Why The North American 808 PureView Makes Sense

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It’s nearly 14mm thick, tips the scales at 169g, and sports a display of only four inches. Its radio includes 3G support for just one American network, with 2G support for another, and not a hint of LTE in sight. The one band that could have given it additional 3G connectivity, 1700MHz, was present on the European version but excised from its North American variant. Though it may receive the occasional update, its operating system is effectively a dead platform, running at 1.3GHz on a single-core CPU.

Oh, and it costs nearly $700.

Yes, the North American version of the Nokia 808 PureView is an anomaly, to be sure. Nokia initially didn’t plan to bring the device to the U.S. at all, but a change of heart just a over two months later sent the device hurtling toward landfall on the shores of the red, white, and blue. The appointed day for the announcement, as the Easter-egg-laden social media campaign revealed to us, was June 18th.

Subtlety, Nokia style.

Of course, June 18th happened to be the appointed date for another earth-shattering announcement, and Nokia didn’t help itself any by waiting until the early evening to drop its news. Nevertheless, the news did arrive: the handful of American phone-photographers who’ve been foaming at the mouth for this device will soon be able to throw their stack of Benjamins at Amazon in exchange for the privilege of owning it.

I chose phone-photographers as my -forgive me- focus because of the unique attributes of this device. With the anemic feature set I detailed above, the 808 would already have been laughed off the internet as a serious 2012 contender, were it not for that incredible camera. As we’ve covered before, the 808 PureView blew everyone away at this year’s MWC: its onboard camera, housed in the bulbous protuberance up top, boasts a 41MP sensor and Carl Zeiss optics, giving it the ability to capture truly amazing images. That’s not an exaggeration; in a recent “blind test” by GSM Arena, the PureView 808’s image quality beat out all contenders – including an iPhone 4S and an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera.

Not too shabby.

Okay, that’s all fine, but the device is being rolled out in America without the benefit of carrier subsidies or promotional assistance, and without any retail presence in physical stores (Nokia’s U.S. retail locations closed years ago). Add the resulting high price tag to the litany of shortcomings mentioned above, and you may begin asking the same question many commenters across the internet have begun wondering: why is Nokia even bothering with the American 808 PureView launch?

They’ve got a point. With such a collection of black marks, the flagship PureView device for North America may be destined to “drown in a sea of anonymity,” as my coworker recently opined. Others have expressed concerns that the one-off device is disrupting Nokia’s focus at a crucial time for the company, and that shipping a Symbian device in America -never a friendly land for the OS even in the best of times- will actually erode Nokia’s brand here.

That’s all valid, but isn’t it more fun to ask “why not,” rather than “why?” To see things as they could be, in addition to how they really are?

I think so. So here’s three reasons why Nokia’s North American release of the 808 PureView makes sense.

It Costs Virtually Nothing

Relatively speaking, Nokia bears almost no increase in overhead with this endeavor. With no ad campaign or carrier-related stock issues to worry about, all the company had to do was set up a dedicated webpage for the U.S. version of the phone, add the device’s SKU to the inventory, and whip up a quick-and-easy teaser campaign based largely on Facebook.

Above: Marketing.

That’s a bit of a simplification; Nokia also had to flash a portion of its existing 808 stock with U.S.-specific firmware, a process which likely included disabling the 1700MHz band support (unless this is a specific hardware iteration just for North America, which would mean quite a bit more effort on Nokia’s part and which I find highly unlikely). There’s also the logistical issues of moving some of the stock to North America, of course … but really, these are trivial matters in the grand scheme, even to a company in Nokia’s flagging condition. The expenditure of time, money, and effort is insignificant when compared to the practical benefits. Speaking of which …

It’s An Awesome PR Move

This could prove to be a (small) public-relations boon for Nokia when it comes to its die-hard American fans. Granted, that number is miniscule, and the real superfans have no doubt already either ordered their international unlocked PureViews or N9s, or snapped up a member of the Lumia family. But for those holding out hope that Nokia would release the groundbreaking 41MP camera to North American consumers, yesterday’s news was more than welcome.

