Nokia Lumia 1020 Review: A Truly Impressive Feat of Engineering

Reviews Richard Goodwin 16:18, 3 Dec 2014

The Nokia Lumia 1020 offers best-in-class imaging, but should you hold out for the higher specced Lumia 1520?

Rating: 
3.5
Typical Price: 
£599.99
Pros: 
Excellent camera, tons photo-editing features, great build quality, better than average battery life, Nokia HERE services, Windows Phone runs like a charm
Cons: 
Windows Phone 8 app selection is still lagging behind iOS and Android, The handset is also pretty chunky and will not be to everyone's tastes
Verdict: 
The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a great handset with lots to offer but there are several things that’d make us think twice about recommending it: size, app selection, Windows Phone 8's foibles, the price and the fact that it is about to be usurped by the upcoming Lumia 1520

In some respects the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the culmination of everything Nokia has been working towards for the past several years. It’s a Windows Phone, much like the Lumia 925 before it, but it’s no normal Lumia device. No, this Lumia handset has a 41-megapixel PureView camera strapped to the back of it. And that’s pretty special.

The pitch of the Lumia 1020 is simple: it offers best in class photography, with lossless zoom, tons of editing features, 1080p video and impressive low-light performance. But does this spectacular imaging handset double as a decent smartphone also, or are you better off with an Android or iPhone device? Read on to find out. 

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Design

Nokia has a knack of producing memorable-looking hardware, and the Lumia 1020 is no exception with its yellow colouring and unapologetically bulky frame. It’s bold and in your face and it certainly has a lot of character but it certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. 

Exact measurements are 130x71x10mm and the Lumia 1020 weighs in at 158g, making it 10g lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 but substantially heavier than Apple’s 112g iPhone 5S. 

It does feel chunky in the hand and it won’t sit flush to a surface on account of the 3mm bulge at the top of the back panel where the PureView lens resides.

The 1020’s added bulk is a trade-off, yes, but I wouldn’t consider it a deal breaker. The handset itself feels sturdy enough in the hand and is perfectly suited for one-handed use. It is a lot bigger than the iPhone 5S and the HTC One Mini and despite Nokia’s careful design and grippy polycarbonate build material the Lumia 1020 does feel slightly top-heavy in the hand.

With hardware keys you have a volume rocker, power/unlock, and physical camera shutter button running down the right hand side. The SIM tray and 3.5mm jack are located on the very top of the handset, and there’s a microUSB port on the bottom.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Display

The Lumia 1020 uses a 1020x768 AMOLED setup that comes fully loaded with bespoke display technologies like PureMotion HD+, Brightness control, High brightness mode and a 60Hz refresh rate that elevates the handset well beyond what its pixel count would have you believe. 


Display quality is impressive with vivid colours, wide viewing angles, and zero pixilation – webpages, video, images and text all look great. But perhaps the Lumia 1020’s best trick is how well its AMOLED display performs in direct sunlight – nothing else comes close to it in this regard.

Blacks are void-like in their depth and Microsoft’s colourful Tiles pop off the display thanks to robust contrast. With its ample display and chassis, the Lumia 1020 is a great media device but it also doubles as an effective work tool thanks to the inclusion of apps like Office, which allows you to work and edit documents on the move. It's even better with Windows Phone’s very useable touchscreen keyboard.

If you want your next handset to rock a 1080p display and a quad-core processor you have two options: wait for the Nokia Lumia 1520 or get an Android device. The Lumia 1020’s main party trick is its camera, other than that it’s pretty much the same deal as the Lumia 925. 

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Specs & Hardware

The Lumia 1020 runs a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset and 2GB of RAM. Performance is slick, and everything, including the PureView camera and its plethora of features, is handled without so much of a hint of lag. There are delays when processing images and the mechanical shutter does drag a bit, but aside from this performance is tip-top.

The Lumia scored 11184 in our AnTuTu benchmark tests, placing it above the Snapdragon 400-powered HTC One Mini (11116) but below the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. Overall the Lumia 1020 does pack something of a punch, although general spec and hardware will be dramatically improved aboard its follow-up, the Nokia Lumia 1520, which is due out later this quarter.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Storage

The Nokia Lumia is available in two storage varieties: 32GB and 64GB. There’s no 16GB option, and that means you’ll pay a little more for the handset – prices start around £600 off-contract. Card support via microSD is also missing in action, but you do get 7GB of free SkyDrive storage – handy for storing images and documents. 

