Saturday, July 13, 2013

Nokia Lumia 1020 - First impressions

First impressions

It's been more than an year since the unveiling of the original Nokia 808 PureView smartphone - it's only now that we see the technology implemented into a Windows Phone. And from what our encounter with the Lumia 1020 shows, the wait was well worth it. The smartphone is bound to make the Microsoft platform the new leader in smartphone imaging and the new focal point for everyone interested in mobile photography.
The camera aside, the Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn't bring anything over the Lumia 920. In fact it even lacks wireless charging capabilities, requiring an optional accessory for it. And yet, we do like the 1020 AMOLED screen better than the LCD on the Lumia 920, but the Lumia 925 already has that in a much more +compact shell.
Nokia Lumia 920 Nokia Lumia 925
Nokia Lumia 920 • Nokia Lumia 925
However, we still feel that the Lumia 1020 is in a better position to attract customers than its predecessor was 8 months ago. Windows Phone has significantly matured in that period and now has very little gaps in the apps department. This means that those wanting to try the latest and greatest in the camephone department and get a taste of the live tiles no longer have to worry about sacrificing the overall smartphone experience. And yes, a notification center would be nice, but it's not a real deal-breaker.
What might turn out to be a bigger problem however is the high asking price of the Lumia 1020. The smartphone is set to debut in the US on the AT&T network for $300 with a two-year contract. This makes it over $100 (depending on the deal you get) more expensive than the HTC One (also 32GB) and Samsung Galaxy S4 (16GB with microSD card slot) and the same price as a 32GB Apple iPhone 5. If that kind of pricing carries over when the smartphone hits Europe, it means that you'll have to pay about €700/£600 for it and that is really way more than Nokia can afford to charge for its flagship at the moment.
HTC One Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 Apple iPhone 5
HTC One • Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 • Apple iPhone 5
It's beyond doubt that this will be the best cameraphone on the market for some time to come (probably until Nokia releases its successor), but the fact remains that it's got a chipset more than twice slower than its competitors and a screen of less than half the resolution. There's also the issue of the size - the Lumia 1020 is larger and heavier than just about every other flagship out there.
As we see it - the Nokia Lumia 1020 really has the potential to become a hit. Not only that - it can lay the foundations for something bigger - make WP8 desirable before quad-core 1080p flagships arrive in the holiday season and cause explosive growth. Or it can remain a niche product that only a few enthusiasts care about if the pricing remains like that - your call, Nokia.

Nokia Lumia 1020 - HERE Maps and Drive+ get a makeover

HERE Maps and Drive+ get a makeover

Formerly Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive, the mapping and navigation features from Nokia were rebranded to HERE earlier this year. Although they are no longer exclusive to Nokia WP-handsets, only high-end Lumia devices will get the Drive+ global navigation suite for free out of box.
HERE Drive+ offers free, life-time voice-guided navigation anywhere in the world. All you have to do is download a voice in your language of choice and you're good to go. Of course, to make use of the key selling point of Drive - offline navigation - you have to download a map for a country of your choice, too.
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Nokia Drive+ does voice-guided navigation
With Drive+ you can easily plan routes (all offline, unlike the early iterations of this app) and you can tweak various settings for each route - fastest/shortest/economical route can be selected and you can choose whether the app will use or avoid motorways, toll roads, ferries, tunnels, unpaved roads and motor trains. There are icons to remind you of the selected settings.
Drive+ uses big, clear instructions on its screen in addition to the voice prompts, which is ideal for in-car use. You can switch between 2D and 3D mode and switch the color scheme (day, night, auto). There are speed alerts and real-time traffic information.
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Tweaking the route-planning algorithm • day and night color schemes
We do miss a few options - like setting a starting location other than your current location and downloading maps for an entire continent. Still, Nokia offer quality maps and offline voice-guided navigation out of the box, which puts them ahead of other Windows Phone makers an even other platforms (both Android and iOS require a data connection to plan the route).
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Nokia Drive will work in most of the world
The most recent update to the HERE suite (July 2013) adds an overview of traffic conditions in your area, including your drive to and from work with the My Commute app. My Commute shows you an at-a-glance look at your specified commute with a special Live Tile on your homescreen. You can setup up multiple commutes as well.
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Commute alerts show up on your homescreen as a Live Tile
Nokia Maps takes on other duties - instead of navigation, it's more of a replacement for paper maps that you can take as you explore a city. It will help you discover new places, read a quick description, see photos, read reviews and check what renowned guides like Lonely Planet, Insight Guides and Qype have to say about it.
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Nokia Maps has a ton of info
The Maps app also offers walking, driving and public transport navigation but it only shows a list of instructions. It shares data with Drive so you don't have to download the same maps twice.
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Maps can be used for basic navigation too
The former Local Scout and City Lens features have been integrated into the Places section of HERE Maps, and gives you a quick view of restaurants, shops, galleries and other POIs around you, including an augmented reality view via the camera called LiveSight. Tapping the virtual signs in the camera interface pops up more info about the place, as well as directions.
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The places interface lets you view POIs on the map as well as through the camera

