Hands On: Nokia's frankenphonecamera

By Pat Pilcher

The Nokia Lumia 1020.
The Nokia Lumia 1020.

Every once and while something comes out that is so crazily weird and wonderful that it forces you to rethink what you'd long taken for granted. This definitely proved to be case with the Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows smartphone which is a bizarre frankenphonecamera packing a stonking great 41Mp image sensor bolted onto its rump. The burning question in my mind as I unboxed it was this: is a high end camera with a big image sensor and high end optics going to be enough to keep Windows phone in the game?

Look and feel

There is no mistaking the Lumia 1020 for anything else but a Nokia handset given its polycarbonate body which is finished in a vivid yet cool yellow (You can have any colour you want as long as its psychedelic neon banana yellow, black or white) I liked yellow - it made the 1020 impossible to lose about the house.

Front-on you'd be forgiven for having a pretty tough time telling the 1020 apart from its older sibling, the 920. Both look practically identical.

Flip the 1020 over however, and things begin to get interesting thanks to the large round camera sensor module mounted on the 1020's behind.

The 1020 isn't a small phone. In fact you could politely say that even though it's big boned, it's also well proportioned. For a start It's 10.4mm thick (plus the camera sensor module). It's also got some reassuring heft too, weighing in at 158g, (which is surprisingly lighter than the 920).

Like other Lumia's, the 1020 is also built like a brick-you-know-what house. Not only does the polycarbonate body feel reasurringly solid with no flexing or creaking, but it also does a great job of hiding minor dings and scratches. The 1020's screen is no wimp either thanks to its Gorilla Glass 3 coating.

Under the hood

Bizarrely the folks at Nokia appear to have reused much of the guts of the 920 for the 1020 which has the same 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor. In use, the 1020 performed smoothly with typical use and no noticeable glitching with processing intensive chores such as gaming.

Considering it's chunky form factor, the 1020's screen is just 4.5". Reading the screen size spec caused me to do an involuntary double take at the spec sheet as the 1020's screen just feels a whole lot bigger.

Size aside, the screens resolution mightn't be anything to write home about, but it supports the Windows Phone 8 default resolution of 768x1280. This is pretty academic however as the Windows phone interface still looked incredibly vivid while photos and videos taken with the 1020's monster camera were incredibly vivid.

As with other Nokia handsets its screen also packs another useful bonus in that its touchscreen will also play nice with gloves, which proved more than handy in Wellington's sub-polar spring climate.

The 1020 ships with 32GB of storage, but there is no microSD slot to bolster storage which is a real shame given the monster image files created by the 1020's 41MP camera. As you'd expect for a high-end, High-spec device the 1020 also supports plenty of connectivity options out of the box including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, 3G and 4G.

The elephant in the room however with the 1020 is its camera. For a start it packs a massive 41Mp image sensor, Zeiss optics and a Xenon and LED flash which makes the current crop of phone flashes look positively wimpy. Combined with Nokia's Pro Cam app, the 1020's camera is a stunner. The level detail able to be captured has to be seen to be believed, detail was pin sharp.

Another nice feature that I was initially unexcited about but quickly learned to love was the 1020's floating lens and image stabilisation, which allowed me to capture some surprisingly crisp images that on other handsets would at best be an abstract or worse still, a blurry unintelligible mess. In low light situations the 1020 literally took shots that shone.

There are also drawbacks with such a large image sensor. At 41Mp, there's a hell of a lot of data to shunt around with each photo. This hasn't escaped the attention of the phone cam boffins at Nokia who designed the 1020 to take two photographs, one at a crispy (but massive) 34MP and a smaller yet more easily shared 5Mp. 34MP images contain a shedload of data and because of this, they can take time to process and save.

A gargantuan camera sensor and finite storage should in theory be an incredibly annoying combo given the absence of a Micro SD slot, however photos can automatically be uploaded SkyDrive which over wifi using my home broadband connection was a seamless background process.

Shutterbugs will also appreciate the Nokia Pro Cam app which gives a heap of control over camera settings ranging from ISO, shutter speed, exposure through to focus. I did find the Panorama app sometimes a touch temperamental, but the finished results were visually stunning.

Apps

One feature that didn't initially jump out at me that I really liked was called "Glance" which displays a clock when the 1020 is in standby mode. There is also a 'peek' mode which will display the time if you wave your hand over the 1020 but I rarely used it.

As with other Lumia's, the 1020 also bundled with several metric tonnes of Nokia apps including Maps, Drive+, Music, Cinemagraph and Creative Studio and these go some of the way to addressing the yawning chasm between the windows phone store and what's available via Android and IOS (this is real shame as the 1020 would utterly rock with instagram).

I'm also a big fan of the windows phone UI and although it is pleasing to see a growing number of apps popping up in the app store. This said, Microsoft definitely need pull finger to attract developers if the windows phone ecosystem is to really flourish and survive to challenge Apple and Google.

Battery life

While the 1020 got through a 9-5 day with typical use, it wasn't long after 5 that it'd be demanding a dose of DC voltage goodness, and that was done with power saving modes enabled. Similarly, snapping photos (especially when the flash and focus assist light was in use) totally nailed the battery in a few hours when shooting lots of photos.

Verdict

The 1020 is a great phone that bears all the design hallmarks and build quality we've come to expect from Nokia. What really sets it apart from the others however is its camera, which is hands down the best camera I've seen on a phone ever. About the only real negative with the 1020 is its lacklustre battery life.

Tech Specs

RRP$: $149 (on Telecom Ultra Mobile $139 24 month plan)
CONNECTIVITY: 2G, GSM, 3G, HSDPA, HSUPA, 4G, LTE, Cat3, Wi-Fi. 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth v3.0 with A2DP
NFC:Yes
DISPLAY: 4.5" AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors (768 x 1280 - 332 ppi)
MEMORY: Card slot No
Storage: 32 GB, 2 GB RAM
USB: Micro USB v2.0
CAMERA: Rear 41 MP (38 MP effective, 7152 x 5368 pixels), Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, auto/manual focus, Xenon flash, Video 1080p@30fps, Front 1.2 MP, 720p@30fps
OS: Microsoft Windows Phone 8, upgradeable to WP8 Amber
Chipset: Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon
CPU: Snapdragon S4 Dual-core 1.5 GHz
GPU: Adreno 225
BATTERY: Li-Ion 2000 mAh battery
Stand-by: Up to 384 hours
Talk time: Up to 19 hours
Dimensions: 130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4 mm
Weight: 158 g

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