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Nokia 808 PureView Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Great connectivity options

The Bad

  • Poor app support

Nokia’s heritage with both camera phones and Symbian dates way back. They have a lot of firsts under their belt, having had success with the first mainstream smartphone with a built in camera (Nokia 7650), the first camera phone with optical zoom (Nokia N93) and the first camera phone which could, to a degree replace a compact camera (Nokia N8). All these had Symbian in common, just like their most recent camera phone first, the Nokia 808 PureView. This is the first 41-megapixel camera phone ever. In fact, it’s the first mainstream phone with a sensor above 16-megapixels. Sound ridiculous? We’re not going to argue. It does. But there’s a lot more to the Nokia PureView than pixels and Symbian:

Nokia 808 PureView: Design

Girthy, simple and rich feeling – that’s the Nokia 808 PureView aesthetic in a nutshell. It looks clean and small enough head on, with the 4-inch screen being no imposition compared to some phones out there, however turn your attention to the side of the phone and you’ll quickly realise a) this is a thick phone, and b) it has an even thicker growth housing the camera.

Nokia 808 PureView design shots: Nokia 808 PureView back, Nokia 808 Pureview Front and Nokia 808 PureView with its battery cover removed.

Come to pick up the Nokia 808 PureView and you also pick up something significantly heavier than most smartphones out there. Weighing 169g, that’s a full 36g more than the significantly bigger screened Samsung Galaxy S3, and 20g more than an iPhone 4S.

In its defence, the heavy weighting of the PureView works well when in the hand, particulary when taking pictures – counterbalancing hand shake effectively. What’s more, Nokia have applied a very rich ceramic feeling coating to the phone making it considerably less slippery. It won’t suit all, but it definitely feels rich.

Nokia 808 Pureview Sample Images: Nokia 808 Pureview Camera Mount, Nokia 808 Pureview backing, Nokia 808 PureView right hand-side

There’s even an up side to the protruding camera mount on the back, with its smooth curve providing a comfortable forefinger rest.

At the top of the PureView is a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro USB port and a micro HDMI slot. The micro HDMI slot sits under a protective flap which is occasionally a pain to open and close and is seemingly unnecessary with all the other ports exposed.

To the right is a volume rocker, a lock slider and a soft two stage camera button with a reassuring click through the first stage and a spongy press in the second stage. Finally, the fascia itself bears a long horizontal bar at the bottom housing three buttons, call to the left, menu in the centre and hang up on the right.

As we said, it’s girthy, simple and rich feeling. It doesn’t look like a camera and Nokia haven’t tried to make it emulate one, instead, it’s a well weighted candy-bar handset that’s bespoke built for full touch screen photo taking.

Nokia 808 Pureview – Screen

On the subject of the touch screen, the AMOLED display on the Nokia 808 PureView offers the technology’s trademark deep, dark blacks and vibrant saturated colours, coupled with Nokia’s Clear Black technology for even better outdoor viewing. It’s a 4-inch display packing a resolution of 360 x 640. Despite a good size therefore the resolution is definitely something of a disappointment. Less prevalent but still something that caught our eye was a pink tinge that overcomes the screen when outdoors.

Overall in terms of showing off the UI, the screen performs adequately being nice and responsive. It also packs great viewing angles too with fantastic outdoor viewability making the screen fit for purpose but definitely not worthy of such a competent camera module.

Nokia 808 PureView: User Interface

As the new Symbian Belle flagship, the Nokia 808 PureView isn’t making any claims to rocking the most up to date operating system. Symbian is dated, Nokia admit it, Nokia have moved on and so have the majority of consumers. That said, it’s still functional.

Comprised of a number of home screens which you can delete or create at will, Symbian Belle will let you add either shortcuts or widgets to personalise your experience. This is a big step up from Anna that wouldn’t even allow you to add individual shortcuts.

There are three soft keys on the screen. From left to right, these are the apps drawer, the phone dialler and the menu button. Unlike older versions of Symbian, there are no layers of folders insider the apps drawer. Instead sits a simple list of all the applications you’ve got at your disposal.

The app store experience on the Nokia 808 PureView is far more laborious than that of an Android or iOS phone. While there are some staples like Spotify and Whatsapp, as well as Opera which we’ll talk about later, there are key omissions for many current smartphone users such as Instagram, Kindle and Evernote. What’s more, while on paper, the process of downloading an app is similar – locate > download > install, the number of failed downloads we had couple with the clunkiness of the store UI really highlights this one of Symbian’s key shortcomings.

