While some companies, like Samsung, are going bigger by adding inches to their smartphone screens, Nokia has a different idea: to go bigger by adding megapixels to their cameras.
Enter the Nokia Lumia 1020, a 41-megapixel camera that happens to have a smartphone attached to it.
Running on the Windows Phone 8 operating system, the Lumia 1020 has smooth and intuitive functionality that helps it soar above other Windows phones. The device's ergonomic and slim design means it's comfortable in the hand and in the pocket.
It's hard, however, to talk about the Lumia 1020 like it's a normal phone. Sure, it functions like any smartphone does with regards to making calls, surfing the Web and so on, but it's first and foremost a digital camera, so any discussion about the device needs to have the photographer in mind.
Forty-one megapixels is nothing to scoff at, especially considering other popular devices range from 8 megapixels to 13 megapixels. But with great power comes great responsibility, and users who are unfamiliar with the more detailed operations of digital cameras might feel a little intimidated by the features the Lumia 1020 packs in its tiny package. If there were ever a time a consumer should read the operating manual, this would be it.
The Lumia 1020 has features typical to the modern smartphone: 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 2GB RAM, 32GB nonexpandable storage, high-def Super AMOLED display, 1080p video recording and so on.
But then it also packs manual shutter speed, focus and ISO controls, a 26 mm Zeiss lens, a Xenon flash, and a 3x lossless zoom, which means image quality won't suffer as you zoom in on your subject.
How the Windows OS handles the large images is pretty neat. When a photo is taken with the phone, the system stores it as a 5MP oversampled image. These are images you can easily share via social media sites, texting and email. When plugged to a computer, the full-size large images are transferrable, just like they are with your everyday digital camera.
These features are all well and good, but only if the camera performs well. Thankfully, it exceeds expectations.
The Lumia 1020 produces the best photos of any smartphone currently on the market. Colors, contrast and dynamic range are solid. Images are also clear and sharp, and thanks to the oversampling, a 5MP image shot on the Lumia 1020 will look better than a 5MP image shot on a Samsung Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5.
The large file sizes do have a drawback, in that shooting several photos in quick succession isn't possible since the system has to process and save after each image. The camera also takes a short amount of time to ready itself before use, which could cause people to miss that perfect shot.
Sadly, the Windows app ecosystem is far behind Apple's App Store and Android's Market, which hurts the Lumia 1020. When I think of people who would buy this device, I think of people who like to take and share photos. Then I think of one of the most popular photo sharing apps, an app Windows Phone 8 doesn't (yet) support: Instagram. There are other apps that serve as Instagram clients but, in my experience, they're buggy, laggy, cumbersome and not worth the time it takes to download them.
But, back to the basics: Phone call quality is clear and loud, and listening to music and watching videos on the device is just fine. Even with shooting a lot of photos and video, the battery lasted about 12 hours, which I find respectable.
The nonexpandable storage is a bit of a letdown. While 32GB is generous, the habitual picture taker will fill it up pretty fast.
Can the Lumia 1020 replace your point-and-shoot camera? Yes. Can it replace your DSLR? Nope. Is it the best smartphone camera out there? Without a doubt.
And for $200 with an AT&T two-year contract, the Lumia 1020 is priced just right. The hardware would benefit much more from apps on iOS and Android, but them's the breaks, and the price reflects that.