Revisited and Reviewed: Nokia Lumia 1020

The Nokia Lumia 1020 review is part of a new review series “Revisited and Reviewed” where we revisit old devices, and see where they stand in terms of today’s competition. Our first choice was the mobile photography king Lumia 1020. Enjoy.

OVERVIEW

The impressive camera accounts for most of the expensive price tag, in fact making it more expensive than many other flagships. It may not matter for those looking for the best camera in a smartphone, but many consumers will find the price tag unjustified, especially with its mid-range specs, making it a niche product.

PROS:

  • Great camera
  • Solid build quality
  • Nokia’s WP8 apps

CONS:

  • Expensive
  • Mid-range specs
  • Noticeable camera hump
  • Not compact for a 4.5 inch display

INTRODUCTION

The Nokia PureView 808 was arguably the highlight of 2012’s Mobile World Congress. That’s right, a Symbian phone. With a 41 MP camera.

However, Symbian was becoming obsolete, and the 808 fared horribly in sales. So the question was when will it inevitably arrive on Windows Phone, a platform with more traction?

On 11th July 2013, the Nokia Lumia 1020 was officially revealed. Codenamed Nokia “EOS”, the Lumia 1020 sports a 41 MP camera as well, a spiritual successor of the PureView 808, with better technology. In fact, it says “Model: NOKIA 909” in the settings. Does it live up to its name? Is it a phone with a great camera, or a camera with a phone? Let’s have a peek at the specs shall we?

  • Dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz
  • Adreno 225 GPU
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 32 GB non-expandable storage
  • 4.5″ 16M-color PureMotionHD+ AMOLED capacitive touchscreen of 1280 x 768 pixels; Corning Gorilla Glass 3; Nokia Glance
  • 41MP PureView sensor (38MP effective), 1/1.5″ sensor size, 1.12µm, ZEISS lens, Optical Image Stabilization, xenon and LED flashes
  • [email protected] video recording; 4x lossless digital zoom
  • 2000 mAh battery
  • NFC
  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support; 3G with 42Mbps HSPA; 150Mbps LTE

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The Lumia 1020 comes with 32 GB of non-expandable internal storage, with a 64 GB variant exclusive to certain carriers overseas. The actual capacity is around 29 GB, with 2.1 GB taken by system files, leaving the user around 26 GB to play with. For a flagship model, while this isn’t exactly a deal breaker, a larger internal storage or better, a SD card slot, would have been very much appreciated.

With the extremely impressive camera on board compelling one to snap lots of photos, transferring the photos (especially if you’re taking 5 MP + 34/38 MP or RAWs) to a PC becomes a regular thing. Full resolution photos average at about 10 MB each, while RAWs in Digital Negative (DNG) average at a whopping 40 MB. In light of this, the non-expandable 32 GB internal storage is certainly a let-down from Nokia.

UNBOXING AND DESIGN

The retail box of the Lumia 1020 is quite different from the rest of the Lumia line in order to house the camera grip, but the design philosophy is generally the same.

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Inside the box, you will find everything you expect to find – the device itself, matching earphones and extra ear tips, charging adapter and a micro-USB cable, SIM door opening tool, and a quick start guide. Also included is a pamphlet explaining the occasional rattling sound from the phone, which is caused by the Optical Image Stablisation’s ball bearings.

There is also a camera grip accessory, which is black in colour and not yellow as shown on the retail box.

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The camera grip basically turns the Lumia 1020 into a point and shoot, providing a two-stage shutter key and a more ergonomic grip. It can also provide more battery life with its own 1020 mAh capacity battery, allowing you to snap more photos.

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As expected of Nokia, the build quality of the 1020 is impressive. At 158g with the dimensions being 130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4mm, it isn’t as slim as the, say iPhone 5s at 112g and 7.6mm thin. However, it certainly feels really solid and the weight is reassuring in hand, something I cannot say for the iPhone 5s.

The 1020 unibody housing is made of matte polycarbonate, which is not only good to the touch, but also dirt and fingerprint resistant. However, the matte material is also anti-grip, which may cause the phone to slip from my grip at times. Thankfully, Nokia’s superior build quality often leaves the 1020 unscathed.

From left: HTC One, Nokia Lumia 1020, Apple iPhone 5S
From left: HTC One, Nokia Lumia 1020, Apple iPhone 5S

The massive camera hump on the back bumps the thickness of the phone up to 14.5mm, which may seem like a lot on paper (it is a 4.1mm increase after all, nearing half of the phone’s thickness). That was what I thought so too, before I actually got to play around with it in a telco store. I can assure you that it isn’t that much of a protrusion in hand, though you can still feel it there.

It also means that you won’t be able to lie the phone flat with the screen facing up, which is a good and bad thing. The good thing is that the screen is slightly angled at you, providing a better viewing experience. The bad thing is that the 1020 will wobble if you are tapping on the screen, and if you’re tapping on the upper part of the screen, the whole phone will be lifted up. It can be annoying at times, like when a toast notification arrives, you have to tap lightly on it. However, this isn’t a deal breaker, and I have learned to live with it.

