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Nokia Lumia 1020 review: the Warthog of the smartphone world

by Michael Fisher on

(Updated 7/29/2013 with additional battery endurance information. See “Performance,” below.)

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a ground-attack aircraft operated by the U.S. military. It’s big, it’s slow, and it’s built around a single dominant feature: the 30mm cannon slung under its cockpit. The A-10 is also so ugly that it’s one of the few planes in the world known better for its nickname than its official designation: pilots long ago rechristened the ugly bird the “Warthog,” and the name stuck.

a10

It’s anyone’s guess what nickname the mass market will give to Nokia’s latest Windows Phone flagship, but we can probably expect something a fair bit more imaginative than the staid “Lumia 1020.” Because this monster has a lot in common with the Warthog – it’s big, it ain’t pretty, and it’s built around a dominant central component: its 41MP camera.

camclose1020

Oh, and it also shares another attribute with the A-10: it’s pretty damn good at what it does.

But are stellar, even best-in-class, photos enough to finally motivate consumers to buy Windows Phones en masse? More importantly, is the new phone’s feature set worth its high price tag? Join us for our Nokia Lumia 1020 review to find out.

Videos · Specs/Hardware · Software · Camera · Performance

 Pricing/Availability · Conclusion · Scored For Me

Video Reviews, Features, & Comparisons







 

Index

Specs & Hardware

Contrary to what you might expect, the Lumia 1020 doesn’t exactly mirror Nokia’s most recent hardware design moves. It eschews the fancy aluminum cladding of its close neighbor, the Lumia 925, opting instead for a unique spin on the build of its older, more venerable forerunner, the Lumia 920. Optimist and apologists might call that spin “bold” and “aggressive.” Trolls might call it “being beaten repeatedly with the ugly stick.” For our part, we fall somewhere in the middle: the Lumia 1020 isn’t a pretty phone. But that’s okay. Because there’s a good reason for its homeliness.

l1020 camera medium

That’s right: the curved Nokia smile, pleasantly symmetrical speaker ports, and artistic balance of the 920 have all been sacrificed in order to accommodate the 1020′s lanyard hole giant camera. The 41-megapixel PureView module is made of aluminum, and it rises like an Oreo-sized pimple from the surrounding polycarbonate. No matter what color phone you opt for, the camera bezel is black to draw the eye, and it’s ringed by a gentle slope that tells your hands it’s there – ensuring you don’t smudge up the lens with a fingertip.

l1020 specs

The camera hump makes the 1020 pretty awkward to hold, but it also reminds you of the principal reason for the phone’s existence every time you pick it up. It does that without resorting to the more absurd hardware design of, say, something like the Galaxy S 4 Zoom – remember, from the front, it’s hard to tell it apart from the 920, and it’s surprisingly light (158g) and thin (10.4mm) given all the optics packed inside. The matte polycarbonate shell itself feels smooth and futuristic in the hand, and the aluminum volume, power, and shutter keys have a pleasantly rough texture.

In the midst of all that matte material sits the smooth and glossy Gorilla Glass 3 window protecting the phone’s display. The glass is smooth and just slightly curved, the screen itself a 4.5-inch AMOLED panel delivering WXGA resolution (1280 x 768, about 334ppi) and vibrant colors paired with stunningly deep blacks. Given its enhanced side-visibility and newly-adjustable settings (see Software, below) it’s a wonderful step up from the 920′s LCD panel – and yes, it’s still got super-sensitive touch, PureMotion HD+, and all the other wonderful, buzzword-y touches of that predecessor.

l1020 screen

Outside of the camera, the 1020′s internals don’t really stand out – especially not given 2013′s recent wave of quad-core superphones. That’s par for the course with Windows Phones, though, which have never been demons on the spec sheet (because, frankly, they haven’t needed to be). The 1020 does ship with double the RAM of most other Windows Phones, though (2GB vs 1GB), and it also includes a barometer as part of its sensor package – a nice addition we hope developers will take advantage of when crafting navigation, weather, and other outdoorsy apps.

Otherwise, the dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor at 1.5GHz and the 32 gigs of onboard storage (26GB available to the user) shouldn’t surprise you, nor should the fact that neither the storage nor the 2000 mAh (7.6 Wh) battery are removable or expandable. We’re used to embedded batteries at this point -after all, you can always carry around an external charger- but the lack of MicroSD expansion means you’ll have to stay very chummy with your SkyDrive account if you’re going to be taking lots of photos with this device. Which, to be clear, you will be.

