Reviewing the Nokia Lumia 1020 - The Ultimate Camera Smartphone

3 out of 5 stars

When I first learned about the launch of the Nokia Lumia 1020, I was very excited. I wanted to know if this smartphone could truly replace my point-and-shoot camera. A couple of months later, I managed to get my hands on a test unit and today I'm ready to share my opinion about this unique Windows Phone device. Is the hype behind the Lumia 1020 truly deserved? Learn the answer to this question and more, from this review:

Hardware Specifications & Packaging

The Nokia Lumia 1020 shares the same packaging with other Lumia smartphones.

In the box, you will find the phone, the charger, a micro-USB cable, a pair of headphones, the manual and the warranty. Depending on where you purchased it from, you might find additional leaflets, offers, and manuals.

In terms of hardware, the Lumia 1020 has similar hardware to its predecessors: a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5GHz, a Qualcomm Adreno 225 graphics chip, a high-quality 4.5" AMOLED display with ClearBlack and Gorilla Glass 3 with a 1280 × 768 resolution, 2GB of RAM memory and a 2000 mAh battery. It weighs a total of 158 grams (5.6 oz), making it lighter than Lumia 920 (185 grams). This smartphone stands out when you look at its rear camera: a 41 Megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, Xenon flash, LED video light, autofocus and lots of other specs I don't understand. :) Basically, this is one of the most advanced cameras you will find on a smartphone. It is capable of capturing RAW images with detailed controls like those you find on professional cameras. Also, it records 1080p video with high-quality distortion-free, stereo sound. Its front camera is boring: it has 1.3 MP and it takes shots at 1280×960 pixels and it records 720p video. Also, the Lumia 1020 doesn't have a slot for microSD cards meaning you can't expand its existing 32GB of storage space. Another downside is that it doesn't have wireless charging built-in like other high end Lumias do and you can't replace its battery. The full list of specifications can be found here: Nokia Lumia 1020 hardware specifications. Also, you can learn more about the unboxing experience by watching the video below:

Design & Build Quality

The Lumia 1020 is available in three colors: black, white and yellow. Like many other Lumias, it has a unibody non-removable shell that feels comfortable to hold in your hand. The phone is solid and it doesn't feel like it will malfunction the first time you drop it. I'm not so sure about its camera though. It is so complex and it has so many moving parts that it might break if it it gets dropped on it. However, I wasn't willing to test this and ruin a great smartphone. I always found myself trying to protect the camera and being more careful than with other smartphones because of it.

Because of the large camera, I was worried that the Lumia 1020 might be too heavy like the Lumia 920 is. Fortunately, this is not the case and the Lumia 1020 is lighter (158 grams vs 185). You shouldn't find it too heavy even if you are a person with small hands.

Because of the large camera on the back, this phone feels a bit weird to hold in your pants pockets. At least at first, until you get used to it. Another unusual experience is when you take your first set of pictures. You will feel and hear the lens moving inside the phone, while you focus and take pictures. That's normal and it doesn't mean there's something wrong with the phone. The screen on the Lumia 1020 is awesome. The black and white levels are great and so are its viewing angles and contrast. Windows Phone's colors are vibrant and look good on the screen.

You will be able to use the Lumia 1020 when wearing gloves and its outdoors visibility is very good. The button layout is great, just like on other Lumias. It is very easy to unlock the phone with one finger, to change the volume or start the camera. Making screenshots is also fast and easy. When taking pictures I found myself being worried that I might drop the phone. It's easy for it to slip from your hands if you don't pay attention. That's why you should use the wrist wrap on the bottom of the phone and have the phone attached to your hand. When you take pictures in more unusual places or positions, using it will be of great help to make sure you don't accidentally drop the phone. All-in-all, the design, and build-quality of the Lumia 1020 are what you would expect from a premium device. I have absolutely no complaints about it.

The Phone Experience on the Nokia Lumia 1020

The phone experience is good on the Lumia 1020. I have had no issues with the signal strength, nor with the quality of my phone conversations. The sound quality when listening to music or viewing movies is good. It doesn't sound better than on other smartphones but it isn't worse either. Even though the Lumia 1020 offers several sound enhancements like Dolby Headphones and a long list of equalizers, they do not make much of a difference.

If you are expecting out-of-the-ordinary audio quality, you won't get it from the Lumia 1020. Where this phone truly shines is the camera department. It offers lots of controls, just like professional cameras do and, if you know how to set it up, you will make great pictures.

