Xenon and PureView shocker: the Lumia 1020 and WP 8.1 in a fast 2018 set-up

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18 months ago, in May 2016, I wrote about staying with Windows Phone 8.1 in an era of Windows 10 Mobile, in the context of some services working better on the old OS than the newer one. Since then, we've had Windows 10 Mobile mature and fill out, though there's one phone for which I stand by my original piece 100%. You may not be surprised that it's the classic and much-loved Lumia 1020, from 2013, which still feels 'right' on Windows Phone 8.1. If you have this Xenon-flash, monster-camera-ed device then here are the pros and cons, plus suggestions for use in the modern age.

Before I get into it all, the clue as to why anyone should want to to all of this is in that last sentence. Even today, in 2018, I've proved time and again that the Lumia 1020 can hold its head up very high against the high-spec Android camera phone competition - maybe not in terms of shooting speed, but in terms of pure image quality(IQ), zoom and flash capability. Add to this the OIS-equipped video capture with high amplitude stereo audio capture and genuine 4x lossless solid state zoom, and the 1020 is a video monster too.

In fact, for many subjects and use cases, this is still the Rolls Royce of phone imaging - yet it's positively ancient by mobile tech standards. But - if like me, you prize IQ highly and you own a Lumia 1020 then here are some thoughts as to the status of this Nokia classic a full five years after it launched.

Lumia 1020

I've been using a Lumia 1020 on Windows Phone 8.1 for the last few days and have come to some very interesting conclusions. My testing was helped by having another 1020 that had been hacked up to the latest Windows 10 Mobile, so I was able to compare the two OS side by side.

It wasn't all roses, of course - I did miss the raw speed and screen size of the latest flagship Lumias - but there were plenty of positives, from the full implementation of Glance screen to the better maps and navigation experience.

But what about support? Official updates for Windows Phone 8.1 finished years ago and there are precious few (first or third party) updates in the Store anymore. Security should be a concern but in practice it isn't, since a) the OS was already very secure, and anyway b) the installed base of WP 8.1 users was/is far too small a target (in the grand scheme of things) to attract the attention of thieves, scammers and hackers. Venturing online with WP8.1, you're just about immune to anything mischievous - heck getting anything working is sometimes a challenge(!)

Pros and cons

Here are the bullet points that you need to know. In no particular order, starting with the pros:

  • Nokia's Lumia Camera application is faster and slicker under Windows Phone 8.1, plus you get explicit 'reframe' options in Photos and, when shooting video, the 1020 can capture stereo sound (this gets lost if you force the 1020 to W10M). 
  • The HERE suite (Maps/Drive) is not being updated anymore (in terms of code) but happily, even in 2018, the map data is being added to, with 2017 roads present that are still not in Windows 10 Maps. HERE Transit still works too. In terms of navigation, the HERE suite is still top notch. 
  • The OS and interface is significantly faster and more fluid, see the benchmarking table below.
  • Nokia Glance screen still works (unlike under W10M). Moving the 1020 to W10M removes all Glance functionality.
...and now the cons:
  • Skype is no longer supported or updated, and has stopped working. This is a blow if you use this, but in many cases a laptop or Surface hybrid will be a better fit for Skype anyway (see below).
  • The version of Office version in WP8.1 is more limited than under Windows 10 Mobile, and isn't tied to Office 365 at all, so whatever your status on the latter, Word and Excel are fully working for all file locations.
  • You'll miss out on virtually all new application development - UWP apps are all for Windows 10, by definition. Now, some UWP apps are rewrites, ports or re-imaginings of older Windows Phone 8.1 applications (e.g. City Art Search, Office Lens, ProShot), but the majority aren't. (You'd miss out on AAWP Universal, for one!)
  • The Windows Phone 8.1 applications that are available have mostly been frozen or even abandoned, so you'll be stuck at the current version in the Store forever. If the applications are bug-free and do what you want then fine, mind you.
  • No Bluetooth keyboard support - this came in (belatedly) with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2, and this was only ever available to a handful of product variants. Don't go looking for it though, since this support was very buggy - it was only in Windows 10 Mobile that Bluetooth keyboards became practical.

Performance

Having two Lumias, one on each OS, I couldn't resist a quick set of benchmark data points. I've done some 8.1 comparisons before, but this is with the very latest updates to Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update, so here goes:

Lumia 1020, all times in seconds Windows Phone 8.1 Windows 10 Mobile
Creators Update
Boot up to Start screen 31 54
Launch Store 6 10
Launch (Lumia) Camera 5 10
Launch Photos 1 2
Launch (MSN) Weather 3 9
IE/Edge (browser) time to
fully load AAWP home page
8 8
IE/Edge (browser) time to
fully load a 'The Verge' story
10 8
HERE/Maps time to plan route
from Reading to Edinburgh
3 12
Launch specific (MSN) News story 2 4
Time to start playing streaming
music track through OneDrive app
9 9 (plus intermediate
tap needed!)
Time to start playing streaming first
music track through Xbox/Groove app
10 14
Time to launch Cortana to cards interface 4 13
Totals (smaller better) 92 153

Overall then, if you discount boot-up time, the Lumia 1020 is almost twice as fast at just about everything compared to the same device under Windows 10 Mobile. Now this is kind of obvious - after all, Microsoft itself decided not to issue the Windows 10 Mobile update to the Lumia 820, 920, 925 and 1020 generation for just this reason - slow performance. But for someone now used to Windows 10 Mobile on a variety of hardware, moving back to 'ye olde' Windows Phone 8.1 was something of a breath of fresh air.

