What is the Nokia Lumia 1020?

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a _phone_ we’ve been anticipating for a long time. It’s a Windows _phone_ 8 mobile that uses similar camera tech to the Nokia 808 PureView. That phone had an incredible camera, but was bought by just a handful, thanks to its rubbish Symbian OS and that no network wanted to stock it.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is not quite the perfect flagship, but for those who care about having a good on-the-road camera to whip out whenever needed it’s a cracking phone.

Nokia Lumia 1020 1

Head straight to the Lumia 1020 camera page if that's all you care about>

Nokia Lumia 1020 - Video Review

Fancy a video version? Here's our handy video review of the 41-megapixel snapper smartphone.



Nokia Lumia 1020 – Design and Features

Stylistically, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is quite a lot like the Lumia 920, but with a matt, instead of glossy, finish. It uses Lumia’s series-staple colourful polycarbonate for its body, and it’s a relatively chunky and heavy phone.

The chunk issue is exacerbated by the camera housing on the back, which sticks out a couple of millimetres from the rear. The Lumia 1020 is 158g and 10.4mm thick, making it significantly less slim than three key rivals, the Galaxy S4, iPhone 5S and HTC One.
Nokia Lumia 1020 2

However, Nokia has managed the make the phone a lot lighter than the 185g Lumia 920 (a right old porker), and we don’t think a 10mm phone is anything to worry about – unlike, say, if it was a phone with a 6.4-inch screen like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra.

There is a design issue, though – ergonomics. When holding the Lumia 1020 the camera housing sits under your fingers. And as it juts out at a fairly severe angle, rather than smoothly blooming out of the body, it feels awkward. In terms of hand-friendliness, this is probably the worst of all the Lumias.

It’s all down to the camera housing, as otherwise the Lumia 1020 has the same Lumia loveliness in its build that we’re used to. Its sides are smoothly curved, and two-tone yellow and black finish of our review model looks great. Its body is yellow, the buttons, screen surround and camera housing are black.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 also comes in black and white, but their looks are less striking.
Nokia Lumia 1020 4

Also typical of the Lumia series style, the Nokia Lumia 1020 keeps its sides as simple as possible. There’s no memory card slot, and the microSIM lives in a little tray on the top edge of the phone. There are 32GB and 64GB versions of the phone, but the 64GB edition is only available from O2, for 2013 at least.

It’s pretty up-to-date in terms of features, with NFC and 4G as well as the more common smartphone standards, such as GPS.

Nokia Lumia 1020 – Screen

With a 4.5-inch screen, the Lumia 1020 isn’t up there with the largest-screen phones on the market – almost all top-end Androids have larger displays these days. It’s not immediately obvious that it’s smaller either as the Lumia 1020 has a chunkier bezel than many other of the best phones of 2013.

It does make the Lumia 1020 slightly less attractive as a portable movie/TV watcher though.
Nokia Lumia 1020


The Lumia 1020 display is a 1,280 x 768 pixel AMOLED screen that’s typical of the Lumia-series ClearBlack display line – which are geared for clarity in all conditions. It’s good too. Contrast is excellent, colour reproduction is strong (if anything we’d like the ability to tone it down) and outdoors brightness is unusally good thanks to the Super AMOLED-type panel and the decent anti-reflective coating used.

It’s a highly effective, good-looking screen in most situations.

There are weak points for pedants to point out, though. We’d argue that this screen doesn’t quite deserve the ‘Retina’ grade tag that Apple cleverly invented when it launched the iPhone 4.

Specs-wise this doesn’t seem to make sense at first – with 1,280 x 768 pixels spread across 4.5 inches, the Lumia 1020’s pixel density is actually slightly higher than the iPhone’s. It is 332 instead of 326ppi.

So how can it be less sharp? The Nokia Lumia 1020’s AMOLED screen uses a PenTile sub-pixel matrix that uses two whole sub-pixels per pixel instead of three.  This significantly reduces the impression of sharpness – and looking closely you can still see the slight fuzziness of a PenTile display. However, it is far, far less pronounced than in older large-screen Lumias like the Lumia 900.