I usually bemoan the lack of storage aboard a handset (or the lack of SD-support), but with the Lumia 1020 you have ample amounts of room for all your media, images and documents. The only downside to all of this is that you’ll have to pay a pretty big premium for it –– and with the Lumia 1520 just around the corner, that’s kind of a big ask.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Connectivity

The specs might not be bleeding-edge but Nokia has ensured the Lumia 1020 is fully connected with full support for the UK’s burgeoning 4G spectrum. NFC is also included as well as wireless charging [although you will need a Qi charging stand], USB 2.0, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n.

The 4G-enabled (and in some cases ready) Lumia 1020 is available on O2, Vodafone, EE and Three in the UK. At the time of writing EE, Vodafone and O2 are all offering LTE services in the UK. In my experience, EE has the best coverage but Vodafone seems to have the most consistent speeds – at least in London, anyhow.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8’s tile-based UI is certainly striking and is very much a unique beast amongst its peers. It’s also extremely simple to use and very easy on the eye with its cascading application layouts and silky smooth scrolling.

The layout is simple: your main screen is the Start menu –– that’s your Live Tiles. Swipe from right to left to access everything else - this is basically your app drawer. Bing search is accessed via the right-hand navigation key, and a long press on the back button opens up multitasking.

But for all its aesthetic charms, Windows Phone is somewhat limited in scope. It’s a very decent platform, but there is still quite a bit of work to be done on Microsoft’s part. After almost three years, app support still isn’t great [although it is improving] and, believe it or not, there is still no drop-down notifications center – which is a real gripe for us. 

Nokia’s HERE and Drive suite of apps offer up some of the best mapping and navigation experiences you’re likely to find on any mobile platform – Android included. But the Nokia apps don’t end there. No, there’s also Nokia Care, Music, Pro Cam, Smart Cam, as well as City Lens, Drive+ Beta, Maps and Transit.

The entire package is robust and, importantly, very useful in every day scenarios. The only downside to all this Nokia-created software is that it’ll take you about a month to test them all out!

Nokia Black Update: What It Brings To The Party

Nokia’s Black update is now here and available for the Lumia 1020. The update adds in quite a few additional features that improve the general utility of the handset as well as what you can do with its 41-megapixel PureView camera. 

Not all Lumia handsets are made equal, however, and some 1020 features will not be available on the 1520. Similarly, some 1520 features will not be available on the 1020; such is Nokia’s approach to modifying and improving the functionality of its ever-growing line of Lumia devices. 

So what’s new inside Black?

Glance 2.0

This isn’t a massive update but it is one of the more useful additions. Glance 2.0 adds notifications to the Lumia 1020’s lockscreen, meaning you can see whether you’ve got an email, a text or a missed call without having to “wake” the 1020 up. Glance 2.0 displays the notifications along the bottom of the display.

Nokia Beamer

Beamer is an app and as the name suggests it lets you wirelessly share the Lumia 1020’s display with an internet-connected HDTV. To access Beamer you first have to download the application, which is now available for all Windows Phone Black handsets with 1GB of RAM or more.

Beamer uses QR Codes to link the handset to an HDTV. How it works is simple: the app creates a QR Code for the second screen, which is you then scan with the phone to connect the two devices. Beamer does all this using a web browser, and once you’re connected you can start sharing things like photos and documents.

Folders

You can now add applications and the like into folders with the Black update, a first for Windows Phone. Nokia’s implementation, however, is not quite the same as folders in Android or iOS folders, which are system-wide features and hard-baked into the source code; it’s a Live Tile app. Not that this matters, though, the new folder system works seamlessly. 

Imaging Improvements 

Raw Data Access

The Black update adds in quite a few refinements to Nokia’s already impressive PureView camera. Chief among these is access to the camera’s raw files (the actual data the sensor captures), allowing the more professional users out there to tinker with untouched, unprocessed data. This feature is currently exclusive to the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 1020. 

Nokia Refocus App

Available for Lumia handsets running 1GB of ROM and above, this nifty little application allows you to refocus the subject of your image after it’s been captured. Like when shooting in HDR mode, you have to hold the handset still while capturing the shot. During capture, the Refocus App logs different focal points – things in the background, object just out of shot, stuff like that – that you can access once the shot has been taken. Excellent stuff. 

