Mobile Computing, Reviews

Nokia Lumia 1020: A Great Camera with a Nice Phone

I set out to do a Nokia Lumia review for a few reasons, one of the primary reasons being that the Nokia Pureview 808 was a great phone with a great sensor but had a subpar OS for the times. While I would have preferred that Nokia experimented with a few Android devices instead of going exclusively Windows Phone, what is done is done (Elop running Nokia into the ground).

The 808 Pureview also had a 41 megapixel sensor and had an effective 38 megapixel resolution in 4:3 format. This is because the sensor itself is larger in terms of height than the 4:3 aspect ratio, and some of the pixels around the top and bottom edges are not effectively used for the final image. The Lumia 1020 combines Nokia?s experience with the Nokia 808 Pureview and their Lumia 800 and Lumia 900 Windows Phones to create a pretty solid package.

Technically speaking, the Lumia 1020 isn?t far off from the Lumia 920, 925 and 928 devices and much of the device?s design is very similar to that of the Lumia 920. In terms of display resolution and overall device internal processing, it is very similar. The only real improvements to the Lumia 1020 visible to most users is the added camera bump and electronics associated with the 41 megapixel sensor. Because of the sensor?s absolutely massive resolution and the fact that it actually captures a 41 megapixel image in conjunction with a 5 megapixel image. This is to allow for users to easily view the smaller resolution image on their devices and to share the smaller resolution version unless they deem otherwise.

Looking at the hardware table below, you can tell that there isn’t much of a difference between the Lumia 900 series of devices and the Lumia 1020 other than the camera itself and the doubled RAM to 2 GB from 1 GB.

The truth is that the Lumia 1020?s real purpose and crowning feature is the camera and the camera software, so we?ll be spending most of our review focusing on that. However, with the Lumia 1020 there are a lot of built-in Windows Phone improvements and the operating system itself as well as the user experience overall have some improvements made.

First Use and Software Experience
I actually made the Lumia 1020 my personal carry device for a few weeks just to make sure that I got the full experience. My first step was actually to remove all of the AT&T carrier bloat, which is actually much easier to do in Windows Phone than it is in Android (calm down fanboys, we know you can root, etc.). As a primary user of Android it?s nice to see that the consumer can easily uninstall carrier bloat (even though I wish it wasn?t even there).

After I uninstalled AT&T?s bloatware (in yellow above), I proceeded to download all of the applications that I would expect to have on my Android device and I was pleasantly surprised to find most of my daily apps available on the Marketplace. The only application that I wanted to install on my phone that wasn?t available on the Marketplace was Instagram. I was able to install Facebook, Pandora, Yelp, Twitter, Spotify, and Viber which are the most used applications that I would expect to have on my Android phone.

Moving on from commonly used applications, I was a bit disappointed to see that GM?s own Onstar app isn?t available on the Market (at the time, it is now available). I use this application to remotely lock and unlock my car as well as remotely start it. While this isn?t a critical use, I do lose some of the high-tech functionality of my car with Windows Phone. There was also thankfully a fantasy football app that I could use to track my fantasy football teams, which becomes more important now that the season has started.

Now, once you take a look at the device completely loaded with all of the stock apps as well as the apps that I?ve installed, you can see that there are a few major holes that still exist within Windows Phone that make it a slightly difficult platform to want to jump to. First, the lack of a smart digital assistant like Google Now or Siri is actually a pretty big deal for me. With the frequency that I use Gmail and Google Now, it?s absolutely amazing how much time I save without knowing it. I also find myself liking the Google trifecta of Gmail + Maps + Search/Now. While I do know that Microsoft is supposedly working on a similar product codenamed Cortana (yes, that?s a Halo reference), it couldn?t come sooner to Windows Phone. Yes, Windows Phone does have the Bing app, which works great for looking up music and doing some simple voice searching, but it?s nowhere near Google Now in terms of usefulness.