Nokia Lumia 1020 – Software and Performance

The Nokia Lumia 1020 runs Windows phone 8, Microsoft’s mobile phone system. There are no Nokia customisations to how the core software feels to use, because they aren’t allowed.

Windows phone 8 looks and feels similar on an ultra-budget phone as a top-end one like the Lumia 1020. Using them side-by-side, we were struck by how similar the bargain basement Lumia 520 (around £100) and Lumia 1020 (around £480) are in day-to-day performance. There simply isn’t the huge gulf you find with many Android phones. The Lumias are slick across the board.

Nokia Lumia 1020 6

Even the specs aren’t dramatically different from some lower-end models. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has the same dual-core 1.5GHz Krait MSM8960 as the Lumia 820, although RAM in this phone has been bumped up to 2GB – to aid in the number crunching demanded by camera processing.

The WP Benchmark tool does show that the Lumia 1020 is empically faster than cheaper Nokias, coming out with 217 points against the Lumia 520’s 170, but – bizarrely – the Lumia 520 actually has a more powerful GPU. The Lumia 1020 has a pretty low-end Adreno 225 chip, shared by the ageing Samsung Galaxy S3 and significantly less powerful than the Samsung Galaxy S4.


Nokia Lumia 1020 – Apps and Games

That the Lumia 1020 can get away with packing-in an old graphics processor because the games selection on Windows phone is poor compared to an iPhone or high-end Android.

The Windows Store is where you get apps for a Windows phone 8 mobile like the Lumia 1020. And all its premium games are siphoned into an Xbox section – where the games are certified to a high level of quality and win you Xbox Live Achievement points for playing titles. Yep, the same points you’d get from playing an Xbox 360 game.

Virtually all the Xbox section games are worth a look, but there are fewer than 170 of them, they tend to cost a fair bit (most are over £2) and almost all the third-party titles are iPhone ports released a year or more ago on at least one mobile platform, if not several.
Nokia Lumia 1020 5

There’s fun to be had, but if you’re coming from an Android or iPhone, it’s as depressing gaming landscape.

However, the Lumia 1020 does cover a lot of app basics from the off. Foremost, it has the HERE Suite, a Nokia collection of mapping and GPS apps.

Nokia Drive is an in-car navigation app that’s remarkably good for a freebie. You can download whole countries for use online, there’s turn-by-turn voice navigation and it uses live traffic information to save you a bit of time on your commute. You can pre-program your work commute too. HERE Maps is an alternative to Google Maps that also lets you download maps for offline use.

Like every Windows phone 8 mobile, the Lumia 1020 is ready to hook up with social networks as soon as it’s switched on. You can input your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn details, to let the People hub (which also acts as your contacts book) grab all your social updates.

Within Settings you’ll also find support for Outlook, Yahoo!, Hotmail and Google email accounts. It may not have all the apps of its competitors, but it does incorporate a decent number of ‘ground level’ features without needing a trip to an app store.

Nokia Lumia 1020 - Camera and Camera Apps

The Lumia 1020’s key feature is undoubtedly its camera. It has an eye-popping 41-megapixel camera with an ultra-large (for a mobile phone) 1/1.5-inch sensor with optical image stabilisation and a seriously impressive dual LED/Xenon flash array.

It’s almost certainly the most advanced mobile phone camera ever produced – although the Nokia 808 PureView did offer a slightly larger sensor and the Samsung Galaxy Zoom has an optical zoom.

The most striking bullet point on its feature list is the Lumia 1020’s 41-megapixel resolution. However, it’s designed predominantly to capture images at five megapixels (for easier sharing) and its maximum effective resolution is 34 megapixels.

That’s nothing to turn your nose up at, though. Even the full-frame Canon 5D MK3 'only' uses a 22.3-megapixel sensor.

