The old Nokia Lumia 1020 from 2013 was one of my favorite smartphones ever, mainly because of the 40mp camera. 6 years later, Nokia is back from the ashes of the Microsoft buy-out that fired everyone and today we have a new Nokia 7.2 Android phone with a 48 megapixel camera!  What’s more is that the Nokia 7.2 has a fairly mid-range affordable price.

Specs

As a midrange Android phone, the Nokia 7.2 has a Qualcomm SDM660 Snapdragon 660 Octa-core processor with Adreno 512 GPU. For storage and RAM options you can choose from: 64GB 4GB RAM, 64GB 6GB RAM, or 128GB 6GB RAM.  The display is an average 6.3″ 1080×2280 pixel IPS LCD touchscreen with Gorilla Glass 3. We’ve also got WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, A-GPS, NFC, FM Radio, and USB 2.0 Type-C.  There’s a fingerprint scanner on the back and a non-removable 3500 mAh battery powers it all.

Hardware and Design

The back of the phone is plain flat plastic other than the protruding Oreo cookie circular camera bump.  You’ll also see an indented circle below that where the fingerprint scanner resides. You can simply touch the fingerprint scanner to turn on and unlock the phone and it supports the swipe down gesture for showing the notifications tray. The plastic feels kind of like the Nokia Lumia 920 from 2012 and that’s a good thing.

The Nokia logo looks great here and there’s a subtle kind of ripple effect to the back which bends the light every so slightly.

You’ll also see a faint “Android One” logo along with some legal info.

On the top edge, we’ve thankfully got a 3.5mm headset jack and the phone does come with some wired headphones in the box, so that’s great!  The wired headphones act as an antenna for the FM radio as well, so you’ll want those for local radio stations.

The bottom edge shows the speaker grill, the USB-C data transfer and charging port, as well as a microphone hole.  The plastic edges here are nicely thick enough to get a good grip. The texture reduces friction as well, so this is actually a bit nicer to hold compared to some of the phones with ice-skate-thin slippery edges.

The left edge houses the power button and volume control. These buttons feel quite sturdy… more-so than some more-expensive phones.  Also, the power button has an LED light inside to indicate when it’s charging.

The left edge of the phone has another special button for quickly activating the Google Assistant as well as the SIM/MicroSD card slot tray. 

The Google Assistant button is great for quickly accessing voice commands while on the go. No need to fumble with touch screen controls anymore!

The SIM card tray is a very long one and it has to be in order to accommodate a MicroSD card for more storage space along with two Nano-SIM cards for multiple phone account activations.

Software

The Nokia 7.2 ships with the “Android One” flavor of Android 9.0.  This is a version of Android made by Google that is meant to work well on low-end hardware and promises updates for 2-3 years. It cannot be customized by the phone manufacturer and only runs on certain devices. According to the Android One website, it’s supposed to be easy to use, but that’s not true at all.

The Android 9 version of Android One is very dependent on non-discover-able touch gestures centered around a “sausage weiner” icon at the bottom center.  This is where the home icon normally should be and tapping the sausage will get you to the home screen, unless you’re on the home screen and then it does nothing.  Swiping the sausage to the right lets you scroll between open applications, but it doesn’t scroll in a natural way. A good way to do this would have been to allow the entire length from center to right edge to scroll through the entire back-stack of open applications so that the user could easily flip between the first and last open app with one movement, stopping anywhere in between to activate the selected app.  That would have been a great way to do this. That’s not how it works though. You swipe all the way to the right edge and then it will periodically flip to the next app.  It’s excruciatingly frustrating to control. Swiping the sausage upwards just a little bit reveals a multi-tasking interface where you can much more easily swipe between open applications.

