Nokia Lumia 1020: Early Hands-On With the Camera Superstar

Five minutes with Nokia Lumia 1020 and it's clear: It's for those who prize an incomparable camera above all else.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is quite unlike any other smartphone on the market today. This reality—its sidestep from the mainstream—may be an indication of the kind of sales that Nokia and AT&T, which will begin selling it this Friday, July 26, can expect.

It's not for everyone.

It's not for people who care about a good handful of things and want them to be done equally well and presented in a thin, light, attractive package.

The Lumia 1020 is for people who care about a good handful of things but really, really, especially care about having a super-duper, crazy-amazing camera and are willing to sacrifice the thin, light, attractive package to have it.

The 1020 features a 4.5-inch AMOLED WXGA display with 2.5-D sculpted Gorilla Glass 3 that, like the matte polycarbonate rest of it, feels wonderful in the hand. But it's a lot in the hand. If you are buying the Lumia 1020 you are conceding: "This phone is big and so what? It has a crazy-amazing camera and that's what I care about most."

The 1020 has a silver-dollar–size camera stuck to its back that prevents it from sitting flat on table. Instead, because the camera is at the top, it sits propped up, in a rather convenient way, actually, that makes it easy to view updates at a glance. The phone is light enough, though—or the camera not heavy enough—that if you use it as it sits in this convenient-seeming way, it rocks. Not in an awesome way.

These are only early thoughts, after a few hours with the Lumia 1020—I'll post a full review in a few days.

What's clear to me already, though, is that the screen is bright and crisp and beautiful and its 2.5-D (which is to say, nearly 3-D) technology is pretty cool—striking, certainly—in some apps. The sound is great and the speaker is way louder and more clear than I was expecting. Windows Phone takes a little getting used to. And the camera, if one is to take full advantage of it, requires some patience and tutorial-watching.

I say the latter because while I have snapped some very nice photos and taken non-wobbly videos, I've yet to take anything that seems heads above the other phones on my desk or in my household.

It takes very crisp, rich photos that can be location tagged and even zoomed-out of, as illogical as that sounds. But the Lumia 1020 features a 41-megapixel sensor. Packed in that bulging silver dollar are Zeiss optics with six physical lenses, plus optical stabilization. There are tiny ball bearings in this phone—you can hear them if you give the phone a jiggle—cushioning the camera and ensuring blur-free photos.

Better photos than I've taken—and videos with zoom-in quality like Nokia showed off during the 1020's New York launch event, playing footage that revealed pollen clinging to the hairy back legs of honey bees—absolutely have to be possible. Let's give it some time.

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