The Nokia Lumia 1020’s approach is much different to that of almost every other camera, though. Its sensor pixels are tiny at 1.1 microns (that’s the same size seen in the 13-megapixel Galaxy S4). So, to get the higher image quality and low-light performance Nokia promises, the pixels need to be grouped, their collective output used to produce much more accurate, high-fidelity images.

Before we find out whether it’s successful, let’s find out what the camera is like to use.

The Lumia 1020 offers three separate camera apps – a bit of a handful. There’s the standard Windows phone 8 app, the Nokia Smart Lens app and the Pro Mode app, there to give you ‘pro-style’ control over camera settings.

Native Windows phone 8 Camera App
The basic Windows phone 8 camera app is very simple. Tap on the subject of your photo and the Lumia 1020 will both focus and take a snap.

Lumia 1020
It’s not designed to give you quick access to any camera settings – making it less than a perfect fit for the Lumia 1020 – but it’s perfect for casual snaps. The buttons it does offer simply let you switch between stills and video, between the front and rear cameras, between shooting with and without flash, and between Lenses.

Lenses are miniature camera apps used to add modes to a Windows phone 8 camera. As standard you get a Panorama, but no HDR mode. Additional Lenses can be downloaded from the Windows Store - many cost money.

Lenses are a neat idea, but ultimately feel quite clumsy, which is why – we believe – Nokia adds more-or-less complete camera apps in the form of Smart Lens and Pro Mode.

Smart Lens


Nokia’s first extra camera app is Smart Lens. It’s best thought-of as the fun and frivolous side of the Lumia 1020’s camera.

Smart Lens is a burst mode camera app that shoots 10 frames (at reduced resolution) in quick succession. You can then create motion blur effects, remove any unwanted moving objects and create an ‘action shot’ that features multiple instances of the same moving objects – perfect if you’re shooting a runner or cyclist.

Although it can come up with some fun, eye-catching results that’ll go down well on social networks, Smart Lens isn’t where we took our best shots. Here's a Nokia demo of the sort of thing you can do with Smart Lens -

Nokia Lumia 1020 Smart Cam


Pro Mode


Lumia 1020 Pro Mode
The most successful of the Lumia 1020’s photo modes is Pro Mode. Its main aim is to give you a simple and clean interface that offers quick and easy manual control over settings.

It does this in style too – although one of the most important manual controls, aperture, isn’t here as the Lumia 1020 has a fixed f/2.2 aperture.

What you do get to control are white balance, focusing, ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Taps on their little icons at the top of the screen bring up control wheels designed for easy operation with a thumb. Or you can set the lot in one go using the view that fills the screen with control dials.

Fiddling with the dials also tries to give you a preview of the effect the change will have on-screen.

Out of these Lumia 1020 control options, the most interesting are manual focus and shutter speed – the others are found in most decent phones cameras, but are hidden in menus.

The additional control lets you take a much more dynamic approach to photography, using longer exposure times and managing the output with the exposure compensation dial. Two thumbs up.

Nokia Lumia 1020 - Camera Performance

The Pro Mode is admirable quick to use, but without doubt the most serious problem with the Nokia Lumia 1020 camera is shooting performance.

Focusing is fast and reliable, but with a full four second delay between taking photos, the Lumia 1020 is much, much slower to snap with than something like an iPhone 5, which only has a half-second delay between snaps. This situation is exacerbated if you’re using the Xenon flash, which needs to charge between uses unlike an LED.

Why so slow? Well the photo is actually taken quickly, so you won't miss the magic moment, but the delay is probably down to the amount of processing needed to squeeze all the information grabbed from a 41-megapixel sensor into a 5-megapixel image. Using the Pro mode you can choose whether to take 34MP and 5MP images or just the 5MP one, but the processing is always needed.

So the camera is always slow to finish taking a picture.

Nokia Lumia 1020 – Camera Image Quality

Detail and Basic Image Quality
Lumia 1020 camera
With a large 1/1.5-inch sensor, you’d expect the Nokia Lumia 1020 to come up with excellent image quality. And, for the most part, it doesn’t disappoint.

