Make no mistake: Nokia is obsessively focused on the camera experience with the Lumia 1020. With its 41-MP sensor, this Windows Phone 8 device runs circles around the smartphone competition, both in terms of resolution and creative control. You can literally zoom in or out of a photo after it's been taken while retaining an astonishing level of detail. Available for $299 on AT&T, the Lumia 1020 is definitely a prosumer purchase, but is it worth $100 more than Android flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One?
We're suckers for yellow. The Lumia 1020 comes in black and white, but there's something about the yellow hue that really pops. After all, if you want to attract attention with a 41-MP camera, you might as well have a phone that screams "fun." The black lens and chunky buttons that line the right side add a nice contrast, as does the AMOLED display that seems to float slightly above the rest of the sturdy polycarbonate chassis.
Stuffing a 41-MP sensor into a smartphone is no small feat, so we can understand why the camera protrudes on the back of the device. However, this bulge adds noticeable bulk, and we found it somewhat difficult to use the Lumia 1020 with one hand. If you put the phone facedown on a table, the lens bump actually props it up. On the plus side, this phone is a lot more streamlined than Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom.
Measuring 5.1 x 2.8 x .41 inches and weighing 5.6 ounces, the Lumia 1020 isn't as light or thin as the aluminum Lumia 925 on T-Mobile (5.1 x 2.8 x .33 inches and 4.9 ounces), but it's certainly an improvement over last year's 6.5-ounce Lumia 920 for AT&T. In comparison, the HTC One measures 5.4 x 2.7 x .37 inches and weighs 5.1 ounces.
Display and audio
The 4.5-inch AMOLED PureMotion display on the Lumia 1020 stays true to Nokia's formula of offering bright and colorful images. Although the resolution is a somewhat modest 1280 x 768 pixels, everything from the lock screen and the Live Tile interface to our pictures looked vibrant. An HD trailer for "Kick-Ass 2" delivered a robust mix of colors and detail, including the reflections in a motorcycle helmet and the folds in Jim Carey's fatigues. Viewing angles were also plenty wide.
The Lumia 1020 registered 441 lux on our light meter, which is well above the 383 category average and slightly higher than the brightness on the Lumia 925 (429 lux). The HTC One is a slightly brighter 463 lux.
The bottom-mounted speaker on the Lumia 1020 gets fairly loud. The soaring vocals in Coldplay's "Yellow" sounded distinct from the guitars, but the overall sound wasn't as robust or balanced as the HTC One's dual speakers.
Software and interface
The Lumia 1020 features the same dynamic and fun Windows Phone 8 software found on previous devices, such as the Lumia 925 and 928. We continue to appreciate the Live Tiles on the Start screen, which let you glance at information such as social updates and how many emails are waiting for you. It's also easy to resize tiles to customize the interface. Plus, you can pin anything to the Start screen, from your favorite sports team from the ESPN app (Yankees for us) to Spotify playlists.
However, Windows Phone 8 also continues to suffer from some weaknesses. For instance, you have to tap the top of the screen to see your battery meter and signal strength, and you can't easily toggle such settings as Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi or brightness as you can on most Android phones. And although you can press and hold the Back button to switch between apps in a card-based view, you can't close apps from this menu.
41-MP PureView camera
The 41-MP sensor inside the Lumia 1020 isn't a first for smartphones, having first appeared inside the Symbian-powered PureView 808 last year. But Nokia has streamlined its imaging system to fit inside a thinner body while layering powerful apps on top to give photo enthusiasts more control. The 1020 boasts Carl Zeiss optics with six physical lenses, and its sensor is capable of taking 38-MP and 5-MP images simultaneously (the latter designed for social sharing). If you shoot in 16:9 mode, the Lumia 1020 captures 34-MP and 5-MP shots at once.
What's the point of such a high resolution? You can zoom in to your photos after you've taken them, enabling shutterbugs to compose entirely new shots. We were absolutely amazed when we snapped a group of leaves on the ground at a nearby park: Even after we zoomed in on a specific leaf a few feet away, the image still exhibited a high level of detail.
You can also have some fun revisionist zoom history with photos in the other direction. If you zoom in on a subject before snapping a photo, you can then reframe the shot with the press of a button and zoom out. You may even decide to create a whole separate photo. No other smartphone can do this.
