software. Nokia Pro Camera lets you capture photos in auto mode or take full control over exposure, shutter speed, ISO settings, white balance, and focus. I am excited to use and learn from my Lumia 1020 and the tutorials as I attempt to become a better mobile photography.

Nokia Smart Camera launched on the Nokia Lumia 925 and works similar to Zoes on the HTC One. Instead of capturing short video clips and extracting still photos, Smart Camera captures a sequence of photos in burst mode and then lets you use those photos to get the best one, add motion effects, remove unwanted objects, and choose the best face for each person in a group shot.

You will also find camera lenses and utilities from Nokia called Panorama, Glam Me Lens, Creative Studio, PhotoBeamer, and Cinemagraph. The utilities offer interesting ways to capture and edit your images so you can create fun things to share. I was also very pleased to see Nokia add a video trimmer and YouTube upload clients like I have been asking about for months. I like to capture video of events, but then just upload and share selected parts of the videos and until now there was no work done on the video editing experience in Windows Phone.

Accessories

Along with the hardware, in typical Nokia fashion you will find a couple of cool accessories designed just for the AT&T Nokia Lumia 1020. I bought a black Camera Grip at the AT&T store and then Nokia loaned me a black Wireless Charging Cover to test out. The Camera Grip is available in yellow, black, or white while the Wireless Charging Cover is black or yellow. The Wireless Charging Cover is still difficult to find in stores. Both are similar in that they have large round openings for the camera module with the four corners fitting over the sides to secure the cover and grip over the 1020.

Lumia10202

The Camera Grip is a bit more advanced, yet reasonably priced at $59.00. For this price you get a 1020 mAh battery and physical camera button on a larger end piece. Nokia's site states you can get up to 285 more photos or an extra 48 minutes of video with the Camera Grip attachment. When you slide your 1020 in place, you get the feeling your phone is definitely more camera than phone in this mode as the microUSB port makes the connection. There is also a universal tripod mount on the bottom of the camera grip to help you capture steady high resolution shots.

Inside the Wireless Charging Cover you can see to metal contacts where those on the back of the 1020 make a connection so that the internals of the Charging Cover facilitate Qi charging. With charging plates at home and at work, I have grown into a huge fan of wireless charging due to its convenience and ability to help clean up a wire mess.

Nokia software enhancements

I have written a couple of times about the fantastic value added by Nokia for Windows Phone owners. The Lumia 1020 continues with software and service offerings such as Nokia Music+ , the HERE Maps suite (City Lens, Drive+, Maps, and Transit), Nokia Trailers, Ringtone Maker, AccuWeather, and more.

Nokia has been providing some additional utilities on its Windows Phone line, including storage check, Dolby audio support, touch sensitivity settings, and more. We now see some fantastic functionality from the Nokia N9 MeeGo device, including the ability to double tap on the display to wake the device and the ability to enable Glance. Glance allows you to have the time and phone status appear on the display when everything else is off. This includes a Peek mode where you can wave your hand over the phone to show the status. A final custom feature is the ability to adjust your display's color profile.

Apps and the Windows Phone Store

Microsoft recently reported there are now more than 160,000 apps in the Windows Phone Store and for my personal needs there are just a couple missing that I use on iOS and Android. These include my bank (USAA), who was one of the first on Windows Phone and now appears to have given up too early, MLB At Bat, Alaska Airlines, and Google services like Google+. There are alternatives that work just fine for Vine and Instagram with nearly ever other app I use already on Windows Phone. In addition, Halo: Spartan Assault, is coming to all devices soon.

If there are some missing apps, then make sure you find out about mobile optimized websites. Alaska Airlines reached out to me on a recent trip when I was complaining about a lack of Windows Phone support to inform me that their mobile website lets you check in, change your seat, and even use your phone display as your boarding pass. The website is excellent and meets my needs for that specific service.

During the Lumia 1020 launch we also heard that Flipboard, Path, Vine, and others may be coming soon. I imagine the shrinking app gap will soon disappear and then purchase decisions will come down to the OS user experience and available hardware.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the best Windows Phone device ever made. It may still not be for everyone since size is more important than a serious camera to some folks. I have absolutely no regrets so far in moving from a Verizon iPhone 5 to the Lumia 1020 and discover new functions with the camera daily.

The complaints about the price are being made without reason. The 32GB iPhone 5, a model almost a year old, is priced the same as the Lumia 1020 under contract and is even more without a contract. If you look at the powerful camera in the Lumia 1020, it is easy to justify the premium price and I just ignore those who try to argue about price because they are not comparing apples to apples.

Related Windows Phone coverage

Topics: Mobility, AT&T, Nokia, Reviews, Smartphones, Windows Phone

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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