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Nokia Lumia 1020 review: All snapped up

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £600
inc VAT

The Nokia Lumia 1020 was the ultimate cameraphone, but does it still hold up?


  • Top of the range camera
  • Decent display


  • Windows Phone OS


Windows Phone 8, 4.5in 1,280×720 display

For all the new phones we saw way back in 2013, one handset really stood out from the crowd. Nokia’s Lumia 1020 was an impressively specced out phone for the time, with an awesome 41-megapixel camera and it looked visually striking too. It’s a phone that still holds up well three years later, and still gives flagships a run for their money.

Where it’s a little bit out of date lies in its Windows-based operating system – something that’s slowly being fazed out by the end of the year. Now that the Nokia brand is all but dead and buried, the Lumia 1020 seems to be its swansong, though. If you can find one, and you might struggle with that, the Lumia 1020 is still a great smartphone with one of the best cameras around. Our original review from 2013 can be found below.

With its enormous 41-megapixel camera sensor, it uses some seriously clever tricks to produce the best phone images we have ever seen. We saw the first version of Nokia’s large sensor on the PureView 808, but our enthusiasm was tempered by the handset’s soon-to-be-defunct Symbian operating system. The Lumia 1020 has no such problems, as it runs Microsoft’s increasingly-popular Windows Phone 8.

Nokia Lumia 1020

The PureView camera sensor is more than just a huge collection of pixels. It’s physically larger than the sensors in most smartphones and even some compact cameras. At 1/1.5in, it’s twice the size as the sensors in phones such as the HTC One, Apple iPhone 5S and Nokia Lumia 925, and 1.5 times larger than the sensor in our Best Buy-winning Canon Ixus 255 HS compact camera.

Generally, the bigger the sensor, the more area there is to capture light and so the less image noise and better low-light performance. The Lumia 1020’s sensor is also a backside-illuminated (BSI) model, where light strikes the sensor from the rear, avoiding any circuitry getting between the light and the sensor’s photoreceptors.

Nokia Lumia 1020^ The big camera assembly adds a bulge to the back of the phone

This isn’t the only trick up the 1020’s sleeve, though; Nokia has also decided to use the sensor’s huge number of pixels to help improve image quality further. When you take a picture with the Nokia Pro Cam app, the phone saves two versions; the full 7,712×4,352 pixel image and a smaller 3,072×1,728 (5-megapixel) snap.

There are two reasons to have the smaller image. The first is that it’s small; around 1.6MB compared to the 9MB or so for the full-fat version, making it much easier to upload straight to a social network. The second is down to something Nokia calls oversampling. This examines each pixel in the larger image, then works out which it should keep and which should be discarded to make the smaller image the best possible quality.

The final advantage of the huge sensor is that it negates many of the problems associated with a digital zoom. Unlike an optical zoom, where physical lenses change the focal length, digital zooms crop into the sensor; using a digital zoom is the same process as cropping into an image in a photo editor and then enlarging the image, with the same corresponding loss of quality.

The Lumia 1020 also employs a digital zoom, but having so many pixels to play with negates much of the quality loss. It also helps when recording video; you can zoom in to the image, and still be recording Full HD video.

We were expecting to be impressed by the Lumia 1020’s image quality and weren’t disappointed. Outdoor shots taken on a sunny day had vibrant colours and a huge amount of detail; they were significantly sharper than photos taken at the same time on a Sony Xperia Z1, which itself has a huge 20.7-megapixel sensor. The amount of detail the sensor captures is really shown when you zoom in, too; we found we could zoom in to 250% and still read road signs. Exposure was well-judged, too, with no bleaching out of light areas, even on a sunny day.

Nokia Lumia 1020 daylight^ The best outdoor cameraphone shots we’ve ever seen

Sony Xperia Z1 daylightThe 1020 even sees off stiff competition from Sony’s Xperia Z1

We were also happy with our handheld video footage. This had little noise and the optical image stabilisation coped well when fully zoomed in. As we expected, detail levels were maintained even when we used the digital zoom when recording video, letting us read car number plates over 50 metres away.

Steady video and detail levels are maintained even when you zoom – best viewed full-screen at 1080p

The image stabilisation coped well with a boat trip – best viewed full-screen at 1080p

In very low light, where most smartphone cameras can capture almost no detail at all, we saw passable photos from the Lumia 1020. The large xenon flash helps, too, illuminating an entire scene where LED flashes tend to just light up someone’s face, looming out of the gloom.

Nokia Lumia 1020 darkYou don’t need a flash in a very dark pub with the Lumia 1020

RAZR i darkA standard smartphone (Motorola RAZR i) really struggled in the same dark pub

We performed our standard photo tests of a static scene holding the camera rather than mounted on a tripod, as we usually do, to test the Lumia 1020’s image stabilisation. It certainly helped here; the dimly-lit scene was bright and sharp, with surprisingly little noise and no visible camera shake. When compared side by side with the Lumia 1020, the Sony Xperia Z1’s shots were much darker and with more noise.

