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Clearly brilliant: Nokia’s Lumia 1020 reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 6:05 pm 16/01/2014

Nokia has been making a lot of strides lately, and the Lumia 1020 could signal a return to the top for Finland’s phone fabricator, with the handset including a beautiful design and finish, decent battery life, and one of the best cameras you’re ever likely to see.

Features

Taking over the flagship spot from the Lumia 925, the 1020 takes much of the technology from that handset and gives it an update, especially in the camera department. In fact, you’ve likely never seen a camera like what Nokia is using here.

We’ll start with the specs, and if you’ve seen either the Lumia 920 or 925, you’ve practically seen what the Lumia 1020, at least as far as the specs go.

As such, there’s a dual-core Snapdragon processor clocked at 1.5GHz, Adreno 225 graphics chip, support for WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, DLNA, Near-Field Communication, Bluetooth 3.0 (though it reaches 4.0 LE with a downloadable software update in Lumia Black), and support for Cat3 4G LTE with downloads up to 100Mbps. Nokia has made one minor change, though, with 2GB RAM instead of the 1GB found in the original.

Storage is set to 32GB here, and there is no microSD slot, just like in previous models, so watching the data might be something you’ll have to do, and that’s because of the camera.

Unlike any other manufacturer out there, Nokia has provided a 41 megapixel camera, capable of taking not just high-resolution images, but also Full HD 1080p videos, too. A front camera is also included, though this is a 1.2 megapixel camera capable of recording 720p videos.

The screen in the Lumia 1020 is the same as it was on the previous flagships, sitting at 4.5 inches and running the 1280×768 resolution, though unlike the previous handsets, there’s an increase in the quality of protection on offer, moving from Gorilla Glass 2, to Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3.

Nokia’s inclusion of three hardware buttons remains consistent here, with the volume rocker, power button, and camera button on the right edge, while the front buttons are soft under the screen, and include a back, Windows home, and search button.

Ports on the handset are limited too, with a microUSB on the bottom and a 3.5mm headset jack up top.

The battery on the Nokia Lumia 1020 is rated for 2000mAh, and takes a microSIM in a pin-ejected tray at the very top of the handset.

Performance

We’ve heard things about Nokia’s Lumia 1020. Good things. Great things, with many people suggesting that this could be Nokia’s true return to the lead, with a device that not only makes people turn heads from design, but also brings together so much technology it will make your own head spin. Can it do this? Can it be that Nokia is back up there with the big boys?

In truth, Nokia has been making its way back up to the podium for a while now, and most of the Nokia handsets we’ve spent time with in the past twelve months have been excellent.

That said, the Lumia 1020 is better than these, and it could almost convert us.

Pick it up and you quickly realise that Nokia has done its homework, shaving off the grams from the overly heavy Lumia 920 from last year, and learning a thing or two from the aluminium-encased improvement that was the Lumia 925.

In the 1020, there’s no aluminium, but rather a return to the high-end polycarbonate body that we first saw on the first Lumia models from 2012, with a matt finish that feels excellent in the hands.

Lay it on the desk and it slopes up slightly, due to the protrusion from the camera on the back, but we’ll get to that later.

Nokia’s screen is also like that of others we’ve seen earlier in the year, with a 720p capable 4.5 inch screen that looks excellent and boasts around 332 pixels per inch, just above that of what the Apple iPhone 5S uses, and protected by the third generation of Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.

If you’ve seen a Nokia smartphone handset in the past year, you’ll find the Lumia 1020 as easy to use as any other Lumia, with Windows Phone 8’s simplistic tile interface running here, with a swipe to the side bringing up the one main menu.

Just like in other Lumia handsets, it’s one of the easiest interfaces to get your head around, with live tiles able to be setup with ease, large text that is very easy to read, and three soft buttons to help you get around the operating system. Easy.

From a performance point of view, there’s very little difference between the 1020 and the 925, as Nokia has included the same Snapdragon dual-core processor, same Adreno 225 graphics chip, and 32GB of non-expandable storage, though there has been an increase from 1GB of RAM to 2GB, which has no doubt helped to speed things up just enough.

As such, with this sort of tech underneath, the Lumia 1020 runs everything more or less perfectly, with multiple apps running simultaneously, virtually no menu lag or slowdowns, and an experience that doesn’t seem to skip a beat.

Mobile performance is much the same, and the 4G LTE device might not be Cat4, but it will handles itself really well, producing speeds between 40 and 80Mbps when you’re on the go.

Battery performance is also decent, managing around a day and a half of regular use, though we’d suggest to charge daily regardless, especially if you plan to make frequent use of either the 4G or the camera.

Speaking of the camera, though, let’s get stuck into that, because with credit to Nokia, the included 41 effective megapixel camera is one of the best the market has seen in the past year, and will likely still be one of the best for the next six to twelve months.

For those who have seen the number we just mentioned and blinked incredulously, we’re not kidding: Nokia has packed a 41 megapixel sensor in the Lumia 1020, a development that first arose when Nokia was developing phones without Windows Phone back in 2012. It doesn’t seem all that long ago (and it wasn’t), but back then, Nokia produced a limited release test product called the 808 PureView, a smartphone that featured a slightly different version of the 41 megapixel camera.