The Lumia 1020’s 34-megapixel images blow away the competition in terms of the sheer amount of detail rendered (in good lighting). Side-by-side, the Lumia shames the Galaxy S4 with incredible reproduction of detail for a phone camera.

The Lumia 1020 also has a very wide field of view when shooting in widescreen, with an equivalent focal length of 25mm (in the 35mm standard measure). As standard, the Pro camera mode created both 5-megapixel and 34-megapixel images - the lower-res one shrinks the image while trying to retain as much detail as possible.

Take a closer look -
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Lumia 1020 8

The cut-down 5-megapixel shot retains a good level of detail, but clearly uses some sharpening techniques - revealed by the white outline around the Gherkin.

Up against the competition...
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Of course, such a high-resolution camera sensor also helps to reveal the deficiencies of the phone’s plastic lens. The Lumia 1020 has a decent six-element lens, but the image gets very soft towards the outer edges of the picture  - it’s only really the middle third of the frame that’s particularly sharp. Towards the extreme edges of the photo there’s flat-out distortion of objects.

This is only made quite so obvious because of the high-grade sensor, though, and even ‘proper’ lenses suffer from this sort of softness at the edge of the frame. So why are we mentioning it?

It affects the worth of the recompose feature that’s a key draw of the Lumia 1020 camera – you can ‘reframe’ the 34-megapixel shot post-shoot, zooming in and rotating the frame to produce a new fairly high-quality 5-megapixel one.

Having soft-edged photos limits how much you’ll be able to zoom in without seeming that you have done so in the final pic. But, still, it’s far better than you’d get with just about any other phone camera.

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Reframe lets you make funky recrops like this in seconds

In short, the Lumia 1020 is excellent in terms of the sheer amount of detail is can render when given a well-lit scene. For some photos taken by the pros, check out our page of pics taken by famous photographer David Bailey.

Low-light Performance and Flash
Is the same true when the lights go down? Performance is well above average, but for the best results you need to understand how the Lumia 1020 works.

The keys to low-light success with the Lumia 1020 are optical image stabilisation and the Xenon flash. Both can be used to create much better-than-average shots in rubbish lighting.

First, let’s tackle optical image stabilisation. The Lumia 1020’s lens ‘floats’, in that it can be tilted many times a second using tiny motors that live in the phone’s camera housing. This lets the phone take sharp (or relatively sharp) images using longer exposure times without using a tripod. Using a non-OIS camera, you’d end up with a blurry mess, as even a surgeon’s hands aren’t completely shake-free.

When shooting static objects, the Lumia 1020’s stabilisation is excellent, capable of making shots in mediocre lighting far less noisy and far less washed-out than they would otherwise appear. When fiddling with the shutter speed in the Pro Mode, we were quite amazed at how long an exposure the Lumia 1020 can indulge in without becoming a blurry mess (assuming you don’t have the DTs).

Lumia 1020


However, when shooting people OIS is far less useful. A longer shutter speed turns moving limbs into blurs. Unless your shots are entirely posed, OIS does not result in good low-light photos of people.

You can see this effect in this shot of News Editor Luke taking a swing at Urban Golf - a golfing simulator.
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Flash-less, low-light, sharp action shots are impossible unless you go full manual

That’s why the flash is here. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has an exemplary flash array – employing a ‘standard’ LED light to aid focusing in low lighting and a powerful Xenon flash. Also known as ‘a proper flash’ around these parts.

Xenon flashes are useless as a focusing aid because – unlike LEDs – they cannot give off a constant stream of light but a quick burst that lasts just a fraction of a second long. But why are Xenon flashes better than LEDs? Much as other phone makers may say their LEDs are on-par with Xenon flashes, there are significant benefits to the Lumia 1020’s Xenon type.

It offers a far more even spread, greater range and less of a tonally imbalancing effect than just about any LED flash. It’s a reminder that LED flashes aren’t really flashes – they’re torches.