Nokia Lumia 1020 - Photos with SkyDrive integration

Photos with SkyDrive integration

The Photos hub is where you can view your photos taken using all the different camera lenses.
The main view of the Photos hub offers four options - camera roll, albums, date and people. A swipe to the left reveals what's new, which displays your Facebook friends and liked pages' new picture galleries.
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Pictures hub
Albums feature the camera roll, the preloaded system pictures and all of your SkyDrive albums automatically.
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Camera roll • Album, date and people views
The people section is where you can select your friends and contacts so that their galleries on Facebook get displayed right there in your Photos hub. It's a nice feature for social network users but will be only an empty section for those that aren't too fond of Facebook.
The camera roll presents your entire collection of photos and videos captured with the device in a 4x5 grid. You cannot change the layout. Viewing a photo can be done in either portrait or landscape mode. Zooming in on a photo is done by either double tap or a pinch.
One nifty new addition is that the selected photo will now indicate which lens was used to take it. You can then tap on the lens name and that will take you to that lens interface, where you can make further adjustments of the effect.
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Below each image is a shortcut to the lens used to make it • Tapping it lets you edit from the lens itself

Nokia's Music hub alongside the Music + Videos tab

Nokia is pushing its own music service called Nokia Music ahead on the default Music + Video app. It offers free music streaming (it works out of the box) and has an extensive library of tracks. While it is mostly streaming oriented, you can make tracks available offline (they remain on the device only temporarily though).
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Nokia Music app • making a track available offline
But Nokia Music competes with services like Pandora too - you can give it a list of artists you like and it will automatically build a playlist to your taste. Nokia takes pride in real people creating the mixes (including celebrity-made mixes) instead of computer algorithms.
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Creating a custom mix
Unlike competing services you can also browse a specific artist and even buy songs to keep if you like. There are plenty of charts (e.g. Top sellers, Best of 2013, Songs for Fall) if you're looking for something new too. There's even a custom equalizer setting.
The default Windows Phone 8 media players are on-board too. They reside together in the Music + Videos hub, which now bears the Xbox logo or the last played media thumbnail. When you start it, it shows the History, which gives you quick access to the last two items played, or you can go to the full menu and start the music or video player, listen to or watch podcasts, or go to the Marketplace.
The music section is made up of albums, songs, playlists, genres and artists. Videos features all, television, music videos, films and personal - think of them like more of categories you can assign your videos to when syncing with Zune. The third section is where you can store all of your downloaded audio and video podcasts.
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The Xbox music hub
The music hub has a simple and straightforward interface. You won't have any difficulties using it. However there are some things missing, like an equalizer. Another missing feature is the ability to scrub through a song with your finger - you have to press and hold on the FF/rewind buttons to simply jump back and forth.
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Browsing the music library • Now playing screen
As a music player, it's pretty standard - your tracks are sorted by artist, album, playlists or you can view all songs. The interface is very similar to that of the stock music player, but under the album art it lists the next three songs to be played - really helpful if you're using shuffle. There's no way to manually reorder the upcoming songs, but you can reshuffle them if there's one you don't like.
The video player is integrated into the Music + Videos hub. It has a very simple interface - you have fast forward and rewind controls, a timeline and a video size button that toggles full-screen viewing.
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The Video tab • Video player in action
The video player in Windows Phone 8 is identical in terms of performance to the one found on other recent Lumias. It plays XviD (though we had some issues with this codec), DivX and MP4 videos up to 1080p resolution. The few things it won't play are MKV files and videos using the AC3 audio codec. There is no subtitle support at this point.
Since Windows Phone 8 is no longer Zune dependent, you can easily upload videos from your computer via the USB mass storage mode.
Individual items can be pinned to the homescreen - like a song or video.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Still image & Video quality

