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Here, Nokia pairs an ultralarge camera sensor with the company’s PureView image-processing software, finally bringing us the smartphone we hoped the Lumia 920 and its many variants would be.

Camera geeks looking for the nitty-gritty will find six-lens Carl Zeiss optics (as in the recently unveiled Lumia 925), which also takes on wide angles.

Focus on camera misses the big picture. The Finnish phone maker released its remarkable Lumia 1020 phone with a 41-megapixel camera – but it’s still missing native apps for low-quality Instagram, Vine and Snapchat

It has high-resolution 3x zoom, autofocus (you can manually focus, too), and a dual-flash system. A smaller LED flash complements the larger Xenon flash — a design we saw in Verizon’s Lumia 928 — and the entire shooter captures 1080p HD video at a rate of 30 frames per second.ou can sum up Nokia’s just-unveiled Lumia 1020 in three words: 41, megapixel, camera.

Teased and leaked to death up to the very last minute before the big reveal, the Lumia 1020’s 41-megapixel shooter is what makes Nokia’s next marquee Windows phone, and what gives hardware jockeys a reason to salivate.

The Windows Phone 8 device will sell in the U.S. exclusively at AT&T for a hefty $299.99 with two-year contract. Preorders begin July 16, with the Lumia 1020 becoming available online and in stores July 26. (The Lumia 1020 will also sell globally.)

It’s all about the camera
Make no mistake about it: the Lumia 1020’s stunningly enormous image resolution is this smartphone’s single killer feature and sole reason for being. Yep, the 1020 puts the mega back in megapixels.

Ball bearings surrounding the lens promise image stabilization, which CEO Stephen Elop demonstrated onstage with photos he took on a wobbly boat. We suspect that ball bearings replaced the stabilizing springs found in the Lumia 920 to conserve space and keep the camera mount profile as low as possible.

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Nokia has also made strides — and had successes — with its low-light photos. In fact, the Lumia 928’s camera has the best low-light quality of any phone’s that I’ve seen, with the iPhone 5 a close second in my photo tests. Nokia aims for even more improved low-light performance from its Lumia 1020.

Nokia’s Pro Camera settings boast controls that let shutterbugs and serious photographers easily navigate their options on the 41-megapixel beast, including manual exposure settings and long exposure times. The camera app also includes a tutorial, which sounds helpful for newbies wanting to learn how to use their high-octane phone, though we’ll have to wait and see what the phone can teach us.

Couple that with Windows Phone camera apps, called lenses, that layer on additional settings you won’t find in the native camera app, and you have an interesting camera story that — Nokia hopes — will run Samsung’s 16-megapixel Galaxy S4 Zoom smartphone camera into the ground.

We got a chance to try out the Lumia 1020’s camera app, which felt lively when fired up, taking photos quickly. Manipulating the Nokia’s graphical camera settings was also intuitive once we got the hang of it. We did notice that the phone’s fancy Map app took a while to launch and stuttered a bit when we tried the “Here” augmented-reality function.

Forty-one megapixels amounts to a lot of captured information, more than most people can and will really use, but — as with the Symbian-birthed Nokia 808 PureView before it — the Lumia 1020’s higher megapixel count translates into a 5-megapixel image with lossless zooming for higher-quality cropped photos.

In the Lumia 1020, Nokia is extending this “oversampling” method to video as well, which could mean some really high-fidelity HD captures when you zoom in. It isn’t just about images with Nokia. Audio technology that Nokia calls “rich recording” promises to capture clear, distortion-free sound even in loud surroundings.

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Design and specs
Of course, the matte white, black, or yellow Lumia 1020 is more than just a camera. Toss the large, round shooter module aside and it looks a lot like the Lumia 920 phones, both in terms of the squared corners and rounded spines, and also its guts.

Close up, there are a few differences between the two handsets. When we got a chance to handle the new Lumia 1020 in the flesh, the phone certainly impressed with its build quality and premium feel. Like its predecessor’s, the 1020’s chassis is a unibody piece molded from high-quality polycarbonate. It also sports similar smoothly rounded edges and a slightly curved back, making it comfortable to hold.

The Lumia 1020 is slightly thinner and lighter than the Lumia 920; that’s no mean feat considering the enormous camera. The back of the 1020 also uses a soft-touch coating that feels less slippery than the 920’s often-glossy back surface.

The screen on this 4G LTE smartphone has the same familiar 4.5-inch AMOLED PureMotion HD+ display with a 1,280×768-pixel HD display and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Nokia’s Clear Black filter lies on top for cutting down outdoor glare. As with the new guard of Lumia phones, this 1020 has an ultrasensitive touch screen that you can operate with your fingernail or gloved hand; the 1020 is new enough to get Gorilla Glass 3 as its topper.

Above the display, a 1.2-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera sits at the ready to capture shots and HD video.

The 1020 runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, and has 32GB of internal memory, supplemented by 7GB of SkyDrive cloud storage, courtesy of Microsoft. The phone is sealed in typical high-end Lumia fashion, so there’s no expandable memory, though 32GB is a healthy helping.

Nokia has managed to keep the phone fairly thin, coming in at 0.4 inch like the rest of the Lumia line.

Although the Lumia 1020 will not come with wireless charging built in, you can buy an aftermarket charging cover. You can also pick up a camera grip made for the phone for $79.

Turning up the heat
With its 41-megapixel camera, Nokia’s Lumia 1020 absolutely brings the wow factor, proving that Nokia can innovate in its own way, that it is a mobile force to be reckoned with.