There are some practical downsides to using a Xenon, though. It’s far more power-hungry than an LED flash – one of the reasons why Nokia produces a camera grip with an extra battery (around £70) – and takes a short while to recharge. This compounds the issue of the Lumia 1020’s relative camera sluggishness (in terms of shooting performance, not focusing). 

The Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn’t like to compromise on photo quality, but there are sacrifices it has to make elsewhere.

Depth of Field

One of the best reasons to have a good camera is to take arty-looking shots that you can show off to your friends in order to look terribly clever and talented. The easiest way to do this is with a shallow depth of field shot.

This is where your foreground is in focus, but the background is nice and blurry. That blurriness is known as bokeh, and the Lumia 1020 isn’t too bad at making it. The level and quality of bokeh a camera can create is based primarily on the camera’s lens, but the crop factor of the camera’s sensor also affects it.
1020 vs HTC One


Comparing the Lumia 1020 with the HTC One, it’s clear that the Nokia phone is capable of creating superior shallow depth of field effect than its rivals. Forgetting that the Lumia shot is both sharper and more vivid for a minute, the plush toy is far blurrier, bringing out the squash bottle with far more style. And yes, we probably need to invest in some more props.

Here are some quick shots of the shallow depth of field effect in action.
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Lumia 1020 2


Macro


The other top way to show off to your friends photographically is with a macro shot – an extreme close-up that tries to offer as much fine detail as possible.

Here the Nokia Lumia 1020 disappoints a little because its focusing distance isn’t anything to crow about. Get the camera any closer than about 13cm and it won’t be able to focus on a subject – the wide angle 25mm focal length really doesn’t help here either (making photos appear further away from the subject), and we were left wishing we could get a few centimetres closer to the action.
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Lumia 1020 5


However, analyse your shots post-shoot and you’ll realise the high-quality sensor does mitigate. You can’t get that close, but you can capture some great detail without much effort.
Lumia 1020 3


VS a ‘Proper’ Camera

It has its issues with shooting action sans-flash, and with shooting speed. But the Lumia 1020 is a king among mobile phone cameras. However, is it really a match for a ‘proper’ camera? The shot below (taken in a near-pitch black room without flash) comparing the Lumia 1020 with the CSC Sony NEX-5R, tells you all you need to know.

The answer? Not up against an APS-C size sensor. But it has a good go - and it'll compete better with smaller-sensor cameras like the Pentax Q7 and Nikon J3.
Lumia 1020 vs CSC

Shot flash-free, handheld - demonstrating the benefits of a large sensor with large sensor pixels

(for the record, both of the above shots look pretty dreadful full-size)

Panorama
There are just a few extra Nokia Lumia 1020 camera bits to cover. Although there’s no HDR mode built-in, you do get a Panorama ‘lens’. This isn’t a special one made just for the phone’s high-end camera, and it’s not as good as the iPhone 5’s full-resolution panorama mode.

It captures the shot at severely reduced resolution, resulting in pretty disappointing images. You’re probably best off manually stitching your own panoramas if you’re looking for a shot of a landscape to treasure and/or blow up, or looking for a better panorama Lens.

Video Capture
The Nokia Lumia 1020 isn’t at the cutting edge of headline features when it comes to video capture. Phones are starting to incorporate 4K video capture, where the 1020 is stuck at plain old 1080p.

In reality, this is more than enough, and the phone has far more worthwhile features. The best is in-video optical image stabilisation.

The same lens motors that eliminate the shaky-hand effect in photos are used in video, and they eliminate the tremors that make handheld video look so amateurish. It won’t perform miracles – jolts will still register as jolts and when pushed the OIS can cause a screen tearing effect, but it increases the quality of casually-taken video a good deal.

Front-facing camera
Front camera
The Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn’t have an eye-catching front camera to match its rear, but it’s still above-average.

It’s a slightly offset-from-centre 1.2-megapixel sensor that’s only really there for selfies and video chat. It’ll record low-res stills and 720p video too, though. Video quality is much, much softer than that taken with the rear camera, but it’s far less noisy than it could have been.

