Despite Nokia Belle, is the 808 PureView worth purchasing? More importantly, are we crowning a new King of the Camera-phones? Read on below for our full review to find out!
- Overall Score: 6.7
- Hardware: 8
- Software: 5
- User Experience: 7
The Nokia 808 PureView — winner of the GSMA Global Mobile Awards 2012 and 2012 TIPA Award for Best Imaging Innovation — shocked everyone at this year’s Mobile World Congress with its 41-megapixel camera sensor. Many understood the PureView Technology from the very beginning while others were simply considering it overkill. Nokia wanted to come up with a worthy successor to the Nokia N8, former King of Camera-phones, and the Finnish company believed that the 808 PureView would be just that.
However, straight from the beginning, the 808 PureView raised eyebrows because of the platform used to operate it: Nokia (ex-Symbian) Belle. Windows Phone couldn’t have been a choice at the moment because of its camera restrictions and MeeGo was sort of abandoned at birth by Nokia. Despite Nokia Belle, is the 808 PureView worth purchasing? And, are we crowning a new King of the Camera-phones? Read on below for our full review to find out!
Video Review · Specs · Hardware · User Interface/Software · Battery Life · Camera · Comparisons · Purchasing · Conclusion · Scored for Me
The box contains the 808 PureView, a 1,400mAh battery pack, a wall charger, USB cable for syncing and charging, a wrist-wrap and in-ear noise canceling headphones.
There is only one aspect in which the Nokia 808 PureView can compete with current Android phones — iPhones and even some Windows Phones — and that is the 41-megapixel camera sensor. The rest of the specs, while modest compared to phones on other platforms, are still a huge step up from the internals of the Nokia N8, Espoo’s former camera flagship.
There’s a 1.3 GHz ARM 11 processor powering the 808 PureView (opposed to the 680 MHz ARM 11 on the N8) and the amount of RAM is twice as much as on the N8: 512MB. There is 16GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD card) and 1GB of ROM, which, while still used for out-of-the box applications, provides enough space for your own programs.
In order to cope with extremely demanding task of handling 41-megapixel images, the 808 PureView’s processor is aided by a dedicated Broadcom BCM2763 GPU, a step up from the Broadcom BCM2727 on the N8. Thanks to the addition of the GPU, capturing images, processing them, pinching, zooming, scrolling and other graphic operations are extremely smooth.
The screen is a four-inch AMOLED display with Nokia’s ClearBlack Technology. The resolution, while modest compared to nowadays’ HD screens, is standard for the Symbian platform and other Nokia devices running it: nHD with 360 pixels across and 640 pixels down.
Connectivity-wise the 808 PureView has WiFi b/g/n with DLNA features, Bluetooth 3.0, and frequency support for GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz and HSDPA 850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz networks. There’s also an NFC chip included with the antenna being placed on the back cover and there’s a microUSB and a microHDMI port for synching and respectively mirroring.
Saving the best for last, the camera on the 808 PureView has a 41-megapixel sensor (7728 x 5368 total pixels) fitted with Carl Zeiss optics. Specs are: 8,02mm focal length (35mm equivalent focal lengths are 26mm for 16:9 images and 28mm for 4:3 pictures), F-number: f/2.4, minimum focus distance: 15cm and a set of lens arranged in one group with five elements.
On top of all the hardware there’s the PureView Technology which is used to create super-pixels by oversampling. Images taken at full resolution are resampled to either eight-, five-, or three-megapixels to create sharp, crisp pictures with no noise. The PureView Technology also allows for lossless zooming. To learn more about the PureView Technology read our dedicated article. There is also a secondary VGA camera fitted on the front.
Other notable specs include an FM received (and transmitter), accelerometer, ambient light sensor, GPS with a-GPS support and a battery of 1,400mAh’s. As far as the operating system is concerned, the 808 PureView is powered by Nokia (ex-Symbian) Belle with Feature Pack 1.
Such an imaging system like the one Nokia fitted on the 808 PureView comes with a cost: thickness. You will definitely not like this phone if you are used to super-thin, feather-light devices with sub-eight-milimeter thickness and 133 gram weight, like the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X and pretty much everything high-end these days.