But it’s not just a good move as a pittance tossed to the fanboys. Think of all the people out there who don’t have a clue about smartphones, whose last experience with Nokia was with a 5165 a decade ago. Despite their lack of knowledge of or interest in the wireless industry, the PureView 808 will still turn their heads- first with its unusual looks, and then with its raw spec power.

Americans aren’t immune to the specification obsession that plagues so much of the world’s population; in fact, some might say we originated the trend of “bigger is better” in a few fields. So when someone busts out a 41MP camera at a party -and inevitably boasts about it- those common folk with their 8MP and 5MP iPhones and Android devices are going to take notice. They’re going to feel a little deflated. You and I know that megapixel count isn’t the whole story, but most people don’t. And even if those average Joes don’t run out and buy a PureView, I bet more than half of them ask “hey so, who makes that monster, anyway?” And upon receiving the answer, the Nokia brand name reclaims a little territory in their brain. Mindshare goes up a half-tick. Maybe the PureView name makes it in there too, paving the way for future Nokia Windows Phone devices bearing the technology. And, finally, the device’s beautiful photos reinforce that positive association.

It’s a long play, sure, with an uncertain payoff. But Nokia’s not going to prosper -or even survive- without making the most of every chance it has to reinvigorate its brand in North America.

People Will Buy Them

This last point is a brief one, and I can’t take full credit.

In preparing to write this piece, I scoured many stories covering the 808’s impending U.S. launch. In the comment sections of most of them, I found legions of naysayers preaching the foolishness of this move. There are many North Americans out there -hundreds of millions, in fact- who would never consider buying this phone.

But then there’s people like Engadget commenter “ebucks,” who made the case for buying the 808 PureView better than I ever could, even in my days on the sales floor:

I’m getting this phone.  2 years from now I won’t care about how I made calls, txt’d or surfed the web on the go. Every phone does that reasonably well these days.  But I WILL want to look back on pictures I took from today and not think “Wow, would have been nice to have had a decent picture of that….”  I don’t have a choice but to carry a phone for work.  I figure I might as well get one that will leave me pictures worth keeping.

[…]

Yup, it looks like it is going to be pricey initially.  But what new, unlocked smartphone off contract isn’t? … I’d rather pay more so that I know I can take great photos, whether I happen to have my DSLR with me, or not.

“I’ve come to suck up all your memories.”

Of course, some people are happy with the camera on their existing smartphone, which no doubt cost many hundreds of dollars less than the 808 PureView. Others prefer to carry specific tools for specific jobs, and don’t mind toting a DSLR alongside their phone, PDA, and handheld GPS. Different strokes; it’s fine. But people like “ebucks” are out there. It’s those customers, along with the future of its brand and its bottom line, that Nokia has its eye on with a U.S. release of the world’s most unique cameraphone. And while that release isn’t going to do miracles for its business, it certainly isn’t going to hurt it, either.

You know what I call that? A green light.

Welcome to America, 808 PureView.

Update: The Nokia Conversations post on the U.S. version of the 808 PureView has been updated to correct an error regarding the phone’s support for the 1700MHz band. According to the correction, “The Nokia 808 PureView works just fine with T-Mobile in the United States.” Accordingly, we have omitted the references to the phone’s lack of 1700MHz support above. (Thanks, hulkkii!)

___

Do you have an insatiable yearning for -or burning hatred of- the 808 PureView? Got yours on pre-order already? Want to talk about 41MP cameras and 1080p video recording? You know where to go. You can sit for a while, but keep your boots on.

___ 

PureView 808 blind photo test source: GSMArena

“ebucks” at 808 PureView comment thread: Engadget

808 PureView N.A. release information: Nokia Conversations


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About The Author
Michael Fisher
Michael Fisher has followed the world of mobile technology for over ten years as hobbyist, retailer, and reviewer. A lengthy stint as a Sprint Nextel employee and a long-time devotion to webOS have cemented his love for the underdog platforms of the world. In addition to serving as Pocketnow's Reviews Editor, Michael is a stage, screen, and voice actor, as well as co-founder of a profitable YouTube-based business. He lives in Boston, MA.Read more about Michael Fisher!