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Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Great battery life

The Bad

  • Non-expandable
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For Nokia fans, nay – for imaging fans – the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the culmination of two of the most exciting mobile camera innovations the industry has ever seen. First a 42-megapixel sensor as introduced by Nokia in 2011 on the 808 PureView, and second, optical image stabilisation, first see on the Nokia Lumia 920 in 2012.

Now, the Nokia Lumia 1020 has arrived, combining the technologies – a giant 42-megapixel sensor and OIS, thus creating what should, technically, be the best camera phone on the market.

Big sensor! big phone?

Ish, but it’s big done right. Nokia has always been able to work plastic incredibly well. Take the Lumia 800 and N9 – two phones that still look sensational despite being technically obsolete.

While we have to admit we found the 920 to be cumbersome, the Lumia 1020 shaves half an inch from its predecessor’s girth and ditches the high-gloss finish, making its design an instant improvement.

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The matte polycarbonate body feels rich. It isn’t soft touch grippy, instead feeling much more expensive. The stark black circular camera surround doubles up as a secure wedge for you index or middle finger, not to mention a striking visual flourish.

The dense body is heavier than your average smartphone. Coupled with the very flat top and bottom, it can feel slightly sharp when cupped in the hand. There’s a flipside though – the extra weight makes for a great counterbalance when using the Lumia 1020 as a camera.

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Imbued with the typical array of  Windows Phone buttons, the right side houses a volume rocker, power and camera button. The flat top packs a 3.5mm headphone jack and an ejectable microSIM tray, while at the base is the lanyard port and loud speaker.

Around the 1020’s back is that stark camera surround, a Xenon flash, focus light and wireless charging connectors. The phone doesn’t offer wireless charging as standard, but instead supports a wireless charging case.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is striking. A fluid blend of lines and curves, ebbing towards the focal point 41-megapixel PureView camera.

Déjà vu display

The Lumia 1020’s 4.5-inch display packs the same 768×1200 AMOLED display as found on the Lumia 925, protected by Gorilla Glass 3.

Rich, bold, deep, it shares all the traits of the 925’s display before it, with slightly blue off angle viewing, but a punchy head-on experience.

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Being a non-PenTile panel, it’s the sharper type of AMOLED and indeed, everything looks good with Nokia’s PureMotion HD+ tech keeping frame rates flowing, but it can’t compete with bigger, bolder, sharper panels like the HTC One, LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy S4.

A shame, considering the imaging focus of the phone.

Windows Nokia Phone 8

It’s a well-known fact, there ain’t no Windows Phone like a Nokia Windows Phone. Not only does Nokia endow every one of their Lumia devices with free mapping and music services that trump the Android and iOS’s out of the box offerings, they also seem to be adding new Nokia exclusive apps on a monthly basis, making up for Windows Phone 8’s inherent shortcomings.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Anyone who isn’t familiar with Windows Phone 8, here’s a quick ‘in a nutshell’ guide to Windows Phone 8.

Comprised of two main homescreens, on the left screen are Live Tiles, or shortcuts, while on the right screen are all your apps.

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Everything is laid against a clean black or white backdrop, depending on your theme and the whole UI is awash with flowing transitions.

Nokia improves upon the stock Windows Phone experience on the Lumia 1020 with Nokia Music, Here Drive, Here Maps, Smart Cam and Pro Cam, naming just a few.

On the mapping side of things, this means an improved offering to the stock bing Maps, not to mention global, offline satellite navigation – something no other OS offers for free. 

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We’ll come onto the photography and music apps in the shortly, but suffice to say, these additions all put the Lumia 1020 in a great position off the bat.

App support has definitely improved over the years, with gaping holes like Instagram having been filled with the pretty fantastic 6tag. Admittedly, there’s still no Vine replacement and the native YouTube app has been blocked by Google, but it is better than it was.

So too is gaming. With titles like Mass Effect: Infiltration and Six Guns upping the graphical stakes, and classics like Jet Pack Joyride and Angry Birds providing entertainment for the everyman commuter.

With smooth interaction thanks to the dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, not to mention 2GB RAM, the interface won’t throw any stutters your way.

Shutter stutter

Unfortunately, the Nokia Pro Cam app will throw up some lag – unsurprising given the number of pixels the sensor is pushing.

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It takes seconds to open, which, for a camera can be the difference between missing or making the perfect shot. You can set a different camera shooting mode to default when pressing the physical camera button – but Nokia Pro Cam is so, freaking, cool – doing so would defeat the point.

So. Many. Shooting modes.

Before we come onto the pictures themselves, lets talk about the picture taking and the Nokia Pro Cam and Smart Cam apps.

Starting with the new addition introduced on the Lumia 1020, Pro Cam looks simple upon opening, but it’s something altogether more revolutionary. A swipe of the camera shutter release icon will expand a series of concentric rings, each manipulating a different part of the camera experience.

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The innermost ring controls exposure compensation, the next, shutter speed, followed by ISO, after which is focus, and finally, the outermost ring controls white balance.

It’s an incredibly digestible, visual and menu-free way to manipulate pictures.

