Not too long ago, we introduced you to the Final Word in smartphone cameras, the Nokia Lumia 1020. We were able to have a limited hands-on of the phone at the said event, but last week, Nokia was generous enough to loan us a unit for review.
I’ve used it as a daily driver for seven days, and man, it was a good week. However, Nokia have touted it as an all-in-one device that has the potential to replace at least two devices: cameras and smartphones. It’s also their justification for the hefty price tag. So, were they successful? Read more after the break.
The Smartphone Aspect
I’ve decided not to follow our usual formula in reviewing smartphones. Instead, I’ve broken down the review into two main sections: the smartphone aspect, and the camera aspect. This is because 1) being that 90% of the experience is similar in every WP8 phone because Microsoft designed the platform that way, there’s little change in overall experience. I was able to jump in right away because my experience with my personal phone, the Lumia 620, is mostly the same with this one. Of course, there are exceptions which I’ll get to in a bit. The phone is still pleasantly stable, and most of my caveats with the platform (see my opinion about Windows Phone 8) still hold true. However, there are three things that the Amber update has given that I absolutely love:
- You can now flip the phone to silent. Thank God for this! Why Microsoft took a long time for them to implement this is beyond me.
- You can now assign a separate ring tone for each notification. So, I can now assign a different notification tone for a particular person’s text message and a different one for calls.
- And, now, I can sync some Google Services! This is the BEST update that Amber gave us. In essence, I can now sync my Google Contacts, email, and Calendar. At LAST! I now have a real unified contact!
Of course, there are still other necessary features that are missing. Microsoft still insists that you can only send SMS to a contact’s main phone number, for one (the only workaround is to manually enter the cell number in the To filed of the messaging app). And while more apps are coming, such as Vine (now available) and Instagram (coming very soon), it’s still no secret that a lot of apps are missing. At least one other friend of mine with a WP8 phone can attest to that. He’s being frustrated about the situation more and more. But that’s a platform problem because in other news…
…The hardware is immaculate! Yes, it’s made of polycarbonate. But unlike other manufacturers, *coughSamsungcough*, it’s still so elegant to look at and doesn’t feel cheap. The Nokia Lumia 1020 review unit I have is the yellow variant, and while I would prefer this to be black or even cyan, this is still such an eye candy.
Nokia have a knack for creating some of the most beautiful phone designs, and it’s very much apparent in the Lumia 1020.
The body is wrapped in a unibody polycarbonate shell, which means that there’s no way for consumers to get to the interior of the device. As such, it has a non-removable battery, one of the two major caveats I have with the device (more on this later). Like all Lumias, the right side contains the hardware buttons: the volume rocker, the power button, and the dedicated camera button (something that I wish all other phones have).
At the top, you would see the 3.5mm headphone jack at the center, sandwiched by the microSIM tray and the reset button (or at least it looks like the reset button), both of which need the supplied pin/key. At the back, you would see the phone’s limelight: the camera’s lens, two sets of flashes, and sensor housing that protrudes at the back. This makes the phone unable to lie flatly on its back, but it’s no big deal, actually. The bottom houses the speaker/microphone grille, the microUSB port, and where you’re supposed to insert a lanyard.
Here’s a recap of the phone’s hardware specs:
Nokia Lumia 1020 Specs
- 4.5″ AMOLED ClearBlack Screen, WXGA 1280 x 768, 334 ppi, Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 Dual Core processor at 1500 MHz
- Adreno 225 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB ROM, non-expandable
- A-GPS support and GLONASS
- Bluetooth 3.0, WiFi a/b/g/n, NFC
- Stereo FM radio with RDS
- 2000 mAh battery, non-removable
- 4G support
The screen is 4.5″ of good AMOLED goodness coupled with their amazing ClearBlack technology. And while it’s not quite HD, it is WXGA (1280 x 768), it’s still one of the best screens I’ve encountered. In fact, every one of my friends and loved ones who have seen me with the phone have remarked highly about the screen. It also helps that color reproduction is great on the screen, which is a good thing because it’s your main interface for the camera aspect of the phone. I absolutely LOVE the screen size, so much so that I’m actually ruing the day that I have to go back to using my Lumia 620 again. I’d rather have this phone instead.