Audio Capture
What’s far more notable is the Lumia 1020’s audio capture. Like the Lumia 925 and Lumia 920, it uses stereo ‘HAAC’ microphones, which Nokia calls ‘Rich Recording’ mics.

Recording quality is good, but there’s no magic ‘gating’ of recorded audio to block out unwanted ambient noise. What it can do is record much louder audio than a normal phone without distorting. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to record a gig with the phone, but recordings in noisy environments like the London Tube didn’t suffer from distortion.

Nokia Lumia 1020 – Call Quality

The Nokia Lumia 1020 offers good call quality. Its call speaker offers excellent clarity, with none of the muffled quality you can get in some phones that neglect call quality over flashier features.

Earpiece speaker volume is good rather than astounding, but it’s more than fit for purpose. Like most higher-end phones, the Lumia 1020 employs a secondary microphone to remove ambient noise from the call signal before it reaches whoever you’re talking to.


Nokia Lumia 1020 – Music and Sound Quality

The Nokia Lumia 1020 uses the standard Windows phone 8 music player, which is both snappy and attractive. Nokia has added some sound enhancements for headphones too.

You get a seven-band equaliser and the Dolby Headphone DSP mode that fiddles with the audio channels and the sound balance a bit to give the impression of 5.1 surround sound using plain old stereo headphones. We don’t rate it using it for music, but it is handy for movies.

Nokia Lumia 1020 – Internal Speaker

None of the audio enhancements can be used when playing through the Lumia 1020’s internal speaker, though. And the speaker isn’t anything to get too excited about.

It fires out of the bottom edge of the phone through a single grille – giving no chance of any stereo effect whatsoever. Maximum volume is pretty good, but sound quality in general is unremarkable. The Lumia 1020 lacks the bass response of something like the HTC One, and can sound a little harsh at high volumes.

Nokia Lumia 1020 – Battery Life

The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 2,000mAh battery, and there’s no way to easily access it as the body is completely sealed. Stamina varies hugely depending on how you use the phone – more so than with an Android mobile.

The tight reins Windows phone 8 keeps on a phone mean that with very light use, the Lumia 1020 can last for ages – Nokia quotes a standby time of 16 days or 384 hours. That’s more than an iPhone 5S.

However, with some use of the Xenon flash, some web browsing and game-playing, the Lumia 1020 is less-than-impressive. You can easily drain the thing in a day, and even with fairly careful moderate use you’ll need to charge every day.

There is a battery-saving mode that helps out, though. Battery Saver mode stops automatic syncing of things that require internet access, such as emails and social network updates. With this feature engaged you can comfortably glide through a day and a half’s use – but you get similar modes with current Android phones anyway.

Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 1020?

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a phone that only makes sense as a buy if you care about camera quality above almost anything else in a phone. It can produce shots that’ll compete with compact system cameras in some specific lighting conditions, and easily outclasses the vast majority of phones.

However, disregard the camera and the Lumia 1020 and your left with a phone that doesn’t necessarily offer quite enough benefits over a lower-end, or slightly older, Lumia phone. Its processor is only slightly more powerful than the bottom-rung Nokia Windows phones. The leveling effect of the efficient Windows phone 8 system makes top-end phones difficult to justify.

And next to a top-end Android, or an iPhone, the games and apps selection – and the rate of app updates - is frustratingly poor. In a £500 phone, these issues are harder than ever to forget.

Verdict

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a slick, striking phone with a class-leading – if not entirely perfect – camera. However, if camera quality is not your number one concern, we consider the Lumia 925 or an even cheaper Lumia model, like the Nokia Lumia 620.

Next read our round-up of all the best phones

As part of the Weber X David Exhibition, Nokia has published a load of photos taken by David Bailey with the Lumia 1020 camera. You can see some of the photos below.
 

Lumia 1020 photos
Lumia 1020 demo
Lumia 1020 photo 3


You can find full-resolution versions of these photos at Nokia Conversations.