Index

Software

wp8UI800

Windows Phone 8’s software experience is very consistent across almost all hardware makes and models. If you’re considering jumping to the 1020 from a dumbphone or another platform, and want the skinny on what to expect from Microsoft’s OS, allow us to direct you to our full deep-dive review on Windows Phone 8. On the whole, we’re happy to report that the 1020 runs the OS just as smoothly and reliably as its predecessors. All the hallmarks of the platform like Live Tiles and the Modern UI design language are here, and of course Nokia’s special suite of exclusive apps continue to do a nice job of completing the Windows Phone experience. We should also note that the Windows Store now sports over 160,000 available titles, meaning you’re more likely than ever before to be able to find the apps you’re looking for on the world’s third-largest mobile platform.

More interestingly, the Lumia 1020 is one of the first units to ship with the combination of Microsoft’s GDR2 and Nokia’s Amber software updates, meaning the 1020 offers some of the UI enhancements we showed you in our Lumia 925 review. Glance Mode offers a floating clock on your standby screen that can be commanded to time out eventually, remain on forever, or be summoned by a hand wave. The long-awaited double-tap-to-unlock is here as well, and at last, users are given ability to adjust the temperature and saturation of the 1020′s display, which should quiet down some of the complaints about AMOLED’s color reproduction.

GDR2 also brings a variety of minor enhancements to the overall Windows Phone experience, sharpening up media streaming in the browser, enabling the phone’s FM radio, and significantly cleaning up the Xbox Music suite, among other behind-the-scenes bug fixes and improvements. The update is also supposed to enable the handy Data Sense app as a stock feature, but pesky carrier agreements in the U.S. have found a way to muck that up; the app is nowhere to be found on our review AT&T Lumia 1020.

Index

Camera

l1020 camera pocket

Enough window-dressing. We have finally arrived at the Lumia 1020′s reason for existence.

First and foremost, the phone’s 41-megapixel shooter is a staggering feat of engineering. According to Nokia’s white paper on the 1020 (PDF link), the 1020 approaches optical image stabilization completely differently than the 920. On the newer phone, the entire camera assembly rests on a set of tiny ball-bearings, the unit constantly repositioned by an array of piezoelectric motors that keep it stable based on the on-board gyro’s readings. There’s even a paper insert in the phone’s box, a notice that the “gentle rattle you hear” when shaking the phone is merely “the sound of blur-free photos.”

blur free l1020

Whew.

Like its cousin the Lumia 925, the 1020′s Carl Zeiss optics package also includes a six-element lens (one glass and five plastic), and like Verizon’s Lumia 928, there’s also a Xenon flash located alongside the LED focus light. Unlike those phones, though, the 1020 packs a truly gargantuan component at the heart of it all: the 41MP BSI sensor that earns it the “true” (as opposed to faux-) PureView designation.

For those of you who prefer your spec rundown in tabular form, allow us to do a quick copy-paste from Nokia’s spec page for the 1020:

  • Main camera sensor: 41 MP, PureView
  • Camera resolution: 7712 x 5360 pixels
  • Main camera focus type: Auto focus
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar lens: Yes
  • Sensor size: 1/1.5 inch
  • Main camera f-number/aperture: f/2.2
  • Camera focal length: 26 mm
  • Camera minimum focus range: 15 cm
  • Camera image formats: JPEG
  • Flash type: Xenon flash
  • Flash operating range: 4.0 m
  • Flash modes: Off, Automatic, On

camera UI

In its out-of-box shooting mode, the Lumia 1020 is set by default to “dual capture.” That means it produces two photos for every snapshot: a raw 34-megapixel shot (38MP, if you opt not to crop your photos to 16:9) alongside a more-manageable 5MP photo. The memory usage on those works out to around 10MB and 1.5MB, respectively, per photo. And due to that more petite footprint, it’s the 5MP version of each picture you’ll be sharing over the network.