[two_fifth]While you may scoff at its CPU for being just a dual-core, the OS is optimized enough that you wouldn’t notice.[/two_fifth]
Every other hardware aspect come into play to give you a smooth experience. While you may scoff at its CPU for being just a dual-core, the OS is optimized enough that you wouldn’t notice. And coupled with the generous 2GB of RAM makes the experience all smoother. My only beef are the non-expandable storage and less-than-ideal battery. On the smartphone aspect, either won’t get in the way. Since you won’t find a lot of apps to install, that 29.12GB (of 32GB) of available storage would be a lot but could be very useful for your photos and videos. As for the battery life of Nokia Lumia 1020, using it as a phone and some moderate internet usage gave me around two days’ worth (well, actually one and a half) before I was scrambling for a charger.
As expected, call quality is top notch, and so is media performance. Nokia have been really great with audio quality, and the Lumia 1020 doesn’t disappoint in that aspect. Overall, I’m still quite impressed. I have read that audio quality during calls have been poor, but I have not encountered it. I use the phone for calls multiple times everyday and they were great in mine.
The Camera Aspect
And now we come to what makes the Nokia Lumia 1020 stand out: the camera. One of the criticisms I have with the WP8 platform overall is that it has absolutely nothing new to offer and in fact lacks a lot of things when compared to its powerhouse competitors iOS and Android. Aside form having that “me, too” feel, there isn’t much that hasn’t been done in the other two platforms (except for Nokia Here, which remains the only reason to buy a WP8 phone for me).
Well, such is NOT the case with this phone. In fact, I can go on to say that if you really want a Windows Phone 8 smartphone, this is the only one to get. The camera aspect of this phone puts it in a league of its own, much like its predecessor, the PureView 808. If you noticed, I intentionally left out the camera specifications above. That’s because I want to review them separately here.
Nokia have been pushing the phone’s potential to replace at the very least DSLRs and smaller format mirrorless cameras, such as Olympus and Panasonic’s Micro Four-Thirds format, or Nikon’s and Pentax’s mirrorless cameras with 2.7x crop factors, both of which (especially the latter) are frequently used in street and blog photography (who are, I think, the main markets of this phone). So, from hereon, I’ll be talking about the phone as a camera.
Nokia Lumia 1020 Camera Specs
- 41.3-megapixel BSI CMOS image sensor
- 1/1.5-inch (2/3-inch) image sensor format with a total of 7712 × 5360 pixels
- 8.80×6.60 mm sensor size
- 3.93x crop factor
- 7.2mm Carl Zeiss lens (25mm equivalent in Full Frame for 16:9 aspect ratio, and 27mm equivalent in 4:3), fixed 2.2 aperture
- optical image stabilization built-in
- Mechanical shutter with short shutter lag
- a xenon and lens flash
- PureView technology, Generation 2
Not bad as far as camera specs go, and blows anything out of the water as far as smartphone cameras go. There are some things that need clarification, though. While the active area of the sensor is 41.3MP or 7712 x 5360 pixels, you won’t be saving pictures at that resolution. Depending on the aspect ratio you chose, you’ll get 34MP or 7712 x 4352 pixels for 16:9 photos and videos, or 38MP or 7136 x 5360 pixels for 4:3 photos and videos. Normally, at a sensor that small, 41MP is an overkill. That’s actually at the low end of medium format cameras already. However, that works to an advantage since that means that the pictures are oversampled, i.e. one image pixel space is stacked with multiple pixels.
Of course, megapixel count does not equate to better image quality. That aspect rests on the sensor and the lens (hardware-wise) and both do not disappoint. at 3.93 crop factor, the sensor is quite small, especially for the MP count that it touts. However, that seems to work to its advantage. Carl Zeiss is also know as one of the premiere lens makers, and unlike most cameras in phones, it’s made entirely of glass. With a wide aperture of 2.2, it has good low light performance, and is able to give you adequately shallow depth of field most of the time. However, it won’t be able to give you that creamy and uber shallow bokeh that DSLR and MILC lenses can give you.
The last part of the Nokia Lumia 1020’s camera aspect is the software. Indeed, it’s so integrated with the phone’s camera performance that, unlike DSLRs and other cameras, it’s quite a big deal. And there are three main necessary software: the Nokia Camera Pro, the Nokia Smart Camera, and the recently released Nokia Refocus. The main app is the Nokia Camera Pro.
One of the reasons why I love having a dedicated camera button is the ease of activating your main camera app.
At sleep, all you need to do is to hold the button for a few seconds (around 2 seconds), and you’re good to go and ready to take pictures! It’s so intuitive and it means that it lets you capture “the moment” faster.
