Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

Key Features:

    • 41 megapixel camera
    • Windows Phone 8
    • 1.5GHz CPU with 2GB RAM
    • 4.5in Super AMOLED display (768 x 1280 pixels)
    • Price as Reviewed: £500

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

I have struggled with writing the review of the Lumia 1020 for a number of days now. The problem is I wasn't sure exactly how to approach this product. Is the Lumia 1020 a smartphone with a brilliant camera or a compact camera which can act like a phone if necessary?

The problem arose at the launch of the Lumia 1020 in the UK last week when executives from both Nokia and O2 constantly referred to the device as a camera rather than a smartphone.

The whole presentation was based around the camera technology, the class-leading 41 megapxiel sensor, the six-element lens, the over-sampling technology, the Nokia Pro camera app, and more.

There was little-to-no mention of Windows Phone, screen technology or how the Lumia 1020 actually operates as a smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

So for the first few days with the phone I focused entirely on the camera and the stunning images it can produce. But then it struck me, this is a smartphone and the people who are going to be paying £500+ for the Lumia 1020 will be buying it first as their smartphone.

Therefore rather than trying to compare the Lumia 1020 to a camera, it needs to be compared with smartphones which cost around the same price - the iPhone, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 - and therein lies the problem.

As a portable camera, the Lumia 1020 is better than any other smartphone out there, but as a smartphone, it is just not good enough to justify the price.

Lumia 1020: Design

Nokia has to be credited for bringing some colour back into the smartphone market - recently followed by Apple with the iPhone 5c. The Lumia 1020 comes in black, white and that iconic yellow which is representative of much of the Lumia line-up.

Unlike the glossy finish on the Lumia 920, the 1020 has a matte finish which is much more attractive and comfortable in the hand. The Lumia 1020 is also significantly slimmer and lighter than the Lumia 920, but compared to flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and HTC the Lumia 1020 is bulkier and heavier - though not so much as to make a significant difference.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

The bigger problem in terms of design is on the rear where the lens protrudes. It's no where near as obvious as the similar lens on the PureView 808, but it does mean that you can't lay your phone flat on the table or desk unless you put it screen side down, which is not ideal.

Overall though the Lumia 1020 feels like the premium smartphone its price suggests. Build quality is excellent; the volume, power and camera buttons are all responsive and solid; and the microsUSB charging port, headphone jack and SIM-card tray are all in sensible locations.

Lumia 1020: Screen

The Lumia 1020 has a 4.5in screen. While this is bigger than any iPhone, compared to most Android flagship devices from the likes of Sony, HTC or Samsung, it is on the small side. The thing is, I initially thought the screen was much bigger, as the phone's overall size is not far off the Galaxy S4 - which has a 5in screen.

The reason the screen is not that large is because there is a rather large black border around most of it, especially on the top and bottom. I have no problem with a 4.5in screen, indeed I think it is close to the perfect size screen (which I still maintain is the 4.7in screen on the Nexus 4) but I do have an issue with a 4.5in screen coming in such a large chassis.

Large borders aside, the 768 x 1280 pixel resolution Super AMOLED screen is excellent. Using Nokia's ClearBlack technology means the screen is bright, sharp and clarity is superb. Colour reproduction is good and it is even OK to use outdoors, which is key if you want to make the most of the camera.

The pixel density is slightly higher than the Retina display on the iPhone but due to the way pixels on Super AMOLED screens are arranged, it means the Lumia's screen is actually not as sharp as the iPhone's despite what the figures say.

Lumia 1020: Performance and battery life

Windows Phone smartphones in general are not at the cutting edge of processor technology, but because of the tight control Microsoft puts on hardware manufacturers, this is not a big problem when it comes to the performance of phones.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

The dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm chip powering the Lumia 1020, paired with 2GB of RAM is more than sufficient to make the operating system purr along nicely. The Windows Phone interface is slick and looks great on this phone.

The problem however is not with the Lumia 1020 specifically but is one which is found universally on all Windows Phones. Things just take too long to happen. Apps opening, emails downloading, switching apps and more is just that bit slower than on iOS or Android.

