Nokia, awhile back, wanted to ask the question: does the camera matter in a smartphone? While the PureView 808 was a decent device, it didn't necessarily fly off the shelves back when it was originally released. That didn't get to Nokia, though, as they're giving it another shot, but this time with Microsoft's Windows Phone running the show this time around.

It seems that Nokia is essentially asking the same question, but this time they're pointing the finger at the phone. They're asking you if you think the phone itself matters, or if you can use anything as long as the camera is super impressive. Even in Nokia's ads for the Lumia 1020, they're quick to point out that they are putting the camera first.

So, is the Lumia 1020 the perfect combination of a phone and a camera? Is this the device for a diehard photographer to pick up, if they don't already have a dedicated camera? Or is it just a Windows Phone with a nice camera on the back? Let's find out.

Design and Features

You wouldn't be too off to think the Lumia 1020 is a Lumia 920. Indeed, the two devices share plenty of similarities at face value. However, it's when you pick up the Lumia 1020, inspect it, or even just flip it over to check out the camera that you can tell there are some big differences here. If you can get over the camera bump on the back, then all of the changes that Nokia made to the Lumia 1020 are welcomed, and accepted with open arms.

If you've never held a Lumia 920, you should be aware that it's not a light phone. Compared to devices like the iPhone 5, Galaxy S 4, or even HTC's One, the Lumia 920 is a pretty heavy device. It's one of the first things you'll notice. And yet, that isn't the case with the Lumia 1020. It's remarkably light, given its size, thickness, and extra camera hardware tucked inside. It's kind of shocking.

The Lumia 1020 boasts a 4.5-inch AMOLED display. Immediately above it, you'll find Nokia's logo and the speaker grille above that; which is flanked by the AT&T globe on the left, and the 1.2MP front-facing camera on the right. Below the display, you'll find the Windows Phone standard Back, Windows, and Search buttons.

Along the bottom edge, there's the single microUSB port, regulatory logos, and the loudspeaker. On the right side, you'll find the physical camera button, as well as the power button and volume rocker. All of these buttons offer plenty of travel and feedback, especially the physical camera button and single-piece volume rocker. On the top, the 3.5mm headphone jack is placed right in the middle, while the SIM tray rests near the left corner. The left side of the device is sparse, and lacks any buttons.

Much of the action takes place on the back of the device. Near the top, you'll find the 41MP camera, with its dual Xenon and LED flash. The camera portion is black, which is a nice contrast to the yellow body in the review unit. You'll find Nokia's logo there again, as well as informative text, like the PureView label. The camera does force a hump in the back case, which means the Lumia 1020 won't sit flat on a table, or anything else you put it on. It is still comfortable in the pocket, at least, which is due largely to the fact it's so lightweight.

In the end, it came down to the little things that made up the whole picture for the Lumia 1020. It's more streamlined, without curves or any wasted space due to them. The Lumia 1020 makes the Lumia 920 feel bulbous. Nokia's "camera phone" feels great in the hand, which makes it fun to use on a daily basis.

Usability and Performance

The Lumia 1020 is running the latest version of Windows Phone to be publicly released, which means it's running GDR2. Additionally, it's running Nokia's Amber update, which is where the real new features come for those who want to get their hands on Nokia-exclusive options. That means you'll be able to take "better" pictures thanks to Nokia's Smart Camera app, as well as adjustments to the camera software within Windows Phone 8-based Lumia devices.

It goes hand-in-hand with the LUmia 1020, as you might expect.

There are other software features added to the mix, too. You'll get Nokia's Glance Screen, which gives you the ability to check the time at any point, without having to touch the power button. It will also show you your battery life (when it's about to die, or charging), as well as tell you if you're on silent mode. (I'm going to touch on Glance Screen a bit later.)

The Lumia 1020 is a Windows Phone-based device, which means it's going to act much like any other Windows Phone-based device. That isn't a bad thing. Windows Phone is one of the most stable mobile operating systems out there, and it's no different on the Lumia 1020. Despite the fact many people may see the Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor, clocked at 1.5GHz a drawback, it's really not. Apps open quickly and smoothly, and there is no stuttering scrolling down the Start Screen or switching to the apps list.

You'll be able to resize your Live Tiles in three different ways: small, medium and large. You can rearrange them to your heart's content, until you find the best way that you want to get your information flashed at you. And, just like any other Windows Phone, you'll get a lot of color over a black or white background (there are still no options for wallpapers).

I didn't notice any performance stuttering or lag at all through my time with the Lumia 1020, and that's obviously one of the strengths of Microsoft's mobile OS. Even launching several apps, like Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare didn't cause any lag when switching between them, or away from them and back to the Start Screen.