In Auto mode, the Lumia 1020 blew away such competing smartphones as the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One when we took a shot of two colleagues on our office rooftop. Not only did the image have more saturated colors, but we could easily make out fine details and folds in the shirts they were wearing. The Lumia 1020 also outperformed the other phones in a shot we took of purple flowers, though an image of yellow yarn looked greenish, rather than the proper shade of yellow.
The Lumia 1020's xenon flash also impressed. We took side-by-side shots with the iPhone 5 in the dark, of a furry Super Grover and other tchotchkes, and the 1020 produced a shot with richer blue fur and fine detail, even when zoomed in on the "G" on Grover's belt. Just don't expect long-distance shots to look the same; you'll need to be within a few feet of your subject to get the best results.
Nokia Pro Camera app
The fun really starts when you use the Nokia Pro Camera app, which features all sorts of manual controls via a slick radial interface with multiple sliders. You can tweak everything from manual focus, ISO and shutter speed to white balance. Not sure what any of these things do? Nokia provides an in-depth tutorial that lets you try out a lot of the features to see how they'll affect your photos, as well as offers a glossary. Plus, you can preview many of the settings changes in real time when you're taking pictures.
We had a lot of fun playing with the shutter speed. For example, by slowing down the shutter speed and keeping the Lumia 1020 still, we created a nice blur effect of a passing subway while the surrounding people looked clear.
We also enjoyed having the freedom to focus on objects closest to the lens, de-emphasizing the background. Should you decide to tweak multiple settings at once, you can easily reset them to the defaults by swiping the on-screen shutter button to the left.
Nokia Smart Cam and Lens apps
The Nokia Smart Cam app is a one-stop shop for doing more with your photos. Instead of having to activate one of many discrete modes, as with the Galaxy S4, the Lumia 1020 lets you perform all sorts of neat tricks after capturing a series of images.
Action Shot takes multiple pictures of someone moving across the frame and turns them into a single photo with the person appearing in several places at once. There's also Remove Moving Objects mode, which removes photobombers from your shots. Best Shot snaps off multiple photos and lets users pick the best ones. Motion Focus Mode captures moving objects in the foreground while slightly blurring the background, giving a sense of motion.
Cinemagraph is a separate Lens app and continues to be a staff favorite. This feature lets you animate portions of a still photo and convert it into a fun animated GIF. Panorama is available for those fond of sweeping 180-degree shots. Other choices include Creative Studio for adding Instagram-like filters and PhotoBeamer for sharing photos to other mobile devices or smart TVs with a browser. However, the use of QR codes makes the process more complex than we'd like.
We do have some complaints about the Lumia 1020's camera, starting with lag. We missed some shots because of the delay in processing each image. The autofocus is a little slow, too, so you could miss a moving subject. All of Nokia's competitors have faster cameras. Our advice is to use the physical camera button and press it halfway to focus before firing.
Another drawback is that the Lumia 1020 has multiple camera apps with different interfaces. For instance, the Pro Camera app has a dedicated on-screen shutter button and shortcuts to your gallery in the upper-left corner (one of the last shot you took, and the other for your entire camera roll). With the regular Camera app, you can press anywhere on the display to take a photo and swipe in from the left to access the camera roll. That's confusing.
Sharing and transferring photos
While you can view full-resolution photos on the Lumia 1020 itself via the Pro Camera app (not the regular Photos app), you can't share these images from the phone. You'll need to transfer the shots to your PC first, which is a pain. Granted, emailing a large 10- to 12-MB file could take a while over LTE -- and chew up your data plan in the process -- but we would have liked a SkyDrive uploading option for 38-MP shots.
For now, at least, sharing photos from the Lumia 1020 is limited to 5-MP shots. We do like the multiple sharing options. These include Tap + Send (NFC), Family Room (sharing to family members' Windows Phones), Facebook, LinkedIn, OneNote and Twitter.
The Lumia 1020 features a 2-MP front camera with a f/2.4 aperture and 720p video capture. This camera lets in a fair amount of light, making it easy to make out the folds in our light-blue shirt. With less light, images looked a little grainy, but colors were still warm and accurate.
The Lumia 1020's video capabilities are quite impressive, allowing you to zoom in up to six times while still maintaining a quality image. And with Nokia Rich Recording, you'll enjoy stereo sound. Our footage of New York City traffic looked perfectly smooth as we panned around Fifth Avenue and tracked a red motorcycle.
