For as long as we can remember Nokia has been at the forefront of mobile imaging. The smartphones produced by the Finnish company have always had an impressive cameras. When the 41MP Nokia PureView 808 was announced at the beginning of 2012 it was a device out of place in the market. The Lumia 800 had already ushered in the new era of Microsoft’s Windows Phone as the way forward for Nokia and the Symbian OS that the 808 ran was slowly dying. It’s taken Nokia all of 15 months to bring the imaging prowess of that phone’s 41MP camera to Windows Phone, but is the Lumia the Nokia we’ve been waiting for?

Nokia Lumia 1020 Rewiew 3

Design

The Lumia 1020’s design follows in the footsteps of its Lumia brethren, with a coloured polycarbonate case ensconcing an AMOLED display. The standard Windows Phone four-button layout (volume rocker, lock button and camera shutter) adorn the right hand edge. While the back, home and search buttons on the front offer haptic feedback to confirm they have been pressed. It’s all pretty standard fare until you get to the back of the phone, where a mound housing the 41MP camera sensor protrudes.

That being said, the Lumia 1020 is much thinner than we expected it to be. In fact if you use one of the official Nokia covers the aforementioned camera protrusion almost fades away completely. At 158g it’s significantly lighter than the 185g behemoth that was the Lumia 920 but still significantly heavier than both the Galaxy S4 (130g) and iPhone 5s (112g).

You would think that the camera module had made the Lumia 1020 completely unbalanced by shifting all of the mass of the phone right to the top of the device but thankfully that’s not the case. It actually feels comfortable to hold, with the holding hand naturally falling just underneath the camera module.

Hardware

The star of the show is, of course, the 41MP camera which comes paired with a now Nokia-standard Carl Zeiss lens. It has optical image stabilisation (OIS) which will help improve both low light photography and normally shaky video capture. Just under the camera sits a dual-flash arrangement, a xenon flash for capturing still images and a traditional LED flash for video capture.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 runs on a very typical set of Windows Phone 8 specs. The 4.5-inch AMOLED display runs at a resolution of 768×1280 giving it slightly better pixel density that the Retina display found in the iPhone 5s. The display uses Nokia’s ClearBlack technology which manages to make the display usable even in the brightest of direct sunlight, a feat that not many other handsets can lay claim to.

Running the show is a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor and, for the first time in a Windows Phone device, 2GB of RAM. We can’t help but feel that the processor is getting a bit long in the tooth considering that Qualcomm has already released two generations of top end processors since it came out. It’s not Nokia’s fault though. Microsoft has only recently opened up the Windows Phone hardware requirements to include the impressive Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. Unfortunately, the 1020 had already been released.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Rewiew 1

Software

Windows Phone 8 holds no mysteries. The operating system has been available for a little over a year and it is still plagued by the same fundamental flaws as it was when it launched. The animations that were once fresh and intriguing have become dry and, sadly, a bit annoying. Hit the menu button and you’re greeting by an overdrawn animation to reveal the menu which begins to feel painfully slow after the 50th time you’ve seen it in a day. More irritating though is the presence of similar long-winded animations in the mail app when composing and sending a new mail.

Where the animations may be a subjective bugbear on our part, the lack of a notification center in Windows Phone is unforgivable. With the modern smartphone’s litany of applications a single aggregated place to view and judge the importance of incoming communication is essential. To put it in perspective, the typical smartphone user will have Facebook, SMS, WhatsApp and an email address as the minimum on their smartphone, Windows Phone requires you to have an icon for each of these on your home screen if you hope to catch a notification after the banner announcing it has left the screen. The ‘Me’ tile helps by aggregating your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds and activity into a single stream, but it takes two seconds too long to load new notifications which once again can lead to an increased level of agitation over the course of a day.

To put it simply, Windows Phone needs its ‘Jelly Bean’ moment. Android had always been viewed as a capable competitor to iOS but with the release of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean the platform became a mature solution that could truly be the best in the world – and it has since dominated the mobile phone landscape. Windows Phone needs that moment, that one update that brings the whole package together making it the OS that it was always meant to be.

Problems with the underlying Windows Phone OS aside, the platform is becoming a real contender in the mobile space with the addition of several high profile apps in the last few weeks. Instagram, Waze, Vine and locally FNB and Standard Bank have all added their applications to the Windows Phone front in the last few weeks making the OS more of a compelling choice than ever. The so-called app-gap that has kept Windows Phone out of the running for so long against the Android and iOS powerhouses has definitely been diminished.

Display

Were it not for Nokia World last month the Lumia 1020 would be just another top of the range Nokia phone with the 4.5-inch 768×1280 ClearBlack AMOLED display. The announcement of the first full HD Lumia 1520 means that even as we get the latest in the Nokia stable we’re aware of the fact that it’s already fallen off of the perch at the top of the Windows Phone display pedestal.