I run into some overall troubles with the Glance Screen though, but not from a technical standpoint. Essentially, Glance Screen works exactly like it should: it activates when your phone goes into standby mode, and it offers up the time in an easy-to-see format. It even jumps around the screen at regular intervals -- you know, like an old-school screen saver.

You can change the way that you activate Glance Screen, too. You can have it turned off, set to "peek," or "interval," or "always on" if you prefer. If you want to go with peek, then you'll have to wave your hand over the display to check the time. If you set it to interval, it will come on at a pre-determined time, show you the time, and then disappear. Rinse and repeat.

My issue with the Glance Screen is that I can't help but think it's a waste of a good idea. And within the description of the app, it actually teases you:

"At-a-glance clock and notifications appear when your phone switches to standby." [Emphasis added by the author.]

It doesn't show you notifications. It will show you the battery life sometimes, and if you're on silent mode, but that's it. No text, emails, or any social networking updates. Essentially, despite what the description may offer, Glance Screen is a way to look at the time. You can double-tap the display to get to your lockscreen, so you don't have to hit the power button, but that functionality barely worked for me. I'd double-tap, nothing would happen, so I'd try again and the screen would just flicker at me angrily, before going back to showing me the time, as if it were protesting my action.

I turned Glance Screen off pretty quickly.

Internally, the Lumia 1020 has 32GB of built-in storage, and it offers up 2GB of RAM. There isn't a microSD card slot, so you can't expand your memory. (Microsoft wants you to use their cloud service, SkyDrive.) That 2GB of RAM helped with games like Jetpack Joyride, and I didn't notice any lag or hang-ups at all.

You get a stock option for the keyboard in Windows Phone, and that's no different with the Lumia 1020. While it may be a bad deal for anyone who wants to use custom keyboards, it's good for those who just love a keyboard that works really, really well. Through testing, with plenty of email writing, texting, and just general searching, the keyboard always kept up. Long gone are the days where the keyboard sounds or visual notifications couldn't keep up with a series of key presses.

The Lumia 1020 has a 2000mAh battery, and it lasts long enough. I didn't feel the need to charge it with moderate to heavy usage throughout my days until the end of the day, which is nice.

And then there's the camera. The 41MP, oft-marketed camera. As I mentioned earlier, Nokia is promoting the Lumia 1020 as the first phone to put the camera first, and considering its feature set, it shouldn't be surprising. The camera offers up Carl Zeiss optics, with optical image stabilization, auto or manual focus, white balance, and a whole host of other options to choose from. 

The camera is really, really good. There's just no way around it. It takes remarkably crisp, detailed pictures. And, as you've probably seen in commercials for the device by now, the zoom offered for finer details after taking a photo is second-to-none.

However, unless you really are a photographer, and you want to print out larger images, it's debatable whether or not the Lumia 1020 is the right choice for someone who just shares their photos through social networking sites, or even from one phone to another. Not because they won't be taking amazing photos, but simply that others might not notice through those sharing avenues.

Conclusion

The Lumia 1020 is a powerful, stable, and comfortable phone to use on a daily basis. Nokia designed a great device, and did so while offering up unique colors, and a powerful camera. The Lumia 1020 is, indeed, a slightly modified Lumia 920, and in all the right ways. Admittedly, I think a lot of people would have clamored to get the Lumia 1020 if it were running Android, but due to the Windows Phone operating system on board, a lot of people, a lot of photographers, may have skipped the device.

And that's a shame, because the platform is still growing, and there is a lot of room for improvement, which Microsoft will capitalize on. As it stands, the Lumia 1020 is one of the best flagship devices for the platform, and both Microsoft and Nokia should be proud of what they have available. Especially now that it's priced at $199, and not $299 with a new, two-year contract.

The Verdict

The Good: The camera is amazing; thin, lightweight and comfortable architecture; stable mobile OS; large display; long-lasting battery.

The Bad: Still missing quite a few apps, especially games; camera may be too good for simple social network sharing; Glance Screen is a wasted potential; doesn't come in cyan.

The Verdict: In the end, if you're willing to try out Windows Phone or you've already fallen in love with Microsoft's mobile operating system, the Lumia 1020 is by far the best choice to go with. The camera alone makes it worth switching, but only if you're someone who needs a ridiculously powerful camera. As just a phone, though, the Lumia 1020 is still suffering from Windows Phone's lack of apps. So, if you're looking for a phone that puts the camera first, you won't go wrong with the Lumia 1020.


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