The front of the device has the earpiece, very cleverly hidden ambient light sensor, 1.2 MP front facing camera, and the back, Start and search capacitive keys at the bottom.

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On the right of the phone, you’ll find all the aluminium buttons – volume rocker, power button, and a physical camera shutter key. Though the feedback when pressing them is not as pronounced as an iPhone (from the 4 onwards), it should be good enough for users.

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The left of the device is completely bare.

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The 3.5mm headphone jack and SIM card tray is found on the top.

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The micro USB port between a lanyard hole (a nice touch for photographers used to a camera strap) and the large speaker grille is found on the bottom.

It is appreciated that the speaker grille is found on the bottom, unobstructed, though it wouldn’t be too much of a problem even if it was found on the back since the phone doesn’t lie flat. The top and bottom is flat, allowing you to place it upright if you so wish to.

The camera hump is made of aluminium, and it feels rather similar to the polycarbonate housing, giving a uniform feel of the back of the phone. The aluminium really helps to dissipate the heat from the internals of the phone, which is a good thing since there is a massive camera sensor among others inside. Until you feel the heat. During medium to intensive browsing, the hump and the region around it feels pretty warm, to the point of mildly uncomfortable. It becomes even warmer when taking photos, and with prolonged used becomes pretty uncomfortable. The heat will persist for quite some time.

DISPLAY

The Lumia 1020 is fitted with a 4.5-inch PureMotion HD+ AMOLED screen with a resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels, or a pixel density of 334ppi. The screen is a 2.5D sculpted glass, and you can actually feel the subtle curve as you run your fingers over the edge of the glass, giving a more natural experience. It also comes with Gorilla Glass 3 technology, citing up to 40% more scratch resistance over Gorilla Glass 2’s already impressive scratch resistance.

With its AMOLED screen and Nokia ClearBlack technology, the contrast is impressive. Blacks are often indistinguishable from the screen bezel, and since WP8 is pretty much black based, the result is that the user viewing experience is great. One common complaint with AMOLED displays is that the colour reproduction is subpar compared to LCD displays, but Nokia has thoughtfully included a “Lumia Colour Profile” in the settings, allowing you to tweak it to your taste.

While the black levels and contrast ratio are high, that is the work of the AMOLED technology, and the low brightness means that it’s harder to see the screen under bright sunlight compared to the 1520, but the Sunlight Contrast Ratio test will tell us if it is poorer than comparable flagship competition.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
HTC One Max 0.14 224 1591 0.40 629 1572
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 0 149 0 379
Sony Xperia Z1 0.38 580 1513
Nokia Lumia 1520 0.22 263 1174 0.43 522 1207
Nokia Lumia 1020 0 172 0 398
Nokia Lumia 920 0.48 513 1065
Sony Xperia Z Ultra 0.47 467 1001
Sony Xperia Z 0.70 492 705
Huawei Ascend Mate 0.23 222 982 0.67 711 1053
Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 0.12 160 1364 0.32 440 1379
Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 0 201 0 404
HTC Butterfly S 0.15 165 1117 0.43 451 1044

A 4.5-inch display with a pixel density of 334ppi sounds more befitting of a mid-range phone, since 2013 flagships commonly have larger displays and full HD resolution, translating to more than 400ppi. I can’t say that the display of the 1020 is better (except the iPhone 5s with “retina” display), but it definitely provides a pleasurable viewing experience, so I have no complains. Still, a full HD display would be appreciated, but Nokia isn’t to blame here, rather the fact that full HD resolution was not supported by WP8 at the point of release.

APPS

After the countless hours spent on browsing the XDA forums for new firmwares and ROMs when I used an Android phone, and the relatively smooth sailing experience on my iPhone 4S, I was looking for something new. Eager to try out the last major OS (sorry, Blackberry), I was full of anticipation when I got my hands on this phone. While this isn’t a review of Windows Phone 8, I have to say that it went well with the hardware, and I cannot see this phone running on anything other than WP8.

A number of software came pre-installed with the 1020, and the fact that they can be easily uninstalled is well appreciated. However, they aren’t your typical bloatware (cough, Samsung, cough), and they are actually useful. The included Office is usable for on-the-go word editing, and can even handle some basic PowerPoint editing (i.e. editing text boxes and notes) and spreadsheet work, but you should probably stick to your computer for work.

The Nokia HERE apps, HERE Maps and HERE Drive+, are impressive. By downloading maps for offline use, true offline turn-by-turn navigation is available. I imagine it would come in handy, especially overseas where a data connection is not readily available without incurring massive data roaming charges.

BATTERY LIFE

In the era where flagship models have battery capacities exceeding 3000 mAh like the Sony Xperia Z1 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the 2000 mAh non-removable battery on board the 1020 seems insufficient.

In my two months of usage so far, I have received mixed results. With its relatively frugal processor, the battery would sometimes drain 4% per hour in standby mode (all applications closed, glance and double tap to wake off), while in other times, less than 1% per hour. However, the battery drain is apparent when I use the phone, regardless of what I am doing with it. 8% per 20 minutes, or around 25% of battery drain per hour when browsing is common.

