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

All three of these shots (the Tuscan landscape shot and guitarist shot both in auto mode, the statue in Pro mode) also show the 1020's great handling of varying light in a scene.

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

The detail on this shot of grapes in the vineyard is excellent too. Make sure to look at the fullscreen version and check out the clarity on the crisp brown leaf to the right of the three bunches -- that sort of detail might be expected from a good compact digital camera, but it's amazing to see it from a phone's camera.

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

Unlike Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom, there's no optical zoom on the 1020, only digital zoom. Digital zoom is effectively cropping into the photo, which on most phones will result in very low quality photos. The benefit of the high resolution sensor on the 1020 though is that you can zoom in to a scene without ruining the shot. The top picture here shows a scene with no zoom. Below it is the same shot, zoomed in -- there's still plenty of detail to give a satisfyingly crisp photo.

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

The Lumia 920 was a top performer when it came to low-light photography and it seems as though that has passed down the family line to the 1020 too. My shot of this building at night in Florence is fairly sharp, with a minimum of image noise.

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

I was similarly chuffed with my shot of these folks in night-time Siena. It's evidently not as clear as it would be when shot in daylight, but it's still a good effort from a phone.

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

It has a close focussing distance too, making it good for macro photography. I shot this still life photo of some lovely autumn conkers in Pro mode, changing to a warmer white balance. As before, I was impressed at the level of clarity it achieved.

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

When there's less light, the phone compensates by increasing the ISO and lowering the shutter speed a little, resulting in blurred motion on my snap of alternative rockers Everything Everything. You'll need to use a tripod to get blur-free slow shutter speed shots.

To help with that, Nokia has a case for the 1020 that turns the phone into much more of a standard camera. It widens the grip, adds a small external battery pack, a bigger shutter button and a standard tripod screw mount in the bottom. When using the phone simply as a camera, it's really comfortable to have on, but you'll want to take it out when sliding it into your jeans.

Windows Phone 8 software

Camera app aside, the Windows Phone 8 software on the 1020 is identical to the software you'll find on Nokia's other Lumias. It's made up of large, colourful live tiles on a scrolling homescreen, with an app list available with a swipe to the left. It's perhaps best seen as a combination of the simple operation of iOS on the iPhone, with the live widgets and customisability of Android.

The Windows Phone 8 interface is neat and fairly easy to get used to.

However you want to see it, it's fairly simple to use and shouldn't take you long to get to grips with. If you're new to smart phones, Windows Phone 8 isn't a bad choice.

A couple of my favourite features are the People and Me hubs. They combine all your social networks, phone and email contacts into one place, allowing you to see everything that's going on. You're also able to quickly post to all connected networks from the Me hub, without needing to go into separate apps.

Apps and Nokia software

It's big downside though is its app store, which is still woefully understocked compared to its Android or iOS rivals. Some big names are available like Spotify, Netflix and Skype, but there's a hell of a lot missing and even the popular titles tend to arrive on its shelves long after they've debuted on other platforms.

There's no love from Google on Windows Phone 8 either -- official YouTube or Gmail apps aren't available. While you can sync your Gmail account for email and calendars, it won't sync your contacts and Google recently turned off support for push email on Windows Phone. Your email will therefore only be able to update every 15 minutes. That might not be a problem for many, but I rely on having instant email, so I found the 1020 unsuitable for work use.

To help plug some of the gaps in the app store, Nokia has loaded up a whole bunch of its own apps. They mostly revolve around its mapping software, Here Maps. The maps app itself is able to show a wealth of local information about businesses -- restaurant listings show contact details, map locations and user reviews, for example -- and you can view all locations in an augmented reality view around you using the camera lens.

The app store is limited, but thankfully Nokia adds in its own software.

Nokia Drive meanwhile provides turn-by-turn GPS satellite navigation for drivers (and can be used offline), while Here Transit shows the location of local public transport (trains, buses, London tubes) complete with departure times, letting you input your destination and see what the quickest way to get there is. Nokia's additions undoubtedly add great value to the phone and certainly help dull the pain of the poor app store. They are also available on the cheaper Lumia's though, so if you really fancy the software but want to save a bundle, snap up the Lumia 620 instead.

The phone is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, again matching the older Lumia 920. For the vast majority of tasks you'll likely want to do with the phone, the processor provides enough power. Swiping around the interface is very swift and navigating around menus is free of any noticeable lag. There's also not a lot in the app store that can really push the phone's limits. Cowboy shooter Six Guns played absolutely fine, but it also plays fine on older-generation Android phones, so it's not much of a success on the 1020's part.

There is a minimal delay in opening the camera app. It's hardly sluggish though, so it's not something I'm going to hold against the phone.

Battery

A 2,000mAh battery sits inside the 1020, which is fairly standard for most smart phones. Huge devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 have the space to slot in a 3,000mAh cell, but a fatter battery would of course make the phone even chunkier than it already is. Its dual-core processor is less demanding of power than the quad-core chip in the Note though, so it should be a lot more efficient with power.

That's pretty much what I found in my own use. Nokia reckons you can squeeze out a decent 13 hours of talk time from the phone, which I reckon is about accurate. With normal phone use, you won't struggle to get a full day of power from it. If you're shooting hundreds of snaps on holiday then you can expect the power to drop pretty quickly.

Nokia Lumia 1020 side
It's lighter than the 920, weighing 158g, and is slightly thinner too.

If you keep the screen brightness down and avoid using the flash too much then you can probably get back to your hotel in the evening to give it a boost before going out to dinner. As a general rule with most smart phones though, expect to charge it every night if you don't want to live in fear of it conking out.

Conclusion

As a camera, the Lumia 1020 is able to capture absolutely excellent images that you'd typically expect to see from a decent compact digital camera, thanks to its large sensor and manual controls. Its Windows Phone 8 software still suffers from a big lack of apps though and its internal specs won't impress dedicated tech nerds.

If your primary concern from a phone is image quality and you're not fussed about having the latest apps, the Lumia 1020 will suit you well. If you're looking for more of a compromise, then a high-end Android phone will probably be more suitable.

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    Nokia Lumia 1020

    Part Number: 6820345
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. UK specs are unavailable.

    • Service Provider AT&T
    • Weight 5.51 oz
    • Diagonal Size 4.5 in
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