After I looked at the amount of Nokia?s own software on this device I ended up coming to the conclusion that Windows Phone is virtually nothing without Nokia and Nokia has become nothing without Windows Phone. This conclusion was drawn primary from my experiences with other Windows Phone devices, which felt even more incomplete without Nokia?s software pre-loaded on there. This led me to the ultimate conclusion that a Nokia and Microsoft tie-up/buy-out was inevitable, and as I prepared to write that article, Nokia made the announcement simply verifying my own hypothesis. The lack of Here Maps and other Nokia apps on competing Windows Phone devices simply makes them feel immature or incomplete.

Now, once I had moved away from apps I really became interested in continuing to make the device my personal device. In order to do this, I had to transfer over my contacts from my Android device over to the Lumia 1020. The Windows Phone marketplace actually has a dedicated app for accomplishing this task and it requires a Bluetooth connection in order to do so. Upon realizing this, I was expecting it to be a 5-15 minute process, but in fact it took almost 30 minutes to complete so make sure your device is properly charged or on a charger. Admittedly, I do have over 1000 contacts, but that doesn?t excuse the fact that it took almost half an hour to do. This needs to be improved to reduce the friction of switching from Android and iOS where Windows Phone will likely find many of their potential new customers coming from.

Once I had transferred over all of my contacts I logged into all of my appropriate accounts and started to use the phone as my personal device. One of the first things I noticed was that the notification center for Windows Phone was incredibly slow when compared to my Android devices even when on the same connection (Wi-Fi) or on a faster network (T-Mobile LTE). This was a little disparaging and I believe that it can be fixed by Windows Phone, but I have a feeling that this has to do with Windows Phone?s polling interval and how often it allows apps to make calls to the data networks in order to save power.

Following that interesting development, I discovered something new about Windows Phone that I found absolutely fantastic. It was discovered when I was connected to my car?s Bluetooth while driving and received a text message. Since I didn?t have in-car Bluetooth the last time I tested a Windows Phone device I had never experienced this feature. Windows Phone actually has its own integrated hands free voice to text and text to voice system which works almost perfectly. Yes, my Android devices allow for me to call hands free from my car, however, texting is a huge issue as its virtually impossible to do. Especially when responding to a text. When I got a text on Windows Phone I simply allowed it to read the text message out loud to me and then it asked me whether or not I wanted to respond and then I did and all of this was done without ever looking at or touching the phone, which I believe to be truly hands free.

Other than those experiences, I would say that my Windows Phone experience was pretty smooth and effortless, much like the way the operating system works. It really works great as a phone for texting and making phone calls. I don?t particularly like the internet explorer browser for Windows Phone, but that?s more of a personal preference than a bad experience or poor software.

In fact, I prefer to make phone calls on Windows Phone due to the ease of the dialer and contacts. In my testing, I was able to discover that the Nokia Lumia 1020 actually got significantly better voice and data signal in my apartment. So much so that I was able to pick up T-Mobile?s LTE in my apartment on the Lumia 1020 but was completely unable to do so on the HTC One. Granted, I only got one or two bars, but it was a clear indication of a superior antenna in the Lumia 1020 and superior signal. Since then T-Mobile has improved the LTE coverage in my area and now I got signal on both devices so Nokia?s advantage has been diminished.

Network Performance
In terms of network performance, I was really amazed with what we saw from the Nokia Lumia 1020. In order to do this review, I actually unlocked the Lumia 1020 and tested it on T-Mobile?s network, without any issues. It worked so flawlessly, in fact, that it had a better signal on T-Mobile?s LTE than my HTC One. The best example of that was when I was sitting at my desk and was looking at the Lumia 1020 and realized that I was actually getting LTE signal. This is something that I had never experienced at my desk with the HTC One and found very encouraging about Nokia?s antenna implementation. I consistently got better signal on the Nokia Lumia 1020, which may be a huge selling point for some people that talk on the phone a lot and tend to drop signal.

To illustrate how fast the Lumia 1020 can be, we ran on it and got some impressive results.