The 808 PureView weighs 169 grams and is 123.9mm tall, 60.2mm wide and 13.9mm thick (at its thinnest point, going up to 18mm at the camera hump, the thickest point). However, if you like phones that feel substantial and have a pretty good heft to them, you’ll love the 808 PureView. It is tapered on the sides which makes it feel really good in hand but it’s the matte plastic (polycarbonate) which gives you great in-hand feel.
The texture not only feels good but it makes it also extremely easy to hold on to the phone as it is not slippery at all. Nokia even included a small black strip of plastic on the back to rest your fingers on while holding the camera, pretty much like a dSLR’s grip handle. You won’t be dropping this phone, that’s for sure!
And, while we’re at the back (since this is where the magic happens), the camera can’t go unnoticed. The 41-megapixel sensor and Carl Zeiss features are highlighted on the right of the camera itself which has a pretty neat little camera lens cap that sits closed until you activate the camera application. Also on the right is the speaker grill which produces extremely good, loud and pleasant sound compared to other phones on the market.
To the left of the lens there’s a Xenon flash which only fires when needed. Below that there’s an LED flash which Nokia employs as a focus assist beam and also as a recording lamp in video mode for those low light videos we all take.
The front of the phone is taken up by the four-inch ClearBlack AMOLED screen and the entire front panel is Gorilla Glass. At its edges, Nokia included a thin rubber gasket between the glass and the plastic which protrudes out imperceptibly but enough to offer a certain amount of grip when placed face-down on a tablet. It won’t slip away.
The display, as you’d expect from a ClearBlack AMOLED display made by Nokia, delivers excellent colors, contrast ratios and deep blacks. Outdoor visibility is quite good and if you don’t mind the meager display resolution it could be the perfect screen for you. Of course, you will not be able to see all the details in 38MP pictures on this nHD resolution screen but the software zooming in the Gallery helps a lot. However, the color reproduction of this screen goes hand-in-hand with the great camera system to deliver real, rich colors which are not over-saturated.
The top part is dominated by a discrete chrome Nokia branding just between the screen and the speaker grill at the far top. To its right there’s the proximity sensor, VGA webcam and ambient light sensor. The very bottom of the phone holds the green (call start), menu and red (call end/power) hardware buttons which are made of a single piece of plastic.
When the phone is turned off or sleeping you can only see the power button but once the backlight kicks in, the red, white and green colors light up.
There’s nothing on the left side of the phone but the right side is where you will find four buttons: three black and a silver one. The top two are the volume rockers and the one on the bottom is your two-stage focus/shutter release camera button which has a very nice click and travel to it. You can’t miss any of the two stages. The middle button is basically a slider which is used to lock or unlock the phone.
The top part as well as the sides, back and bottom (everything except for the glass front) is the made out of the same polycarbonate which embraces the phone. You’ll find your 3.5mm headphone jack here on the far right, with the microUSB port dead center for syncing and charging, a small microphone hole next to it for noise cancellation and a latch which wears the HDMI inscription. It’s where you can find the microHDMI port for mirroring your display on a big screen.
On the bottom you will only find your main microphone responsible for your voice while calling and a small lanyard hole with which to use your bundled wrist wrap.
Nokia renamed Symbian Belle to Nokia Belle and the unit which we are reviewing runs Nokia Belle Feature Pack 1 (software version 112.020.0309 of May 19, 2012). It is not Android but it has many similarities with the Google mobile platform, starting from widgets, multiple home screens and, last but not least, the slide-down notification tray.
A maximum number of six home screens can be set up at one time but, depending on your usage, you can find even three or four to be enough (not that the platform and the internals stutter with the maximum number of fully packed home screens). Each home screen can have its own wallpaper — and the lock screen as well as the app tray will pick up the wallpaper of the home screen active before the device gets locked — and you can add both widgets and shortcuts to every one of them.