Still image quality

Of course, the large sensor and all the impressive tech surrounding it would mean little if the image quality isn't right. Rest assured though, Nokia has enough experience not to mess this up and the image quality of the Lumia 1020 is every bit as impressive as it was expected to be.
Nokia wasted no time after the announcement of the smartphone and posted a bunch of official samples that you can check out below.
Clicking the thumbnails will load the 5MP PureView shots, but you can also check out the full res samples by clicking the links below the images. Thanks to the exclusive Camera Pro lens app that Nokia will be preloading on the Lumia 1020, you don't even have to choose which one you like better - you can shoot both at the same time.

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Official Nokia Lumia 1020 camera samples
Of course, now that we had the smartphone in our office, we also did a bunch of shots ourselves and we even did an impromptu shootout with the 808 PureView. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to publish the actual samples, but we can share our findings with you.
As far as image quality is concerned, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is really in a class of its own. None of the other high-end smartphones can come even close to the amount of resolved detail that the huge pixel-dense sensor and the 6-element ZEISS lens deliver. The dynamic range is also much higher than any other flagship can offer. At full resolution (38 MP or 34MP) the noise levels are comparable to those of the 13MP Galaxy S4, which is a pretty great achievement given how much more detail you get.

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Official Nokia Lumia 1020 camera samples
Certainly, the only cameraphone that can come close to the Lumia 1020 output is the Nokia 808 PureView with its even larger sensor. As we already mentioned we compared those two side by side and found that Nokia has slightly altered the processing algorithms in its new cameraphone flagship.
Unlike the 808 PureView, which delivered natural colors that are as close to reality as we've seen any smartphone get, the Lumia 1020 goes for boosted saturation and warmer colors. We suspect this has a lot to do with the former head of Nokia imaging Damian Dinning leaving the company. Mr Dinning was a fan of more natural unprocessed look and most Nokia smartphones developed under his lead reflected that.
Now the Lumia 1020 takes a different path and goes for the punchier output even if that means sacrificing some detail. The saturation boost has cost the Lumia 1020 some fine detail, which is still present on the 808 PureView shots. We really hope Nokia tunes down the default saturation in the final product as those who like more vibrant colors can always boost the saturation from the camera settings.
You can be more than sure that we'll bring you a more detailed review of the 41MP camera of the Lumia 1020 complete with our usual set of camera samples once we get our hands on a retail unit.
Finally, here is an impressive low-light sample.

Low light sample

Video quality

Video recording also greatly benefits from the OIS and oversampling. Zoom is enabled even during video capture and it can go up to 4x in 1080p mode and 6x in 720p resolution. The Nokia Lumia 1020 also has two mics (one on top, one on bottom) with the company's proprietary Rich Audio Recording for distortion-free sound recording in loud environments. The 1080p videos are recorded at 30fps, of course.
Again, we can't give you video samples from the 41MP camera of our prototype Lumia 1020, as we've agreed not to do that. What we can give you, is a few videos that were taken with the cameraphone prior to its announcement yesterday.
The video stabilization looked top notch and performed just as well when we took the Lumia 1020 for a spin ourselves. We are also pleased to report that the blurring along the right side of the frame, which is visible on the samples wasn't present on our unit so it is definitely due to a imperfect prototype unit.
Just like the still images, the videos produced by the Lumia 1020 are beyond the capabilities of any other smartphone on the market. The detail levels are top notch, the colors are extremely pleasing and the dynamic range simply cannot be achieved with a smaller sensor. The 4x zoom when recording 1080p video is a more than welcome bonus, too.
Here are some 1080p samples:

Over 100 more videos are available here.