Next, we put Nokia's optical image stabilization to the test by walking down the street while recording with both the Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5 side by side. The footage from Apple's device was noticeably shaky with each step, while the 1020 stayed quite stable.
Equipped with a 1.5-GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 2GB of RAM, the Lumia 1020 offers the same snappy performance we've come to expect from Windows Phone. We swiftly flicked through the Live Tile and app menus, and the phone instantly rendered photos as we flipped through our Camera Roll. The "Rayman Jungle Run" game offered smooth playback as we ran, jumped and ran up the side of cliffs.
On the WP Bench -- which measures CPU, memory, storage and GPU performance -- the Lumia 1020 scored 224, which is the exact same score as the Lumia 925 recorded and just a couple of ticks behind the Lumia 928's score of 228.
The Lumia 1020 did get warm at times, especially when the 4G LTE radio was active, but not disturbingly so.
The Windows Store now stocks more than 165,000 apps, but it still trails iOS and Android. Although we're pleased to see such apps as Pandora, Viber and WhatsApp, you won't find Instagram, Flipboard (coming soon) or "Candy Crush Saga." It's nice to know that Vine is on the way for Windows Phone, but some apps are gimped versions of what they are on other platforms. For example, Spotify doesn't have a radio feature.
Nokia provides several of its own apps to fill in some of the gaps. Nokia Music offers both a streaming option and a built-in store for purchasing tracks. The service also lets you see nearby gigs. Those who upgrade to Nokia Music+ for $3.99 per month will enjoy unlimited song skips on radio and unlimited offline radio-station access (up to one hour each).
Nokia Drive+ provides accurate and free turn-by-turn GPS navigation, while HERE Maps is better for when you're on foot. HERE Transit is designed for public-transit users, and Nokia City Lens helps you discover nearby restaurants and other attractions in an augmented reality view.
Most of AT&T's additions are pretty pointless, including the $9.99 AT&T Navigator (for directions Nokia gives you for free), AT&T Radio and AT&T Mobile TV. Fortunately, you can remove all of the above.
4G LTE performance
Using the Speedtest.net app, the Lumia 1020 delivered mostly brisk 4G LTE throughput in northern New Jersey on AT&T's network. Downloads averaged a good 8.8 Mbps, reaching a high of 24 Mbps, and uploads were 5.1 Mbps. Mobile sites such as CNN and ESPN loaded in about 5 seconds, while the desktop version of NYTimes.com took 12 seconds. Speeds dropped in our office in downtown New York City, with downloads in the 4- to 5-Mbps range and uploads struggling to hit 1 Mbps.
The Lumia 1020 packs a 2,000 mAh battery, which Nokia promises will provide users with 6.7 hours of web browsing time over Wi-Fi and 1.3 hours of talk time over 3G. In our LAPTOP Battery Test, which continuously browses the Internet over LTE, the Lumia 1020 lasted 6 hours and 33 minutes, besting the category average (6:07) and the Lumia 925 (5:47). The HTC One, however, lasted 6:45.
The device offered decent endurance in our anecdotal testing. After using the phone for about 8 hours, intermittently streaming music and video, taking photos, checking email and downloading apps, the phone's battery was down to 8 percent.
Camera grip and accessories
Those who want a more professional feel when using the Lumia 1020 will want to pick up the $79 Camera Grip. It comes in the same three colors as the device and offers a tripod mount attachment. In addition to giving you a beefier shutter button and a more robust curved grip, you get a 1,100-mAh battery built in for extending your shooting time. However, this accessory adds 1.1 inches of thickness to an already-bulky design.
Other accessories include the $149 JBL PowerUp speaker, which lets you take advantage of the Lumia 1020's built-in wireless charging speaker while boosting the audio.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 represents a true breakthrough, offering the best smartphone camera we've ever used. It's so good that you'll never need a point-and-shoot camera, and even entry-level DSLR owners may find they're schlepping them around less. We also like the colorful and bright AMOLED display (even if it's not full-HD) and Camera Grip option.
However, due to both its high $299 price and the learning curve for its Pro Camera app, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is a niche device. Yes, the built-in tutorial helps, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 is better for the masses because it integrates multiple shooting modes into its camera app. With the Lumia 1020, there are several distinct camera Lens apps.
In an ideal world, we'd love to see the Lumia 1020's 41-MP sensor inside an Android phone, but if you like Windows Phone's Live Tile interface and are willing to live with a slightly bulky design, you'll have a blast with the Lumia 1020's camera.