I never got the chance to spend over an hour with the other 40+ megapixel hero, the Symbian-powered Nokia 808 Pureview. I did however get a chance to play with a review unit of the Nokia Lumia 1020 for a good one month and some days on top. I used it to shoot all manner of photos from the white sands of Kikambala along the Kenyan Coast to the sunny Nasimi Beach on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah Island. All in one month. The conclusion: this is the best camera phone money can buy you right now. It will also continue to be the best until Nokia makes a successor of this device or Oppo manages to out that rumoured 50 megapixel Find 7. You’re not allowed to argue with me on that because honestly, nothing else comes close (I’m looking at you Galaxy S4 Zoom!)
The Lumia 1020’s design is nothing to be excited about really. When you’re going to shoulder the burden of hosting a 41 megapixel sensor that leads to some protrusion on your back then you definitely aren’t going to be one of the most beautiful devices out there. It won’t even help if you happen to have picked the black Lumia 1020 instead of everyone’s favourite: the yellow one. Nokia’s huge bezels have attained legendary status and the Lumia 1020 is just another statistic in that long list.
Featuring the Lumia lineup’s iconic flat matte finish, the review unit I had felt just fine. I really liked the fact that the 1020 was never a fingerprint magnet as was the glossy plastic on my Galaxy S4. Once you get over that bulge at the back, you realize that it is even more strategic for placing on your table at work woithout requiring an extra accessory. Unlike previous Lumia smartphones I have played with, the 1020 had its volume rocker on the same side as the power button. That took a bit of getting used to but since my main interest was the last physical button, the camera button, it did become an issue.
Specs and performance
At this point in time, the specs of the Lumia 1020 won’t make for an interesting conversation over coffee with the nerds but for a full user experience, it is everything the phone needed save for the battery which in my opinion could’ve done much better than the capacity it packs. 2000 mAh is a lot for a device running Windows Phone but it surely is not enough for a device with such an excellent camera as the 1020. For most of the time I had the 1020 I had my Galaxy S4 with me and despite the S4’s 13 megapixel shooter not being something you’ll ignore even in the next one year, it stood no chance in the presence of the 1020. I felt bad having to use the S4’s camera just because the 1020’s juice had run out. That thing ought to have at least 2600 mAh just to make sure you never start compromising when out shooting some amazing photos. Dropping the 1020 to use another smartphone camera and not a DSLR is a serious downgrade. Yeah, you heard me. Average usage got me going for a day with mails, several minutes on social media, listening to Ellie Goulding and a few random shots interspersed with my favourite Buzzfeed columns being what I call “mild” usage. Heavy usage i.e. adrenaline rush on Asphalt 8, some video recording and constant music playback with my Pocket syncing the latest saved articles so that I can exercise my brain a bit accounting for my heavy usage got me at most just 6 hours.
2. Storage and processing power
The device comes with 32 GB of internal storage and no microSD card slot but I cannot complain. Since I’m not that much of a shutterbug, the few occasions I took out the 1020 from my the pocket to shoot a still or a random video, that storage was just enough. Furthermore, I found myself almost always uploading my photos to SkyDrive just in case I encountered those random reboots that many a times resulted in a hard factory reset and loss of content I experienced when I toyed with the Lumia 920 last year. Thankfully, that never happened.
The device’s other internals like the aged dual-core Snapdragon S4 chip clocked at 1.5 GHz and the 2 GB of RAM are just enough to make sure the 1020 does not feel any inferior when paraded alongside the other big boys who unfortunately don’t have a camera as awesome as the 1020’s.
The speaker grill at the bottom allows for as much sound to come off that won’t make you sleep over a break listening to Demons by Imagine Dragons. Since this device does not have a 1080p display (I’m coming to that in a bit), I found myself deciding to catch up with Jeremy Clarkson’s latest on the S4 and not the 1020 whilst on the go. That had to do with being spoilt by the S4’s nice display and not the sound on this device. Sound is just fine. I liked the boxed earpods too though I would’ve preffered Monster headphones like those my friends across the Atlantic got in their review units of the Verizon exclusive Lumia Icon. Not complaining here (there’s the famed Dolby Digital Plus audio tech built and Dolby surround on those earbuds so why should I?).
