Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

Nokia recently launched the Nokia Lumia 1020 which is a huge improvement from their original PureView phone which was the Nokia 808. This time around, it’s slimmer and runs on Windows Phone 8 with some handy camera apps built-in. We were able to spend some time to tinker around with Lumia 1020 especially its 41-megapixel camera.

Design and Construction

The Nokia Lumia 1020 takes its cues from its predecessor, the Nokia 920, and in truth, there’s no real ground breaking difference as far as aesthetics go. It uses a durable polycarbonate unibody chassis that has a matte finish. The phone is not the thinnest out there, but it was the compromise made to accommodate the Pureview camera module.

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At the front there’s the 4.5″ AMOLED screen with the standard capacitive touch buttons for Windows phones.

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We have the microSIM card tray up top beside the 3.5mm headphone jack (covered by the sticker there). Then we’ve got a charging and micro-USB data port at the bottom along with the mic and speakers. At the right we have a volume rocker, the power or sleep button, and the camera trigger.

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But the most important feature of all is evident at the back side of the Nokia Lumia 1020 where we can see the slightly protruding Pureview camera module.

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The size of the phone is undeniably large and hefty for its screen size but it somehow fits comfortably in my hands. The extra weight, compared to other large screen smart phones, is actually quite nice. It feels like I’m holding a solid and durable device.

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Nokia Philippines is also bundling a Camera Grip accessory with the Nokia Lumia 1020 at no extra charge. This is an exclusive freebie for the Philippine market.

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The Camera Grip has a trigger button up top, and a tripod mount at the bottom. The front has a hole where the Pureview camera fits perfectly, and then we have a rubbery strip for improved grip. We can see the thicker grip which makes it easier and more natural to operate the camera of the Nokia Lumia 1020 using a landscape orientation. On top of that, it also packs a power supply for extended use; about an additional 4-6 hours of use. The battery pack trickle charges the smartphone and makes sure that it’s at 100% power until the battery pack runs out of juice.

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The trickle charge mode can be disabled and enabled by holding the battery button found at the side along with the 4 holes. The 4 holes are actually LED indicators for the batt pack, these blink while charging and also shows the battery level by pressing the battery button. Putting this on the Nokia Lumia 1020 is pretty easy, just slide it in and snap it into place. It’s actually harder to remove it because the clips that grip the top-end of the Lumia 1020 are essentially force fitted.

Software

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a Windows Phone and it carries the Windows 8 OS along with some nifty apps. Windows 8 for the smartphone is what it is; the menus are straight forward and the learning curve to navigate through the phone is pretty short.

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The phone also comes with some apps like Office that allows us to create Word and Excel documents and view PowerPoint decks. Office also integrates with SkyDrive and SharePoint, so I can easily see how this could be a phone for office yuppies. There are also plenty of camera apps or modes aside from the simple Camera mode like the Nokia Pro Cam, Panorama, and Nokia Smart Cam. I personally like the Nokia Pro Cam because it allows us to control the ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and focusing”¦just like pro-sumer and DSLR cameras. One gripe that I have is the lack of aperture control”¦but it might be too much to ask.

Understanding PureView?

Continuing Nokia’s great history on camera phones, the PureView technology really works well. We’ve seen the PureView on the Nokia 808 before and the concept really hasn’t changed on the Lumia 1020. The only difference of the Lumia 1020 camera setup is that it sports an image stabilization mechanism and is missing that ND filter on the Nokia 808.

So what’s the PureView technology all about and how does it make the images better? Let’s try to answer that”¦and just a fair warning, this is just based on how I understand the technology and this part might be a little too technical for some without a basic concept of how digital cameras work. You may wish to skip to the next section.

To begin with, the image sensors used in the PureView designs are bigger than what’s used in other smartphones (even the iPhone 5s) and even some point and shoot cameras. Albeit the Nokia 808 uses a bigger sensor than the Lumia 1020, this does not mean that the Lumia 1020 loses image quality. In fact, it might even be possible that the PureView tech on the Lumia 1020 could be a refined version of PureView that do not need a sensor as large as the one used on the 808.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 in low-light

So how does a larger sensor improve an image? It allows the camera to capture more ambient light resulting to cleaner or low noise images in low light scenarios. Since a photo is basically a snapshot of light and how it illuminates a subject, having the camera recognize more light in dark scenes will improve a photo. This does not mean though that we can use the Lumia 1020 to replace the DSLR”¦the smallest DSLR sensors are still significantly larger.

Then Nokia designs an algorithm to essentially use multiple pixels and interpret it to make one “œsuper” pixel. This is why the 41mp PureView camera only puts out 38mp images”¦because the system compresses the pixels and we end up with slightly smaller images. So how does this improve the photo? PureView uses multiple pixels to determine what color, exposure, contrast, and other things to make that one “œsuper” pixel”¦this contributes to the overall sharpness and makes a photo more accurate particularly in low light scenarios.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 zoomed-in

An off-shoot benefit from the large megapixel of the PureView camera is the capability to simulate “œoptical zoom”. Typically, true optical zoom relies on the camera’s optics or lens”¦hence the name. To achieve a larger optical zoom range, lenses would have to be larger”¦that’s why those super zoom cameras are bigger. Due to physical limitations, implementing a true blue optical zoom on a mobile phone form factor is a technical challenge. Nokia managed to find a clever solution to zoom in without losing image quality by simply cropping the large image that we get from the 41mp camera. This approach is totally different from digital zoom where we typically get fuzzy images after zooming in.

