Nokia Lumia 1020 Hands On Review: My Time With the Imaging Superphone

It’s no secret that the Windows Phone platform has been losing the flagship phone war with most people gravitating toward iOS or Android. Well, if Windows Phone had a single phone to place its bets on, it would be the Nokia Lumia 1020. Unlike other phones that try to beat the competition through specs alone, Nokia took a different route with the Lumia 1020 and slapped a monster 41mp camera on it, making it the best camera that you can find on a phone. It even beats out dedicated point-and-shoots and super zooms in the process.

Model With Nokia Lumia 1020 Closeup

I was fortunate enough to have been invited to the official launch event at the Ayala Museum in Makati. I was interested in the Nokia Lumia 1020 not just because of the impressive camera, but because it was my first time with Windows Phone 8. I also wanted to find out if the rest of the phone was up to snuff with the camera. After sneaking in a lot of hands on time, here are my impressions of the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Design and Construction

Nokia Lumia 1020 with Camera Grip and Tripod Accessory

The body of the Nokia Lumia 1020 is almost indistinguishable from the Lumia 920 when you look at it from the front. The hump on the back is quite pronounced, but hey, it houses a camera that is many times more capable than any Android phone or iPhone can offer so who’s complaining? It even manages to weigh just 158g, which is considerably light for a Nokia phone whose phones are known for their toughness and durability. The Lumia 1020 will be available in three colors at launch and I happened to be handling the yellow one. The other color variants are black and white.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Back

While the camera hump may not be as pronounced as on its predecessor in spirit, the Pureview 808, it’s still hard to miss. There’s no denying it inspires confidence in the imaging capabilities of the Nokia Lumia 1020, but in real life, it does get in the way of normal usage. When holding the phone normally, the camera makes it top-heavy, and the hump does have a tendency to snag in your pockets whenever you have to pull it out every now and then. That’s the price you have to pay, but it’s something that you can get used to. I’m just amazed at how slim and light they were able to make the phone despite the massive camera.


Like the Lumia 925, the Lumia 1020 also comes with a 4.5 inch PureMotionHD+ AMOLED display. Nokia has been moving away from LCDs on its high end flagships lately, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see it on the Lumia 1020, and it benefits from the punchy colors and deep blacks that are typically associated with this kind of screen technology. Also, to protect it against bumps and scratches, the display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and is surprisingly responsive even when using gloves.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Featured

If there’s a downside, some people might find the colors to be a bit too punchy, but Nokia has conveniently included an app that allows you to switch between color profiles so you can tune the screen just the way you like it.


The Lumia 1020 features a 41mp camera with a 1/1.15″ sensor that is so large, it affects the entire balance of the phone, especially when holding it in portrait mode. The sensor is actually physically smaller compared to the 41mp sensor of the PureView 808, which had the same resolution but measured 1/2″.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Camera Orientation

Despite that, the Lumia 1020’s camera has a few more things going for it versus the PureView 808. First is that it’s a BSI sensor, meaning all the circuitry has been moved to the back of the sensor to allow more light in. Second is that the aperture is wider at F/2.2 versus the PureView 808’s F/2.4 aperture. Finally, it features Optical Image Stabilization that eliminates the shake when taking photos or shooting video.

The Optical Image Stabilization feature is particularly notable because of the sheer size of the sensor. Regular sensor-based image stabilization would rely on gyroscopes to correct for any movement of your hands and eliminate shake blur. However, because the Lumia 1020’s sensor is so large, the stabilization mechanism would end up being quite large as well. But Nokia engineers took a different approach, using ball bearings instead of gyros. You can actually hear the bearings if you shake the camera around. The result is an imaging superphone that maintains relative slimness despite the size of camera.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera
Image Courtesy of Nokia

However despite sporting a 41mp sensor, the camera doesn’t actually take 41mp images. It will take 38mp photos with an aspect ratio of 4:3 and 34mp photos in widescreen 16:9. This is because in 4:3. the image maximizes the vertical length of the sensor, ignoring a small strip on the left and right sides, while a 16:9 image would maximize the horizontal length, leaving a strip at the top and bottom of the sensor that isn’t used. Either way, it’s not like you would need the entire 38mp or 34mp images if all you’re going to do is upload it to Facebook or Instagram.

Which begs the question, why bother slapping a 41mp sensor if you don’t really need the high resolution? The answer is oversampling. Oversampling is a technique where information from several pixels are combined into a single pixel. What happens on the Nokia Lumia 1020 is that it saves two images for every one shot that you take: a 38mp or 34mp version and a 5mp version, with the 5mp image having benefited from oversampling from either the 38mp or 34mp version. The combination of information from several pixels into one means you get the most accurate color representation possible, eliminating a lot of the noise  that tends to result from low light shots.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Nokia Pro Camera settings
Image Courtesy of Nokia

So the camera is a monster, but that’s only half the story. You can’t take full advantage of the impressive camera hardware if it doesn’t come with software that is intuitive enough to make it easy for even the average user to use. Thankfully, Nokia has baked the Nokia Pro Camera app into the Lumia 1020, which provides a suprisingly simple interface that allows you full control over the flash, white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed, and exposure. There’s actually a default camera app that only takes 5mp images, but if you’re looking to harness the full potential of the 41mp sensor, the Nokia Pro Camera app is what you want to use.

