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Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Photographers, meet your camera phone

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
The text looks great even cropped close. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Keep cropping ever tighter, but know that once you save an image this way, you can't revert. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I've cropped in so tightly on this text, the 100x112-pixel image below is as large as it gets:

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
This full-resolution crop of the leaf and grass looks great. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Here's a full-resolution crop of the same image, drawing from the 1020's saved higher-resolution image. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
The Lumia 1020 was fantastic at switching focal points. This picture snaps onto the foremost cluster. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Here, the rear cluster is the photo's main subject. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Here's another exercise in playing with focus. Click to enlarge. Kristina Rosa/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Click to enlarge. Kristina Rosa/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Tacos, anyone? Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
The Pro Cam app made the appetizer appear yellower after I took the photo. The fried shallots look focused, but the yellow sauce isn't as well defined. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
This flower bouquet was shot indoors at night using the native camera app. It's sharp, but the blooms lack depth, especially the white ones. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Shot outdoors at night using the Pro Cam app: 1/400s shutter speed, ISO 800. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Full-resolution crop, shot at 1/800s shutter speed and ISO 4,000. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Once again, the Lumia 1020 is good enough to abandon your point-and-shoot for much of the time, but it still lacks some manual controls that more serious photographers will want for momentous occasions.

You can compare some smartphones' image performance in our periodically updated gallery of studio shots.

Video and front-facing camera

The Lumia 1020 shoots clean, smooth 1080p HD video -- once you change the default from 720p HD video in the settings. The same clear zoom the Nokia boasts for its still camera extends to video as well when you use the 3x digital zoom in the Nokia Pro Cam app. Nokia has hidden zoom gestures in the app. You can pinch to zoom while shooting, but you can also swipe up to zoom in and swipe down to zoom out.

Zooming in actually worked pretty well in my tests; for instance, patterns in rugs and faces showed up pretty clearly when I zoomed. Audio capture was my one complaint with taking video using the native camera app; my voice rang loudly -- almost too loudly -- while my subjects standing a few feet away were hard to hear. Nokia's "rich recording" in its Pro Cam app seems to have captured clearer sound.

Reviewing the Pro Cam video prompts you to install Nokia Video Trimmer from the app store. This is yet another tool that boosts Nokia's Windows phone capabilities, though it would be far more valuable to include that in the photo apps from the start.

For its front-facing camera, the Lumia 1020 plugs in the same 1.2-megapixel wide-angle lens we get on the Lumia 920 phones. Its 720p HD video recording is a boon for video chats. I was impressed with front-facing image quality on this camera, which was wide enough to take in my surroundings and tell a vibrant visual story when I shared photos with friends.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Documenting the food truck scene with the front-facing camera using the Pro Cam app. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

OS and features

The Lumia 2010 runs a version of Windows Phone 8 that's been slightly modified to accommodate the phone's enormous 41-megapixel camera.

You won't notice any difference on the front end, though, which looks and behaves like any other Nokia Windows phone. The usual complement of Nokia apps includes Nokia Music, Here-branded maps and driving apps, and a couple of extra photo tools in Nokia Pro Cam (of course), Nokia Smart Cam, Panorama, and Cinemagraph. AT&T also has its say with a suite of apps that include AT&T Radio and a family map.

Other key features include NFC for Tap + Send, and Bluetooth 3.0 (which could soon turn into 4.0). There's no integrated wireless charging on the 1020, but you can buy an aftermarket back cover if that's your jam.

Shutterbugs will more likely seek out other camera accessories, like a tripod case, or the camera grip case ($79) that really does convert your 1020 into a point-and-shoot camera, hand grip included.

A Nokia Lumia 1020 accessory turns your phone into a point-and-shoot. Josh Miller/CNET
Nokia Lumia 1020 with camera case.
A closer look at the 1020's camera case. Sarah Tew/CNET


Call quality
I tested the Lumia 1020's call quality (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) using AT&T's network in San Francisco.

When speaking in a quiet spot indoors, I kept volume at level 5 of 10, but pumped it up when it was noisier outdoors. Voices didn't sound completely natural. Instead, they came across a little flat, robotic, and lispy. There weren't huge distortion spikes or blips, but the audio weirdness persisted throughout my calls. I could still carry on conversations, but I definitely noticed that my caller sounded off. One high point is that the 1020's sound was absolutely clear, with no background noise.

