Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

It was always going to be difficult for the once mighty phone producers Nokia to compete on a level playing field with the current big boys Samsung and Apple after letting themselves fall into such a hole for so long – but with the Nokia Lumia 1020 they might have boosted their modern day credentials significantly.

Nokia are back. After being newly acquired by traditional tech giants Microsoft, and their latest flagship device is a spectacular offering, for one reason and one reason only – the 41 MP camera it comes packing with.

Let’s be honest, here – the only reason this phone is getting the amount of attention it is currently getting in the media is the ridiculously high powered camera – while it’s still a competitive phone spec-wise, the Windows 8 Mobile operating system, with it’s clunky interface and utterly underwhelming selection of apps, would turn off a huge proportion of potential buyers without the drawcard of the semi-pro camera to lure budding young photographers in.

So, seeing as though the camera is the main drawcard, we’ll start our review by focusing on that as opposed to the nitty gritty of performance and functionality (you know, all that unimportant stuff). The question is then, how good really is this 41 MP beast on the Lumia 1020?

The answer, after our thorough testing and examination, is pretty damn good indeed. But is it good enough to sacrifice the superior app range and functionality of an Android or Apple device? Let’s go into some more detail.

The Camera

The Nokia Lumia 1020 of course comes with the much-lauded 41-megapixel sensor and a 26mm equivalent Carl Zeiss lens with a fast maximum aperture of f/2.2 and optical image stabilization.

The camera also has a built-in Xenon flash and is capable of capturing Full 1080p HD videos at up to 30fps. It can also simultaneously take a high resolution 38 megapixel image and a smaller 5 megapixel picture that is easier to share on social networks. The optional Nokia Camera Grip adds a shutter release and tripod mount and retails for $79.

So 41 megapixels, then. It sure sounds like a lot, and it is. Especially when you compare it to some of the mid-range dedicated digital cameras on the market, such as the Fujifilm FinePix Z1000EXR which packs a mere 16 megapixels, or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 which sports a paltry 12 megapixels (by the way, these cameras retail for around the $400-$500 mark).

Now, I’m sure the photography enthusiasts among you will silently protest at this point, as comparing cameras based purely on megapixels is usually little more than an exercise in e-Peen stroking, given that the amount of megapixels for the average consumer generally only matters up to a certain point (experts tend to agree it’s around the 7MP mark at which increasing the amount of megapixels won’t make a difference to your average budding photographer), but in the case of the Lumia 1020, the benefits of having that much pixel density crammed into each image means your options for manipulating, zooming in and editing photos becomes greatly enhanced.

Put simply, while more megapixels doesn’t necessarily translate to better image quality, it is an undisputable fact that the more pixel-dense an image is, the more easily you can edit and manipulate that image without losing image quality.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 comes pre-packaged with high-qualiy image editing software such as Nokia Cinemagraph, Nokia Pro Cam and Nokia Smart Cam, so this combined with the incredibly high pixel densit of the photos you can take with the camera means that if it’s photo manipulation and editing you’re interested in, the Lumia 1020 is a magnificent choice indeed.

Nokia actually uses a LARGE sized sensor with big mp. Each pixel site is still the same size as pixels in other smartphones but the sensor is larger. The hump is there so that the optics can still reach the whole sensor.

If you can see a physical comparison of sensor sizes you will see just how much bigger the sensor is than other phones. DSLR’s however have even larger sensor sites but they use a different less light sensitive technology CCD vs CMOS.

DSLR’s don’t have the physical size restriction as phones. DSLR pixels are much larger than mobile phones (except for one older super cheap DSLR which was terrible).

But it’s not just the high pixel density that makes the Nokia Lumia a fantastic choice for budding amateur photographers. The combination of the wide-angle lens, f/2.2 aperture, built-in image stabilizer and maximum shutter speed of 4000 makes this smartphone better suited to hand-held low-light photography than many other comparable devices, including low-to-mid range dedicated digital cameras.

The Lumia 1020 also comes with a wide variety of professional-level enhancements and tools to aid your photography and to help ensure you capture the best possible shot regardless of circumstances. An example is the built in lens-based image stablisation system, that offers a significant advantage compared to smartphones with no anti-shake.

This means when taking your phone out and about (such as taking photos from the top of a moving bus for example) the image stablisation system should kick in and you’ll minimise the potential for blurred or otherwise imprecise images. In practice, though, the system seems to be a bit hit-and-miss – we tested taking photos from a moving car and often times it came out perfect, but if other objects in the photo frame were also moving, they tended more often than not to appear blurred or marred in some way.

