Nokia 808 PureView review

When Nokia first announced the 808 PureView with its extra large sensor, the general consensus was “That’s insane!”. Putting something like that on a smartphone is intended to make a statement, and there’s no mistaking the PureView for what it is from clear across the room.

The question is: does the PureView offer more than just a high megapixel count?

Design and build quality

The top side holds all the I/O ports – micro HDMI, microUSB, and the 3.5mm jack, while the bottom is bare except for the microphone.

The left side is completely bare, while the right side has the volume rocker, wake switch, and 2-phase shutter button.

Credit is due to Nokia for having consistent button layouts on their phones, but in the case of the PureView, both the right and top side feel awfully cluttered. With so much space on the left and bottom, we don’t see why Nokia couldn’t have moved things around a little.

Removing the rear cover grants access to the battery, SIM card slot, and microSD slot. The rear cover itself has a rubbery finish to it, which shrugs off fingerprints while helping you grip the phone securely.

Taking up almost the entire top half of the rear is the massive camera for which the PureView gets its name. It’s so big that when placing the phone on its back, it naturally rests on the camera housing. We can only hope that the scratches that are bound to come don’t affect photos.

On the front is the 4-inch screen with Call, Home, and Dismiss buttons below it.

All this fits in to a rather chunky 123.9mm x 60.2mm x 13.9mm package that weighs a hefty 169g.

Internals and performance

Internally there is nothing spectacular. There’s a 1.3GHz CPU backed by 512MB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, the latter of which is expandable by up to an additional 32GB via microSD.

Connectivity is granted by HSPA (up to 14.4 Mbps down and 5.76 Mbps up), WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 as well as NFC.

Swiping, scrolling, and generally using the PureView was laggy to say the least. I don’t think we had a single interaction with the phone where we didn’t experience some kind of noticeable lag.

Nokia 808 PureView front

Screen and responsiveness

The screen on the PureView is disappointing to say the least.

We’ve had good experiences with Nokia’s ClearBlack displays, which give vibrant colours and deep blacks, and the Pureview is no different in that regard. The Pureview, with a 4-inch, 360×640 resolution screen, is a respectable size, but hardly a respectable resolution. It’s a rather lacklustre showing from Nokia, even when compared to other lower-end smartphones.

The PureView also doesn’t make a particularly good showing in terms of responsiveness. There were far too many cases of slow responses to swipes and sometimes there was just no response at all.

On the upside, it does have Corning’s Gorilla Glass to defend against the potent jabs you’ll be throwing its way when trying to use it.

Sound and call quality

There were no complaints to be had on either side of a call during our tests.

The external speaker was decent, as external speakers go, while the bundled headphones were good, but not great.

Cameras

While most of the Nokia 808 PureView is unimpressive, the same can not be said of its main camera.

The Pureview features an absolutely massive 41MP sensor with a xenon flash. While it is fairly well established that slapping on more pixels doesn’t necessarily mean better image quality, the 41MP of the Pureview allows Nokia to perform pixel oversampling to improve the quality of images. This means that images are 5 or 8MP, and all the extra pixels are used to increase the level of detail.

Nokia 808 PureView sample shot

What this means in userland, is that images are very high quality, with fantastic detail. Colour reproduction is generally good, though it could be considered muted in some instances.

In low light, the PureView performs extremely well, easily outdoing other shooters on other high-end phones. When there’s too little light for even it to handle, the Xenon flash does an excellent job of lighting things up.

There is a front-facing camera for video calling and the like, but beyond that it’s hardly worth a mention. It’s good enough for a video call, but compared to the main shooter (an admittedly unfair comparison), it looks like a toy.

Nokia 808 PureView sample shot

Battery life

In our usual battery test of looping 720p video at 65% brightness, the Pureview managed an admirable 8 hours.

In more regular daily use, we managed to squeeze 3-4 days of medium use out of it, so lighter users could probably get a full work week without too much trouble.

Going crazy with the camera will, however, drain the battery much faster and this is something that snap-happy users should be aware of.

Software

The 808 Pureview comes with Nokia Belle OS. Some of the new main features of Belle is an improved browser, six home screens (up from the previous three), resizable live widgets, a pull down taskbar, and NFC.

NFC hasn’t gained a lot of traction yet, but we’re still hoping that it does.

While we didn’t have another Symbian device around to compare the browser with, it did seem better and slightly more responsive, though it doesn’t compete favourably with the browsers in current headline mobile operating systems. It’s pretty much a useless exercise trying to look around a page before it’s loaded completely, and panning and zooming isn’t quite as smooth as it needs to be.

Having 6 home screens is nifty, but even on Android, I find myself just using 3, with five or six widgets between them.

Which leaves the strangely familiar notification pulldown. We won’t complain about it being pilfered from another OS, as it is one of the best ways to solve a rather challenging problem.

These are welcome updates to an aging OS, but it does nothing to stem our verdict of it being woefully too little, much too late.

Nokia 808 PureView rear

Conclusion

What does this leave us with? A cluttered exterior with underperforming internals; a decidedly lacklustre screen; an outstanding camera that crushes its rivals; great battery life; and a mobile OS that’s hooked up to every piece of life-extending equipment that it can be.

With the 808 PureView, Nokia have shown that they are the king of camera-phones, but they’ve slacked in almost every other aspect. Hopefully they’ll take this technology over to their Windows Phones, to help give them an edge.

The Nokia 808 PureView is most likely the best phone you can find on a camera. However, at a recommended retail price of R7,999, there’s no way that we’d recommend this phone over other similarly priced smartphones.

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Nokia 808 PureView review