Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: a piece of smartphone camera innovation

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We’re now seeing smartphones with screen sizes of 6 inches or higher, with bigger batteries to satisfy both the large screen and our insatiable appetite with the data. But when it comes to packing a huge number of megapixels, Nokia takes the gold medal with the Lumia 1020 – the smartphone with the 41-megapixel camera.

By the time you read this review, the phone would already have been superseded by another two Nokia smartphones (the Lumia 1520 and the Lumia 1320) – this is the problem with being below the other tech sites in the pecking order for reviews.

However, let us pretend that hasn’t occurred just yet.

Other than the camera, the Lumia 1020 doesn’t have a quad-core processor you can find on its rivals or a large screen like the Android king, the Samsung Galaxy S4. However, it makes up with it by doing what smartphones should do – by making the experience brilliant.

Oh, and before you criticise me as being a Windows Phone “fanboy” – I do own an Android smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: a piece of smartphone camera innovation

Hardware and Design

The Lumia 1020 doesn’t stray away from the stock-standard template of most Lumia devices – a polycarbonate unibody with bright colours, buttons on one side of the phone, and the USB port and speaker grill at the bottom. What is new is the ‘bump’ on the back thanks to the camera. The main criticism I have for it is purely on an aesthetic basis – it just feels weirdly placed and breaks the flow of the design. It does, however, provide a nice kickstand to see the time when placed on a desk.

In a world where rival smartphones are getting lighter, thinner and bigger – the Lumia 1020 does the reverse. It has a 4.5-inch display, is 10.4mm thick, and weighs 158 grams. In contrast, the Galaxy S4 is 7.9mm thin and weighs 130 grams, while the iPhone 5s is 7.6mm thin and weighs 112 grams. However, despite the extra weight and thickness, it does fit in your jeans pocket pretty well and is comfortable to hold.

Inside, the smartphone runs on dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor. However, just because its rivals run on quad-core processors, it doesn’t make the Lumia 1020 less of a good smartphone. The phone runs smoothly and without a hitch. In addition, the 4.5-inch AMOLED display – like on all Lumia devices – is brilliant.

Now, lets talk about what is missing on the device. In order to include a 41-megapixel lens, Nokia removed some features as a trade-off. First off, there is no expandable memory – you are limited to 32GB of storage plus the cloud storage. But is that enough space? It really depends on how you use it; but for most people, it should be.

Another feature axed was the built-in Qi wireless charging. Some fans will be disappointed, but you can always purchase an accessory to bring that back. However, as Nokia has suggested in the media, if it adds more to the already heavy and thick phone – it’s probably wise to ditch it.

In a world where rival smartphones are getting lighter, thinner and bigger – the Lumia 1020 does the reverse.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: a piece of smartphone camera innovation

Third-party apps are highly volatile – they may work one day but not the next.

Software

In the Lumia 925 review, I made a comment saying that I was “obligated” to tell you that Windows Phone 8 will not have all the major apps on iOS and Android. And after six months, despite the improvements made by Microsoft and Nokia to lure developers into developing apps for Windows Phone, the comment still stands.

While it does have official apps for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Vine – there are lot of services are not available on the platform. The major ones include Snapchat, YouTube, Google Maps and Google+. Of course, there are third-party applications available to fill that void. However, these third-party apps are highly volatile – they may work one day but not the next. It all depends on the app developer to maintain the app, or the service itself not asking Microsoft to pull it from the Windows Store – such as a BBC News application developed by a Microsoft employee; and a Snapchat client called Swapchat.

Of course, like all Lumia devices, it is filled with Nokia services – such as HERE Maps, Nokia MixRadio, and Nokia Camera app. HERE Maps is a pretty good alternative to Google Maps, and includes a turn-by-turn directions mode with HERE Drive+. Nokia MixRadio, on the other hand, is essentially their version of Pandora.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: a piece of smartphone camera innovation

Photography

Nokia has been touting this phone as a revolution in smartphone cameras – and I was a bit sceptical about its claims. However, I was completely wrong. The phone takes brilliant photos than any smartphone I have reviewed, and better than some point-and-shoot cameras.

While the phone does have a 41-megapixel sensor, you won’t be able to take a picture at that resolution. Instead, the phone will simultaneously capture a 34- or a 38-megapixel image, and a 5-megapixel image – the latter created by oversampling each pixel with the seven around it. According to Nokia, the 5-megapixel is the “sweet spot” when sharing photos online and printing them up to A3 size.

Nokia is also touting this phone as having reinvented zooming – and that may be the case. Normally, when you zoom when taking a shot on a smartphone camera, you can tell there is a noticeable loss of quality. This is because it is essentially cropping the image and stretching it to the same size as the original. The Lumia 1020 does the same thing, except it just takes the original image and crops it down. The added benefit is that the zoom is not permanent, so you can always reduce or remove the zoom afterwards.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: a piece of smartphone camera innovation
Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: a piece of smartphone camera innovation

The Lumia 1020 does take decent low-light photos – but only if you have the flash on. Most of the low-light photos taken without the flash look blurry, but that could be because of not having a steady hand. The flash itself is a Xeon flash, which is used on many digital cameras, and it does mean that you’ll blind your subject for a few seconds.

