Nokia Lumia 1020: A Great (Camera) Phone

March 19, 2014 by
At a Glance

Look and Feel
With its solid polycarbonate unibody casing, the Lumia 1020 feels sturdy, but its camera bulge can be awkward.

Defining Features
Camera, camera, camera. 41 megapixels. No other smartphone camera compares to its options and performance.

Core Functionality
The best performing Windows Phone to date. Did we mention the incredible camera?

Recommended For
Shutterbugs, Android and iOS eschewers, business users.

Editor’s Rating
**** (out of 5 stars)

The Last Lumia Before Microsoft Takes Over Nokia?

Released in July 2013, the Lumia 1020 was met by positive reviews and praise for its outstanding camera (the descendant of the Nokia 808 PureView), but sort of like the HTC One, the phone never really captured consumers’ attention.

And recent stats show Windows Phone still only has 3.2% of the U.S. market (versus 3.1 for BlackBerry).

In terms of market share, it remains an uphill battle for the Windows Phone.

So it remains an uphill battle for the Lumia line. At Mobile World Congress last month, Nokia (still awaiting acquisition by Microsoft) announced a new Nokia X line of Android phones – demonstrating that even Nokia isn’t sure of the Windows Phone  OS.

But headlines aside, how does this device stack up?

Using It

Look and Feel

I found the Lumia 1020 to be physically appealing – mostly. Its unibody design is solid and the phone has a nice weight to it. Its 4.5” display is big but not huge, as is its overall form factor: 5.1” high by 2.8” wide. (For comparison’s sake, the Nexus 5 and Galaxy S4 are 5.4” by 2.7”.)
The drawback to having an industry-leading camera, of course, it requires an added bulge for the lens phone backside. This isn’t a big deal when pocketing the device, but can be annoying if you’re someone who checks their phone with one hand, speaking and tapping as it's laid on the desk, to check notifications and the like. (I am one of those people.)

Defining Features

A 41-megapixel Juggernaut

The Lumia 1020’s PureView camera can capture a whopping 41 megapixels, which literally blows the competition out of the water. With an unusually large (hence the bulge) image sensor and Carl Zeiss optics, it allows for high image quality, lossless zoom and improved low light performance. Simply put, conventional smartphone cameras cannot do this stuff.

The Nokia Pro Camera settings are where the Lumia 1020 really shines.

Nokia Pro Camera Settings
This is where I felt the camera experience really took off. The Nokia Pro Camera software has been finely tuned and is very user friendly. It lives up to the "Pro” name in that, as with a digital SLR, you can adjust everything from exposure level, white balance, shutter speed and film ISO. And the design is ingenious: Each setting is represented by a concentric circle with its own node (like planets in a solar system), so you can adjust while capturing the photo.
Zoom and Video Capture
41 megapixels have their benefits: You can not only shoot in super high resolution, you can zoom deeply into your photo, post-capture, without losing resolution. You can also capture video (with 4x lossless zoom) in full 1080p HD.
One of the Lumia 1020’s claims to fame is it’s been used to film multi-platinum artists' music videos. That’s pretty impressive.

Core Functionality

On a performance level, there’s no knocking the Lumia 1020 camera. On a social level, there’s room for criticism. Back in September, CNET’s Molly Wood "Road Tested” the phone and complained of poor social integrations: You could only post a photo directly to Twitter (not Facebook or Instagram). This has since changed: Facebook is available now and Instagram is available on beta for Windows Phones.
Back in July, younger users may have been disappointed to learn there were no native apps for Vine or SnapChat on Windows Phones either. Well rest assured, Vine came to Windows Phone in December, SnapChat followed suit last month. Still, those delays are worth noting.

The Lumia 1020 camera is fantastic, but delays for integrated social sharing apps were significant.

Performance and Battery Life
The Lumia 1020 features a dual-care Snapdragon processor and during testing, it performed brilliantly. It opened and closed apps smoothly, navigating the OS and the web was a breeze, and multi-tasking was comparable to iOS or Android. And even while using the camera and all of its fancy doohickeys over a couple of hours, the battery life held up pretty well.

My buddy James has this phone and when asked about its battery, he told me he always gets a full day of life out of it.

OS and Available Apps

As mentioned above, on a social level, Windows Phone as a platform did the Lumia 1020’s outstanding camera a disservice. DSLRs and point-and-shoots (whatever few are still out there) are typically meant for taking hi-res photos, and treating those photos on a computer afterward. Camera phones are meant for immediate social sharing. And if your camera doesn’t allow you to do that – or if the apps you want to use are delayed for your OS – that’s a big problem for the average user.

Another issue I found, in terms of navigating Windows Phone, was being able to find apps from your entire list of apps. You can pin them to your home screen, but if you’re navigating for apps, you have to scroll through a long alphabetical list, or select the app’s first letter to hone in. Just a minor thing, but it shows how Windows Phone differs from other operating systems. On Android or iOS, you are conditioned to look for the app’s icon, and I personally prefer that.
Again, it's an uphill battle for Windows Phone, especially in terms of converting Android/iOS users.

James made another criticism I wanted to note: Windows Phones can't be switched from launching Bing (i.e. not Google) when using the capacitative search button on the phone. For instance, when he searches for an address, he uses a third-party 'Here Maps' app in order to get the Google Maps results he wants.

Those items aside, Windows Phone’s tiled metro design is very appealing and I like the customizable home screen. It is also worth considering for business users seeking better Windows Office integrations. PC Mag gave the Lumia 1020 its end-user Business Choice Award for 2013.

Recommended for

This is a phone for camera buffs and smartphone iconoclasts. And with Microsoft Office integrations, it’s good for business users too.

While many reviewers lauded the Lumia 1020’s camera, they noted the phone’s market is limited. I would agree with that. It is an expensive phone (originally sold for $300 with a 2-year contract or $999 unlocked) and aside from taking awesome photos, it doesn’t match other high-end smartphones’ features, OS or app selection.

The Bottom Line

The Lumia 1020 is a great Windows Phone, but for the price, it is not a high-end phone for the masses. If you use your phone to take photos and the rest of it is secondary, this is the phone for you. But if you’re interested in a more established OS and a greater variety of apps, you should look elsewhere.

iQmetrix Editor’s Rating
**** (out of 5 stars)

Posted in: Nokia, Product Reviews, Windows Phone