Nokia Lumia 1020 review: A photographer's smartphone

Summary: The Lumia 1020 has a truly impressive 41-megapixel camera and a high-quality 4.5-inch AMOLED screen, but many Windows Phone fans might do better with the 920 and a good dedicated camera.

  • Editors' rating:
    7.7
  • User rating:
    7.8
  • RRP:
    USD $299.00
    GBP £550.00

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Best-in-class smartphone camera
  • Big, clear screen
  • Plenty of internal storage

Cons

  • Poor battery life
  • Camera is still no match for standalone devices
  • Expensive

Nokia has a broad range of Windows Phone handsets, covering multiple price points and screen sizes. With the 4.5-inch Lumia 1020, the company has concentrated on appealing to camera enthusiasts, adding a 41-megapixel camera and photography software enhancements to go with it.

Nokia isn't alone in looking to camera technology to add a new dimension to its smartphone portfolio. One of the Samsung Galaxy S4 variants is the Galaxy S4 Zoom, with its 16-megapixel sensor. But at £588 (inc. VAT, SIM-free from Clove Technology), is Nokia's Lumia 1020 a device people will want to buy?

Design

There's no chance of mistaking the Lumia 1020 for any other manufacturer's handset: the blocky chassis and bright yellow colour of our review unit are both giveaways (there are also white and black versions of this handset if you prefer a more muted colour scheme). Note that if you go for yellow, the headphones are colour matched.

lumia-1020-main
The Lumia 1020 has a 4.5-inch AMOLED screen, a 41-megapixel camera and comes in white, black or bright yellow. Image: Nokia

The body is made of the usual soft-touch, grippable, scratch-resistant polycarbonate material that Nokia uses for its Lumia range. This phone looks and feels like a premium product. Oddly, the camera lens is not recessed, so you'll need to take care to keep it free of scratches.

Beneath the 4.5in. screen the usual Windows Phone back and search softkeys are not backlit, and so are not particularly visible. Turn the Lumia 1020 over and the huge, circular surround for the camera lens, Xenon flash and focus light signal that this no ordinary smartphone.

The Lumia 1020's general shape and size makes it a dead ringer for the Lumia 920: the 1020 measures 71.4mm wide by 130.4mm deep by 10.4mm thick, compared to 70.8mm by 130.3mm by 10.7mm for the 920. At 158g, the Lumia 1020 is lighter than the 185g Lumia 920.

It's worth noting that the camera housing protrudes by about 4mm from the back of the casing, which means that the handset won't sit flush on a desk or table. If you like to prod at your phone's screen while it's sitting screen-up on a desk, you may find this wobbliness irritating. We did.

lumia-1020-screen
The AMOLED screen on the Lumia 1020 uses a PenTile sub-pixel matrix, but still delivers good text readability. Image: Nokia

The Lumia 1020's Gorilla Glass 3-protected screen is large at 4.5 inches across the diagonal, but it looks smaller because of the chassis size. There's a standard-size bezel on the sides, and larger ones top and bottom. Many people will find it difficult to use this phone one handed. The 332ppi (1,280-by-768-pixel) AMOLED display delivers an exceptionally clear and bright image. You won't find a higher-resolution Windows Phone because that's the highest the operating system supports.

The PenTile sub-pixel matrix that Nokia uses (Samsung owns the trademark) on its AMOLED displays is seen by some as producing less sharp definition than an RGB-stripe design — particularly for text. However, text on the Lumia 1020 is perfectly readable in our view.

lumia-1020-camgrip
The Lumia 1020 Camera Grip costs £47.99 (inc. VAT). Image: Nokia

Nokia's button design and location is pretty standard on its Lumia handsets: the volume and power buttons are on the right edge, along with a dedicated camera button, while the left edge is clear. There's a Micro-USB slot on the bottom and a headset jack on the top, alongside the housing for the microSIM.

Nokia makes a Camera Grip accessory which retails for a rather hefty £47.99 (inc. VAT). This is available in colours to co-ordinate with the handset, and is made from the same polycarbonate material. The Camera Grip is chunky and increases the handset size considerably, but is intended to help you keep a steady hand while shooting. It incorporates a second (1,020mAh) battery and a power level indicator, and also has a universal tripod connector. Because it covers up the on-handset camera button, it also has its own camera button.