The display itself however is a fantastic panel to behold. Colours are faithfully reproduced which will be a blessing for the photo-happy consumers the Lumia 1020 is aimed at. It also maintains visibility in direct sunlight thanks in part to its ClearBlack technology, as mentioned earlier. This will be crucial for all outdoor photography activities.

It’s a shame that the phone doesn’t have a display to do justice to the beautiful pictures that the camera captures; it almost feels like you’re being cheated out of the true quality of your photos when you view them on the 1020’s display.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Rewiew 2

Camera

41 million pixels, dual flash, optical image stabilisation, 6-lens Carl Zeiss optic elements, and an effective 6X zoom using oversampling. If there is a camera technology available to modern smartphones Nokia has put it into the Lumia 1020. The picture quality of the 1020’s camera is truly remarkable. Whether in direct sunlight, indoors or in low light conditions, the pictures that it produces are some of the best we’ve ever seen from a mobile phone. Due to the size of the sensor in here, it’s capable of an effective 6X optical zoom – even on video – by using oversampling. This is a method of taking a large photo, say 41MP, and by combining pixels, through some software trickery, creating a highly detailed 5MP photo.

The new Nokia Camera app allows you to take 34MP or 38MP photos, depending on the aspect ratio chosen, which are then oversampled back down to 5MP. The Lumia 1020 can be set up to save the original large version of the photo as well as the 5MP oversampled photo – or just the latter, to conserve space.  If you choose to save both you can reframe and even zoom out of a picture after it was taken to create a different photo from the same moment. Be warned that saving both means that there will be a rather noticeable two second break between taking photos while the monster 30+MP photo is written to disk.

The dual flash setup consists of a Xenon flash for still photography and an LED for constant lighting when recording videos. When recording footage the optical image stabilisation on the Lumia 1020 drastically reduces the amount of jitter you see in videos, smoothing out even the worst of hand tremors.

Nokia has several imaging applications available at the moment, all of which we wish would be integrated into the regular camera app. Refocus, Cinemagraph, Panorama and Nokia Camera are all separate apps, which means switching from one to another to use the desired features. Nokia Camera is already a combination of Nokia Pro Camera and Smart Camera, and we can’t help but wish that Nokia would move quicker on the integration of the rest.

We were also supplied with the optional camera grip accessory which, besides giving an extra 1020mAh of battery capacity to keep your 1020 snapping away, also gives it a fantastically comfortable hand grip, similar to that found on a regular camera. If you’re planning a day of taking photos, picking up one of these will allow you to use your Lumia for longer and to take better pics as well.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Rewiew 4

Battery Life

The Nokia Lumia 1020 comes equipped with a 2000mAh battery which puts it above the iPhone 5s (1570mAh) but below most flagship Android handsets like the Galaxy S4 (2600mAh). In everyday use we saw the Lumia needing a charge by late afternoon or early evening – a shame, as it meant having to worry about keeping it charged during the day in case we had somewhere to go after work.

It could be that the ageing processor tech is hampering battery life by not being able to deal with multimedia as efficiently as newer models, or that there just isn’t the same level of on-chip power control as newer models. Either way we suspect that an upgraded processor would go a long way in improving the battery life of the device.

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is the best camera phone we’ve ever used in terms of sheer imaging power and fidelity, but it’s hampered by an ageing Windows Phone 8 operating system which could really do with an overhaul to make things smoother.

The battery life is a concern. If the Lumia 1020 is going to replace a dedicated camera then it needs to be ready to take pictures at any time, a task which is made difficult when a user is concerned about keeping some juice for an emergency call.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is therefore a technological marvel. A step towards the future of mobile phone imaging. Unfortunately it’s not the best mobile phone it could be mostly because of the current hardware and software limitations of Windows Phone 8. We have no doubt that a successor to the Lumia 1020 will arrive with newer, better internals and hopefully an updated version of Windows Phone that addresses the issues we have with it.

Design: 4/5

Performance: 4/5

Battery life: 3/5

Value for Money: 3.5/5

Display: 4/5

Camera: 5/5

Interface: 3/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Detail

Price: R10 399

Display: 4.5 inch, 768 x 1280 AMOLED display (332 ppi)

Processor: Dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4

Memory: 2GB RAM

Storage: 32GB non-expandable storage

Camera: 41-megapixel rear with 6-lense Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilisation, Xenon & LED flash, 2.1-megapixel Full HD front

Networking: LTE, 3G, Bluetooth 3, Dual-band 802.11n wireless

OS: Windows Phone 8

David is a technology enthusiast with an insatiable thirst for information. He tends to get excited over new hardware and will often be the one in the room going "Its got 17 cores, 64GB of RAM and a 5" 4K flexible OLED display, oh it makes phone calls too?" Currently uses: Too many phones. Wants: World peace... and more phones.