But wait, if you swipe up on the little sausage a little more, then a huge grid of application icons files the screen.  None of this is intuitive or discoverable, of course. The back button is no longer a left-pointing triangle like Android users are used to.  It’s just a tiny thin little “less than” symbol now. Worst of all, there’s still no way to show the notifications tray without doing some awkward hand acrobatics to swipe the top edge of the screen.  That’s probably the most-poorly-designed interaction method for a smartphone who’s screen is larger than 3.8″. Although, you can access the notifications try with a swipe of the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone in the case of the Nokia 7.2. Beyond the poorly designed launcher in Android One, there’s really practically nothing that Nokia can add. All of the default programs are Google-made. There is a Nokia support app though, and of course the camera software is custom made to work with all of the cameras on the device.

Cameras

For many people, the camera is one of the most important parts of a phone, and the 48 megapixel spec listing for the Nokia 7.2 had me really excited!  I was especially looking forward to using it with the Zeiss lenses like the Nokia Lumia 1020 had so many years ago because the Leica lenses in the high end Huawei phones we have today really aren’t good enough for me.

First of all, the camera software nicely brings back the rotational dial controls that first appeared on Nokia Lumia phones many years ago. It also nicely supports RAW output in the two rear cameras as well as the front camera, but not the time-of-flight sensor.  And worse, you can’t use the time of flight sensor when RAW mode is on, so you’ll have to choose one or the other.

Unfortunately, it turns out that while technically the main camera sensor does have 48 megapixels, it only actually creates 12 megapixels of image data.  It uses pixel binning where 4 pixels on the sensor are averaged into 1 pixel that gets output. Furthermore this is done within the sensor hardware so the software really only gets 12 megapixels of data.  We can tell because the camera software also allows for RAW output and even if the settings are set to 48Mp, you only get a 12Mp RAW file. This happens when using other camera apps that connect to the sensor using Android’s Camera2 API as well.

What’s even stranger, is that if you have RAW mode on and set the rear camera to 48Mp resolution, the software upsamples the 12 megapixel image generated from the camera to a 48Mp JPG file.  Up-sampling is a method of adding pixels to an image without having any more data about it, so it’s just a software algorythm that’s guessing what the extra pixels might look like.  So we don’t get any actual extra detail in these 48Mp JPGs, and you can tell when you look at them that they’ve been heavily processed.

The front-facing camera is specified at 20Mp, but it does the same thing and only actually gives you 5Mp of data from the camera.  Again, we can see this in the RAW DNG files as collected through the Android Camera2 API. The wide-angle 8Mp camera does not use pixel binning so that one does output the same 8Mp resolution image that you would expect.

48Mp Rear camera

Here’s a 100% view of how the 48 megapixel JPG looks. Its image quality is pretty terrible! It looks like a lot of processing and filtering was applied to this image.

The RAW DNG version of that photo is much cleaner and sharper, but it only has 12 megapixels of data. Still, this is the file you’re going to want to use for actual photos because it’s much more flexible when it comes to adjusting the white balance, pushing the dynamic range, and all sorts of other edits.

As mentioned, when turning on depth mode, you can’t use RAW image data, so you’re stuck with however the camera software wants to process things. The 5Mp time of flight camera is able to separate the subject, but it does not do it very well.  You can see in the above photo that the hair around the neck is not filtered properly. But to be fair, none of the fake background blur filter effects on any of the phones out there are any good, so maybe this is just another check box feature.

In the above you’ll see 100% crops of similar RAW DNG photos from the Nokia 7.2 and the Nokia 9. Both of these cameras make 12 megapixel photos but they do so in very different ways. The Nokia 7.2, converts 48 megapixels into 12 within a single sensor by averaging every 4 pixels. The Nokia 9 PureView on the right takes 5 different 12Mp photos from 5 cameras and then combines those into a single image.

As you can see, it looks like the Nokia 9 has captured a much cleaner image with very little noise, however it does not seem to capture as much detail as the Nokia 7.2 RAW image. The Nokia 7.2 shows much more definition in the eyelashes, but, of course, it has the drawback of much more noise. Although, the noise does look natural, like film grain, so I kind of like that.

