The downside: it used Nokia's creaking old Symbian operating system.
A year earlier, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop had described the company as standing on a "burning platform", a reference to the Symbian software their phones of the day used. His solution was to develop a partnership with Microsoft that would see Windows software become the standard for future Nokia handsets.
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The fate, then, of the 808 PureView was sealed before the phone was released. Who spends £500 on a phone that relies on software which has already been shunned by the manufacturer?
Although the transition was painful, Nokia's tie-up with Microsoft has been widely praised, spawning the handsome Lumia line of handsets. A combination of slick hardware design and deep integration with the tile-based Windows interface has produced handsets that rival Apple's iPhone for their intuitive layout and handsome design.
Now Nokia has managed to pack an update of the 41MP camera sensor from the 808 model into a Lumia handset, promising all the photography benefits of the former with the style and usability of the latter.
Photos captured by the Lumia 1020 have an effective resolution of up to 38MP - slightly lower than 41MP, but still colossal for any compact camera never mind one built into a phone. I've played with some full-res sample images from the Lumia 1020 and they're slightly disappointing. Yes, the images may be huge, but at that scale they have a soft quality with details apparently painted in brush strokes rather than retaining the texture of the subject. However, to pixel-peep at images from a camera phone is perhaps to miss the point. Photos at 38MP aren't that useful, but the camera has a trick of resampling the high-res original down to a 5MP JPEG - perfect for printing, emailing or posting to Facebook.
Other features reinforce the phone's photography pedigree, including a xenon flash and an optional camera grip which adds a chunky handle and shutter release along with an extra battery to extend the Lumia's shooting time.
Keen photographers who don't want to carry both a phone and a compact camera should definitely consider the Lumia 1020. Those who rely heavily on mobile apps may be disappointed - the Windows 8 Phone app store range is relatively bare at the moment - but anyone who simply wants a great camera, phone and web browsing device could be pleasantly surprised.