The question that poses is obvious: why buy a 41MP camera if I’m only going to be able to share 5MP photos? It’s easy to immediately jump to the conclusion that the whole “PureView” thing must be the biggest racket in history. Thankfully, that’s not the case. See, even at the reduced size, the 1020’s photos pack much more quality than a typical 5MP photo because of a technique called oversampling. We touched on this in our review of the 808 PureView, the Nokia phone that served as the testbed for the 1020′s camera. In short, oversampling means that each pixel in the 5MP image has been created using data from up to 7 surrounding pixels. According to Nokia, that technique results in a sharper, more authentic image – but you don’t have to take their word for it. The results speak for themselves.

WP_20130724_20_39_48_ProWP_20130724_19_47_00_ProWP_20130724_19_43_58_ProWP_20130724_19_33_13_ProWP_20130724_19_32_17_ProWP_20130724_19_16_46_ProWP_20130724_19_01_23_ProWP_20130724_12_52_50_ProWP_20130724_12_51_20_ProWP_20130724_12_49_46_ProWP_20130724_12_44_23_ProWP_20130724_12_39_00_ProWP_20130723_17_18_30_ProWP_20130722_21_29_46_ProWP_20130722_20_14_33_ProWP_20130722_20_09_19_ProWP_20130722_18_41_21_ProWP_20130725_11_04_42_Pro

Of course, you can always take the full-resolution photos off the phone using a USB cable and Windows Phone sync software. (Or at least, we used to be able to. Our 1020 has mysteriously stopped allowing that operation, but we’ll update the review when we shake out the problem, for those of you dying to see what those raw shots look like.)

The 1020 also continues Nokia’s excellence in the field of low-light photography, using a combination of longer exposure time and optical image stabilization to brighten dim photos without overdoing it. The Nokia Pro Camera software does this automatically in the default shooting mode, but if you prefer you can also manually control the usual ISO, exposure, and white balance levels, as well as settings most smartphones don’t give you access to, like manual focus adjustment and selectable shutter speed.

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That’s a serious suite of customizations, and if you’re just a casual user, they might seem a little intimidating at first. To be honest, we’re still honing our technique after almost a week (and we’ve had the helpful ministrations of pro photographer Adam Lein to ease the transition). But thankfully, the Lumia 1020’s software provides a helpful tutorial at nearly every turn, and once you get comfortable, you’ll be able to capture some truly outstanding photos with the Nokia Pro Cam application. Of course, Nokia’s Smart Cam app -familiar from the 925- is here as well, offering useful effects like action shots, unwanted-photobomber removal, motion blur, and so on. And the expansion options continue with the usual catalog of Lenses available in the Windows Store (Cinemagraph remains our favorite).

smart cam

While we like these features, the camera experience isn’t perfect: we wish Smart Cam could somehow have been integrated into the Pro Cam app to streamline the experience – as it stands now you have to plan your shots ahead of time, if you want to use the Smart Cam features. You also need to be ready for the camera to take a while to open every time you want to take a shot; all that hardware and software takes a few beats to wake up, and saving photos between snaps also takes a few beats longer than we’ve become used to.

Also, the front-facing camera, though wide-angle, is nothing to write home about otherwise:

... which explains the cold, dead stare of this subject.

… which explains the cold, dead stare of this subject.

Finally, the quality of the still images themselves has been called into question by the folks over at Consumer Reports, who note complaints of white balance and excessive noise in some shots – complaints we can partially verify. The white balance issues are hit-and-miss (only half of the 1020-toting Pocketnow editors can see them) but the excess noise in some low-light shots definitely shouldn’t be present on a camera phone of this caliber. Hopefully a prompt software update will correct that minor deficiency, as it did a focus issue on the 920 last year. And while we’re on the subject of software updates, we should say here that our Nokia Pro Camera app hasn’t had any of the crashing issues mentioned in the video review above since an OTA update that landed earlier today; we’ll report back if the problem returns.

If you’ll pardon the rough YouTube encoding, you’ll see that video performance is excellent as well in full 1080p mode, with crisp imagery and rich color outside, though we were a bit surprised at how much the image seemed to bounce, even on a simple walk down the sidewalk or up some stairs. Nokia’s Rich Recording means audio capture is extremely clear, even in noisy environments. We didn’t have tickets to a concert during the review period, so we sampled the sound suppression at a local subway station and found it to be quite effective in both “default” and “strong” recording modes, though it can be disabled if desired.

sunset

As the centerpiece of the Lumia 1020 experience, Nokia’s newest PureView camera is exemplary. It’s not always going to give you the perfect shot every time, but it definitely outclasses every other smartphone shooter on the US market. While it’s not quite as simple to use as most other phone cameras, that’s because it’s capable of so much more. If you’re like us, carrying the 1020 will make you want to become a better photographer, just so you can live up to the potential of the device. Even if you ultimately ending up posting most of your photos on Instance.