BLE

Bluetooth Low Energy, the magical thing that connects your phone to fitness trackers and wireless speakers, is now present and accounted for inside most Nokia Lumia handsets, including the Lumia 1020. Nokia handsets have always had Bluetooth connectivity, but BLE is rather different: it uses A LOT less power, so is ideal for things you’re likely to be connected to for long periods of time – things like a Fitness band, for instance. 

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: PureView Camera

Lets not beat around the bush: the PureView camera aboard the Lumia 1020 is the main event here – it’s why 99.9% of people will buy this phone. Inside that 3mm bulge on the back of the handset you’ll find a 41-megapixel Carl Zeiss Tessar Lens complete with f/2.2 aperture and a gigantic 1/1.5-inch sensor.

The Lumia 1020 also features optical image stabilization (OIS) out the box, lossless zoom, a backside-illuminated image sensor (BSI), 6-lens optics, and 3x high resolution zoom. You also get a wealth of bespoke Nokia editing apps –– Nokia Smart Camera, Cinemagraph lens, Panorama lens, Bing vision, PhotoBeamer, Creative Studio, Nokia Glam Me, Nokia Pro Camera –– for hacking, splicing and re-working your captured images. Holistically it is the most complete imaging suite I’ve ever tested on a phone and I spent hours tinkering will all the features and settings.

Images captured using the PureView lens are superb with excellent quality, near-perfect colour reproduction, and amazing low-light performance.  As it stands there is nothing else on the market that even comes close to what you can capture using this monstrosity – not even Samsung’s Galaxy Camera or the Galaxy Zoom.

Taking shots on the camera and getting decent results is simple: just point and click – you’ll get very impressive shots with minimal effort. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a wealth of settings and parameters, complete with an excellent and very easy to use UX, that allow you to create truly unique images.

Check out our sample snaps below:

Nokia Conversations’ ran the story; check out the full piece here. The article is replete with video footage created in Iceland as well as some filming tips from the man himself. Nokia also conducted a Twitter AMA session with Picard, who answered readers’ questions about using the Lumia 1020 to in the field.

“Hadrien has been a key member of the PureView Series of short films created by a group of talented film makers, with the help of Nokia France. Hadrien recently came back from Iceland, where he filmed an amazing short movie about Icelandic BMXer Anton Arnarson. The film really is stunningly beautiful and not only goes to show the amazing skills of Hadrien and Anton, but the capabilities of the Nokia Lumia 1020 as well,” said Nokia.

Here’s THAT Iceland video: 

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Battery

In our tests the Nokia Lumia 1020’s 2000mAh battery lasted quite a bit longer than most of its peers, lasting a full day with intensive usage. Standby is epic –– we’re talking days and days here –– but this is something we’ve come to expect from Windows Phone devices.

With normal usage –– texting, calls, imaging, gaming, and web browsing –– you’re looking at anywhere between 12 to 13 hours before the battery flatlines. That’s better than the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, and it makes the Lumia 1020 one of the more reliable smartphones we’ve tested all year.

Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Conclusion

The Lumia 1020 is an interesting device. It has a market-leading camera, a unique overall design, plus excellent battery life and performance. However it is difficult to recommend the device with a new Nokia flagship –– the Lumia 1520 –– just around the corner.

The 1520 has a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, Windows Phone GDR3, a 1080p display and sports Microsoft’s revised Windows Phone UX. However, if you’re serious about imaging –– very serious –– then the Lumia 1020 is about as good a camera phone as you’re likely to get this side of 2015.

It is a great handset with lots to offer but there are several things that’d make me think twice about recommending it: size, app selection, Windows Phone 8's foibles, the price and the fact that it is about to be usurped by the upcoming Lumia 1520. 

Specifications

Length 130.4 mm
Width 71.4 mm
Thickness 10.4 mm
Weight 158g
Screen Size 768 x 1280 pixels, 4.5 inches (~332 ppi pixel density)
Designer Lens 41 MP (38 MP effective, 7152 x 5368 pixels), Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, auto/manual focus, Xenon & LED flash
Designer Lens 1/1.5'' sensor size, 1.12 µm pixel size, PureView technology, geo-tagging, face detection, dual capture, panorama
Video Resolution 1080p
Operating System Windows Phone
Processor Dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon
Built-in Memory 32GB & 64GB – no SD-support
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth

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