Review: Nokia Lumia 1020, Really The Camera Phone It's Made Out To Be?

In-depth with the 41-Megapixel camera

Our score: 4/5
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Published: September 26, 2013 11:17 AM
Updated: March 3, 2014 12:15 PM
By Florence Legrand / Romain Thuret
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
With Morgane Alzieu
Axel Mendy
After showing off its camera phone savvy on the 808 PureView, Nokia wasn't about to let the buck stop there. The firm said it themselves: PureView would someday be coming to Windows Phone. And that day has come with the Lumia 1020, the follow-up to the outstanding Lumia 925. On sale in the UK as of yesterday, the Lumia 1020 is the first Windows Phone to sport a 41-Megapixel PureView camera sensor, which is said to deliver sterling photos in any lighting conditions.

Nokia Lumia 1020

High-end handset that it is, the Lumia 1020 has respectable specs: a 4.5-inch AMOLED screen with 1280 x 768 pixels, a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor (not the company's most recent chip), 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal memory and a 2,000 mAh battery.

Nokia Lumia 1020

"The Nokia Lumia 1020 will change how you shoot and how you create forever," boasted CEO Stephen Elop while presenting the phone last June, adding that the camera can detect "more than your eyes can see." Those are some lofty claims, so we thought we'd check them out. Is the Lumia 1020 really the ultimate camera phone, capable of pleasing pros and amateurs alike? Let's see...

Nokia Lumia 1020

Design & Handling4/5


Despite the Lumia 1020's imposing size, the black borders surrounding the screen are quite wide compared to other recent high-end Android phones (Galaxy S4, LG G2, etc.). Why not make the display bigger?

Nokia Lumia 1020

The black PureView camera unit is elevated from the rest of the back—not at all as much as the Galaxy S4 Zoom's lens unit, but still enough to catch first-time users off guard.

Nokia Lumia 1020

The headphone jack is somewhat awkwardly positioned in the centre of the top edge, so when you listen to music your headphone cable dangles in front of the screen. The far-right corner would have been much better.

Nokia Lumia 1020
The 1020 is thinner than the Galaxy Zoom, but it's also wider

At 158 grams, the 1020 isn't the lightest phone out there (the LG G2 weighs 142 g, the Lumia 925 weighs 139 g, the Galaxy S4 weighs 130 g and the iPhone 5 weighs 112 g). But it isn't the heaviest either—the Xperia Z1 outdoes it at 170 g, as does the Galaxy Zoom, at 208 g.

Nokia Lumia 1020

If smartphone bodies don't get your inner photographer's juices flowing as much as a compact camera's does, you can buy the dedicated grip case (sold separately). Naturally, it makes the phone that much bigger, but it really helps when you want to take pictures with one hand. The grip case also has a 1,020 mAh rechargeable battery inside that beefs up the overall battery life. Great idea.

Nokia Lumia 1020

The finish and manufacturing is all impeccable. Home run. However, Nokia advertises the 1020 as being shock-resistant for drops from up to 1.5 metres high. We don't do drop tests—feel free to do one and let us know—but a colleague of ours dropped hers from only half that height and saw the screen shatter before her eyes. Buyers beware.

Display4/5


The AMOLED panel inside the display guarantees the 1020—at the very least—insane contrast. You can see the it just looking at the Windows Phone interface, which plays on the contrast between the coloured tiles and the black background. And it checks out. Our sensor measured deep black and an average contrast ratio of almost 50,000:1. That's exceptional, however it's also tempered by low brightness of 286 cd/m². That makes the screen difficult to see outdoors in the sunlight, especially when using the photo viewer and web browser.

Nokia Lumia 1020

With an average Delta E of 5.2, the Lumia 1020 doesn't quite make it into the upper average for colour fidelity on high-end smartphone screens. It's far from catastrophic, but most similarly priced handsets have a Delta E of under 3. Of course, blacks and greys are what help keep the average in line—the reds have the opposite effect, reaching astronomical heights and making skin tones more blushy than they should be, and the other primary colours are somewhere in between the two. As a result, the screen isn't the best place to enjoy your PureView photos.

But the colour temperature is practically flawless. It stays consistent across the spectrum, at 6,577 K, making the image quite neutral. But that's only if you're looking at the screen straight-on, because when you look from an angle (below, above, left, right), even just a slight bit, you start to see blue overtones.

The display has a 150 millisecond touch response delay, which is two times slower than the iPhone 5 and nearly 60% slower than the GS4. But it's also the Windows Phone with the least amount of ghosting and picture delay.

1280 x 768 pixel resolution on a 4.5-inch screen makes for high pixel density, so content looks beautiful and highly legible onscreen.

Interface & Navigation5/5


Like the Lumia 925, the 1020 comes with the latest update to Windows Phone, which includes Smart Cam, an app that, among other things, lets you take a burst of ten shots and the pick out moving subjects from each shot and paste them into a single master shot, for a cool time-bending motion effect. The update also brings the clock and battery level to the home screen, that way you don't have to go to the lock screen to see them.

Nokia Lumia 1020     Nokia Lumia 1020

To get to the lock screen you can just double-tap on the display. That might not sound like much, but it actually comes in handy and quickly became a habit for us.

Of course, the 1020 has all of Nokia's great maps and navigation services in Nokia Here, and the Windows Phone interface is just as innovative as ever.

Nokia Lumia 1020

The OS is stable and well integrated with the hardware. Everything runs impeccably well and there are no notable lags or delays. The whole system is responsive and effective, no matter what you're doing on it. However, a newer, faster processor would have helped speed up the camera function... (see the Camera section below).