Nokia 808 PureView User Interface

In addition, the stock keyboard isn’t where it needs to be to offer a competitive typing experience. You can download Swype for free to help the experience along, however we still found we were avoiding writing emails and long texts almost a week in.

Getting your contacts on the Nokia 808 PureView can take a while depending on where they’re stored. If, like us your contacts are stored on your Google account, you will have to create a Mail for Exchange account with your Google credentials and manually enter the server address. If however you’ve got them all linked to your Nokia account, it will be a piece of cake.

While there are a couple of other niggles with the OS we haven’t mentioned, there’s no denying Belle is a huge improvement over Anna. Anyone coming from a Nokia N8 or other Symbian device will be well served. Anyone coming from an Android phone or iPhone however will have a fair bit of frustration to contend with. Depending on how much you value picture taking on the go however, it might well be a justified.

Nokia 808 PureView: Camera and Multimedia

Finally, onto the camera. 41-megapixel sensor meets Nokia PureView technology meets f/2.4 lens and the most powerful mobile Xenon flash ever seen. You probably understand what all those features mean, however PureView technology is something Nokia have spent five years harnessing and has only recently become public knowledge.

The Tech
A brief run down of PureView hinges on two key elements – lossless digital zoom, and pixel sampling.Despite being 41-megapixels, the Nokia 808 PureView only needs to shoot at 5-megapixels. This gives a 3 times lossless digital zoom as the sensor is big enough to allow for 3 times magnification.

It also produces significantly more accurate shots as it uses the whole 41-megapixel sensor for a 5-megapixel image. The PureView does this by taking the information from seven pixels, and creating one pixel. This results in the most accurate colour choice in final pixel. It also eliminates most of the noise and as a result produces a smaller file size – noise adds file size as it is effectively excess colour information added to an image.

The Camera
There are four resolution options on the Nokia 808 PureView – 3,5,8 and 41-megapixels. The first three utilise Nokia’s PureView technology, the full resolution doesn’t. We think the 5-megapixel mode takes better shots than any 8-megapixel camera phone we’ve used to date.

Nokia 808 PureView Sample Image: Xenon Flash Performance

Detail is strong, noise is very low and colour reproduction is exemplary. The physical neutral density filter being on auto prevents shots looking washed out in bright sun as we found with the HTC One X on occasion and the depth of field attainable is great. We also took it upon ourselves to real-world test the prowess of the Nokia 808 PureView in a London club with low lights and high hem lines. The results which can be seen above spoke volumes about the flash in real-world use – it’s brilliant. It illuminates evenly, flesh tones look natural and detail is sharp, even at 5-megapixels.

The 41-megapixel shooting mode doesn’t deliver some of the key benefits of the PureView technology such as reduced noise, however it does result in an incredible amount of information. What better way to share this than with a London tube map.

Nokia 808 PureView Sample Image: London Tube Map

Nokia 808 PureView Sample Image: Bird Outside Coffee ShopNokia 808 PureView Sample Image: Paddington Station CeilingNokia 808 PureView Sample Image: Broken iPhone 4S

The PureView camera does have its quirks. It won’t focus in macro very close-up when at the widest angle, however activate the lossless zoom and you can get nice and close to your subject as can be seen below. The Macro shots result in a combination of stunning detail and very attractive bokehing.

Nokia 808 Pureview Sample Image: Macro shot in train station

Nokia 808 Pureview Sample Shot: An HTC One X and Beats Audio headphone wiresNokia 808 Pureview Sample Shot: A Rose

We even tested out the Neutral Density filter with a make-shift waterfall (tap) in our office which can be seen above, after which we recorded a time-lapse with the PureView’s built-in interval capture mode. We did this by taking 1500 shots at a 10 second interval. It isn’t a masterpiece by any means but certainly demonstrates just what the PureView could be capable of given the time and attention it deserves.

This is therefore hands down the best camera phone on the market. It also offers an experience we haven’t seen in dedicated camera, suggesting Nokia has very consciously stumbled on a technology that might just revolutionise the way we take photos. Hyperbole? Time will tell, but in the meantime, one thing’s for sure: the Nokia 808 PureView is an imaging triumph.