Camera

As we’ve mentioned a while ago, the Lumia 1020 has a handful of camera modes or apps”¦we’ll be covering the basic Camera app and the Nokia Pro Cam app more extensively in this section and touch a bit on the other camera modes. Let’s start with the basic Camera app.

The basic Camera app works like a point and shoot camera. Operating this mode easy, point the cam, tap the subject we want to focus and the camera shoots once it focuses. We can control the flash by turning it on, off, or auto. In the photo settings menu, we can pick the aspect ratio, scene mode, ISO, exposure, white balance and focus assist light. Photos in this mode are always 5mp, which is ok because this mode allows for the most zoomed in photo on the Lumia 1020.

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The Nokia Pro Cam app on the other hand was made so that the customizable settings are readily available on the interface itself and allows us to capture 36/38mp photos. The settings that are available include flash, white balance, ISO, shutter speed, focusing, and exposure. The controls can be a little tricky at first and I like how it shows a real time change on the screen for controls like the white balance and exposure.

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In Nokia Pro Cam menu, under settings, we have the option to pick the aspect ratio, enable framing grids, enable face detect, and pick a capture mode between 5mp or 5mp with a 36/38mp image. The menu also has an exposure bracketing option where we can identify the number of exposures and the exposure range, but this works a little too slow as it transitions taking the multiple exposures. The menu also has a shutter delay feature so that the picture is taken a second after pressing the trigger to allowing us some time to stabilize our grip.

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The 5-megapixel version seems sharper than the 38-megapixel one

One observation I have while using the Nokia Pro Cam with the 5mp and 38mp capture mode is that the 5mp photo actually looks sharper than the 38mp photo. Also, while zooming in, the smartphone actually just crops the 38mp photo to give us the zoomed in 5mp photo and the 38mp photo that we get is a zoomed out version. Also, it seems like the image shown in the camera roll is the larger resolution photo which looks soft or slightly unfocussed.

Another bothersome observation is that the ellipsis button is positioned too close to the search button for both camera modes. So instead of opening the menu like I want to, I end up opening the Bing search screen.

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The image capturing process also lags a bit between shoots regardless of camera mode, this can be a little troublesome specially if we want to capture photos quickly. Loading the camera modes also takes a few seconds and this could cause us to miss a moment that we’re trying to photograph.

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Also I really wish that they added a burst mode in the Nokia Pro Cam”¦alternatively, a “œburst mode” is available in the Nokia Smart Cam”¦however, unlike conventional burst mode the Nokia Smart Cam only lets us pick one shot we like to keep.

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There’s also a Panorama mode with an assistant that helps us align the images while we shoot it, although the stitching is off when I tried to use it in a small space due to the distortion brought by rotating in one spot.

One observation is that the ergonomics can be a little tricky while pressing the camera trigger button. The thin frame and the beefy weight of the Lumia 1020 are the reasons why it can feel unstable while using the camera trigger. Luckily the Camera Grip accessory solves this issue.

Battery

The Lumia 1020 has a 2,000mAh battery under the hood which really serves it well. With the efficiency of Windows 8 and the AMOLED display, I’ve managed to use the Lumia 1020 for over 10 hours of use. I’m not a phone call kinda guy so I basically SMS a lot and primarily use WiFi for data. I also managed to watch some anime episodes and take plenty of photos in one charge. If I were to use this phone purely on SMS messaging, I bet I could extend the battery life to the next day.

The Camera Grip improves the battery life by roughly 4-5 hours of mixed phone usage. That’s about half a day’s worth of juice, not bad! This accessory is really handy if you plan on having a trip and foresee heavy camera usage, because despite the efficiencies of the AMOLED display, having the screen on especially while using the camera is still the major battery drainer.

Others

I experienced a connectivity issue via USB between the phone and the computer running Windows 7. I was basically transferring files to the computer via Explorer and it worked just fine for the first couple of times I did this but bogged down for some reason while I was transferring a large video recording. I wasn’t sure if the cable got loose, but after that happened, I could not see the folder structure of the phone no matter how many times I safely remove the phone and plug it back to the computer. If this happens to you, try resetting the phone because that trick worked for me.

Conclusion

If you love to take photos with your mobile phones, the Lumia 1020 with its PureView technology certainly provides one of the best imaging options out in the market today. The question really is, if you’d be OK using the Windows OS instead of iOS or Android. Nevertheless, it’s really hard to equal or beat the imaging capabilities of this phone in its class.

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The Lumia 1020 is available for Php35,650 at Nokia stores and comes with a free Camera Grip accessory worth Php4,000. Available colors are black, white, and yellow.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Specs:
4.5-inch AMOLED display, 768 x 1280, 322 ppi
PureMotion HD+, Clear Black technology, Super Sensitive Touch
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon S4 chip
Adreno 225 GPU
2GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, no microSD
7GB free SkyDrive storage
Windows Phone 8
PureView 41MP sensor with Optical Image Stabilization, Xenon Flash
Backside-illuminated image sensor, 6-lens ZEISS optics
1.2MP wide angle HD front camera
HSDPA, 42.2 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps; LTE
Stereo FM radio with RDS
Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP, NFC
Non-removable Li-Ion 2000 mAh battery (BV-5XW)
130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4 mm
158 g
Colors: Black, White, Yellow
SRP: Php35,650
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  • Wow, another cool stuff from nokia

  • steelicon

    Hardware wise this is only second in imaging as well as I/O compared to N808PVP.

  • Nokia did a great job on this one. And the white looks way better than the yellow to my eyes.

  • Renan Valverde Gemanel

    My dream phone <3