The first time I saw the Nokia Lumia 1020 was during its maiden product launch in Hong Kong. I must admit I was drawn by the rather inspiring video showing the work that went into the camera. Sure it was a shameless work of marketing but from a real mechanical shutter covering the 41MP sensor to the optical image stabilization (OIS) mechanics, this is – in my view – a class all its own.
I’ve read comments complaining about the 1020’s hump housing the 41MP camera and flash. Seriously, has anyone ever looked at the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom? Compared to the 1020’s ‘hump’, the S4 Zoom is like a camel’s back!
This is a short review as I plan to follow it up with a review of the various software add-ons that Nokia introduced alongside the new hardware.
Display: The Lumia 1020 comes with a 4.5-inch 1280 x 720 touchscreen display. Like its 920 and 926 siblings, the Lumia 1020 comes with a Clear Bright screen that you can easily see in outside bright conditions. Apple, LG, Samsung and Sony should figure out how they can deliver the same experience with their smartphones as Nokia’s smartphones including the 1020.
Audio: The 1020 has two microphones (top and bottom). The top mic, which sits next to the SIM card tray and the 3.5mm headset jack is for noise cancellation.
Buttons: The right side of the 1020 has a volume rocker, power and standby button and a dedicated camera button (other smartphones allow you to program one of the buttons to become a camera button but they have no dedicated camera button out of the box).
Weight: Despite the added components for OIS and the 41MP sensor, the 1020 is actually lighter (158g) than its sibling the 920 – its slimmer (130.4mm x 71.4mm x 10.4mm) too.
Connectivity: The 1020 comes with Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and LTE.
Other internals: With the release of the 64-bit A7 processor on the iPhone 5S, you’d wonder why Nokia would handicap the 1020 with a measly Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.5GHz processor. The reality is that combined with a decent 2GB RAM, the 1020 is actually fast. The Windows Phone 8 OS hasn’t slowed down the 1020 either. In fact, it’s still a relatively fast camera/phone.
Operating System: The 1020 ships with Windows Phone 8 called Amber which includes some new features like double tap the display to turn it on, or flip your phone over to silence it. Live tiles work as expected.
Apps: Nokia’s choice of Windows Phone as its operating system means it is handicap by the perception that it doesn’t have a sufficient number of apps on it. That could be a handicap if you are want to run all 875,721 apps currently available on Android or the 900,000 apps for IOS. But the truth of the matter is that the average user will only use about 30 apps over the lifetime of the device. I haven’t been able to find a listing of how many solitaire apps are on either platforms.
A real problem to date with the apps though is the lack of a centralized notification system. What happens is you have to scroll down just to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
I have a Samsung S3 and have 20 apps on it – a smorgasborg of tools and a smattering of games. But recently I observed that my phone has started to significantly slow down and while no one – neither the folks responsible for Android or the tech support people at Samsung – can give me an adequate explanation for what is happening, I have surmised that its partly due to incompatibilities between some of the apps and the OS itself. Sure, we get free upgrades on a regular basis but you start to worry at some point whether all your apps are optimized to both the hardware and the OS. Chances are – they are not!
The 1020 comes with a Xenon flash giving you a white balance closer to daylight compared to the blue hue you get when using the LED flash on most smartphones. The Xenon flash comes in handy when you are shooting photos at an event – range is good. The result is better than most phone, and some digicam, flashes out in the market today, including the high-end offerings out in the market today.
Camera: Make no mistake Nokia is very much focused on the digital imaging experience. The Nokia Pro Cam software is intuitive and comes with controls like manual focus and exposure you can find in prosumer cameras. Of course, you can always rely on the everything auto setting – it works too!
A unique feature of the 1020 is its default setting of creating two files for every shot you make – a 5MP oversampled photo and a 34MP (16:9) or 38MP (4:3) photo. The 5MP is for use on Twitter, Facebook or sharing via e-mail. The 34MP and 38MP is for downloading into a computer for editing or printing.
Do you really need a 34MP shot? I saw a demo where you are zoom to any part of a 34MP shot and get a consistent detail on virtually any part of the image – it’s like magic, and its freaky scary.
Limitations: The 1020 comes with a maximum of 32MB storage and no option for external storage – so you wonder how many 5MP and 34MP/38MP shots you can store on the 1020 before you have to start connected the device to your laptop or SkyDrive to offload photos. It also has a 2000 mAh battery and no option to swap batteries so you will have to buy one of those external, portable battery packs to charge your 1020 on the move. There are two options available. In Hong Kong, Nokia is offering an external case that comes with a built-in battery – the Camera Grip or by making some adjustments. There are two options available.
Continuous photo shooting for extended periods is also a problem. I’ve observed erratic performance when it comes to shooting photos in rapid succession. The camera takes a second to focus and shoot – sometimes it works a little faster, sometimes it doesn’t. So action photos and instances that require you to get a shot at just the right moment may not happen with the 1020.
WHAT I LIKE
The 1020 is a camera first and a phone second. It is, for me, the answer to having both a camera and a phone day-in, day-out. It won’t replace my Canon G1X or my old Nikon D70 but I don’t have to carry anything extra with me every day. The 1020’s 5MP photos are simply better than my Samsung S3 or my wife’s iPhone 5. Lossless zoom is a nice freebie courtesy of the 34MP/38MP with the zoomed-in photo is a blessing. The 1020’s battery is not bad.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
I love the Live Tiles but the lack of notification is a something I’d like to have.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a solid smartphone to own – and can hold its own against even the more technically souped up spec of the likes of Samsung S4, iPhone 5S or Nexus 5. There is a small learning curve to get off Android or IOS and ride the Windows Phone 8 bandwagon but I don’t think I know 70% of what my S3 running Android 4.2 today. So I can’t rightly complain about Windows Phone 8.
I think that the most popular apps will eventually come into the Windows Phone 8 platform – it’s just a matter of time. Microsoft does need to work to attract developers to help. For its part, Nokia has been working to deliver value to the Lumia series on its own.
I will stop here with this review and leave the review of the more exotic photoshooting experience for another session.