Features

Nokia has built the Lumia 1020 around a fairly modest dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 SoC — the same as used in the Lumia 920 and 820. Those two handsets have 1GB of RAM, but the memory has been boosted to 2GB for the Lumia 1020.

There's a generous 32GB of internal storage as well as 7GB of free SkyDrive storage. This is an important factor as there's no MicroSD card slot for storing media files — including all those photos you'll take with the 1020's fancy high-resolution camera.

This is a top-end handset with a full set of connectivity options, including dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth (3.0), pentaband LTE (100Mbps down, 50Mbps up) and NFC. However we expected better from the device's 2,000mAh battery which struggled to keep it going for 24 hours — particularly when we made use of the camera's Xenon flash.

Microsoft does not allow hardware partners to skin its Windows Phone OS or change its appearance in any way. Nevertheless, Nokia has done a good job of adding value to its Windows Phone handsets.

This comes by way of free apps such as the superb Nokia Music, Here Maps for Google Maps-style geolocation and Here Drive+ for point-to-point navigation. The basic camera capabilities of Windows Phone handsets can also be augmented by software, and Nokia takes full advantage of that in the case of the Lumia 1020.

Camera
The Lumia 1020 comes with Panorama (a panorama shooting mode), Nokia Cinemagraph (which adds small animated elements to photos), Nokia Smart Cam (which takes burst-mode shots and lets you produce composite images) and Bing Vision (a barcode and QR code scanner).

lumia-1020-front&back
The Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel camera, which can be used in automatic or manual (Nokia Pro Camera) modes, saves low-resolution (5MP) and high-resolution (34MP) versions of each image. Image: Nokia

The camera's 41-megapixel sensor is undoubtedly the Lumia 1020's major selling point. This isn't the first time Nokia has put a high-resolution camera into a handset: last year's 808 PureView also had a 41-megapixel sensor. A Symbian-powered device, the 808 PureView received a mixed reception, although looking back now, its design and camera concept was very much a forerunner of what we see in the Lumia 1020.

Those 41 megapixels aren't, of course, the full story. Other camera features include image stabilisation and 3x (digital) zoom, ISO settings between 100 and 4000, and shutter speeds between 1/16,000 of a second to 4 seconds.

You have two basic shooting modes: Nokia Pro Camera puts you in manual control of the camera settings, while Camera mode makes settings for you automatically. Switching between the two modes requires a visit to the lenses area — achieved either by tapping a button on the camera viewfinder screen, or by making a selection from the handset's main screen. It's a bit of a hassle.

When you take a photo, two images are captured. One is a 5-megapixel version that you can share by email, drop into your SkyDrive allowance or view on the handset. The other is a 34-megapixel image that you can't access until you connect the handset to a computer, at which point it can be copied or moved onto your hard drive. Both images are linked on the handset so that deleting the one you're viewing deletes the other.

Images themselves are undeniably of high quality, and the camera copes well with variable lighting conditions. It isn't good at very close-up shots though: you have to be at least 15cm away from the subject.

It takes the Lumia 1020 a while to process images — at least a couple of seconds. In that time you could easily miss second, third or fourth shots of an exciting scene, which could be exasperating.

The Lumia 1020's camera is very good for a mobile phone, but it can't hold a candle to a decent dedicated digital camera — either in photographic capability or, incidentally, in storage. You can pop memory cards in and out of your standalone camera as much as you like, but the storage capacity on the Nokia 1020 is fixed at 32GB.

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a truly impressive camera capable of shooting decent photos. However, it's no substitute for a good standalone digital camera, and heavy use seriously depletes the battery. The Lumia 1020 certainly has appeal, but many users might do better with the 920 and a good dedicated camera.

Specifications

General
Width 2.81 in
Depth 0.41 in
Height 5.13 in
Weight 5.51 oz
Cellular
Service Provider AT&T
Processor
Clock Speed 1.5 Hz
Processor Core Qty Dual-core, Dual Core, Dual core, dual-core
Display
Diagonal Size 4.5 in

Topics: Smartphones, Nokia, Reviews, Windows Phone

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