Another problem with most existing smartphone cameras is that they are frankly terrible at taking decent photos in dim lighting conditions. Hell, we’ve had instances where attempting to take a photo at dusk on an iPhone resulted in an unintellible shadow of an image.

The Lumia 1020 attempts to rectify this long-standing problem by offering automatic light adjustment (fully adjustable by the user of course), and in practice we could hand-hold the Lumia 1020 in fairly dark conditions and still get very sharp results for both stills and video without resorting to using the rather ineffective built-in flash.

Size and Weight

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is quite a hefty piece of kit. It’ll fit into your trouser or jacket pocket (just), but it definitely has some weight to it and is not as comfortable in the pocket as something like a Samsung Galaxy. It weights in at 158 grams and measures 130.4×71.4×10.4mm.

On the plus side, the bulky build of the phone means it’s inherently sturdier and more durable than the average phone – indeed, an unnamed member of our staff dropped the 1020 directly onto concrete while jogging to avoid oncoming vehicle, and there was barely a scratch on it.

The same trauma applied to an iPhone or Samsung would more likely than not result in a lovely crack smack bang down the middle of the screen.

Hardware

On the processing side of things, the Lumia 1020 definitely can hold its own compared to its current competitors. It holds a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, a CPU specifically tailored for mobile devices with two primary goals in mind – to efficiently manage threads so multitasking can be done without performance degradation, and to conserve battery power as much as possible.

The hefty processing grunt provides a very smooth and seamless user experience on the 1020; all modern features such as HD video, multichannel HD audio and advanced imaging are done flawlessly and traversing between running processes and menus can usually be done without a hitch.

The phone also comes packing 2GB of RAM and offers either 32Gb or 64Gb of built-in memory, with no external memory slot.

There’s a small physical shutter release button on the side, which can be used to jump straight into the Lumia 1020’s camera mode by holding it down for a couple of seconds, speeding up the picture-taking process, although the 2 second start-up time is a little slow.

Not as slow as the shot-to-shot time, though, which at 4 seconds is too slow by modern standards, leading to a frustrating wait and some missed opportunities.

On the downside, however, the Lumia’s display is a mere WXGA resolution (1280 x 768), which to be honest for a flagship device released in this era, is a little disappointing. The display still looks nice, to be sure, particularly the beautiful silky blacks that merge wonderfully into the phone’s matte black metal casing, but compared to the high resolution screens offered by rivals Samsung and Apple, it does fall short.

Windows 8 Mobile

Another possible drawback for many potential buyers is that the Lumia 1020 is a Windows phone. This alone will be enough to drive off many consumers; while the current generation of Android and iOS operating systems are incredibly refined, smooth, slick and just downright functional, Windows phone still feels like it’s in an early stage of development – there’s little to no decent apps available on the market, there’s missing functionality all over the place.

As an example – a personal one that annoyed me immensely – you can’t set separate volume levels for the phone alarm and the standard phone volume – so if you want to actually hear your alarm in the morning, you’ll have to also be able to hear every other sound the phone makes at any time.

Android and iOS have had basic functionality like this since their earliest incarnations, and there’s really no excuse in the case of Windows Phone.

Nor can you save files directly from Internet Explorer – so for example, if you want to listen to an MP3 podcast file through your browser, your only option is to stream it – the browser physically won’t let you save to the phone’s storage so you can listen to it later. A preposterous design decision.

However, it’s not all bad. Windows Phone OS *is* pretty slick and smooth, and for the most part it’s quite easy to navigate to where you want to go and configure your home screen.

It’s also quite fast to set up your contacts – it took us about 5 minutes to get up and running with all contacts synced and ready to go.

If all you’re interested in is photo editing, music and the occasional bit of Web browsing, you won’t have a problem with the Windows OS. If, on the other hand, you’re an app geek, and have countless hundreds of apps installed on your Android or Apple devices, you won’t enjoy the bland and utterly unspiring collection of apps available on the Windows market.

Conclusion

Overall, we are more than happy with the Nokia Lumia 1020. It provides a clean, simplistic and reliable, if a little uninspired, operating system, an excellent camera and in-built camera software, and, of course, the promise of major OS overhaul to Windows Mobile 8.1 when it is finally released in April 2014.

84/100

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