It’s a smartphone! No, wait, it’s a camera with smartphone bits! Or is it both? Nokia’s Lumia 1020 pushes the envelope of what’s possible with a smartphone camera, but even keen photographers should be aware that there are still some limitations.
Nokia Lumia 1020: On the plus side
The big drawcard for the Lumia 1020 has to be its camera; frankly if you’re not enticed by the Lumia 1020 (but like Windows Phone 8) then the Lumia 925 would be the more obvious purchasing option. Just a few years ago, the concept of putting a 41 megapixel sensor into a mobile phone would seem like sheer folly, but then Nokia went and did that with the Pureview 808. I rather infamously said that nobody should buy the 808, largely because it ran Symbian, but noted at the time that when Nokia got around to putting the same kind of technology into a Windows Phone 8 device, that could be something special. The Lumia 1020 is that special device, mostly.
The Lumia 1020’s physical design is quite appealing. I’ve tested out the bright yellow variant of the Lumia 1020, and while it’s a bit garish for my tastes, there’s no doubting that its a superbly manufactured device. The Lumia 1020 isn’t cheap, and it has no pretensions to looking like it cost anything less than a premium price, with smooth edges, firm buttons and a soft plastic finish that reminds me that its DNA goes all the way back to the sadly stillborn Nokia N9.
The Lumia 1020 is obviously quite a large phone, and you can make your own mind up as to whether that’s desirable or not; I’d certainly suggest anyone buying any smartphone try to get some hands on time.
Nokia also provided me with the optional camera grip accessory that adds a full-sized shutter button and battery pack in one. Again, this speaks to the Lumia 1020’s core photography pitch, because it turns a relatively large smartphone into what may as well be considered a compact camera that also has smartphone capabilities, similar to, say, the Samsung Galaxy Zoom. It’s optional, you don’t have to use it, but when you do it works quite well at providing a firmer grip point and extended battery life.
The key highlight of the Lumia 1020’s camera ability comes through Nokia’s own Pro Cam app. This makes it very simple to adjust parameters including white balance, shutter speed (all the way down to 1/16000 if you’re so inclined) and ISO without interfering with actual shooting. It’s a great bit of UI design, and with a bit of patience, you can turn out some genuinely nice photos. It’s also possible to take Pro Cam shots and re-frame them with decent digital zoom, thanks to the fact that the camera saves a full resolution shot each time; your zoomed shots end up being downsampled 5MP affairs, but they’re generally quite sharp, and the ability to post-process later is useful. As a simple comparison, here’s my shoot-out between the Lumia 1020, the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S4.
As for the Windows Phone 8 part of the Lumia 1020, it’s perfectly functional stuff. In real terms, there’s little between the Lumia 1020 and most other Windows phone thanks to Microsoft’s strong control over the internal configurations of devices running its mobile operating system. With Nokia having just sold off its devices division to Microsoft, that’s unlikely to change.
Battery life is quite good; I’ve been using the Lumia 1020 for a little under a week at this stage and with fairly heavy use I could flatten it within a day, but only just. I’m pretty brutal with phones though, and the same wasn’t true if I had it slotted into the optional camera grip.
Nokia Lumia 1020: On the minus side
The Lumia 1020 is big, and that should be quite obvious, but this does have an effect on its overall usability. It’s pretty snug in a pair of jeans or shorts, and near impossible if you’re using the camera grip to get it into a pocket. At 158 grams, this is a phone that you’ll feel is there, in other words.
While the photo output of the 1020 can be quite remarkable, there are some limitations to what you can do with it. If you want to use the stock Windows 8 camera app, you can’t capture at full resolution. Pro Cam is clearly where Nokia wants you to be shooting, but there individual shot taking is relatively leisurely experience.
This is easily the most frustrating part of using the Lumia 1020 if you want its full power, because shot to shot time is around 3 seconds per shot. Yes, you can zoom in on them after the fact to get a better framing, but that’s not much consolation if the baby smiles 2 seconds after you’ve taken the shot.
There is a workaround for this — use Nokia’s Smart Cam for burst mode– but then you lose the full resolution and fine detail of the Pro Cam app. For a phone that sells itself so very strongly on its camera chops, it’s interesting that Nokia hasn’t chosen to make an all-in application that could show the 1020’s sensor off to the best possible extent, but that may well be a hardware limitation. It’s worth keeping in mind, however.
Windows Phone continues to improve on the apps front, but it’s hardly an app powerhouse compared to iOS or Android. That might not be such a bad thing — I recently wrote up some observations on Windows Phone 8’s information-centric approach — but anyone considering a switch to Windows Phone 8 should bear it in mind.
The Lumia 1020’s 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 is a perfectly adequate processor, but it’s not quite up to the same standard as the rest of the phone, and it’s quite likely that this is part of the reason for the Pro Cam’s sluggishness. At full resolution, it simply can’t churn that much data, and that does create problems. Again, Microsoft very strictly defines what can and can’t go into the innards of a Windows Phone device, but here I can’t help but feel that a better processor might have given the Lumia 1020 even more of an edge.
Like the Lumia 925, you’re also stuck with no expandable memory. The Lumia 1020 has 32GB onboard, which is reasonable, but again it’d be far more flexible for such a camera-centric phone to allow removable storage.
Nokia Lumia 1020: Pricing
The standard RRP for the Lumia 1020 is $899 outright according to Nokia. Telstra will offer it in Australia from the 17th of September in Black on a $60/month contract (plus $15/month handset repayment) with $600 “worth” of calls, unlimited SMS and 1GB of data for a minimum cost of $1,800; Telstra will also sell the black model outright for $816. As a pre-order bonus Telstra’s offering the camera grip free to the first 500 customers to order online.
Optus will also offer the black version of the Lumia 1020, with pricing yet to be confirmed.
If you want white or yellow instead, you’re looking at outright purchase. Dick Smith and Allphones will offer the Black and Yellow versions; at the time of writing Dick Smith hasn’t released pricing, but Allphones currently lists it as available on September 16th for $829. Harvey Norman’s selling the full range of Black, White or Yellow phones, and they reckon they’ll have them on the 15th for $833, with the Yellow model also getting a handgrip free if you pre-order.
On the importing side, Mobicity lists the Lumia 1020 for $869.95.
Nokia Lumia 1020: Fat Duck verdict
Want the best camera you can get right now on a smartphone? Buy the Lumia 1020.
Nokia’s turned out a top-notch smartphone in the Lumia 1020, and it’s interesting to note that it’s done so with what may well be its last smartphone, having recently sold “Lumia” and the division that makes it lock, stock and barrel to Microsoft. It’s worth keeping its limitations (size, slow shooting speed, the relative app position of Windows Phone 8) in mind, but this is easily the most attractive Windows Phone 8 device I’ve ever used.