Forty-one million pixels. Think about that for a moment. Your current phone probably captures eight. Your compact, maybe 12. Your SLR probably sneaks in about 14 (or 20 if you're lucky). And yet Nokia's Lumia 1020 is a smartphone that captures more than all of those 'proper' cameras put together.
This begs a few questions: do megapixels matter, or is that massive number meaningless? Even if it does have a killer camera, is the Lumia 1020 also a killer phone? And does the rave yellow handset come with free shades? Read on to find out.
Built to be seen
Nokia’s dalliance with monochrome and metal in the Lumia 925 didn’t last long. The 1020’s banana yellow polycarbonate housing (mercifully, white and black are also available) is big and bright enough to dazzle bystanders and slippery enough to demand a skin. Fortunately it feels robust enough to survive a drop, but at 158g it's over 40g heavier than an iPhone 5 and is also a touch too broad to be properly comfortable.
At first, the side-mounted power button is easily and irritatingly confused with the shutter release, which also pops the Lumia into camera mode - all too frequently you'll find yourself accidentally opening it up. Once you're used to the layout the dedicated shutter button is very handy. It works direct from sleep, too, although the time to taking its first photo lags a crucial second or so behind the iPhone 5, so it's all-too easy to miss the crucial action shot. Bit of a mixed bag for ergonomics, then.
There's a reason for the aforementioned bulk, and it's a rather good one. Nokia execs can breathe again: the Lumia 1020’s camera is fantastic. 41 megapixels sounds ridiculously over-specced, but a few shots in, serious snappers will wonder how they ever survived with fewer. Landscapes are sharper, faces clearer, and buildings and cars have razor-sharp edges. Quality-wise, it's genuinely as good as a powerful compact camera.
Counter-intuitively, shooting in the 5MP setting can sometimes deliver even better results. That’s because the Lumia’s PureView tech (first seen on a forgettable Symbian handset, the 808 PureView) doesn’t just resize the full resolution image. Instead, it combines data from multiple pixels into one ‘superpixel’ to even out grainy digital noise and record colours more accurately, especially in dim conditions. Not to be confused with ‘ultrapixels’ on the HTC One, which are just large traditional pixels that capture more light in the first place.
The default camera app is Nokia ProCam, which offers shutter speed, white balance, sensitivity and focus adjustment on pop-up dials, and a bona fide full auto mode. In normal shooting, the app stores photos as a 5MP snap plus a full resolution JPEG version – either 34MP or 38MP, depending on whether you've chosen widescreen or 4:3 image ratio.
For a whole bunch of full resolution snaps taken during testing, head to our Flickr set.
You can opt to keep just the 5MP, which saves 10MB of storage each time you press the shutter, but it doesn’t do much to improve the shot-to-shot time - a sluggish five seconds. And there are other imperfections: annoyingly, if you want the blisteringly fast 5MP burst mode, you have to slowly switch into another app called SmartCam. Actual shutter lag is minimal, but the software-related delay is an issue for such a camera-focused phone.
Zoom without the tears
If you swipe or pinch to use the Lumia’s 3x optical ‘zoom’, you’re actually taking a 5MP crop of the full resolution frame. As you zoom in, you’ll gradually sacrifice some of the superpixel benefits, but at least you won’t end up with a soft upscaled blur as with most smartphones. And even at full ‘zoom’, the Lumia still records a full-frame, wideangle high-res partner shot.
Full HD video (at 24, 25 or 30fps) looks lovely, and the stereo audio recording is well above par. Another photo favourite is the decent xenon flash – far superior to weedy LED lights. It’s good out to a couple of metres. Suffice it to say, this is a camera that wipes the floor with all smartphone rivals.
Shoot and share
Nokia piles plenty of its own image sharing apps on the 1020, including a fun cinemagraph app for partially animating pictures, a selfie app to glam up your front cam snaps and a Creative Studio offering the basics (and a bit more) of image editing. There’s also a panorama app and Microsoft’s decent Photosynth to download. But checking the Windows Store, there’s still no sign of the promised Vine app, and a native Instagram app isn’t even on the horizon. Uploading to Twitter and Facebook is easy enough but lacks album and visibility options. And on none of the apps can you actually upload those full-res 34MP beauties. Essentially Windows Phone 8 is rather holding back the Lumia 1020.
Mixed bag of media
You might have thought such a resolution powerhouse would have an equally pixeltastic display, but the 1020 packs a Gorilla Glass 3-covered 1280x768 (720p) screen, in stretch 15:9 format – off the pace with this year's 1080p Android superphones. At 332ppi, though, it's plenty crisp enough at rendering text and Windows Phone 8's sharp-edged tiles could cut through lead. AMOLED tech means colours are beautiful but brightness outdoors suffers a little – it’s no match for the Galaxy S4's, despite the use of similar technology.
On the music side, it’s hard to argue with free Pandora-style radio feeds through Nokia Music, even if the stereo sound from the built-in speakers isn’t quite as nice as that from the HTC One. Through headphones with decent-quality files, it's a punchy, engaging listen.
There’s no lag from the dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon silicon, even during 3D gaming on NOVA 3 with apps running in the background. It stormed the Benchmark Free app, matching or outperforming all previous Windows Phones handsets. The 1020 gets warm around the camera area in use but, thanks to WP8's frugal operation, the 2000mAh battery will easily last a whole day.
If you think the Lumia 1020 isn’t already chunky enough, or you’re training for a weightlifting event, you can slip on a wireless charging cover to make use of Qi accessories. More enticing is a camera grip cover that basically converts the 1020 into a kick-ass compact camera with LTE inside.
The Lumia 1020 includes NFC for contactless payment, pairing and sharing. Unfortunately, during our entire time of testing we didn't find a single other person with a Windows phone that we could beam pics to using the tech.
Maps, apps and OS
Apart from the camera, the HERE maps, navigation and local search are better than Apple’s efforts and give Google a good run for its money. Full marks to Nokia for making it easy to download local maps once and for all: no more waiting for roads to de-pixellate when reception is poor. Another winner is the effortless integration with Microsoft Office, Outlook and SkyDrive, including 7GB of free cloud storage.
Windows Phone 8 still feels fresh and fast, particularly on the powerful Lumia 1020 hardware. The selection of apps is improving all the time, too, and for many people will be more than adequate for their needs. It's still behind Google and Apple here, though, and the fact that key camera apps - particularly Instagram - are still missing is more of a problem for the 1020 due to its focus on photography.
Smartphones might already have replaced standalone cameras for many but, lacking flashes and zooms, they could never quite finish the job. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has just about polished it off. With its mind-blowing resolution, beautiful image quality, great low light capability, zoom and flash, the 1020 is way more camera than anyone needs day to day, plus a powerful smartphone to boot.
There are flaws, though. Shot-taking is slowed a tad by the software, and Windows Phone 8's remaining app gaps include a number that such a camera-focused phone really should have.
On top of that it's mighty expensive. That will leave the much more affordable Lumia 925 as the Windows Phone of choice for most people looking to inject live-tile loveliness into their smartphone life. For the camera geek elite, though, the Lumia 1020 is well worth the stretch.