Back in 2002 Nokia introduced the world to the notion of the cameraphone with the launch of the Nokia 7650. That handset had a mere 0.3-Megapixel sensor, capable of handling snaps of a resolution up to 640 x 480 pixels.
Since then Nokia has pretty much led the way with cameraphone innovation, from the likes of the Nokia N93 and its full focal zoom, to the introduction of Xenon Flash on the Nokia N86, right up to the Nokia N8, which since its launch in 2010 has pretty much been the cameraphone of choice.
However, all that pretty much pales into insignificance with the arrival of the Nokia 808 PureView and its 41-Megapixel sensor – not so much a step forward but a giant leap, both in terms of innovation and application.
PureView is a Nokia developed technology that has been in development for five years and pretty much turns the notion of how we take photos on its head. We’ll look at the camera more later in this review, but it’s worth mentioning that by adding a larger sensor you don’t necessarily take larger photos, as PureView uses over-sampling to produce stunning standard sized images.
In terms of design, the Nokia 808 PureView doesn’t particularly stand out when looked at face on. It’s clearly a Nokia phone, thanks to its it’s curved edges and standard layout. It’s an understated and simple look, with screenlock, camera and volume controls on the side and a thin strip supporting menu and phone functions sitting below the 4-inch screen.
The main body of the Nokia 808 PureView is made from tough plastic and unlike the Nokia N8, which used a unibody design, Nokia has reverted to an older design with the SIM card and MicroSD card slots sitting under the battery. This phone is the first Symbian device to support Micro SIM cards, so if you’re upgrading you’ll either need to contact your service provider for a new SIM or trim your current SIM card down.
The problems begin when you turn the phone over, as the sensor housing is huge. Weighing in at 169g, this is a heavy phone to be carrying around every day. What’s more, it’s also top heavy, so you will find yourself having to hold it in a very specific way. In its favour, this extra weight does give the phone a nice feel and balance when using it as a camera.
On the top of the phone there is a standard 3.5mm audio jack, Micro USB port for charging and synchronising with your computer, as well as a Micro HDMI port. The latter connection comes with a rubber cover, which seems a rather odd decision, since the others don’t.
The 4-inch AMOLED touchscreen display is made from Gorilla Glass, so is tough enough to stand up to being treating roughly without it getting scratched. Nokia has also used its ClearBlack technology on this screen, which is a two-layer filter that allows you to read the screen in all but the brightest of sunlight with ease.
Images look sharp and bright and there is no denying this is a great screen to use, both as a viewfinder for the camera and for every day use. If you’re accustomed to higher resolution displays you will be frustrated, however, as it sports the same 640 x 360 pixel resolution as found on the Nokia N8.
Clearly, the key selling point of the Nokia 808 PureView is its camera, which packs a 41-Megapixel sensor and the most powerful Xenon Flash found on a mobile phone to date. PureView is a brand new technology that works on two basic principles. The first is a lossless digital zoom, which lets you zoom in on your subject without losing any image quality.
However, the main breakthrough with PureView is the use of pixel over-sampling. The 41-Megapixel sensor is used to make up a perfect 8, 5 or 3-Megapixel final image. For every pixel making up your chosen image PureView uses seven pixels, cutting out all the superfluous noise and leaving you with a perfect image every time.
The 41-Megapixel sensor may grab all the headlines but Nokia has made sure to support this with a great array of features. With Carl Zeiss optics in place, along with the Xenon Flash you’ll be able to use the camera anywhere and any time. The use of over-sampling means that all the noise usually associated with taking photos in less than perfect lighting conditions is done away with, leaving images that are compelling and finely detailed.
It would be easy to get wrapped up in all the hype around the technology with PureView but in reality it more than lives up to expectations. We found that in all lighting conditions, both indoors and outdoors, it takes amazing photographs. Colours are strong and as you’d expect the attention to fine detail is top-notch.
The Xenon Flash truly comes into its own when you’re trying to take snaps in very poor light, such as on a night out or even in just a poorly lit room. We found that images gave pretty much the same level of detail as though they were taken in sharper lighting.
One glance at the PureView interface and it’s clear it’s been built with the experienced user in mind, as it allows you to fine-tune the settings to your hearts content. However, even the most inexperienced of users will quickly be able to get great results. It’s not all great news, however, as with so much processing power required there are visible delays between taking an image and the camera being ready for the next shot.
Another potential problem with PureView is that it only works with the Symbian OS, a platform Nokia itself has stated has reached the end of its useful life. The company has promised that Lumia Windows Phone PureView handsets are on the way, but has yet to announce anything official.
If you’re a current Symbian user (there are still millions out there) and are happy to carry on being so, then you’ll find plenty to like with the Nokia 808 PureView. Running the new Nokia Belle Feature Pack 1, it comes with a host of software updates that improve the overall performance of the phone, as well as improve memory management and general graphics performance.
The result is a boost in overall speed and usability. You can scroll and move across the phone’s six homescreens a lot faster and smoother than previously possible, and apps load far more quickly.
There are also new features that improve usability, such as support for more widgets, so you don’t need to root around for your most commonly used apps. Then there are new technologies, such as Dolby Headphone and Dolby Digital Plus, which is great news for those using headphones, as the overall audio performance sounds amazing.
Nokia Web Browser 8.2 is another new addition and comes with a re-worked interface which offers support for HTML 5 websites. We found the browser is an improvement and works well but still shows sign of lag when logging on and browsing.
However, the Symbian platform is still unlikely to win over current iOS, Android and Windows Phone users, as the interface is rather dated. Anyone accustomed to the ease with which you can set up and use other platforms will find Symbian a struggle to get the best from.
When it comes to other features, the Nokia 808 PureView serves up the standard array with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS all present and correct. NFC is also present and while we’re still waiting for mass adoption of this technology for swipe payments from your phone, you can always use it with a growing range of accessories and share your details, or play games, with other NFC enabled devices.
Powered by a 1.3GHz single-core processor, you’ll find the phone handles the Symbian OS with a decent turn of speed. That said, even with Nokia Belle Feature Pack 1 running on the Nokia 808 PureView, you’ll still find yourself fighting the operating system to get the best out of it. However, with 16GB of internal memory and support for an extra 32GB via the MicroSD slot, storage on this phone isn’t an issue.
We’ve also been pleasantly surprised with the battery life of the Nokia 808 PureView, with a single charge lasting us close to three days, even with heavy usage both as camera and a smartphone. Everyday functionality isn’t ignored either, as we’ve found call quality to be clear and loud. The speaker is a good size and the microphone picks up speech well.
At the time of writing, the Nokia 808 PureView is only available SIM free and isn’t being offered on contract by UK operators. With a price just shy of £500, it’s not a cheap investment but one that is well worth paying if you’re after the best cameraphone experience in the world.
There is no denying the photographic prowess of the Nokia 808 PureView and anyone looking for the ultimate cameraphone will be blown away with the results. That said, the operating system won’t win Android or iPhone users over and with even Symbian fans knowing time is running short on the platform, this phone could have a very short lifespan, making it a beautiful and feature-packed phone that is unfortunately almost certainly destined to fail.