Using the Nokia Camera Pro app takes some getting used to, especially since there’s no in-depth tutorial or manual (the basic tutorial didn’t cut it, I had to tinker with it extensively before figuring out what I wanted it to do). It’s one of the best OEM camera apps I’ve used in any format, giving you as much control as possible. With it, you’re able to manually control the following: shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus (yes, you can manually focus), ISO, and white balance. You can also turn the flash on and off from the app’s main interface. And while some of Android’s third-party camera app can give you as much features, I find this Nokia Camera Pro such a joy to use. The Nokia Pro Camera also puts those high MP images to good use.
From what I can gather, this is how your taken photo is processed: The 34MP or 38MP is stored as a highly compressed JPG (more on this later). You don’t natively have access to this photo. What you do have access to is a 5MP “thumbnail” that is created alongside the photo. Once the photo is taken, you can “crop” the photo to fit this 5MP “window”, which can either be in 4:3, 3:2, 1:1, or 16:9 format. Here’s an example:
That is the photo of the flower I’ve taken with everything in default. That’s not the actual 34MP or 38MP picture, but that’s its 5MP representation. Clicking on the center icon means that I’m going to “recompose” my picture. I then get the “window” with the grid lines for guidance.
You would also note that the option icons change. The left side changes the aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 1:1, or 16:9), the center one is for rotating the picture, and the last one is for saving. The phone’s back button acts as a cancel button.
Pinching the picture enables you to zoom in or out, and at the same time, you can drag the photo to so that you can recompose the photo within that window. Once you’re satisfied with the result, you can save the picture, thus overwriting the “thumbnail” with the new one.
Now, you might recognize the process as simply cropping the image, but it’s not exactly accurate. To be precise, what the app is actually doing is using the aforementioned oversampling to be able to zoom/crop the picture with minimal degradation since you’re stretching out those excess pixels that are stacked onto that space. Of course, there’s a limit to how far you can zoom before seeing a significant degradation. But still, you’re able to stretch it farther than in images taken from DSLRs.
From the Gallery or the Camera Apps, you can also click on the menu for different options:
There are a couple of built-in apps for editing pictures, among them is the Nokia Creative Studio, which is basically an app that lets you apply filters to your photos. It has a nice, clean interface, but unfortunately, it lacks a lot of creative filters, giving you only 8 filters, limiting the amount of creativity you can apply. For street photography, I’m more of a black-and-white afficionado, and there’s only one filter for that (named silver for some reason).
Now, this 5MP thumbnail is what is given when you share the photo via Bluetooth, NFC, uploads to social networks, email, or cloud storages.
The next in Nokia’s Camera Apps Trinity is the Nokia Refocus. It actually doesn’t come pre-installed since it was just released last week, but can be downloaded for free. We mentioned the app before and at that time, I only toyed around with it a bit. This app mimics the Lytro camera in that you’re able to refocus your subject after taking the photo. It’s not magic, and even though I’m unsure how Lytro does it, I may have a clue on how Nokia’s works.
[two_fifth]You’re able to refocus your subject after taking the photo.[/two_fifth]
When you take a picture from the Refocus app, it creates two files: one, a low-res picture with your chosen subject in focus (in my case, it was a 1616 x 2864 image), and a NAR file, which is similar to a XMP file in Photoshop. However, it’s 8-10 times larger in file size than the actual picture. It seems that the app takes photos of as many focal points as possible and stores them in this NAR file. So when I took a picture of Goku here:
Goku was my chosen subject, so the gashapon was in focus, and everything else was blurred out. However, when I point somewhere else, like say the LBC package, that becomes the one in focus.
Alternatively, I can click on the center option at the bottom to make everything in focus, as if by magic:
I have a few caveats with the app, though:
- As mentioned, you would only get a low-res image out of the app. This is somehow expected, though, as even the Lytro camera blurts out low-res images.
- You lose any sort of settings control when using the app. You can’t set flash, nor can you set exposure compensation. so, if you want great-looking pics, you’ll need to use it in a very well-lit environment.
Still, it doesn’t take away from the fact that using the app is a whole new level of fun!
The last member of the Trinity is the Nokia Smart Cam app. But unlike the first two apps that can only be installed in PureView phones with the Amber update, this can be used by any WP8 phone that has the Amber update installed. Honestly, though, I haven’t been able to toy with this app. And since it’s not exclusive to PureView phones, I can review the app at a later time (unless Nokia would be gracious to extend the phone with me :) ).
