Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Nokia's phone has an excellent camera, but is lacking in apps for Windows Phone 8

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

4 stars 39 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Best camera phone for image quality; Great build quality; Decent battery life.

The Bad Windows Phone 8 app store still poorly stocked; Dual-core processor doesn't compete well against cheaper Android phones; Pricey.

The Bottom Line With its 41-megapixel sensor giving superb image quality, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is a great choice if photography is your chief concern. If a wide choice of apps is important though, Windows Phone 8 won't be to your taste. Instead, you'd be better off looking at Android phones.

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Nokia first debuted its headline-stealing 41-megapixel camera sensor on the 808 PureView back in 2012. Its image quality impressed critics, but its Symbian software was dead on arrival. Nokia has brought the PureView technology back with the Lumia 1020, this time paired with the same Windows Phone 8 software found on its other Lumia phones .

Along with the unusual image sensor, the Lumia 1020 has a 4.5-inch, 1,280x768-pixel display, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 4G connectivity and a bright yellow, one-piece polycarbonate body.

You can get the Lumia 1020 free from £37 per month on a two-year contract or SIM-free from £550. It's far from cheap, so does the camera and colourful body justify the expense?

Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 1020?

The Lumia 1020 is able to capture the best quality images I've seen from a phone, thanks to its large, high-resolution sensor and manual camera-controls. Even in full automatic mode, the Lumia is able to capture superb images with impressive dynamic range and a high level of detail.

It might be brilliant as a camera, but it doesn't particularly impress as a phone. It has many of the same specs as the much older Lumia 920, including the screen resolution and dual-core processor. The Windows Phone 8 app store is still poorly stocked and often receives recognisable apps months after Android or iOS.

Nokia Lumia 1020 front
Although the Nokia Lumia 1020 is brilliant as a camera, it doesn't impress as a phone.

If you're an enthusiastic photographer who values image quality above all else and would love to always have a good camera in your pocket then the Lumia is for you -- no other phone comes close. Otherwise, you might be better off looking at Android phones. The Sony Xperia Z1's camera impressed -- particularly with its underwater skills -- and the vast selection of apps in the Google Play store provides a wide choice of editing and sharing options.

Design and build quality

There's absolutely no question that the 1020 is part of Nokia's Lumia line. Its body is a one-piece polycarbonate affair in the same squashed oval shape as the Lumia 920. My model came in a bright yellow colour, but they're also available in black or white if you're not fond of such vivid hues.

It's physically extremely similar to the 920. It has the same 4.5-inch screen size, with the buttons on the side, and the ports and the speakers in the same place. It's slightly thinner though and at 158g, it's a bit lighter too. The 1020's enormous camera unit on the back makes it easy to distinguish between the two though.

The black disc that makes up the camera pokes out of the phone's body by about 3mm. At first glance it looks like it might get in the way, but I didn't find it any more difficult to slide into my pocket than the 920 and it was perfectly comfortable to hold. It also acts to slightly tilt the display towards you when it's sat on your desk, which I appreciated.

Nokia Lumia 1020 back
The 1020 is clearly part of Nokia's Lumia line, with a one-piece polycarbonate body and the same shape as the Lumia 920.

The one-piece polycarbonate body makes the phone feel extremely sturdy -- there are no flimsy back panels or loose edging to damage here. There's little flex in the body and the solid materials should easily be able to put up with a few good knocks. The buttons too have a satisfying click to them, so the 1020 feels like an extremely well built piece of kit. My only issue was that the matte yellow plastic scuffs easily, but some buffing with a cleaning cloth sorts that out.

Around the edges you'll find volume and power buttons as well as a dedicated camera shutter button. There's a micro USB port on the bottom and a 3.5mm headphone jack on top. If you get the phone from O2 you can snag an exclusive 64GB model, which has plenty of room for all the high resolution snaps you could want. The standard model has 32GB of storage, which is still pretty capacious. There's no expandable storage option though, so you'll want to transfer your pics to a computer if you've been snap-happy on holiday.

Display

The 1020's 4.5-inch display has a resolution of 1,280x768 pixels, giving a pixel density of 334 pixels per inch. That's the same size and resolution of the older 920, so it's a bit of a shame not to see increased space or pixels -- both of which would come in handy for reviewing those glorious high resolution photos.

Up against larger, Full HD phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One , it doesn't particularly impress, but don't be too downhearted. The display is still very sharp, with icons and text appearing very crisp. It's also extremely bold thanks to the deep black levels and high contrast. It's bright too and is easily readable under bright office lights, and I found it worked well under the bright Italian summer sun.

Camera software

There are two camera apps to choose from. The standard Windows Phone 8 camera app will load automatically when you press and hold the shutter button. It's a very simple interface with options to change scene modes and white balance. If you want to just do some casual shooting, the standard camera app will probably be best.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera
It captures superb images and the interface is very simple.

Of course, you didn't buy the 1020 for casual shooting, did you? Instead, fire up the Nokia Pro Cam app -- you can set this as the app that loads when you hit the shutter button. Pro Cam gives manual control over shutter speed, ISO, white balance and focus -- although sadly not aperture -- using on-screen rings. It's pretty simple to do, but the small icons aren't easy to tap in a hurry -- make sure you're not snapping away urgently.

It's quite a neat way to learn the mechanics of manual photography. You can keep all sliders on automatic, only changing one at a time to see how it alters the image. Lower the shutter speed, for example, to take those long-exposure shots of car headlight trails at night.

The Smart Cam app is on board too. This takes multiple images of a scene in order to select the best shot, change faces of individuals in a group so everyone looks their best, remove moving objects or combine pictures into one of those cool action sequence photos.

Image quality

With all those different shooting options and its big 41-megapixel sensor, it would be something of a letdown if the 1020's pictures weren't up to much. Thankfully though, it's able to capture some superb images. I whisked it off to Italy to put it through its paces. My first shot of this cathedral in Siena is a great example of the 1020's skills. Taken in Pro mode, but with settings on automatic, you can see the sensor's abilities in capturing a very evenly exposed scene.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test (click image to enlarge).

The sky is rich, the bright clouds haven't been overexposed and there's loads of detail in the shadowy areas. The high resolution allows you to zoom right in on the details on the building's facade.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test (click image to enlarge).

The cathedral looks even nicer in my second shot, this time in auto mode, being beautifully lit by the fading evening light. The 1020 is still able to maintain an even exposure, with plenty of detail in the building fronts in shadows.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test (click image to enlarge).
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test (click image to enlarge).
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test (click image to enlarge).

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Where to Buy

Nokia Lumia 1020

Part Number: A00013477

Typical Price: £550.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider not specified
  • Weight 158 g
  • Diagonal Size 4.5 in
  • Sensor Resolution 41 pixels
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