HTC One v. Nokia Lumia 1020: What to Buy?

Should you choose a 4-megapixel camera over a 41-megapixel camera? Is it Android v. Windows Phone? How does Sense compare to Live Tiles? Both HTC and Nokia are labeling these flagships as their best cameras on a smartphone to date, and both manufacturers are promoting their handset’s unique design and features. There is a lot to love about the HTC One and the Nokia Lumia 1020 so we will try to break down the relevant bits in this comparison and see how each phone fares.

Design

Though the two devices we are taking a look at today are largely different, they do share the same design philosophies behind strong build quality and attention to details.

HTC One. HTC opted to rock all metal with its One design, a welcomed change from the cheap plastic build quality chosen by many of its Android rivals. In fact, the zero-gap aluminum build of the One is seen as a differentiating factor that sets the One apart from its closest challenger in the Android camp–Samsung’s Galaxy S4.

Though it’s not a unibody aluminum design in the same way that Apple’s iPhone 5 and 5s are, the One does feel that way with chamfered front and rear edges and plastic that’s injected into the aluminum to create a zero-gap, seamless and smooth feel. The plastic injection helps with radio reception, so there is a purpose here.

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A tapered and smooth back makes the compact package ergonomic to hold.

The one thing about the One, despite its flawless good looks, is that on select units, it looks like HTC and its manufacturing partner may not have done much quality checks. On select units, the glass panel that meets with the BoomSound speakers on the front seems to jut out over the aluminum speaker. It’s not a big deal, but when you run your fingers along the edge you will notice a look that’s not quite flush.

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Speaking of BoomSound, the bass-heavy speakers do emit loud sound that at first impression may sound rich. However, though the volume may be amplified, audio fidelity still lags behind the speakers on the Galaxy S4 and the LG G2.

Lumia 1020. Nokia is continuing its several-year-old design with the Lumia 1020 with the Fabula design language, essentially a unibody polycarbonate pillow top design that with corners that slightly taper in, curved sides that round out to the back. It looks like a pillow, for the most part and feels extremely solid in the hands. In terms of weight distribution, the plastic Lumia feels more weighty than the metal One.

Available in a mix of colors, with yellow being the brightest, the Lumia 1020 still looks daring despite relying on a trusted legacy design. And on the rear, a circular hump houses the lens, giving it an immediate camera-like feel that can take on a point-and-shoot. What’s more is that Nokia and Microsoft has a dedicated dual-stage camera shutter button to quickly access the camera, highlighting the photographic prowess of this behemoth.

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Wireless charging with an optional shell cover or an added optional camera grip rely adds value to the Lumia 1020. I use the wireless charging shell a lot during the day–setting the phone inside this Qi-enabled shell onto my wireless charging plate on my desk and the phone instantly charges so that I don’t have to fumble with wires. And the optional camera grip is a necessity for photographers as it not only adds an ergonomic grip and transforms the Lumia 1020 into a Sony NEX-series camera, but also adds some extra juice to get you through the day. I just wish that Nokia and its partners would release a slim Mophie-styled case for moments when I need battery but would rather not have the grip protruding from the pocket of my pants.

And though the Lumia 1020 doesn’t have the hyped up stereo front-facing BoomSound speakers, it does have microphones that could record richer, more full fidelity audio. When you’re at a loud concert, most other mics would not be able to record the sound and everything sounds garbled together–not so with the 1020′s microphone, making it a party recording favorite.

Camera

Given the strengths of the camera on both the One and the 1020, it’s easy to dismiss every other aspect of the phone and boil down the comparison to Ultrapixel v. PureView. And if you did that, we wouldn’t blame you. However, the camera is just one aspect of the phone–albeit a significant one in the case of this comparison–and we’ll do a shoot out of the shooters here, but be sure to check out the individual reviews of each phone on GottaBeMobile for sample images.

HTC One. HTC is largely dismissing the myth that more is better when it comes to megapixel count. Rather than chase after the 13-megapixel sensors on Android rival Samsung’s Galaxy S4 or even the 20-megapixel shooter on Sony’s Xperia Z range, HTC is opting for fewer pixels, and that makes the difference in the One’s ability to capture brighter shots in low light conditions. Does it work? Surprisingly, combined with an optical image stabilization mechanism to eliminate hand shake to use a slightly longer shutter time, the HTC One is able to deliver impressive performance in low light capture. For consumers, this boils down to pictures taken in near-dark wine cellars looking brightly lit like there was some ambient light source.

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And while the reality of HTC’s engineering work on the Ultrapixel did lead to good results in darkened places, in brighter places, the HTC One’s camera lacks the fine detail capture of its rivals. When compared to an 8-megapixel iPhone 5 or 5s camera, or even the 13-megapixel camera of the Galaxy S4, the One just didn’t retain that much detail. Sure, it looks crisp on the One’s 4.7-inch display, but the images don’t quite cut it when you zoom in and definitely pales against the 41 megapixels of details on the Lumia 1020.

Where HTC really shines though is HTC Zoe, which captures small snippets of video, audio and photo. It’s a nice touch to allowing users to relive the happy moment. HTC also does a slide show video set to music and with cool transitions for you to combine your most popular images and videos, kind of like the Facebook Lookback video, to commemorate your memories by events.