Applications

Of course, what use is speed (and that great camera) if the applications you need day to day aren't present? This is a sticking point, though to be fair, it's also a sticking point for Windows 10 Mobile in 2018, though to a lesser degree. To use a Lumia 1020 in today's app-obsessed world in 2018, you're going to have to scale down exactly what you want to do on the phone and what you'll have to farm out to other devices.

For example, on an iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9+ or similar, there's the expectation that every shopping outlet, every bank, every social service, can all be accommodated and serviced. Which is great, but they're not... you know, a Lumia 1020, and they come with their own compromises. 

With the assumption, therefore, that want to stick with your beloved Lumia 1020 and with Windows Phone 8.1 (for speed reasons), what are your application options in 2018's Microsoft Store? There's AAWP's extensive application directories (see here and here), of course, but I wanted to pick out some highlights that I've been testing:

  • Whatsapp is still a Windows Phone 8.1 star, updated monthly and with up to the minute tweaks. If Whatsapp is how your family and friends keep in touch, then this has you covered 100%.
  • Facebook - in a complete shocker, and mainly because it was coded by Microsoft, Facebook for WP8.1 is small, fast and efficient - and it integrates well with People and the rest of the phone.
  • Twitter, the official application, still works very well and with an optional fully dark theme (unlike the 'broken' official PWA for W10M), though it's limited to 140 characters for tweets. Something you'll have to live with (anyone know of a Twitter client for 8.1 that handles 280 characters?)
  • for podcasts, there are well over a dozen fully working podcatchers for WP8.1, but I'd probably recommend Podcast Lounge - it's commercial but is the most polished at the end of the day.
  • Picture Info - one thing I miss from WP8.1's Photos app is that there's no 'info' pane - and this supplies EXIF data and more.
  • Nextgen Reader is still the original and best way to skip through hundreds of news feeds quickly. It's commercial software too but, come on, which of us hasn't already bought this in the past, so it should be a case of just installing it again now.
  • Netflix still works just fine under WP8.1 - tap into your account to watch anything you like.
  • Instagram has an official app for 8.1 (albeit still in 'beta'!) that works well, though the third party 6tag is even better.
  • as mentioned above, HERE Maps and HERE Drive, with latest 2018 maps.
  • London Travel Live, my guide round our capital.
  • Tubecast for YouTube works well for not only streaming video but also casting it to ChromeCast and other DLNA screens around the house. Or, keeping things more streamlined, there's the ever popular myTube!, a YouTube client par excellence on Windows Phone 8.1.
  • Foxit MobilePDF, working very well for all document duties.
  • Audio Recorder Pro, the all round best stereo recording utility for the platform.
  • Music (née Xbox Music) works very well as a local and (via syncing) for OneDrive music too.
  • plus a truckload of games - the vast majority of Windows phone games are designed for WP 8.1, so almost everything is compatible. Aside from the (now) smallish 4.5" screen, games are a delight on the 1020 here.

See here and here for our original curated Windows Phone 8.1 applications directories, there are still hundreds of quality applications which work.

Lumia 1020

Accessories

There's more to the Lumia 1020 than just the phone itself, of course, and Nokia were past masters of interesting accessories. So we have the CC-3066 Charging Shell, still available second hand if you keep your eyes peeled. This does double duty as a basic case and also adds Qi wireless charging to the phone - so just put it on a pad and you're being topped up.

Secondly, there's the PD-95G Camera Grip, adding a physical bulk for easier grip, plus tripod mount and a top-up battery. This is rarer, but - again - available second hand if you're lucky. I was a big sniffy about the Grip at the time, but it's a unique gadget that I appreciate more in today's 'boring' world of 2018!

Finally, I'd highlight the 'Best Hard Tough Case Cover' (or clones thereof), protecting the 1020 on all sides and - most importantly - making it 10x more grippy in the hand.

Although the Lumia 1020 isn't really part of a modular system, having these three options in the pocket or on the phone does add a certain flexibility to the usual humdrum phone experience!

Lumia 1020

Verdict

Your comments welcome, then. I can't believe I'm the only person in the world who loved the Lumia 1020 when it was launched and still wants to make a go of it in 2018, simply to keep that image purity, that lossless zoom, that Xenon flash in my life. Anyone else out there game for some serious 1020 retro action? Any other Windows Phone 8.1 apps or hacks you'd care to add?