Smart Cam was introduced on the Nokia Lumia 925, taking a burst of shots at 5-megapixels. These can be processed automatically to produce one of five treatments; these include Best Shot, Action Shot, Motion Focus, Change Faces and finally, Remove Faces.

With the user interfaces of both these modes being so polished, Android OEMs, Apple, Canon, Nikon et al. take note – Nokia has nailed it.

The next step Nokia – combining both these into one camera app and doing away with the third nipple, aka the stock Windows Phone 8 camera app.

Why so many pixels?

To break down what’s going on inside the camera, the Lumia 1020 takes a 41-megapixel picture, creating an accompanying 5-megapixel image.

This image may be stripped down to size, But Nokia also strips it of plenty of noise and image inaccuracy.

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Paired with the optical image stabilisation, allowing for slower shutter speeds and a Xenon flash, notoriously more powerful than anything an LED can offer, there’s every reason to call the Nokia Lumia 1020 the best combination

The greatest camera phone there ever was.

If you’re picking up the Nokia Lumia 1020 for the camera, you won’t be disappointed, for the most part.

Flashless, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is better than 90% of compact cameras out there. In addition to the more manual controls it affords, it’s incredibly versatile, producing a great, often stunning picture in a range of unlikely situations.

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With the flash off, white balance and exposure are almost always nailed. Unlike on the HTC One for example, exposure is evaluative, so rather than depend on a focal point to meter everything, the Lumia 1020 prioritises getting the overall shot looking bang-on, and it does, nearly every time.

The phone also offers good dynamic range as standard, making up for the lack of HDR mode, which, admittedly, would have been a welcome addition.

Macro shots are loaded up with a great balance of detail and blur, even in mediocre lighting with the OIS kicking in to great effect. When the light drops too low for touch to focus, flip the manual focus on and you can sharpen your subject pretty easily.

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This ability to deal with mediocre light extends to virtually every scenario. While low light moving subjects are blurry given the low shutter speed the OIS affords, the Lumia 1020 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, with static shots looking nigh-on flawless when set alongside the competition.

For the more creative picture taker, you can play about with things like light trails. Paired with the extended battery grip and a tripod, results really do compete with, and trump the considerably more cumbersome Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom in many respects.

Unfortunately, the main weakness of the Lumia 1020’s camera is its flash. On paper, the Xenon flash should mop the floor with the competition; in reality, it sends white balance way off.

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An optimist might say it makes recipients appear sun-kissed – a Nokia basher called the effect a jaundiced filter in our comments section, the reality is it’s just wonky white balance. Easy enough to fix in post-processing, but irksome nonetheless – please address this Nokia.

Ditch your camcorder

You heard us – it’s that good. OIS paired with fantastic noise handling, lossless digital zoom and stereo video recording means the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the best video recorder you’ll pick up on a mobile phone.

The picture is crisp and video looks incredibly smooth with a range of frame rates and shooting modes to choose from. Handheld footage looks like tripod footage and all-in-all, there’s little point dwelling on the results when we could just show you:

A point to note, especially if you’ve picked up the 32GB version, shoot in 720p unless you plan on exporting content to a bigger screen. Not only will you save valuable GBs, you’ll also get more lossless zoom.

Why? Given the Lumia 1020’s 768p screen, Full HD footage will be lost on it.

Videos, games and music…

… are enjoyed in exactly the same way as on other Windows Phones such as the Lumia 920 and 925. The pairing of Nokia Music and Xbox Music means you’ll have free and paid music options out of the box.

Getting videos on your Windows Phone 8 is a breeze – just drag and drop. Apps like Netflix and BBC iPlayer are also helping to bring Microsoft’s platform inline with the competition.

Even gaming is on the up with titles like Mass Effect: Infiltration and Two Guns taking Windows Phone in a 3D direction and looking very good on the Lumia 1020.

Another 4G Lumia

Nokia has been churning out 4G phones since EE made the nation sick of Kevin Bacon, so it’s little wonder that the Lumia 1020 is loaded up with virtually all the bands any 4G globe-trotter will need, as well as 3G.

The phone is also a satnav thanks to Here Maps, and if you buy the right case for it and a charging pad, you’ll get wireless charging too. NFC, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are also on board, so nothing save for an IR blaster is lacking when stacked up side by side with the Android competition.

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The 2000mAh battery is decent depending on your usage. While that might sound obvious, with a camera like that on the 1020 and a Xenon flash with so much clout, the imaging side of it can take its toll.

Average use will easily get you a day, maybe even two. Go heavy with that PureView power and you might need to invest in something like the extended battery grip – which, by the way, is fantastic.

It isn’t perfect, but:

We never thought we’d see the day, but Nokia has actually done it. Windows Phone 8 plus PureView sensor meets the best OIS around, not to mention a Xenon flash.

As a phone, it isn’t perfect. The Lumia 1020 is underpowered and the screen lacklustre. As a camera, it isn’t perfect either with dodgy white balance when using the flash. As a combination, it’s one of the best handsets out there though, giving you imaging no other phone can offer in a beautiful package, both inside and out.

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Alternatives in the Android camp include all four of the big flagships, the HTC One, LG G2, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z1.

Specification

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