Monday, 23 December 2013

Nokia Lumia 1020 review and comparison to N8

After a great deal of waiting I have finally got hold of the phone some of us have been waiting for Nokia to make for the last couple of years, the Lumia 1020, so I thought I'd write up a quick review on it.
For the most part I'm comparing this to my old N8.
This may seem a bit of an odd comparison (why not any of the newer Apple, Samsung, HTC or Sony phones for example?) but there are two simple reasons for this:
1) I suspect a reasonable number of people who bought the N8 for its camera have been hanging on for the 1020 for the same reason.
2) I do not own any of the other above-mentioned smart phones (though I did manage a couple of comparisons with an iPhone5 on the same night).

Physically the 1020 is a much bigger unit that the old N8 (on a par with a Galaxy S3), though it's actually slightly shallower at the deepest point. It still slides into your pocket easily enough but, with my average-bloke-sized hands it's really not as easy to use one-handed as the N8. The lens bulge seems to sit in a a bit of a funny place when you're holding it as well. From a design perspective I really don't like how they've chosen to house the additional gubbins; there are a number of alternative methods that would have produced both an easier-to-hold design as well as one that looked a bit sleeker.
A different design approach might also have allowed them space to fit in a couple of the nice hardware touches from the old N8, e.g. an expandable memory slot and the HDMI output.
Overall, of course, the phone hardware is much better - as you'd expect from a device several generations newer - the screen is a delight, both from a display and a touch perspective. Though it can register a false touch if you hover your finger too close. It being a dual-core processor (and newer software) everything runs much faster, with the possible exception of the camera start-up, it's a world apart in terms of regular use.

This is my first windows phone (I shouldn't think there are many people who are on their second) and I have to say that overall I've found it very easy to use and I'm more than happy with the operating system. There's a couple of things that took me a couple of attempts to find, and I miss the slide down access to wifi / data / silent but aside from that it's been very simple to figure out. The only things I had to look up were how to add a playing song to an already extant playlist* and how to close down apps when they're running in the background (a two-touch process rather than the old one-touch one).
On the app front, anyone coming from an android or iphone will find nothing like the same range and number of apps (it's much more like the symbian store) but so far the only thing I'd like to have but haven't got is a Strava app, but that wasn't available on symbian either so...

Anyway, the thing that most people wanting a 1020 will want to know about is:

The Camera:
It's good. Better than the N8 by a chunk actually. The reason for that bulky protrusion on the back of the phone is so that it can fit in a whopping great 1/1.5 sensor. Interestingly this is smaller than the old Pureview 808 (which had a 1/1.2) but still about 4 times the size of most other top-end camera phones and also larger than a lot of budget point-and-shoot cameras.
Some reviews will tell you that you can dump your compact camera once you have one of these but that is going to depend on what your compact was, if it was a cheapish one then this is probably true, if you've got something quite nice then you might want to do a bit more research.
I even read one review that claimed you wouldn't need your DSLR anymore - this is what's technically known as "bollocks". It's good, but let's not be ridiculous.

So, some details.
Firstly the phone comes with two camera apps, SmartCam and ProCam, built in. SmartCam takes a sequence of photos and lets you do funky things like removing background objects, correcting blinking faces, picking the best shot of a sequence etc. All very nice - and probably good if you have kids or do lots of other people photography - but I've never used it.
ProCam is a nice little app that gives you a bit more manual control of your photos. A series of simple swipe arcs allow you to make basic adjustments to white balance, focus (as well as tap focus), ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Whilst these are fairly basic they're actually very useful. Being able to ramp up the ISO at a gig for example (no flash required, especially as there's a mechanical stabiliser on the camera too) or being able to crank up the shutter speed for action shots.
Again, it's nothing like a proper set of manual controls on an SLR but it does allow you be much more creative than the competition.

Before I link you to some sample shots, a quick word on the output files. The 1020 saves two files for each shot, an unprocessed 41mp file and an over-sampled 5mp file for easier sharing etc. Weirdly if you look at the 41mp file it can look kind of blurry and out of focus. I don't know why this should be but frankly I've been sufficiently happy with the 5mp shots that I've never felt the need to export the 41mp version and try and play around with it. Anyway, for the comparison shots below, it's a 12MP N8 shot vs a 5MP 1020 shot as I figure that's what most people will use most of the time. (These shots have been uploaded to picasa, I'm not sure what compression they might use so this could be a bit of a dodgy comparison but I'm afraid I don't have any personal web-hosting to put the uncompressed files on).

Sunny(ish) day, outside, detail and inside shots:
N8 Outside, N8 detail, N8 inside
1020 Outside, 1020 detail, 1020 inside

Very low light (Dan Webster gig) shots:
N8 Stage, 1020 Stage.

A few shots to show different ISO effects in low light:
ISO400, ISO1600, ISO4000

A couple of other gig shots to show the zoom effect (again, very low light):
Low Zoom, High Zoom

The video is pretty handy too. Not having any other kind of camcorder I don't have anything to compare this to but here's a couple of clips you can make your own mind up about:
Low Light, Daylight and a Low light recording from the N8

And finally a couple of shots to show that with any camera, when the light is right, you just have to point it in the right direction:
Brough Castle 1, Brough Castle 2

So that's it for now, any questions or follow-ups, please shout.

* The reason I couldn't figure out how to do this was simply because you can't, well, not without plugging the phone into a PC and doing a drag and drop. This isn't just on the music player that comes supplied, but on any of the independent apps either - I find that to be a significant, and odd, omission.