Relative to phones, image quality is the best I’ve ever seen, trumping the iPhone 5 (from samples from my sister’s phone) or the Galaxy Note 2 (my main phone). They say that images taken via the Note 3 is on par, but I can’t confirm that for now (and personally, I doubt that, given the 1020’s sensor and lens advantage). For such a small sensor, I’m also surprised at its ISO performance. However, not everything is peachy. For one, the 5MP thumbnails look good on the phone’s screen, or in any small screen for that matter, but open it up on larger screens and you’ll find the quality underwhelming.
Also, from what I’ve read, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is supposed to take full 34-38MP pictures at 30MB each, meaning that it’s supposed to save those high resolution, high quality photos. Instead, when I tried extracting the high res photos from the phone via the PC (which is the ONLY way to get those 34-38MP photos), I only get those 34-38MP photos at only 10-15MB each, meaning that these are highly compressed JPG images, and when you look at them via large screens (a.k.a. desktop monitors), it shows (with modest amount of pixel peeping, to be fair). If those 30+MB files are stored, I can’t find them.
Given the Lumia 1020’s price point of PHP 35,650.00, Nokia is touting that it can replace at least two of your devices. I can definitely say that it’s not the case. As far as smartphones go, the WP8 platform simply cannot compete with Android and iOS to make it a viable main smartphone right now (based flexibility, etc). Again, that is my honest opinion. It lacks so much, both in features and apps, to compete in the “smart” aspect. Of course, the phone aspect is a different story altogether, and it shines brilliantly. As for the camera aspect, if you’re coming from the simple point-and-shoot ones, then this phone can definitely kick those to the curb. But go higher, such as mirrorless cameras with 2.7x crop factors, to micro 4/3s, to entry-level DSLRs, then the image quality you get from this devise will not compete. Couple this with the two very questionable design choices that puts a large dent on this otherwise excellent phone:
1. Non-Expandable Storage
I’m actually guessing that this may be the reason why we’re just getting these highly compressed 34-38MP images. Failing to add microSD support on a device like this is simply criminal. I’m wondering why something like the Lumia 620 or the Lumia 520 is given microSD support while a phone that’s supposed to take high resolution images doesn’t. This severely hampers its usefulness when you plan to use it in photowalks and such.
2. Non-Replaceable Battery
There’s a reason why cameras don’t come with non-removable batteries. When used as a phone, the battery is adequate, impressive even. But use it as a camera, and you would see how much of a battery hog it is. Thankfully, all Nokia Lumia 1020 phones come packaged with a casing that acts as a battery grip as well. Still, if you plan to make use of its camera aspect heavily, be prepared to bring at least one power bank (even with the casing/grip on).
While I can’t fully recommend it as either a main smartphone (but as a purely telephony use, yes I can) or a main camera, I can definitely say that it the BEST sidekick device for either your smartphone, camera, or both. It has enough features to complete your experience. For a smartphone, my WP8 is indispensable because of Nokia Here. Still, it’s a matter of choice though as you can freely assess your needs and see if it’s good enough.
[three_fifth]I quite enjoyed using this on street photography because I’m able to be less visible to my subjects, thus enabling me to take more candid photos.[/three_fifth]
As I do more telephony on my Globe line than I do with my Smart one, I get to use the Lumia 1020 the same way I did with my 620: calls and texts all day long. The battery can take it, leaving my Android device free to use its battery on apps and games. As for the camera aspect, despite my caveats with the image quality, it really isn’t that bad and often great. And the more pocketable stature means that I can bring this along where even my GX1 or my OMD E-M5 would be cumbersome.
For food bloggers, this is such a boon as well. The oversampling and lossless zooming does wonders. For one, I no longer need a macro lens (I don’t have one for the m4/3, too expensive for me), and taking pictures of your food and zooming it to perfection puts it in a whole new level. In fact, I like it so much that if given the chance, I will willingly replace my Panasonic GX1 with this phone (but not the OMD E-M5, it’s such a perfect camera). So, in a way, it does replace two of my sidekick devices.
I have to admit, though, as much as I truly love Nokia Lumia 1020, I still balk at the price, which may eventually be a deal-breaker for some. But regardless, of all the WP8 phones, this is the only one I can truly recommend. I just wished it’s more affordable.