In our Daily Usage Test, where we try to go about our day as we usually do, the Lumia 1020 disappointed. The plan was to use the device for 1 hour on LTE, 2 hours on WiFi, 30 minutes of Temple Run 2 and the whole of Thor, after which it would be left to idle. Unfortunately, the device died 1 hour into Thor. In total, it was left on for 4 hours and 41 minutes, which is also its final screen-on time.

While it isn’t impressive, the Lumia 1020 should be able to last you through a day with light to moderate use.

PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARKS

The Lumia 1020 is fitted with a dual-core 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon S4 Plus processor, with 2 GB of RAM and an Adreno 225 GPU. All these may seem lacklustre on a 2013 flagship, but it runs the resource-easy WP8. Scrolling around is buttery smooth, and there is near zero lag even when playing games. Unlike Android where hardware dictates performance, WP8 is not resource intensive, and the processor and CPU on board the 1020 does perfectly fine in providing a smooth OS experience.

For what it’s worth, we did run the WPBench Benchmark, which compares Windows Phone performance, and the 1020 performed quite well.

CPU

In the CPU calculations test, the 1020 took 4000 ms, a respectable showing considering the scores of the 925 flagship.

Data Memory

In the memory test the Lumia 1020 also came very close to the 920 and 925.

Data

The story repeated itself in the data test.

GPU

And finally, the 1020 was a hair’s breadth behind the 920 and 925.

All in all, the performance of the 1020 is really good, and you’re not going to see any lag like you do in Android devices, even many years down the line.

CAMERA INTERFACE

The Nokia Camera app allows you to manually adjust some common settings as well (bar the fixed aperture) in the form of sliders, where you slide the buttons up and down to change that particular setting. The settings are, from left to right, White Balance, Focus, ISO, Shutter speed, and Brightness. This proves to be useful in situations where auto just doesn’t cut it, like when taking a long exposure shot.

UI

CAMERA PERFORMANCE

The camera on board the 1020 requires is the main selling point of the phone, targeting a niche group of photography enthusiasts, or anyone looking for a great camera and WP8.

The key specs are as follow:

  • 41 megapixels
  • f/2.2 aperture, 1/1.5 inch sensor
  • Back-side illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Optical image stabilisation (OIS)
  • 6-element Carl Zeiss lens
  • LED + Xenon flash
  • Nokia PureView technology

Nokia claims that all these will help to create the sharpest image in any condition out of all the smartphones available. The camera captures 34 MP or 38 MP photos, depending on the aspect ratio chosen. It then oversamples the photo, that is to compress around 7 pixels worth of information into 1 “SuperPixel”, producing a very sharp 5 MP oversampled photo, promising lossless zoom (up to a certain point only, of course). You can choose to keep the full resolution photo as well, though it takes up a lot of space (~10 MB).

Nokia touted this to be the best cameraphone yet. I cannot disagree. Click on the following samples for the full resolution image.

Day Samples:

When the first daylight photo was taken, the temperature was -13°C with the winds literally howling. This is when the OIS really starts to shine. With such unfavourable conditions causing my hands to shake uncontrollably, the ball bearings really helped to stabilise the shot, showing minimal blur from shake in the photo. As you can see, the exposure is perfect, colours are accurate and white balance is extremely precise.

Low Light and Night Samples:

In low light conditions, the quality unsurprisingly drops. The colour balance tends to be slightly off, as can be seen from the walls of the HDB flats which are supposed to be white. Nevertheless, photos are still generally pleasing to look at, and if you are able to steady the phone for a low light shot, it will turn out great.

When it comes to videos, the 1020 is no slouch either. Promising up to 3x “lossless” zoom in 1080p recordings and 6x in 720p recordings, videos are of high quality. The OIS helps to reduce camera shake as well, producing videos pleasing to the eye. However, as seen from the night sample, noise is present when filming in low light conditions, especially when zooming in. Even then, the quality is still there, with accurate colours and focusing.

In conclusion, the camera is nothing short of phenomenal. With quality that can rival entry-level DSLRs, and photos that leave most point-and-shoot compact cameras in the dust, Nokia has shown to the world that they are kings of mobile photography. With a mammoth 1/1.5 inch sensor, the camera can take full advantage of the 41 megapixels of resolution, and these result in crisp and crystal clear photos.

CONCLUSION

Today’s society is a society where just about everyone is constantly whipping out their smartphones to capture images of just about everything, to share with their friends and family.

It sounds perfect, with an excellent camera producing equally excellent images on a phone, isn’t that the dream in today’s society? Unfortunately, with its high price tag and OS, it is still a niche product, targeting mainly photography enthusiasts. The smartphone market is largely dominated by Android and iOS, and although more and more are switching over to Windows Phone 8, WP8 users still represent a very small demographics, making the Lumia 1020 even more niche.

In the end, the Lumia 1020 is still a phone, but with a great camera. There are other great smartphone cameras in the market as well, such as the Sony Xperia Z1, or even Nokia’s own Lumia 1520, but the 1020 is undeniably the best.

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