Nokia, Please Keep Going

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So, finally, Nokia has stopped teasing its flagship Lumia 1020 and let us event goers get some long awaited hands-on time with the thing. It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill Windows Phone, but is that camera-centric kookiness enough to make the Lumia 1020 worth that $299 price tag? The jury’s still out on that one, but so far the 1020 definitely seems like a Windows Phone worth your consideration.

First impressions aren’t actually everything, but the 1020 is quite a looker… even if Nokia seems to be having trouble making up its mind in terms of industrial design. The Verizon-exclusive Lumia 928 features hard corners and a gently-sloping back, while the 925 (arguably the nicer looking of the two) is the first to introduce metal trim. The 1020 on the other hand sticks very close to the original design language of the Lumia 800 and 900, and that’s frankly a very welcome choice. I’d go as far to say that Lumia’s original looks are nearly iconic, but your mileage is going to vary there.

As a counterpoint, our (much less geeky) intern Eliza vehemently disagrees with me — according to her, it’s much too angular and looks like a business card. To each their own, I guess. Admittedly, the camera pod does get in the way when you pick up the 1020 thanks to its prominent protuberance on the device’s back, but it doesn’t seem like a deal breaker.

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Considering just how large the 1020’s camera pod is, I expected the 1020 to be much heavier. In fact, the device was almost startlingly light — Nokia’s fondness for polycarbonate remains untempered, though I suspect the matte finish they’ve used this time around will make the 1020 a little more prone to scuffs and dings.

As is always the case when playing with these sorts of things in the field, it’s hard to really get a feel for performance, but swiping through menus and firing up applications was just as smooth as any other top-tier Windows Phone. The only bit of slowdown I noted was while fiddling with some of the camera settings, but that may just be a pre-production software issue acting up. Nokia representatives confirmed that the Lumia 1020 runs a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm chipset (though the people I spoke to wouldn’t specify which one), along with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. That’s quite a strong spec sheet for a Windows Phone, though the fact that Windows Phone 8 is generally a very lag-free OS to begin with certainly factors into the equation.

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And then of course, there’s the camera. Nokia wouldn’t spend almost an entire hour talking about a camera if it wasn’t worth its salt, but the 1020’s 41-megapixel sensor really seems to deliver… the keyword there being “seems”. As you’d expect, the 1020 is a very snappy shooter, and the images it captured appeared incredibly crisp and bright on screen (perhaps to the point of mild over-saturation, but that’s really nothing new for an AMOLED display). Since none of hardware here was final though, Nokia wouldn’t allow to us transfer our photos off the 1020 for further fiddling so it’s hard to say just how good the images look on different displays or on paper.

Despite the Pro Camera app’s name, it was awfully easy to pick up after a few moments of playing. Tapping the icon brings up a series of concentric semi-circles, and sliding up and down each of lets users adjust exposure, shutter speed, iso, and focus. It’s an awfully intuitive scheme that Nokia has cooked up, especially since you’re able to immediately see on-screen what sort of effect those changes will have on the image you take. Nokia has also included a tutorial mode to give first-time users a better idea of what settings can be tweaked and how the sliding control scheme works, a welcome touch for non-photographers looking to spice up their shots.

Is the Lumia 1020 going to be for everyone? Obviously not. Can it succeed in a very competitive marketplace? It’s far too early to answer that question, but based on my time playing with it, there’s nothing there that would necessarily disqualify it from success.

Earlier today, our own John Biggs took Nokia to task for using its resources to create a device that focused on “theatrics”. I honestly couldn’t disagree more — I’m honestly no great camera connoisseur, Nokia didn’t just slap a big honking camera on a crappy phone. The hardware seems well-crafted, the Windows Phone experience is incredibly smooth, and that longstanding app gap is finally starting to close (albeit slowly). I can’t pass judgment until I actually play with the final device, but so far it seems like that camera is just icing on a cake that’s already pretty damned delicious.

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