The 4.5-inch WXGA (1280 x 768) AMOLED+ display makes for excellent blacks more so when that Glance screen is on and should be part of the great battery life that one gets on this device despite not being anywhere close to what flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Sony Xperia Z1 and the LG G2 pack. As is the case with AMOLED displays, colour saturation takes a whole different angle and the viewing angles aren’t that bad either. For its size and everything the 4.5 inch display is just fine though that size essentially locks the device from getting that extra row of tiles that Winphans have been screaming from the rooftop about that comes with the Lumia Black update on devices like the Lumia 1520, 1320 and the not-for-everyone Lumia Icon. I’m told that the extra row of tiles may make it to the 1020 when the much anticipated Windows Phone 8.1 update rolls out in coming months.
While the camera is essentially just a spec like any other, the Lumia 1020 is not your average smartphone. It is a killer camera phone. As such, the camera deserves special mention because if you remove the camera module from the device, you have something I won’t bother to talk about. The thing that makes the 1020 feel so complete even after the camera is factored in is how Nokia manages to tie in the great camera experience to the average Windows Phone experience.
I am not an expert in matters camera but I’ll let some of the shots I took speak for themselves:
I really didn’t like the way that I am limited as to where I can share my full high resolution gorgeous shots. This being a Windows Phone device, there’s no Google+ here so uploading those large photos required the intervention of apps like Instance and with yours truly already heavily invested in an apps ecosystem elsewhere, I shrugged off thoughts in my head to buy that app. I went old school (you know how). Winphans, may be I am letting my ignorant side show but do let me know in the comments how you share those high res photos. On my Android devices, there’s always Google+ for showcasing those amazing sunset shots. I like what I can do with
SkyDrive OneDrive though.
On the more technical side of things, the Nokia Lumia 1020’s camera employs the oversampling that was there on the now 18-month old Nokia 808 so those high res shots I am talking about are not what you share on Instagram. What you share across your social media feeds is an oversampled 5 megapixel version. The camera also has a wider aperture (f/2.2) and barrel-shift OIS (optical image stabilization) that makes low light shots pop up so well that the famed HTC One’s ultrapixel camera low light samples look like kid’s play.
I can’t conclude this review without mention of what powers the device: Windows Phone 8. There’s not much I can write about WP at this point in time despite fiddling with WP devices back-to-back over the last six months but for the record, this is the best Windows Phone 8 device I’ve ever used. However, expect that statement to expire as soon as I lay my hands on the 1520.
Nokia’s add-ons in the form of apps like the Nokia Camera and Nokia Smart Cam do a lot of justice to the device that would otherwise have been poorly served by an inferior standard camera app as is usually the case on most devices (not just Windows Phones).
Sharing photos to Instagram using my favourite Windows Phone Instagram app, 6Tag, was a breeze as was sending the same photos to Facebook. I like the app selection on Windows Phone at the moment. I hanged around Android in its darkest days and it was always awesome to see app after app that was dominant on iOS make it to the Android Market (yes market). Thanks to that I got to test my second favourite arcade racing title, Asphalt 8 and a few others.
When I was picking up the device, I was prepared to like it. Unlike other Windows Phone devices I have used before that either lost me on their weight (Lumia 920), the 1020 was all I expected it to be and more. Should you buy it? Absolutely! If you want an easy communication tool that brings in just what you can do with for calls, texts, the occasional Subway Surfers and sharing photos you took at the Jazz Festival with your several hundred friends on Facebook without making you look strange holding up a 6 incher next to your ear then this is it. Though you can as well get the Lumia 925 for that, the camera is worth compromising on everything else. If you’re a photography enthusiast then this is a no-brainer. Good thing is, at this time of the year, the 1020’s price has dropped in several outlets and you can get it for a good deal if you search carefully in Nairobi.
While I prepare to share my thoughts on the Nokia X, I can’t get this one insane thought out of my head: what if this device got a minor spec bump, retained the camera and ran stock Android? I think you have an idea of what I’d choose between that device and going to heaven.