There are 46 widgets available out of the box, from the simple 3G or WiFi on/off toggles to the more complex widgets, like Calendar, Social or e-mail. While they are not resizable — and some are pretty large so that you can have a maximum number of two on a home screen, if you select these — you can easily find a winning combination according to your usage.
You can add shortcuts to any application on your phone for quick access and the home screens are pretty flexible in terms of the grid used to arrange/align the shortcuts. Each home screen can hold up a maximum number of 24 shortcuts if one decides to go with an icon-only look.
The application tray displays either a grid or a list view of icons which can be arranged alphabetically or manually, according to your needs. There is also a search option to quickly find an application, not that you will have problems scrolling up and down: kinetic scrolling is buttery smooth and this is another example of the dedicated GPU at work.
Pulling from down from the top of the screen brings up the notification tray which features accessible toggles for mobile data, WiFi, Bluetooth and Silent mode, as well as notifications for missed calls and texts in addition to activities (like the mobile network and hotspot you are connected to or the music player if it is active).
The Nokia 808 PureView with Nokia Belle comes with almost everything you need, out of the box, to get you started. The e-mail application comes with full Microsoft Exchange support as well as easy to setup common accounts like Windows Live, Yahoo or Gmail. You can, of course, choose what information to sync (Email, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks) and the polling interval for either push e-mail or scheduled retrieval in order to save battery life.
The calendar is packed with functionality that you’d normally expect. While we’re missing the week view, Nokia decided to go with either month, day, agenda or to-do views.
Since we’re still talking Exchange support, there is a full suite of Microsoft Office Mobile on the Nokia 808 PureView, with Excel, PowerPoint, Word and One Note, testifying to the strong relationship between the two companies; there are also collaboration tools like SharePoint and Microsoft Lync so you should be well covered from this perspective.
As with the case of any Nokia product recently, you will have full maps and offline voice guided navigation on your phone to find your way. GPS works surprisingly good on the 808 PureView with fast locks and accurate position reporting and if you live in a region supported you will also benefit from the Public Transport application which guides you through major cities, where available.
Our biggest annoyance with the 808 PureView was the Internet browser: it is slow and unresponsive at the beginning. Once pages are loaded, it is still far from the buttery smoothness you experience while in the Gallery or manipulating photos. While it is definitely usable, if you have patience, you will find yourself crying if you come from a high-end Android phone, iPhone or Windows Phone. You can of course download and use a third party web browser, like Opera, which will improve the situation a bit.
In this category we can include applications bundled like Adobe Reader, Quickoffice, YouTube (which is really a shortcut to the mobile site), CNN International, JoikuSpot (for WiFi hotspot), National Geographic, and a couple of games to kill some of your free time.
The Nokia Store is where you can go online and download/purchase applications from a modest catalogue of titles. Due to our current location, many of the popular applications (like Skype or Spotify) were not available even after creating a totally new Nokia account (having difficulties adding credit cards to our existing one).
There is a DLNA application for streaming media from your phone to a supported device over WiFi as well as a Big Screen application that mirrors your device once connected to an external display via HDMI.
City guides will be useful for constant travelers, while the File explorer allows all basic file operations on the phone.
This is a tricky one! If the 1,400mAh battery on the 808 PureView only lasted half a day in our first two days of usage. After the novelty of the camera faded away, it settled in at around a full day worth of juice. Of course, this is a phone with an exceptional camera so you will find yourself shooting photographs of almost everything. Be careful: the camera will kill your battery quickly and if you also happen to use the Xenon flash, it will drain in no-time.
However, chances are that you will not take a hundred pictures every day; as we mentioned, once the novelty fades away and you get back to your normal, day-to-day usage — which in our case was 10-15 e-mails, 15 minutes of browsing, 15 minutes of voice calls, 20-25 pictures, 20-25 minutes of social networking — you should be set for a full day, even one and a half.
The camera on the 808 PureView is, without a doubt, its main feature and selling point. The 41-megapixel sensor would be a gimmick for most out there if it weren’t for the PureView Technology to cleverly use up those huge amounts of pixels.
The PureView Technology
There are two main features of PureView: image quality and lossless zoom.