As you can see, during normal load hours we were able to get pretty damn good speeds in excess of 30 Mbps. Do keep in mind that T-Mobile?s LTE is pretty new, so there aren?t many users on it but it does show you how capable the Lumia 1020 really can be.

Also, one of my biggest annoyances with the Lumia 1020 is that whenever the device is dead and you need to charge it quickly you can?t simply leave the device off and let it do a rapid charge. Every time you put the device under any charge (battery grip or not) it will turn on the device and then continue to charge, which obviously affects the rate of the device?s charge if the Display, SoC and modem are lit up.

The Camera Hardware and Software
Now, moving on from the non-camera experience we wanted to cover the vast camera experience of the Lumia. We wanted to do this by taking the camera everywhere with us and to test it against our 36 megapixel to get a proper gauge of how it compares against a high-end DSLR. Obviously, I don?t expect it to outperform the D800 all the time, but I suspect that it will have better low-light performance.

The reason for this is because of the way that Nokia designed their camera on the Nokia Lumia 1020 (also known as the Nokia 909). First and foremost, the camera sensor is a 2/3 sensor and because of the sensor size, Nokia is cramming a lot of pixels into very little space. This is quite literally one of the most high resolution sensors in the world and if it were on Android, I suspect we would find out that there some developers would plug into the camera APIs that would make use of that sensor in unique ways. However, since we?re on Windows Phone with this device, the amount of flexibility and developers wanting to develop for the platform is limited.

Now, getting back to the camera itself, the entire camera assembly sits inside of the phone?s bulge but isn?t actually completely affixed to the phone. Instead, the camera assembly floats on a ball bearing inside of the phone. If you shake the phone, you can actually hear it jiggling around inside, so Nokia isn?t making it up. Below, you can see how a Chinese company tore down and cut the camera in half to show all of the elements and the sensor.

What this ball bearing enables are two things, first and foremost a reduction in the camera shake that occurs when people take pictures. This is the primary reason for poor quality images on almost any image capturing platform, DSLRs included. When you take into account that some shots may have to be longer exposure (in low light) the camera shake factor is amplified and most cameras end up with a blurry image. To prevent this, the camera is able to stay focused on the image and float in space for much longer exposures. This in conjunction with oversampling pixels (shooting at a lower resolution even though the sensor is capable of much more) results in some impressive low light photography. We will give you some of our results from the Lumia 1020 in low light later on when we go through all of our different photos.

Keep in mind, this is a 2/3 sensor with a resolution of 41 megapixel, but whenever you take a photo in 4:3 aspect ratio you can only get 38 megapixels due to the camera?s sensor being larger (slightly taller) than the 4:3 aspect ratio. When you shoot in 16:9 aspect ratio you get 34 megapixel images. You can also shoot photos in both full resolution as well as reduced (5 megapixel) resolution for quick uploading and previews. Although you do not get the photos in RAW, I do believe that would be the next step for Nokia to allow for the best possible quality photography.

We also opted for the camera grip, which provides an additional 1000 mAh of battery as well as a tripod mounting thread and physical camera button. This grip also acts as a sort of case and stand, since due it its added size and weight you can essentially set the camera down in portrait or landscape mode without any issues. We even shot a video with the Lumia 1020 on a Gorillapod to illustrate how the tripod mount works

Camera Software
In order to make use of the Nokia 909?s absolutely ridiculous camera sensor, Nokia had to develop a new camera suite for Windows Phone. This application is called Nokia Pro Camera and it really gives the user more camera functionality than one would ever expect to have from a smartphone. It combines the settings that you would expect to have in a higher-end point and shoot with the smart interfaces of Windows Phone and the fact that it is a fairly powerful touch device.

What I?m a little disappointed about with Nokia?s Pro Camera is that the panorama application is a separate camera app, something that I find incredibly inconvenient if I want to take a panorama while taking photos. Additionally, I wish Nokia or Microsoft actually did more with the fact that the Lumia 1020 is a smartphone and a camera and to integrate more of the computational aspects of the SoC to do some interesting computational photography. I?m not sure if I should blame Nokia or Microsoft, but it really feels like a lack of creativity from one of the two in terms of software.