Nokia has certainly made good on its promise to produce Windows Phone devices at every price point. Yet with the Lumia 1020 being unveiled so soon after the Lumia 925 global flagship and Verizon’s 928 variant, Nokia is now out and out flooding the market.

Still, it’s hard not to get excited about a modern smartphone powerful enough to replace your point-and-shoot, and possibly even your dSLR. The $300 asking price is a high one; we haven’t seen costs like this for some years. However, Nokia is betting on folks seeing the value of a true two-in-one device and making an investment.

I’d bet on those prices certainly coming down as the months progress, particularly around the holiday season. But before then, we’ll have plenty of time to see just how this PureView camera handles.

There’s no doubt about it: photographs taken with Nokia’s new Lumia 1020 device are enormously impressive if you print them out onto a large-format high-quality print measuring, say, 1.3m wide by a metre deep. Here at Pier 42, where the launch took place earlier on Thursday, there are a number of prints showing photos taken in the past few days here in New York.

One of the most striking (not online yet, but coming at Nokia’s press site) shows a view towards the apartments overlooking Central Park. The lines of the apartments are razor-sharp; the grass in Central Park is vigorously green; the pools of water are pellucid blue. Viewing it online doesn’t really do the 41-megapixel shot justice.

Along with the other dozen shots hanging in a sort of gallery, you need to see it published professionally to comprehend it. And that’s before you learn that it was taken from a helicopter. “That’s a challenge for most smartphones,” said one of Nokia’s engineers, who has worked on the device for quite some time. “But we’ve got optical image stabilisation…” He wasn’t too fazed at the specifications leaking out ahead of the official announcement. “41 megapixels is just a number,” he said. “That doesn’t tell you what it’s like to look at.”

Yet here’s a strange thing: if Nokia were to release the 1020 as a stand-alone camera, stripping out the mobile phone element, it would certainly bomb. The compact camera market “is in free fall”, to quote the writer from Amateur Photographer (who is also out here as a guest of Nokia). People have given up buying compact cameras because they’re digital, just like their smartphones, and take nice pictures, just like their smartphones, but they don’t have the capability to send their pictures to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine or Snapchat. And the cameras on smartphones are generally “good enough” – just as MP3-quality sound has generally been found to be “good enough” by the vast majority of buyers.

By making the Lumia 1020 a superlative camera that has a phone attached, Nokia seems to be going after a very specific segment of the market: “prosumers” who want to take really good photos and have the connectivity that a smartphone provides. It’s not, however, going to attract the sort of people who want to take a picture and upload it to the main social networks.

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Price of success
For one thing, there’s the price. The Lumia 1020 will cost $299 upfront for the basic 32GB model plus the cost of a contract from AT&T in the US; for comparison, the AT&T iPhone 5 is $199 for the base 16GB model before the contract. (Update: the 32GB iPhone costs $399, so the price is the same if you equalise those specifications. However there isn’t a 16GB Lumia 1020, which means price-conscious buyers might stop at the 16GB iPhone.) For another, there’s the fact that it’s Windows Phone – which still doesn’t have native apps for Vine, Instagram or Snapchat. Chief executive Stephen Elop points out that there are third-party apps which will do the posting to Instagram (via Hipstamatic, a company which went through its own near-death experience last August when it laid off all but one of its staff). You can post to Instagram via Hipstamatic, and then read Instagram via an app called Instance. And there’s a Snapchat-compatible app.

Yet none of this is like having the native apps. And the question of whether ordinary people will really pay top whack for a fantastic camera is already answered by the compact camera market; and of whether they’ll pay top whack for a top-end smartphone seems increasingly to be “no” as sales forecasts for the Samsung Galaxy S4 are revised down, along with those for the iPhone.

So what is the purpose of the Lumia 1020? I think it’s to show off a top-end capability that Nokia can then push down to its lower-end phones – rather as Samsung does with the Galaxy S range, where the top-end phone is the flag carrier for the cheaper range that follows it.

People who appreciate high-quality photography (in terms of pixels captured) tend to assume that everyone will want just the same, if only they’re shown the chance to get it. But this is rather like the argument that hi-fi manufacturers fooled themselves with a decade or so ago, thinking that by offering “24-bit” audio quality on Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio they would tempt people away from lo-fi MP3 listening.
Sound argument

The reality is that most people listen to music in very low quality from car radios, small bookshelf speakers, lousy headphones. MP3s weren’t, and aren’t, much worse – sometimes, better – than what they used to get. And you have to have ridiculously good hearing to distinguish the difference in 24-bit sound (and even that might be imaginary). SACD and DVD-Audio died like dogs in a ditch.

Now, we’re much better at distinguishing differences in quality in photos, particularly when they’re printed out; but viewed on a 5in smartphone screen or even a standard laptop screen, the lack of quality in most of the photos we take isn’t visible. Nokia’s best hope may be that screen technology improves so rapidly that the difference in picture quality becomes more visible. For the meantime, though, it will be the cheaper Lumias – the 520 and 610 particularly – which will be the bedrock of its sales. (In fact, as I wrote this article, Kantar WorldPanel ComTech tweeted that the Lumia 520 had helped Nokia to reach its highest smartphone share in the UK since April 2011 – back in the days when Nokia still sold Symbian. It didn’t however specify how high that is.)

Even then, what Stephen Elop really needs more than Lumias with fantastic cameras is for Vine, Snapchat and Instagram to write native apps for the Windows Phone platform. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in his hands.


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