While Apple and Samsung battle it out for the hearts and minds of mobile users across the world, Nokia has taken a different path in recent years. Mainly this was because of an exclusive deal with Microsoft for the Finish giant to use the Windows Phone OS on its hardware. To some this has been a huge mistake, as the Lumia range is well regarded but often overlooked due to the unpopular Windows platform. Supporters counter this with the arguments that Windows Phone is innovative, stylish, and more than capable for most users. Whatever your standpoint the truth of the matter is that Nokia hasn’t done so well and was recently bought by Microsoft, which pretty much ensures that it will become the sole hardware for Windows Phone from now on.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. In the past few months Nokia has released the Lumia 520 and 620, which have gone on to become very popular at the budget end of the market, showing that there might be life in the OS yet. The Lumia 1020 I have here today though resides at the other end of the scale, where the competition is much tougher and customers’ expectation are obviously a lot higher.
The 1020 follows on from the similarly designed Lumia 920 (are you seeing a pattern here?) that always caught the eye thanks to its sharp looks, but caused wide-eyed surprise at its brick like weight. The new unit addresses that issue and does so even after incorporating a 41mp camera into the chassis. No mean feat that. This high power snapper needs a bit of room for all those megapixels, which manifests in a slightly bulbous back. At first glance it might seem bulky, but it’s smaller in the hand than you’d expect, and in some ways the camera bulge acts as a ridge to help when holding the device in one hand.
The overall unit though does feel thicker than say the HTC One or Samsung S4, both of which have larger screen sizes than the 4.5″ sported on the Nokia. This means that general one-handed operation is a little cumbersome, with the extra girth just making things difficult at times. On Android you can side step the physical size issue by grouping your favourite apps together in folders located near to where you grip the handset, but Windows Phone doesn’t yet offer this useful option, so more often than not the 1020 becomes a two-hand phone for getting things done.
As you can see from the images Nokia fears not the use of colour. The 1020 blazes in the sunlight with its bright yellow body, of which I am mostly unashamedly a fan. Of course if holding this kind of device up to your face in public makes you feel squeamish then you could opt for the red or black options that are also available. Build quality, as you would expect from Nokia, is excellent. The body is solid, the screen is bright and responsive, while call quality is as good as any of the 1020’s rivals. Nokia also includes a suite of apps that definitely add to the Windows Phone experience. Various map, car navigation, and camera apps enhance the ability of the 1020 no end, which is good because the app store is still bereft of many names that most people would expect to see.
It’s safe to say that this is the optimum way to see Windows Phone 8, so if you don’t like this then you won’t find a better example anywhere else. Which is a shame, because it really didn’t take long for me to find myself bored of the 1020, and pining for my old iPhone 4S with its tiny screen and fading battery. Windows Phone 8 just feels…awkward. Apps can be slow to load, transitions between pages is delayed by the animations (although iOS 7 is now guilty of this too), and it takes a while before anything feels like it’s at your fingertips. It’s not bad or unreliable, just a different approach to design, but not one that tends to float my boat in any way. That’s not to say someone else won’t find it rather spiffy. At a recent work event I was stopped by a waiter when he saw me produce the 1020. He shared excitedly about his own 920 and how much he loved the OS. When I talked to him about why, it was clear that the design choices were ones that connected with him in some way. Of course he’d paid for his device, so the praises felt more genuine than my moans, as he had something to lose if the phone was disappointing.
Of course the camera is where the 1020 really shines. In various modes the device proved impressive, with light balance constantly making the best of shots, and colours remaining neutral rather than the saturation tricks that other manufacturers use as a default to charm the eye. One of the main advantages of the 1020 is that you can shoot an image from a distance, then zoom in when cropping on your PC. This resolution is so high that the image retains its details where others would descend into a noisy mess. Here are a few examples to show what it can do.
Here’s a dark room with contrasting colours and images to focus on. It also features one of the built-in filters.
This was taken on an overcast day, just as the light was beginning to fade.
In the end the 1020 is an excellent camera, and a quite mediocre mobile phone. This could be acceptable for many, but the asking price puts it actually just above the iPhone on several carriers. For that kind of money it doesn’t hold up as good value. The iPhone has a very, very good camera, maybe 85% the capacity of the 1020, but also has 100% of the iPhone app and OS experience. The Nokia/Microsoft package really doesn’t compete with this, and when compared to the S4, HTC One and the hotly anticipated Nexus 5, it fares no better. If you love Windows Phone 8 then here you go, fill your boots. But if you’re undecided I suggest you look elsewhere.