On his end of the line, my test caller says I sounded a little distorted on the peaks, with occasional gargling. Otherwise, I sounded clear and comfortably loud, though my voice also sounded overly sharp in almost an uncomfortable way. The muddiness and crispiness made the call OK overall for my main test caller, but it wouldn't be his top choice. He gave it a B to B-.

Nokia Lumia 1020 call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was impressive on my end when I tested it at hip level; I could tell I was shooting out audio through the speaker, but it mostly sounded good. Volume was the biggest problem: I had to boost it to the highest level to hear conversation clearly, even indoors. Still, the phone wasn't echoey for me. I could see myself using this to take a conference call or to talk while driving.

Unfortunately, speakerphone quality tanked for my caller. He called it "muddy" and said it emphasized rather than reduced that telltale speakerphone echo. He said he would have a hard time hearing amid any ambient noise.

Data, processor, battery
AT&T's 4G LTE blazed on the Lumia 1020 in my San Francisco tests, consistently delivering speeds in the double digits.

I often saw diagnostic results ranging from 15Mbps to 38Mbps down and 5Mbps to 15Mbps up. In real-world tests, even graphically rich desktop versions of Web pages loaded pretty quickly and completely. Apps and photos downloaded fast as well, and status updates and pictures uploaded without much wait.

Nokia Lumia 1020 diagnostic speed test
Some diagnostic test results using the Free Speed Test for Windows Phone. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Like other Lumias, the 1020 has a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. Although it isn't as fast as Qualcomm's quad-core processor, this is as speedy as you get in a Windows Phone, and it's a plenty quick chipset. Gameplay was engaging with Xbox games and others.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (AT&T) Performance
Download Endomondo (3MB) 19.5 seconds
Load up Endomondo mobile app 4.1 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 13.7 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 30.7 seconds
Camera boot time 2.8 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time Pro Cam: 6 seconds with flash and focusing;
Native: 2.5 seconds

The Lumia 1020's 2,000mAh battery has a rated talk time of 13.3 hours over 3G. We'll conduct independent battery drain tests as well. This is the same battery capacity as the Lumia 920 line, and just like those phones, this one should continuously last a full workday before needing a charge. Keep in mind that batteries do degrade over time.

There's 32GB of storage on the Lumia 1020, which is enough for most people. The Nokia Pro Cam's large photo format will suck up more space than others, so that might make some jittery. Still, I took and kept dozens of shots without running close to the barrier. The 1020 does come with 7GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage, though, with an option to upgrade to more. The 1020 has 2GB of RAM, rather than the other Lumias' 1GB of RAM.

FCC tests measure a digital SAR of 0.82 watts per kilogram for this phone.

Buy it or skip it?

The 1020's larger sensor, image stabilization, incredible lossless cropping, and low light performance make it stand out from the crowd. However, for casual users, there may be more camera -- and bulk and a higher price -- than necessary, especially when smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 920 models, the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the HTC One produce some good-enough snaps to upload and share.

For purists, the Lumia 1020's sensor size may be smaller than Nokia's Symbian-running 808 PureView antecedent, but that helps it achieves a pocket-friendliness it may not otherwise have had. I have some complaints about the Pro Cam app's look and layout, but these are ultimately minor issues.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom has a 10x optical zoom lens. James Martin/CNET

The 1020 isn't as flexible to use as the S4 Zoom, and its lack of presets and limited manual controls add some frustration. On top of that, photos aren't tremendously better than pictures you can take with other phones. Avid photographers should stick to their standalone cameras for the best quality images.

Buy the Lumia 1020 if you:
- Subscribe to AT&T
-Want better-than-average smartphone photos
- Are willing to invest in a pricier device
- Crave precise control over exposure and other settings

Skip the Lumia 1020 if you:
- Are looking for a slim or budget smartphone
- Prefer preset scenarios to help photograph a scene
- Highly value fast shot-to-shot times
- Are happy with your current smartphone camera
- Dislike Windows Phone OS

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