Index

Performance

performance l1020

We tested the Lumia 1020 over the course of five days in and around the Greater Boston area. Outside the camera experience, it was a lot like using a Lumia 920. Network speeds were excellent over LTE and serviceable on 3G HSPA, voice performance was adequate on both ends of phone calls, and the speakerphone provided just enough oomph to blast our Spotify tunes or loudspeaker calls across a room. Of course, we always wish speakers were louder, and that holds true here as well.

We’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss wireless charging; we do. While Nokia maintains its omission was necessary to preserve the 1020′s (relatively) sleek lines, we can’t help but feel it’s a step backward. The 1020’s USB port is especially hard to find in the dark for some reason, and we’re not keen on adding even more bulk to the 1020’s frame with a wireless charging case. That said, we’re probably in the minority here.

Fortunately, battery life seems about average given our testing so far. On a moderate-usage day constantly polling two email accounts at 15-minute intervals, constantly texting and tweeting, and taking between 80-100 photos while subway-ing in and out of LTE coverage, we made it to 11 hours off the charger before the low-battery warning came on (despite enabling Battery Saver, the phone finally expired about an hour later). The more you use that beast of a camera, the faster your power will drain – so shoot sparingly. That’s a tall order with such a nice camera, though, so if you’re a photo junkie, you may want to consider Nokia’s camera grip accessory, which features an added built-in battery. We just snagged one of those today, so we’ll report back after we spend the weekend with it – and we’ll also update this post once we have a solid WPBench battery-exhaustion score.

Update: After a weekend with the Lumia 1020 (during which we scored some more pretty sweet photos between Massachusetts and North Carolina) we can report that the Camera Grip accessory, despite its half-size battery, is definitely something to consider if you’re interested in extending the endurance of your 1020. Compared to carrying our 1020 naked, the grip kept our unit powered up for an additional half-day of heavy shooting. We were also able to get a score from the WPBench battery test, which runs the processor at full cycles to battery depletion. The 1020 endured for 3 hours and 17 minutes, comparing favorably against the Lumia 920′s 2 hours and 30 minutes and the Lumia 820′s 2 hours and 11 minutes.

Index

Pros

+ World-beating camera performance
+ Windows Phone 8 as consistent as ever
+ Solid build quality
+ Good call performance
+ Seriously, the camera is amazing

Cons

- Big, cumbersome design
- A bit costly for a Windows Phone flagship
- Nonremovable battery, nonexpandable storage not as excusable with a 41MP camera

Index

Pricing and Availability

pa1020

In the U.S., the Lumia 1020 is available starting today (7/26) at $299.99 on a two-year contract. The device is exclusive to AT&T, and costs $649.99 at full-retail price. It will become available in the UK “this quarter” on several carriers, with some sources citing the existence of a special 64GB flavor as a Telefonica exclusive.

Index

Conclusion

unbox

So, should you snap up a Warthog of your own? Well, it depends.

The Lumia 1020 exists, again, as a vehicle for its PureView camera. Being able to say that your phone packs a 41MP shooter appeals to some folks, and if you’re one of them, then the 1020 is for you. But it’s the ability to back up the boasting with solid results, to walk the walk after talking the talk, that really captures the hearts of the masses. And fortunately, the 1020 delivers.

Now, if a solid camera is a nice bonus but not your number-one concern, there are plenty of alternative devices at lower price points – including Nokia’s own Lumia 920 series. But if you’re someone who puts camera performance at or near the top of your priority list when it comes to smartphone shopping, you need look no further than the 1020. Nokia’s latest is no mere publicity stunt; this phone’s camera truly does demolish the competition. The smartphone surrounding that big Oreo is nothing special, really – but it doesn’t need to be. The entire mobile-tech landscape is littered with devices claiming to be the “biggest,” the “best,” the “boldest,” and so on; it doesn’t need another. The 1020 does most things competently, and one particular thing -taking photos- incredibly well. So well that its mere existence is almost guaranteed to accelerate advancement of the smartphone-photography world as a whole. In our view, that’s more than enough to justify the price tag.

Index


Scored For Me

L1020Matrix

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