However, using Auto settings for everything won't provide you with spectacular pictures. Only pictures that are slightly better than those made with your average smartphone. If you want great results, you need to learn photography and how to set everything just right. The Lumia 1020 has all kinds of advanced features like a new optical image stabilization system you won't find on other smartphones or the capturing of 5 MP oversampled images which are very sharp, natural and low noise. It is also capable of shooting pictures using the RAW format which has no loss in quality. I think this smartphone is a photographer's dream come true. Another feature that will be loved by everyone is Lumia 1020's capability to record distortion-free stereo sound. If you are at a concert, you can make really good audio recordings. The sound is not as distorted as when making recordings with other smartphones and the voices are much clearer. I'm sure you've made recordings where the bass and the vibrations were so loud that the voice of the singer(s) was somewhere in the background and it sounded awful. This is not the case with the Lumia 1020. You can really use your concert recordings, post them on Youtube and have them enjoyed by others. The battery is not much different from that on the Lumia 920. It lasts you a full workday in normal use scenarios. In light use, you might get a day, a day and a half. Considering how much energy is consumed by the camera and the flash, I was expecting a beefier battery on the Lumia 1020.

The Nokia Apps for Windows Phone 8

The Nokia app collection is growing both in terms of numbers and quality apps. I wish other vendors of Windows Phones would follow their example.

The only downside is that the Lumia 1020 has many apps for taking photos and videos. They are very different and until you understand them all, you need quite a bit of time for experimentation. In my week of testing, I did not manage to learn all the apps and decide which app is better in which scenario. Most casual users will have the same issue. To make great shots with this phone you really need to invest time in understanding everything it has to offer. When using the main Nokia Pro Cam app that is opened when you press the Camera button, you will notice that the Lumia 1020 needs a bit of time to process and save each picture you take. This means that you cannot take pictures at a very fast rate and you need to wait. I think that the Lumia 1020 would have benefited from faster hardware (like a faster processor and speedier storage) to make the transition between taking pictures smoother.

Performance in Benchmarks

Next, I have ran several benchmarks so that I can compare Nokia Lumia's 1020 performance with that of other Windows Phones. First, I ran the MultiBench 2 benchmark. In its CPU and graphics tests it performed just as well as other high-end Windows Phone 8 devices. The differences between this phone and its direct competition are rather small. The top performing phone in these tests was HTC 8X, which is 6% faster in than the Lumia 1020 in the graphics test and 2% faster in the processor test.

The same story remains true in the tests for data transfers and working with the RAM memory of the smartphone. Lumia 1020 is not the fastest phone but it is amongst the fastest. In these tests, the top performing smartphone was Lumia 920: 14% faster in the memory test and 11% faster in the data transfer test).

Then, I ran the WP Bench benchmark. In the processor test, the Nokia Lumia 1020 was slightly behind the top performer - Lumia 920 - by 5%.

The graphics tests did not reveal any surprising results - the Lumia 1020 performs like other smartphones in the high-end sector. The storage test revealed that it writes data to the storage space with 45.62 MB/second and it transfers data to the RAM memory with 38.69 MB/s.

This makes it about 8% slower than the top performer - Lumia 920. Next, I measured the performance while browsing the web, using the Sunspider benchmark. Here, Lumia 1020 was 2% slower than the top performing smartphone - HTC 8X.

Looking at the results in all these benchmarks you might say that the Lumia 1020 is somewhat slower than its competition in terms of raw performance. However, these differences are small enough not be noticed in daily use. The only complaint I have is that Nokia did not use a faster processor and graphics chip in the Lumia 1020, since this smartphone is the most expensive Windows Phone on the market. It would have deserved slightly better hardware than its competition, not only a better camera. In terms of boot timings, the Lumia 1020 is fast: it gets you to the Start screen in 32 seconds.

Last but not least, I ran the WP Bench battery test which stresses the phone to the maximum and measures how fast the battery dies.

The battery lasted 3 hours and 2 minutes, which is better than other high-end Windows Phones. This result was outperformed only by lower-end smartphones with less capable hardware.

Product Rated


The Lumia 1020 is a niche product that's not for everybody. It stands out both in terms of price (in most countries it is the most expensive Windows Phone on the market) and in terms of camera features. If you are interested in photography and you want to replace your point-and-shoot camera than the Lumia 1020 might be the perfect choice for you. But, be warned: you do need to invest time in learning how to set it up so that you take great looking pictures. If you use its automatic settings, then you are best served by a more affordable smartphone.