The one area where a powerful processor is needed which is specific to the Lumia 1020 is when processing the huge 38 megapixel images. This takes an inordinately long time, making it difficult to snap one picture after another in quick succession.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

It is unclear if this is simply down to the way the image processing is done or a lack of processing power from the Qualcomm chip, but either way the result is not good.

In terms of battery life I found that obviously using the camera a lot - which you will do initially - drains the battery quickly and I didn't get a full day's use out of the Lumia 1020. However after getting over the initial excitement of using the camera, I found the battery lasting well into a second day.

This however is slightly misleading when compared to other phones, as I found the main reason the battery lasted so long was because I simply wasn't using the phone as much as I normally would, due to a lack of apps and games.

Lumia 1020: Windows Phone 8

And so to the biggest problem with the Lumia 1020. Microsoft's platform is still a million miles behind iOS and Android in terms of app and games support. While most of the big players are now there, dive a little deeper and you will likely come up short.

Nokia should be praised as the company doing the most to push the platform forward, and now that they are fully embedded within Microsoft, hopefully things will change.

Nokia's own apps such as mapping service Here, along with the Drive navigation app and the Nokia Pro Camera software are among the best available on WP8 - which is an indictment of how little Microsoft have been doing to push the platform forward.

Lumia 1020: Camera

You will read more indepth and detailed analysis of the camera and the technology behind it from much more informed and intelligent people than me. Among the best I've read, and easiest to understand, comes from Andrew William at TrustedReviews.

I am not a photographer in any shape or form, therefore I'm not sure that the Lumia 1020 is aimed at me. Nokia is clearly aiming this camera at photography enthusiasts who want their phone to take images they can be proud of.

To highlight this, National Geographic used an image shot with the Lumia 1020 on a double-page spread in its 125th Anniversary issue. Photgrapher Stephen Alvarez used a Lumia 1020 to document his trip taking no other camera equipemtn. One of the images can be seen below, with the rest of the results seen here.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review
An image taken with the Lumia 1020 by photographer Stephen Alvarez for National Geographic magazine.

For those who don't know, the quality of image needed for print is very high, and this gives you some idea of the technology we are dealing with.

As you can see in the sample images I have included in this review, you can see that even in the hands of a relative idiot, the Lumia 1020 produces some superb images. The level of detail the camera captures is phenomenal and is all down to what is called over-sampling.

This sees groups of pixels being used to create a single 'super pixel'. The high resolution sensor also allows for lossless digital zoom, meaning you won't lose quality when zooming in, something every other digital camera without an optical zoom suffers from.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review
The level of detail captured is unbeatable by any other smartphone camera.

Low-light performance is also excellent thanks to optical image stabilisation - which lets you take sharper images even when you have long exposure times - and the Xenon flash which offers a far more even spread and greater range than a standard LED flash (though there is one of these present too for focusing purposes.)

The Nokia Pro camera app, as I said earlier, is superb. It allows easy access to manual settings in a visually attractive and easy-to-understand interface. Most of the time the auto settings will do, but for the times you need to adjust the white balance or the exposure time, these are just a couple of clicks away.

Nokia Lumia 1020

There is also a very good tutorial within the app to give people who don't know much about cameras a guide to cut through the jargon and get the most from the camera.

As usual there are a huge array of creative effects that you can add to the pictures you take as well as burst shooting and panorama modes.

Lumia 1020: Verdict

If you want a phone which can take photos of the quality used by National Geographic magazine, and this is the only requirement you have, then the Lumia 1020 is the only phone on the market that will satisfy your demands.

However if you want a smartphone with a decent camera, then the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One all offer better value for money and a better ecosystem of apps and games to make a much more rounded, smartphone experience.

I commend Nokia for its innovation and technical prowess, but somewhere along the way if forgot it was making a smartphone and not a camera.


    • Overall 7/10
    • Design 8/10
    • Performance 7/10
    • Screen 8/10
    • Battery 8/10
    • Value 6/10

The Good

    • Best smartphone camera you will find
    • Decent battery life
    • Good screen

The Bad

    • Windows Phone ecosystem
    • Slow photo processing

Camera Samples

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review
Panorama mode
Nokia Lumia 1020 Review
Picture taken with virtually no light in the room