I did also notice that the photos taken indoors tend to be a bit worse than those taken outside without the flash. It tended to add a bit more yellow in the photos – for instance, a white drawer seemed creamy. This can easily be fixed through editing or switching from auto mode to manual. It’s not much of an issue if you have the time. But when smartphone cameras are used to capture of-the-moment events, then it does become slightly annoying.

In terms of software, Nokia opts to use its own Camera application instead of the native Windows Phone app – and this obviously means Nokia can add a ton of additional camera settings that the native one does not have. You can adjust the exposure, shutter speed, focus, ISO level and white balance without being buried in menus – they are all on screen.

The Nokia Camera app combines both the Smart Cam and the Pro Cam – meaning that you also get the benefits such as removing unwanted objects, changing faces, and combining a sequence of photos into one. The Lumia 1020 also comes with Cinemagraph, which is essentially an animated GIF maker with the camera.

Review Breakdown

Lumia 1020

Nokia

Available from Telstra, Optus, Dick Smith and Harvey Norman

Score

8.5

Good
  • The 41-megapixel camera is the best out of all smartphones
  • Nokia Camera app is pretty good
  • Windows Phone 8 runs smoothly on the phone
Bad
  • Bulky, and has huge bump at the back that isn’t aesthetically pleasing
  • Windows Phone 8 lacks photography apps to take advantage of camera
  • No expandable memory and no Qi wireless charging support
Bottom Line

The Lumia 1020 is the smartphone that every mobile photographer dreams of with its impressive camera tech.

Performance and Battery

I’m pretty much repeating myself, but the Lumia 1020 – like all other devices in the series – runs smoothly and almost always without any issues. Apps open fast, and there wasn’t any lag when swiping and scrolling. You may experience an app crash here or there, but that’s typical – the only time an app had crashed on me was the official TechGeek app, but that was during when the site was down for a few minutes.

The battery life is also impressive. It is dependent on how you use your phone (e.g. how much data are you consuming, how many games you play on your phone, etc) but I managed to get at least a day of battery life. Sometimes I could even get a day and a half. The phone, however, does overheat sometimes. However – as mentioned in my Lumia 925 review – according to one of our contributors, Norman Ma, it seems to be a problem on high-end Lumia devices.

Conclusions

It is no doubt that the Lumia 1020 is the best camera on a smartphone right now. Nokia spent a lot of time and money in researching and developing on how to perfect the smartphone camera – and all it took was simply packing in an extraordinary amount of pixels. The camera will no doubt please those who want to do more with their smartphone camera, or who want to be a little bit artsy with their photos.

And that’s the problem – its Achilles heel is Windows Phone. It’s a great operating system, don’t get me wrong. However, it does not have the same level of support from third-party developers that iOS and Android has. That ultimately hurts the Lumia 1020, especially because it means that there aren’t many photography apps that take full advantage of Nokia’s camera technology. Sure, Instagram and Vine are on Windows Phone. But where are VSCO and Snapseed (one of the better photo editors out there)?

If you want a great all-round device running Windows Phone, then you should look at the Lumia 925. The Lumia 1020 is not for everyone; it is unashamedly targeting the subset of smartphone users who love and breathe mobile photography.

Join the Conversation

  • MSCCAG

    Roztomilý klobouček uchycen fotoaparát, kožené pouzdro pro Lumia 1020, může uzávěr otočit o 360 stupňů, to je proti špíně a poškrábání, snadno vymazat, a také musí být odolný proti otřesům hledání protector.source z gadget2us

  • Victoria

    I disagree with some of what you say. You claim that the third party apps are essentially a let down, however the only name apps you say are missing are google apps and snapchat. Nokia has a third party app of 6snap which is approved by snapchat, and everyone I “snap” agrees that 6snap is better than SnapChat. As for Google maps and such, why would a WP want google products? Plain and simple. The Nokia versions are just as good. Infact, I find HERE maps and HERE city lense especially, ingenious, fun and intuitive. I would rather them over google’s any day.
    The third party apps are no let down to Nokia. You just need to cultivate some patience and actually TRY them. The apps that crash are either too new or easily avoidable. You can tell a shit app from a good one just by swiping over and reading one or two reviews. Funnily enough there is even an app (App Social) that keeps collections and list of great apps to try, official Nokia apps, as well as EA and Gameloft collections, not to mention an abundance of photography apps to suit your needs.

    I enjoy my Lumia 820, you probably would count me as a fan girl. The true allure to Nokias remains the same as it has for the last 10 years – smartphone or not, they are still indestructible.

  • http://jltechword.wordpress.com/ JLWard

    Windows phone 8 lacks photography apps to take advantage of the camera? There are MANY photography apps for Windows 8. Just a cursory search if the store will lead you to them.
    jltechword.wordpress.com