Recording video in full HD is a feature that a fair few phones have offered since the onset of dual-core processors, however we’re yet to see a phone that does as good a job of it as the Nokia 808 PureView. Aside from a crisp, vibrant picture and a smooth framerate, video taken on the Nokia 808 PureView also takes full advantage of the lossless zoom the 41-megapixel sensor makes possible. The zooming mechanism is simple – a thumb slide up zooms in. What’s even better is that the PureView’s audio recording capabilities allow for un-distorted audio recording up to 140 dB, suggested to offer CD quality audio. Naturally it’s recorded in stereo given the focus on quality across the PureView’s media capabilities, and there’s active noise cancelation too. Watch the clip below with a pair of headphones on. You can hear which side the wind is coming in from and see the power of the PureView, despite the amateur footage.

The stock music player offers a cover flow interface and simple but effective music management. You can access albums, playlists, artists and podcasts with the quality of the output being very good. There’s also an FM radio and a really cool feature – Play by Radio. This turns the PureView into a radio transmitter when there’s no line out to hand. The loud speaker offers decent clarity and a rounded tone. Naturally at higher volumes its slightly sharp, but it definitely fares much better for music playback than most phones.

Nokia 808 PureView: Connectivity and Storage

With all the bells and whistles you would expect from a modern smartphone, the Nokia 808 PureView packs Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, GPS as well as NFC. What’s more, thanks to Nokia’s own mapping system, you get access to Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive, the latter offering downloadable maps and full turn by turn navigation free out of the box.

Nokia 808 Pureview design images: Nokia 808 PureView back cover removed, Nokia 808 PureView microSD and micro SIM card slots exposed

Unfortunately, the rich connection set is let down by the Symbian web browser. It’s clunky, unintuitive and actively made us refrain from browsing the web until we installed Opera. Still not perfect, Opera Mobile is still a big improvement over the Symbian Browser and is a must for anyone using the Nokia 808 PureView.

With 16GB of storage out of the box and a microSD card slot offering expandability of up to an additional 32 GB as well, add to that the ability to read USB keys via an adapter and the Nokia 808 PureView leaves us wanting for nothing in terms of memory. The HDMI out means all videos can be outputted easily to a TV and there’s great codec support on the phone itself, so most movies you load onto it should play with ease.

Nokia 808 PureView: Performance and Battery

The 1.3GHz processor packed inside the Nokia 808 PureView does a decent job of keeping speed in check for the first few days of usage and for most UI functions. If like us however you take a few thousand pictures and embrace the camera aspect, you can be sure of some slowdown when opening the gallery and perusing through your pictures. Stability was also an issue at times, the camera app could on occasion take a full 5-10 seconds to open, and we had a crash pretty early into usage. The majority of the time though, we found the Nokia 808 PureView performance to be good.

Call quality on the PureView was better than average overall. The in-call speaker produced loud audio with clear tones and the microphone was also sufficiently sensitive. 

Battery life all depends on your background applications. If you install an app like Gravity (Symbian Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader client) and forget to turn it offline when done, you can be out of juice in about 6 hours or so. If you are more conscious of battery usage, the PureView will last a day easily and maybe even two. When using the PureView without a SIM card, despite heavy camera usage we found it was lasting incredibly long, suggesting it’s the radios that do the most damage to Nokia’s 41-megapixel wonder.

Nokia 808 PureView: Conclusion

We have two conclusions, one for current Symbian users and one for anyone coming from an alternate OS.

For Symbian users happy with their experiences so far and intent on getting the best camera phone out there, the Nokia 808 PureView will be a dream come true. We really can’t over-emphasise how impressed we were with its camera. Get it – it’s literally a no brainer.

For anyone coming from another operating system. do so in the knowledge that Symbian isn’t going to be getting the upkeep of Android, iOS or Windows Phone. The PureView is thick and the screen isn’t as sharp as any other flagship out there. Despite the recent Belle refresh, Symbian offers a dated UI and limited app support and like a labour of love, the phone will likely frustrate as much as it delights. But the Nokia 808 PureView will delight, it will delight a lot. The camera makes you take pictures, the pictures you take will look incredible and the range of modes and fantastic Xenon flash all ensure nothing out there can touch it. If you value photography enough, it will be worth it, otherwise, we hope to see some kind of PureView technology on a Windows Phone by the end of the year. 



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