In terms of image quality, you can take either eight-, five-, or three-megapixel images employing the PureView Technology. We will only use eight-megapixel examples below but the principle applies the same way to five- or two-megapixel photos.
Nokia is using something called “pixel oversampling” which could be misleading, because oversampling in this case doesn’t refer to inflating pixels but creating a so-called “super-pixel”. In case of eight-megapixel images, there’s a ratio of 5 to 1 in creating images (from full size to eight). This picture oversampling combines multiple pixels into a single pixel. The amount of pixels combined depends on the resolution of your final image: eight megapixel images contain super-pixels combined of less pixels than three-megapixel pictures.
To use Nokia’s own description, “you keep virtually all the detail, but filter away visual noise from the image. The speckled, grainy look you tend to get in low-lighting conditions is greatly reduced”.
As far as lossless zoom is concerned, the 808 PureView is not employing any optical zooming and no digital zooming either (which means no pixelation). But how does it zoom then? Whenever you zoom into a portion of the screen, the amount of pixels required to create super-pixels is reduced (to zero when reaching maximum zoom).
To put this in a simple context, when you reach the maximum zoom available according to the final image size (eight-, five-, three-megapixels only, zooming is disabled in full-resolution mode) you will basically get a 1:1 crop of the image sensor. At maximum zoom, you will see exactly the image captured by the sensor, with no modifications. Nokia adds: “because only the centre of the optics are used where there is less diffraction, you get better optical performance — including low distortion, no vignetting, and high levels of resolved detail”.
This exact procedure is applied when recording videos. 1080p videos will benefit from 4x lossless zoom by cropping towards 1:1, and 720p videos can zoom to 6x, all in a lossless way.
Camera Application, Modes, Options
There are three shooting modes for photography: Automatic, Scenes and Creative. Common to all modes is the zoom option: you can slide your finger on the screen (or use the volume buttons) to activate lossless zoom, which, depending on the target file size in megapixels, can vary from one dimension to the other.
The Automatic mode will suit everyone’s needs; its main goal is to quickly produce great images in a way which doesn’t require the user to change the settings. In this mode the only thing you can set is Flash on, off, automatic and red-eye removal (which fires short flashes before the main flash so that the subject’s retina adjusts and avoids red-eye effect).
The Scenes mode is an intermediate mode where the user can select to take a photograph in one of the following presets: landscape, automatic, close-up, sports, night, night portrait, spotlight, and snow. Each of these modes are pretty self explanatory and again, the only settings you can change are those referring to the flash.
The Creative mode is where all the magic happens; this is destined for those who want to have more control (the maximum amount of control allowed by the system) over the settings used to capture the image. There are three custom Creative modes you can set and the application remembers their settings (which are common to all modes but can be individually set-up).
In Creative mode you can select the sensor mode: PureView (for eight-, five-, and three-megapixel oversampled images) or Full resolution to use all the pixels available without oversampling (useful if you want to edit your pictures on a computer — think of it as a RAW mode, even though the 808 PureView doesn’t support RAW files.)
You can also select the aspect ratio of your images: 4:3 or 16:9. Creative mode is the only mode which allows this, Automatic and Scenes will automatically generate 16:9 photographs.
JPEG quality is also something which can be selected in this mode. Available options are Normal and Superfine. If you intend to shoot many Full resolution images in Superfine mode, we advise you to install a microSD card as those files can be as huge as 10-15MB, depending on the scene captured.
Next up is color tones: you have the option to select Normal, Vivid (for color boosted stills), Sepia and Black & white, which are pretty self explanatory.
Capture mode is especially useful for those who want to grab time lapses or stop motions as well as tweak exposures. You can select Bracketing to shoot a number of three or five photographs at different exposure settings and you can go for Interval mode to capture a minimum of two and a maximum of 1,500 stills at intervals varying from 5 seconds to 30 minutes.
Last, but not least, there are you usual Self timer mode settings for delayed shutter release: 2, 10 and 30 seconds.
The bottom part of the user interface allows you to tweak Saturation, Contrast, and Sharpness so that you can fully unleash your creativity.