Single LED flash, live filters, burst shooting mode, and 1080p full HD video capture round out the camera options in an easy to use and elegantly laid out UI.

Nokia Lumia 1020. The Nokia Lumia 1020 is the camera king of today’s smartphone and it definitely has enough to best many point-and-shoot cameras, rivaling some of today’s basic DSLRs in select situations. A large sensor allows the 1020 to capture more light despite having more megapixels and the 41-megapixel resolution retains an impressive amount of detail, so much so that Nokia dubbed the feature as lossless zoom, meaning you can just zoom in by cropping without affecting the resolution too much.

nokia-lumia-1020-camera-gripIt’s a nice paradigm in the smartphone market. Rather than outfitting the 1020 with a bulky optical zoom like Samsung did with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, the Lumia 1020 has a small hump on the posterior and digital zooming by cropping works well given the limitations of that system coupled with a 41-megapixel sensor.

In terms of motion recording and photography, the 1020′s optical image stabilization mechanism is unrivaled, delivering bright shots while hand held even in very dark conditions. The Lumia 1020 is able to pull out details in the dark environments that even the naked eye can gloss over, so that’s a pretty impressive bit of technology.

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Of course, if you choose, you have the aid of a Xenon flash to help in the darkest of situations, but be warned that the Xenon flash makes photos appear jaundice.

Nokia’s Rich Recording for audio in videos, stabilized videos so your viewers don’t get sea sick, and ZEISS optics round out the specs.

Experienced photographers would also appreciate the full manual controls over the exposure settings.

Experience

The smartphone experience is how you use your phone, search and retrieve relevant information, and perform some of the basic tasks that you require of your device everyday.

HTC-BlinkFeedHTC One. HTC’s Android-powered One is an interesting device that hides a good chunk of Google’s Android OS in favor of the HTC Sense 5.x user experience. The latest Android 4.4 KitKat update for the Verizon One, for example, brings the experience to Sense 5.5.

With HTC Sense, HTC is combining the elegant simplicity of Microsoft’s Metro UI on Windows Phone along with Flipboard’s news and social aggregating features.

What you end up with on the One on the BlinkFeed home screen of Sense 5.5 are rectangular tiles that show various things from social network updates, your latest news updates, and access to a TV guide with your favorite shows as well as the ability to control your TV straight from BlinkFeed thanks to the built-in IR blaster that doubles as power button on the One.

The UI is flattened and simplified as well. Gone is the skeuomorphic UI with that hallmarked HTC clock and weather widget from prior eras of Sense. Aside from that, you still have other home screens to pin your favorite app shortcuts and widgets to, as well as an apps tray. It’s a skinned Android experience with access to the complete Android ecosystem of apps, digital books, music, movies, and magazines.

Lumia 1020. The Lumia 1020 benefits from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system, which introduces the Metro UI with Live Tiles. When it first debuted, Microsoft said it was a radical departure from iOS and Android. Though skeptical friends often question my sanity in going with Microsoft’s platform, when they gave the Lumia a spin, after twenty minutes they were sold. Those little rectangular boxes on the home screen gives you access to all the relevant information.

windows-phone-7-series1Rather than launching separate apps for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I organize my contacts into groups–Family, Friends, Techies, and Besties. Then, I pin each group to its own Live Tile and then when I open each tile, I’ll have all the recent updates for the group–from individual Facebook posts to tweets to shared photos. It’s a more organized way to staying in touch, similar to BlinkFeed, where you will check on your most important people without having to search around and wasting time on Facebook.

And Windows Phone is a more vertical interface. Your home screen, as well as a second screen listing all installed apps in alphabetical order, can be swiped up and down. This eliminates the clutter of multiple pages of home screens a la Android as you have a vertically scrollable list.

And rather than folders, related apps dealing with productivity, music and videos, and games are grouped together into hubs, making it easier to open a hub and access your favorite content.

Though content is limited, Microsoft is rapidly expanding its content library with developer support and there are rumors that the Office-maker will also be introducing new storefronts to sell magazines and books to consumers directly through its Windows Phone Store with the rumored Windows Phone 8.1 update slated for spring.

Accessories Support

JP-HTC-ONE-7Choosing either of these more “niche” phones–they don’t sell in as many numbers as Apple’s iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy S4 after all–means you won’t find the same plethora of cases and covers available. You won’t find a Lifeproof case for either smartphones. Fortunately, HTC, Nokia, and select accessory-makers are filling in the void with some nice covers and cases, including a Mohpie Juice Pack for the One and Nokia’s camera grip with extended battery for the 1020.

Conclusion

Excellent camera options and refined styling make each of these devices a unique and excellent experience in their own regards. The One is more about connecting and sharing what you’ve captured with HTC Zoe and the Ultrapixel camera while the Lumia is more about bringing DSLR-like quality down to the masses with its ZEISS-enabled PureView camera. Depending on what type of photographer you are, either camera would work, but if you do like to crop, zoom, and edit your photos the Lumia may be a better option. For events like birthdays and wedding where you may want to create an instant photo slide show, the HTC One’s photo highlight reel is a party star and conversation starter.

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