Another thing to consider is that the Nokia 7.2 doesn’t take nearly as long to process each frame as the Nokia 9 does. With the Nokia 7.2, I don’t really have to worry about it overheating while trying to merge 5 images with every shot like the Nokia 9 does.

In the above 100% crop comparison, we’re looking at a Nokia 7.2 RAW DNG image on the left and a Huawei Mate 20 Pro 40 megapixel RAW DNG image on the right. Huawei’s 40Mp camera actually outputs 40Mp RAW DNG files, so clearly we’re getting a lot more detail in those photos. On the other hand, Huawei’s Leica lenses have a lot of fall off on the corners and don’t resolve details as well as some of Nokia’s Zeiss lenses.

Now, in the above 100% crops, you’ll see the 48Mp JPG from the Nokia 7.2 compared to a 40Mp RAW image from the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. The 48Mp JPG from the Nokia 7.2 looks terrible. It certainly does not have as much detail as the 40Mp Huawei Mate 20 Pro photo and there are a lot of upsampling artifacts. It’s not worth bothering with the 48Mp JPG mode on the Nokia 7.2.

Below is a gallery of software-processed JPG samples from the 48Mp rear camera.

8Mp Rear wide angle camera

I love having a wide angle 16mm equivalent lens camera option on smartphones. I don’t know how we lived with only one focal length in the old days. The image quality on the Nokia 7.2’s wide angle camera isn’t that great though. There are some chromatic aberrations in the corners and overall softness all around. Still it’s nice to have.

20Mp Front camera

While the front facing camera still has the 4 to 1 pixel binning issue that really generates only a 5Mp photo, the pixel binning ensures that it’s a pretty good 5Mp photo. Unfortunately, the JPG processing for the front facing camera isn’t great… it tends to show photos as a bit over exposed and desaturated. However, if you shoot them in RAW format, you can edit the DNG files afterwards and get a much better exposure with a nicer dynamic range.

You can see a few front facing camera samples below.

Battery

The 3500 mAh battery isn’t particularly impressive. It’s really meant to give you average day-long battery life, and it will hand a day just fine. It won’t handle 6 days like the Moto G7 Power or 2.5 days like some of the more expensive phones, but it’s fine for what it is. The battery is unfortunately not user-replaceable and there is no wireless charging, so if you’re going away for a weekend, you’ll want to bring the USB-C charger.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • 48Mp main camera
  • 8Mp wide angle camera
  • 20Mp front facing camera
  • Capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back
  • Dedicated Google Assistant button

Cons

  • Price is a little high
  • 48Mp camera doesn’t give you 48Mp RAW images
  • Software upsamples camera data from a downsampled pixel-bin version
  • Average battery life

Conclusion

While I was disappointed that the 48Mp camera wasn’t really giving me 48Mp worth of data and the 48Mp JPG image is just a junky software upsampling of the 12Mp it gets from the sensor… if you look at the Nokia 7.2’s main camera as a 12MP camera, it’s actually really good. It’s nowhere near the image quality of an old Nokia 808 PureView or the Nokia Lumia 1020 PureView, and it doesn’t stack up at all against Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro, Mate 20 Pro, P30 Pro, or P20 Pro… but some of those phones cost 4 times more than the Nokia 7.2. For the $349 price range, the Nokia 7.2 is a pretty good deal.

I’m also very happy with the 20Mp pixel-binned front facing camera, though the wide-angle camera on the back is pretty disappointing. The time-of-flight camera is kind of a waste of space in my opinion, since it doesn’t allow for accurate background filtering.

As a normal Android smartphone, it’s absolutely acceptable in this price range. The capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back works better than Face ID and in-screen fingerprint scanners. The battery life is average. The performance is tolerable. However, the Nokia 7.2 would be a really good buy if it was closer to the $250 price range as opposed to $350.

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