To showcase just how powerful the Lumia 1020’s camera was, Nokia had set up a couple of rooms where we could test it. The first room had the Lumia 1020 positioned a good distance away from a couple of books. Here I took a picture without even zooming in to see how much detail would be captured in the final image.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Book Shot No Zoom

In this next shot, the image has already been taken and I’m actually viewing the photo zoomed all the way in. From that distance away, the text was still very readable.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Book Shot Max Zoom After Shot

The other room was completely dark and had a fruit arrangement of sorts in the middle. Again, the Lumia 1020 was positioned some distance away. You can see how dark the room is here and you can barely see it from within the Nokia Pro Camera app in the darkness.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Dark Room No Zoom

In this next shot, I’ve already taken the picture and am viewing it zoomed all the way in. The details might not be perfect, but hey, that’s a shot taken in pitch-black darkness!

Nokia Lumia 1020 Max Zoom After Shot

To say that the Nokia Lumia 1020’s camera is impressive would be an understatement. I was drooling over the phone and wishing I had one so I wouldn’t have to lug around a heavy DSLR with me every time I had to commute to and from an event. Still, there are some weird oversights that would have made the camera experience so much better. One is that the Lumia 1020 lacks a micro SD slot or even USB OTG capabilities. Taking such high resolution images will quickly eat up through internal storage after a few hundred shots, so this really feels like an unnecessary compromise. Also, it takes a long time after taking a shot before the camera is ready to shoot again. Snapping and saving high resolution shots takes a while, and then the Lumia 1020 then has to create the oversampled image. These aren’t small gripes, but most people can live with them anyway.

The Rest of the Phone

While the camera is the star of the show, the rest of the phone works up to snuff. The Nokia Lumia 1020 is powered by a Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC with a 1.5GHz dual core Krait processor and Adreno 225 GPU. While it’s only a dual core processor, those Krait cores are pretty powerful and are fast enough to power through any task you can put it through on the Windows Phone 8 platform. It’s coupled with a generous 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage too.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone 8 OS

Being my first time using Windows 8, it was refreshing to see just how fast the interface responded to my touch. The S4 Pro SoC likely has a lot to do with that. Also, I was told that the battery could last 2 full days on moderate usage, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since Windows Phone 8 tends to keep a tighter check on background apps compared to Android.


It was hard not to come away slack-jawed after Nokia’s presentation of the Lumia 1020. It’s a beautifully crafted device, if a bit chunky, with a body made from solid polycarbonate and a modern design that made me wish Nokia made Android phones too. What really impressed me wasn’t the massive 41mp camera, but the tight control that Nokia has enabled over the capabilities and features so that even a novice photographer can take advantage of it. And it’s not just a camera, but a smartphone too, easily making it a MacGyver device that does it all.

Model With Nokia Lumia 1020 2

However, the Windows Phone 8 platform is its Achilles’ heel. Sure, a lot of the mainstream apps can already be found in the Windows Phone App Store, but there are still quite a few that haven’t made it yet. Also, developers tend to make apps for iOS first, Android second, and then wait on their asses until they decide to release a version for Windows Phone. If the Windows Phone App Store could just catch up a bit more to Google Play and the Apple App Store, it would really help sell more phones.

If you’re looking to grab one, the Nokia Lumia 1020 will become available in stores beginning October 11, 2013 with an SRP of Php35,650. It comes with the Camera Grip accessory with built-in 1,000mAh battery already bundled with it. Sold separately, the Camera Grip would cost Php4,000 on its own. If you’re looking to get it at a subsidized price through a telco, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer though as Nokia Philippines is still in talks with them.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Specs

  • 4.5″ PureMotion HD+ ClearBlack AMOLED display (768 x 1280 resolution, 332ppi) with Gorilla Glass 3
  • Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 Pro Krait processor
  • Adreno 225 GPU
  • Windows Phone 8
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32GB internal non-expandable storage
  • 41mp PureView camera with Zeiss optics and dual Xenon/LED flash
  • 1.3mp wide angle front camera
  • Up to 4G LTE
  • WiFi b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • GPS with A-GPS
  • 2,000mAh Li-ion battery, non-removable
  • Dimensions: 130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4mm
  • Weight: 158g
  • Availability: October 11, 2013
  • Price: Php35,650 with Nokia Camera Grip accessory worth Php4,000

2 thoughts on “Nokia Lumia 1020 Hands On Review: My Time With the Imaging Superphone

  1. “It even manages to weigh just 158g, which is considerably light for a Nokia phone whose phones are known for their “”touchness””” and durability. The Lumia 1020 will be available in three colors at launch and I happened to be handling the yellow one. The other color variants are black and white.”


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