Nokia Lumia 1020 handheldLittle noise or camera shake from the Lumia 1020

Sony Xperia Z1 handheldThe 1020 makes the Sony Xperia Z1’s images look gloomy by comparison

The Lumia 1020’s Pro Cam app can certainly teach a beginner plenty about photography. The current photo settings are displayed at the top of the screen: flash status, white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Touching each one brings up a semicircle around the shutter button on the right of the display, which you can drag around to easily adjust settings, complete with on-screen live preview.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Pro CamThe camera app makes it easy to change settings and preview the results

You can even go a step further, dragging the shutter icon slightly to the left to display all the settings on-screen at once. As so much of photography involves balancing various settings to get the right shot, this is a great way to tweak several settings at once and see the results. It all works beautifully, but we noticed a bug where the camera got stuck in portrait mode, and would only switch back after we restarted the phone. This only happened once during our testing, though.

The Lumia 1020 also comes with Nokia’s Smart Cam app, which gives you access to several fun effects such as Action Shot and Motion Focus – see our Lumia 630 review for details. Unfortunately, if you use Smart Cam rather than Pro Cam, you can only take 5-megapixel rather than 38-megapixel snaps, but we feel Smart Cam’s effects are more suited to Facebook than A3 printing anyway.

The phone itself is a typical lovingly-made Nokia unibody. It loses the cool-to-the-touch metal edges of the Lumia 930 in favour of some serious polycarbonate, so is more reminiscent of the Lumia 735. There’s a bulge on the back for the lens assembly, but it’s certainly still pocket-friendly. The 1020 also comes with a clip-on case which essentially turns it into a compact camera. This gives you a chunky handgrip so you can use the camera one-handed, as well as a big two-stage shutter button (press lightly to focus, all the way to snap) and an extra battery. With the battery case plugged in, we saw 12 hours and 4 minutes of video playback from the Lumia 1020 – three hours more than the phone on its own.

Nokia Lumia 1020The camera case adds a chunky handgrip and three hours’ battery life

The Lumia 1020 has the same 4.5in, 1,280×720 AMOLED screen as the Lumia 925, which is one of the best mobile screens there is, as well as the same dual-core 1.5GHz processor; Windows Phone flies on this handset, and a hugely quick score of 913ms in the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark shows complicated web pages are not a problem. As with any Windows Phone handset, you need to consider whether the platform does what you need; it’s slick and great-looking, but not as flexible as Android and still doesn’t have as great a choice of apps, although the situation is improving.

In fact, there are now few truly vital apps missing from the Windows Phone Store. There’s a proper BBC iPlayer app (although the streaming video quality is far worse than on Android and you can’t download episodes to your phone), Netflix, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5, Spotify and RightMove for property hunters, for example. Many of these apps aren’t as polished as the Android or iPhone versions, but the fact they exist shows Windows Phone is a becoming a platform to take seriously.

Better still, the Lumia 1020 should be getting the Lumia Denim update very soon, which adds Microsoft’s digital personal assistant Cortana to the phone, bringing it bang up to date with the latest Lumia handsets. Read our Lumia 830 review to see how it fared against Apple’s Siri.

We’ve also found decent alternatives for some of the shortcomings in the stock Windows Phone 8 apps. For example, we’re often griping about the stock browser, which loses your previously-visited pages when you go back to the Windows Phone menu, so you have to use the browser history rather than the Back button to go back to previous pages when you open the browser again. Installing the free UC Browser solves this problem. We’re also not fans of the stock Windows Phone calendar, which doesn’t have a week view. The 79p Chronos Calendar app has a clear week view and several other useful features. In short, whereas a couple of years ago we were warning potential customers that buying into the Windows Phone platform was a risk, now you don’t have to worry so much about being frozen out of the most useful apps.


The Lumia 1020 launched in the UK back in September 2013, but there’s still nothing like it out there. The 41-megapixel camera really makes this phone stand out and is a major reason to buy it over any other smartphone. As it is now been superseeded by newer, shinier things you can also pick the Lumia 1020 up on the cheap. At the time of writing, O2 has it on a 24 month contract with 2GB of 4G data and unlimited texts and minutes for £24 per month with no extra charge for the handset.

The Denim upgrade will also give the Lumia 1020 every new feature you’ll find on newer Lumia phones, which is another great reason to pick up this phone on the cheap. The new-look operating system adds loads of great features with Windows Phone finally becoming the operating system it always should have been. While UK users will have to wait until the end of the year for Cortana, all the other Windows Phone 8.1 features are ready to go.

We’re blown away by Nokia’s Lumia 1020. It’s the first phone that properly replaces a compact camera; we can see ourselves doing most of our photography on the phone and leaving a compact camera, or even a CSC, at home most of the time. It’s an incredible imaging phone so it wins a Best Buy award.




Main display size4.5in
Native resolution1,280×720
CCD effective megapixels41-megapixel
Internal memory32768MB
Memory card supportnone
Memory card included0MB
Operating frequenciesGSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G 850/900/1900/2100, 4G 1/3/7/8/20
Wireless data4G


Operating systemWindows Phone 8
Microsoft Office compatibilityWord, Excel, PowerPoint
FM Radiono
Accessoriescamera case, strap
Talk time19 hours
Standby time16 days

Buying Information

SIM-free price£600
Price on contract0

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