It might seem like a huge jump to go from 5 or 8 or even 13 megapixels in a smartphone to the whopping 41 Nokia planned to use, but the Finnish phone maker had a reason: zoom.

Traditional smartphones rely on digital zoom to get you up close and personal with your subject, blowing up the image unnecessarily and artificially, which can result in pixelated imagery that not everyone is a fan out. Outside of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, pretty much every phone relies on digital zoom, meaning you’re always shooting from afar, partly because throwing in actual optical zoom would means thicker phone cameras, a fact that is noticeable once you play with Samsung’s S4 Zoom.

Nokia’s idea, however, still uses digital zoom, but considers it in a much more useful light.

Imagine being able to zoom on a bigger sensor and take 5 megapixel images up close, essentially cropping the bigger image to match the frame you’re shooting for. Rather than blowing up the pixels artificially, all you’re doing is zooming in on what you actually want to photograph.

It’s an intelligent solution to a problem that affects any smartphone camera photographer who wants to get up closer, and it’s one that requires a big sensor to work, which is why Nokia developed the PureView 808 to test it with.

In that phone, the camera extruded a lot more than it does now, and although Nokia has made some improvements to the sensor and camera since then, Nokia’s 41 megapixel PureView camera on the Lumia 1020 still comes out of the phone enough for you to notice.

Unlike other smartphones, the camera isn’t flush with the back of the handset, with a raised circle on the back, set in black to differentiate it from the rest of the chassis. This is where most of the technology for the camera is, with two types of flash — LED and Xenon — sitting atop the goods, and with a much larger lens than you normally find on smartphones.

You also get two camera apps for the purpose, with a basic camera app called the “Smart Cam,”, and a more “professional” level camera app that lets you chance ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, which is especially useful if you know what you’re doing, or want to play around a bit.

Playing with the Nokia Camera app at a Muse concert. Because we can.

This app, the “Nokia Camera” is the one we spent the most time with, as it allows you to be more playful with your phone photography. With control of aperture and shutter speed, the phone camera becomes more like a semi-versatile compact, and while optical zoom isn’t here, the Lumia 1020 will crop down as you zoom, providing you with a 5 megapixel image of what you framed.

You also will have a 34 to 38 megapixel image too, depending on if you chose the 4:3 or 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, and this is basically the full-size image waiting for you to do things with later, which is usually three to four times the size on the phone’s storage.

Even if you don’t zoom or crop, the Lumia software spits out a 5 megapixel version for you to do things with, because obviously uploading a 34 or 38 megapixel image wouldn’t just take a long time, but eat into whatever data allowance you have.

In daylight, the phone camera performs very well, boasting some very sharp images with lovely realistic colours. You’re not likely to see perfectly crystal clear sharp images against what you might find on an interchangeable camera, but against other phones, it’s a solid performer.

Equally impressive is how the Lumia 1020 handles in low-light, and our blacks didn’t look overly noisy, even if the camera had to jack up the sensitivity to compensate for the darker environments.

One downside to the camera is the macro support, or lack of it.

While the camera is superb in so many ways, it’s useless at getting up close and personal without the zoom, which is totally ironic, and yet a frustrating issue if you like taking pictures of anything up close.

We suppose the camera can’t be perfect, but it would have been nice to see some better macro support here.

It would also have been great for the professional camera app to save your settings as you jump from the app to something else, which it doesn’t seem to do.

Imagine taking a great shot with specific manual settings and wanting to tweet it or share it on Facebook immediately. Once you’ve done this and jump back in the app, it forgets your settings, forcing you to recall them and set them up again. It’s a bug that Nokia really could do with fixing, as it would make it less of a chore in the end.

While the macro is weak on the Nokia Lumia 1020, the camera can handle itself pretty well in other conditions (100 percent crop).

One last thing that would have been nice to see is expandable memory.

We know that Nokia hasn’t been tremendous fans of upgradeable memory, but when you’re dealing with a camera that shoots both a 5 megapixel and a 38 megapixel image at once, and you only have 32GB of storage to share between music, apps, games, and the photos and videos you’re capturing, you’ll likely find that the storage goes out the windows very, very quickly.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, the Lumia 1020 is Nokia’s best phone yet, delivering some of that excellent Lumia 925 performance in a body that is even more comfortable, and with a camera that hands down is one of the best in the business.

It’s hard to say just how excellent this camera is, and while its macro abilities are practically nil, it handles low-light well, and proceeds with one of the more creative ways to get around the problem of zoom in a camera without involving thick lens mechanics.

That’s one thing the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom taught us, because while it was a decent phone camera, it was also a very thick one, and was like carrying two or three phones at once. On the other side, Nokia’s decision to crop a 41 megapixel image down to 5 megapixel images is totally logical, and is one of those ideas you just have to give the company credit for.

It helps that Windows Phone is now at the point where it has enough apps that most people want — hooray, Instagram is a part of that too — and this helps to make the Lumia 1020 a standout device.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a smartphone that can replace most of the things you use a compact camera for, this is a handset you have to check out.

Price (RRP)

$899

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Great design and matt finish makes it feel excellent in the hands; Decent battery life; Solid phone and mobile broadband performance; One of the best smartphone cameras ever created; Manual control in a phone camera = awesome;

Product Cons

No expandable storage; Macro support on the camera is practically non-existent;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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