Creative mode allows you to tweak shooting settings, aside from flash on, off, red-eye or automatic. Long tapping on the viewfinder allows you to choose your focus mode from the very beginning: close-up, hyperfocal, infinity and automatic. You can then set your level of exposure compensation accompanied by a neat live histogram, adjust white balance (auto, sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent), and manually choose the ISO (from 50 all the way up to 1600).
The Nokia 808 PureView comes with an ND (neutral density) filter. Think of it as sunglasses for your lens; it reduces the amount of light that reaches the sensor and you have the option of turning it on, off or setting it to automatic. You can really play with the ND filter and ISO modes in order to tweak exposure times/shutter speed (in case of long exposure for blurred images or night shots, shutter speed (which you can’t manually set) can go as high as almost three seconds). With the ND filter you can also capture those effects which make your photos stand out, like blurring the movement of water flow.
As far as video recording is concerned, you have the same options for Automatic, Scenes and Creative modes. Scenes are limited to Low light, Automatic, Sports, Spotlight, and Snow but the should be useful for any situation you might encounter.
Creative mode, as with stills, allows three presets. You can choose between Full HD (1080p), 720p and 360p resolutions, 30fps, 25fps, 24fps, and 15fps frame rates aside from the aforementioned color settings and options for saturation, contrast and sharpness.
General camera preferences include the ability of displaying or hiding the viewfinder grid, turning video stabilization on or off, firing or disabling the focus assist lamp (the LED flash) and the ability to enable or disable capturing when phone is locked (waking the device up with the camera button).
Camera samples: stills and video
For a demonstration of lossless zoom and focus modes while capturing stills, check out this post!
For a four-way comparison between the Nokia 808 PureView, Apple iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X, check out this post!
The Nokia 808 PureView is not available through carriers unfortunately in the States which means that if you want to grab one you will have to pay the full, unsubsidized price. You can find the phone listed at Amazon as well as retailers like Negri Electronics where it goes for anywhere between $665 and $749.
If you live in Europe, make sure to check out your national Nokia (or carriers’) webpage to find out about prices and availability.
There are three color options available: black, red and white, all of them made out of the same polycarbonate material.
- + Stellar camera performance
- + Excellent build quality
- + Buttery smooth graphics thanks to dedicated GPU
- + Display provides great color saturation, contrast and outdoor visibility
- + FM transmitting option
- + Excellent call quality
- + Great speaker
- + Free Nokia essential software (Maps, Drive, Traffic) with offline maps and voice guided navigation
- - Nokia (ex Symbian) Belle OS
- - Some might find it too bulky
- - Low amount of applications in the Nokia Store
- - Poor browser performance
- - Poor social experience
Nokia can really say that they have accomplished their mission. Espoo said they waited for someone to steal the crown from the Nokia N8 and, after waiting and waiting, they decided to make a product that would allow them to steal it themselves. There is absolutely no doubt that the 808 PureView is the best camera phone money can buy at the moment. But should you buy the 808 PureView or should you go with a dedicated camera?
Surely, the 808 PureView is a smartphone but a “smart camera” description would better suit it (a camera which can make phone calls, send e-mails and run applications). If you are not a power user and your daily usage implies using the phone, sending e-mails, texts, listening to music, snapping pictures and recording videos plus the occasional navigation, this phone is for you.
This phone is also for you if you already have the Nokia N8 and you want to keep it Symbian, while upgrading your hardware. However, if smartphone functionality is more important for you than the camera, you should probably either pass on this one if you are completely uninterested or wait for the PureView technology to come to Windows Phone if the platform is the only thing that holds you back (however, the 41-megapixel sensor might not make it to other platforms even if the PureView technology will).
If you are a casual photographer, again, this phone is for you, if you always carry your entry-level camera and a phone with you. Professional photographers will not give up their gear for the 808 PureView, and they really shouldn’t.
At the end of the day, the 808 PureView might only be a proof of concept, a pioneer, or a soon to become collector’s item, but Nokia surely managed to step up the game in a serious way!