Incredible camera makes this Lumia a solid buy at $602 USD, unsubsidized

Finnish phonemaker Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V) today unveiled the latest colorful flagship entry in the Lumia family, the Lumia 1020.  This long awaited 41 MP Windows Phone shooter is in a pretty unique spot in the market -- in certain regards (cough, camera) it's the best.  In other regards (price, processing) it's a mediocre laggard.  Let's take a closer look at these storylines.

The Good:

The phone's highlight is clearly the camera.  It packs [white paper] a:
  • Second generation 41 MP, 1/1.5" sensor with 1.1 micron backside illuminated (BSI) pixels
  • 36 MP in 4:3 ratio and 34 MP in 16:9 ratio (with oversampling to 5 MP)
  • Six piece floating lens assembly for optical image stabilization (OIS) (5 plastic lenses; 1 glass lens)
  • Ball bearing stabilizer
  • f2.2 (const. including while zooming) aperture
  • Macro range: ~15 cm (5.9 in.) (const., including while zooming)
  • Manual shutter for variable exposures
  • Zoom: 3x (in 5 MP), 6x (in 720p), or 4x (in 1080p)
  • Xenon + LED dual flash system
The xenon flash is one standout of the system, as it's quicker than your average flash (hence preserving more ambient light in the surroundings), yet more powerful (illuminating targets up to 3 meter away).  Nokia claims to get >90% theoretical resolution at 10 lux with the xenon flash, versus about 10 percent in a "competitor" device.
Nokia Lumia 1020
The Nokia Camera Pro app offers the following perks:
  • Multiple framing grids
  • Exposure: 1/16000 s to 4 s
  • Focus: 15 cm to "infinity" (10 m)
  • Exposure (-3 to +3)
  • White balance
  • ISO : 100 to 4000
Additionally, for taking video with audio, Nokia has built in a 0 to 200 Hz filter to tune down the bass when recording at noisy environments, e.g. concerts.

Nokia Floating Lens
Nokia's 6-lens system makes for super-sharp images.

Quite simply put, while imaging quality is somewhat of a subjective matter, from a technical standpoint there's no other smartphone camera that can match the Lumia 1020, particularly in high speed (due to the manual shutter and sensor size) or low light (due to the xenon flash and sensor size) scenarios.

Other star features:
  • Gorilla Glass 3
  • 2 GB DRAM
  • 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • NFC
  • Dual microphone noise cancellation
  • 8-device Wi-Fi hotspot
  • 1020 mAh extra battery capacity via the tripod-attachable camera grip accessory 
The Bad:

Much of the hardware trails Nokia's rivals' 1080p handsets, but it could be worse.  Among these examples are:
  • 4.5" WXGA (1280x768 pixel) AMOLED display w/ PureMotion HD+, ClearBlack
  • 2000 mAh battery
  • 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 dual-core
  • Wireless charging requires accessory backplate
  • 1.2 MP (1280x960) f2.4 front-facing camera
  • 0.41 inch (10.4 mm) thick
  • 5.5 oz. (158 g)
  • AT&T Inc. (T) exclusive in subsidized form; $299 USD subsidized, $602 USD unsubsidized price
It's kind of disappointing to think that you can shoot such gorgeous high resolution images, but then will have to fiddle with zoom to preview them -- but serious photographers should be used to this (thanks to the low-res displays on entry-level SLRs).  Nokia's screen is interesting in that the OLED makes it among the sharpest and most colorful displays on the market -- but it can't keep up resolution wise versus a host of rival 1080p flagship designs.

The weight and thickness are also onerously high by bleeding edge standards, and the price at first blush is higher than any other flagship phone.  Add in that there's no microSD expansion and the processor is a generation old, and you see that there's a clear tradeoff to the spec sheet.
Nokia Lumia 1020
The single-carrier status is mitigated somewhat by the fact that you can buy an unlocked Lumia 1020 at a Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Store for $602.  In that regard the price is also misleading.  Quite simply put AT&T's subsidy isn’t that appealing.  

Unsubsidized, the Lumia 1020 is cheaper than the Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KSC:005930Galaxy S4 ("Pure" edition) and on par with HTC Corp.'s (TPE:2498One ("Pure" edition).  Subsidized, and you're talking $100 USD more than Samsung and $200 USD more than HTC.

In that light the AT&T subsidy is pretty weak.  Most should stay way unless you're stuck on an AT&T family plan.  As the phone is dual-mode (CDMA/GSM) if you're going to buy it, get it at a Microsoft Store and go with a carrier of your choice.

Concluding Thoughts

Nokia has indeed produced "a smartphone like no other" as it brags.  But it's not all good.

For mobile photography aficionados, this is a must-get device.  The combined package is a photographers dream in this form factor and an answer to most of the first-generation camera package in the Nokia 808.

But from a speed, screen resolution, size, and form factor perspective Nokia trails its rivals' flagship phones.  For example, for the same (unsubsidized) price you can get HTC One, which packs a 1080p, 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600, and sleeker form factor.

Given the number of users who are enamored to a single platform -- primarily either Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android or Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iOS, Nokia may have a tough time convincing the "zombies" (as it dubs fans of rival platforms) to embrace Windows Phone, particularly given the phone's hardware shortcomings.

Apple vs Samsung
Many users are too in love with either Apple or Android to consider a Lumia.
[Image Source: PhoneBuff]

On the flip side of the coin, Nokia may be able to drive sales by offering something no one else in the market really is.  Other flagship devices are basically all shots at being a "jack of all trades", with the primary focus being the hardware features (screen, processor, etc.).  

By contrast the Nokia device aims to be in a league of its own in one of the most common areas of smartphone use -- mobile photography -- while maintaining passable hardware that equates to a last-generation iPhone or Android flagship device.

Thus when it comes to the Lumia 1020, beauty will truly be in the eye of the beholder.

Sources: Nokia [1], [2; PDF]

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