The Nokia Smart camera is a nice touch, but it doesn?t necessarily utilize the power of having an incredible SoC and amazing camera. There is some computational photography involved, but for the most part any other smartphone could utilize such an application.

Even so, this has to be one of the best cameras that I have ever used; it sometimes makes me think that I don?t always need my 36 megapixel D800. That is, until you compare the images side by side and begin to realize that there?s just no replacement for a $1,500 piece of glass on a 36 Megapixel CMOS sensor.

Camera Results
Here, we have photos that we?ve taken with the Lumia 1020. None of these photos have been retouched at all and the only modifications that have been made are resizing of the images to fit in the article and cropping for the 100% crop images. We will also be showing the Lumia 1020 side by side against the Nikon D800 with a Tamron 24-70 F/2.8 lens. This is to illustrate how close or far from a high-end DSLR the Lumia 1020 really can get.

And now, pictures with full shot and 100% crop shown immediately below to look for noise and sharpness.

The first photo was taken in a very dark bar with no flash, and the light that you see in the following photo is actually more light than was visible to the human eye. An absolutely astounding achievement, albeit a bit noisy.

And 100% Crop

The following photo was taken with flash to illustrate the power of the Xenon flash and the difference between flash and no flash. Apparently the Xenon flash doesn’t improve noise that much.

Next, we have a broad daylight photo which actually was one of the first photos that we took with the Lumia 1020 and really amazed us with its zoom capabilities once we went all the day down to 100% zoom and crop. Notice how you can see the individual drops of water with incredibly sharpness.

The next picture is a great illustration of the camera’s dynamic range and its ability to take in the bright sunlight without under exposing the display on the radar detector. In fact, its more amazing that it was able to get the radar detector perfectly and not blow out the rest of the image like most other cameras do. And yet, the image is sharp as a tack.

The next few photos will just be an assortment of more of the same, where you can see the full photo and the 100% crop version.

Next, we wanted to compare the 38 Megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020 against the 36 Megapixel Nikon D800.

First, we started with the Lumia 1020 in full shot and then 100% crop of Schonbrunn in Vienna.

Followed by the D800 in full shot and crop.

Its hard to tell the difference between the two photos until you actually look at the text on the building at 100% crop and you can clearly see that the D800 is way sharper. This is due to the fact that the D800 has far superior optics and as a result produces a much sharper image than the Lumia 1020. This is one of the primary reasons why DSLRs will likely continue to exist for years to come. We wanted to continue to illustrate this point with another comparison of photos, this time in the main Synagogue of Budapest.

We first started with the Lumia 1020 once again, with the full image and then the 100% zoomed and cropped image.

This was followed by the Nikon D800 in the same shot, focusing on the same spot.

If you look at the two chandelierĀ images, you can see how much sharper the D800 image is compared to the Lumia 1020. From afar, both images look great in their full non-zoomed version but upon close inspection the D800 is clearly much sharper.

In the video section, we simply want to illustrate the video quality of the Lumia 1020 and to show you some of the features that it has, especially when you consider how much its OIS smooths out vibrations and camera shake even in videos.

As you can tell from our videos, the Lumia 1020 does a great job of compensating for hand shaking as well as even walking. It also does a magnificent job of smoothing out road vibrations, which means that the only way you can really get camera shake in videos is if you actually move the camera up and down or side to side. Otherwise, you simply can?t make a bad video on this phone or you would have to try really hard.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 presents a unique value proposition. First and foremost, the AT&T retail packaging does not include a headset with the phone, which I found a bit disappointing. They did, however, include some photo related coupons that do add some value to the phone. The real truth is that the phone itself sells for $149.99 on Amazon on contractx and $609.99 off-contract at AT&TĀ both versions are locked for AT&T. The Microsoft Store, which is where we got it from has the exact same pricing and we actually bought it off-contract for that price, plus the $80 for the camera grip. The camera grip can be had for $75 on or basically anywhere else.