Multimedia4/5


The 1020 has upper-average sound quality via the headphone output. It may not rival the best—iPhone 5 and HTC One—but it keeps safely in line with the rest of the Lumia range, with good volume and relatively clean sound. The speakers can't compete with the HTC One, either, but the sound is clear with no distortion, even at maximum volume.

Nokia Lumia 1020

The Windows Phone Store keeps growing, with now just over 170,000 apps, but it's still a ways behind the Apple App Store and Google Play, especially when it comes to games.

Camera4/5


Now on to the camera function, the 1020's raison d'être. The camera is what stands out—both physically and conceptually—as the primary selling point of this smartphone that claims to bury all other camera phones.

The lens and sensor are descendants of the 808 PureView, and Nokia included a shutter and mechanical image stabiliser, all encased in a module that juts out of the back of the phone, coupled with a physical shutter release. In theory, PureView delivers 41 Megapixel images, but in reality it's more like 38 + 5 Mpx in 4:3 or 34 + 5 Mpx in 16:9, as all "full res" photos are accompanied by a duplicate 5 Mpx picture for social networking and the like.

Before we get to the image quality, let's quickly talk about the handling. Everything goes through Nokia Pro Cam, an app that comes hardwired into Windows Phone 8 and adds a number of settings and options ordinarily found only in digital cameras. On the interface, when you swipe the camera button to the left, the traditional thumb wheel settings open up in a simple, stylish graphical display that appears on top of the image. This truly opens up your creative possibilities, allowing you to do things such as adjust the bokeh effect by intuitively sliding the touchscreen ring.

Nokia Lumia 1020

However, there's one major inconvenience with the shooting experience: it takes three seconds(!) to take a photo, between the time you hit the camera button and when the phone is ready for the next picture. That's a long wait. It means you can't do even semi-rapid-fire snapping on the 1020. Also, we ran into errors with the autofocus, especially when using the physical shutter release (both the one on the phone and the one on the grip case).

Now for the picture quality.

The thing is, the 1020's camera is tricky to review, given the company's advertising. What you have to know is that for every picture taken on the 1020, two files are saved: one 41 Mpx image (the native resolution pic) and one 5 Mpx image, which is created using an oversampling technique that fuses every seven pixels from the 41 Mpx image into one highly detailed pixel, for a total of 5 million in the smaller image (or you can zoom in to the 41 Mpx shot—without losing quality—and crop your 5 Mpx version however you like).

These 5 Mpx shots look gorgeous. They are essentially what has gotten the 1020 such rave reviews as a camera phone. You can zoom in or out, either way these pictures look beautiful. Even though 5 Mpx is lower resolution than all the competing high-end camera phones, there's tons of light in the image and the overall quality beats the competition, resolution notwithstanding.

Nokia Lumia 1020

The problem is that Nokia doesn't advertise 5 Megapixels, they advertise 41 Megapixels. And as a buyer, you're expecting amazing 41 Mpx shots, as stated in the adverts. But the results we found at that resolution were much more mixed than that.

Essentially, the 41 Mpx images are similar to pictures taken on the HTC One: the sensor is able to pack tons of light into the shot, but the detail isn't that amazing when you zoom in. We think a pixel combination like 8+33 or 13+28 would have been preferable, because the smaller pics could have competed better with all the 8-to-13 Mpx camera phones. Also, if you want to edit your photos in Nokia's dedicated software, you had better be a PC user, because it isn't Mac-compatible.

Click here to compare the 41 Mpx and 5 Mpx photos in the Face-Off

The 41 Mpx images look sharp, but there's a loss of detail and a very slight blurring toward the edges of the frame. The picture is clean everywhere else, but this is far from the uniformity that the PureView 808 delivers. And the 1020 performs very well in low lighting, but not better than the Lumia 925 or Galaxy S4 Zoom.

Don't get us wrong, the Lumia 1020 is a great camera phone, but all in all, the Galaxy S4 Zoom—which shoots pictures faster and has a better autofocus—and the LG G2 outperform it, providing more uniform rendering, more detail and cleaner contours across the frame. As a result, we say the Lumia 1020 is definitely buy-worthy for photography lovers—it's one of the best—but isn't quite the revolution Nokia makes it out to be.

Battery Life3/5


Like the Lumia 925 before it, the Lumia 1020 has "standard" battery life for a smartphone: a good day's worth. Depending how much you use your phone (we use ours pretty intensively), you can get it to last a day and a half. Of course, the camera function is what uses up the most battery, but it's still better than your average compact camera.

4/5 Nokia Lumia 1020 DigitalVersus 2013-09-26 12:17:00

Pros

  • Quality finish
  • Tons of camera features, similar to a digital camera (thumb wheel settings, options, etc.)
  • Overall camera phone experience and 5 Mpx picture quality
  • Responsiveness
  • Screen: excellent contrast and deep black
  • Optional grip works great, good idea
  • Good phone function

Cons

  • 41 Mpx images not uniformly sharp across the frame
  • Social network-friendly pics are only 5 Mpx
  • 38 Mpx photo quality
  • Autofocus errors & slow shooting
  • Blue overtones on AMOLED screen
  • Wide borders, handling could be better

Conclusion

Hailed by many as a compact camera in the shape of a smartphone, the Lumia 1020 isn't quite that. It's certainly the next great step in that direction, and indeed an excellent camera phone—the 5 Mpx images are fantastic—but a number of imperfections prevent the sensor from competing at the 41 Mpx level, which is the resolution Nokia advertises. As always with Nokia, the design and finish are impeccable. But all in all, we prefer the Lumia 925.

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