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Nokia 808 PureView review: tomorrow's imaging technology in yesterday's smartphone


Review by Dan Seifert on Wednesday July 04, 2012.

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Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

Hardware hardware: 3 of 5 score

The Nokia 808 PureView is a rather uninspiring looking device. It is classic Nokia: well built, solid plastics, and comfortable to hold. But compared to today's modern smartphones, the 808 PureView is pretty clunky. It's heavy and thick at 169g (5.96oz) and 13.7mm (0.54in), which is necessary to accommodate the very large 41 megapixel camera sensor and Carl Zeiss lens located on the back of the device. Nokia judiciously used tapers and beveled edges around the 808 PureView to minimize its girth and make it feel thinner than it actually is, but it is hard to get around the fact that it's a pretty chunky phone. If there is one thing to say about the 808, it certainly feels solid.

The front of the phone features a 4-inch, ClearBlack AMOLED display. The smallish display (for today's standards) features a very low nHD (360 x 640 pixel) resolution, which results in grainy images and lots of visible pixels when reading text. The screen is bright, though, and offers punchy colors and wide viewing angles. It is also very easy to see when used in direct sunlight.

Below the display is a single-piece button that acts as send, end, and home depending on where you press on it. I am not normally a fan of these types of single-piece buttons, but in this case it works well and I didn't have any issues using it on the 808 PureView. The button is backlit, though the light could be a bit brighter. The end key also doubles as a power key when it is held down for a few seconds.

Above the screen you will find the earpiece, light sensors, and a VGA-resolution front camera that is not accessible within the camera app, relegating it to video calling duties only.

The right side of the 808 PureView sports a dual-stage camera key, Nokia's unique sliding unlock switch (which I would love to see come to other devices), and a volume rocker. All of the buttons are very well made and have great feedback. On my white review unit, the camera key and volume rocker are finished in a black chrome that contrasts nicely with the matte white finish of the phone.

The bottom of the phone features a lanyard loop (the 808 PureView comes with a lanyard wrist strap in the box, though you are certainly welcome to adorn it with your own charms should you wish to do so) and a microphone, but not much else. The left side of the phone is equally as barren. Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

Up top is a covered micro-HDMI port, a microUSB port for charging and syncing, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Oddly enough, the 808 PureView is only compatible with the wired headset included in the box, so if you want to use your own headset or lose the included one, you are out of luck. There is also a secondary microphone on top of the 808 for noise cancellation and stereo sound recording.

The back of the phone is where things get more interesting, as that is where the camera is housed. The camera itself is joined by both an LED light and xenon flash unit, and its housing is also home to the 808's external speaker. The back panel is removable and provides access to the 1400mAh battery and microSD and micro-SIM slots located under the battery. The battery door itself features an integrated Near Field Communications (NFC(INFO)) antenna, and a useful ridge on the outside that makes it much easier to hold the phone with one hand while taking a picture.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

Usability usability: 2 of 5 score

The Nokia 808 PureView is powered by a 1.3GHz single-core processor and 512MB of RAM - the most potent processor that the company has ever put into a Symbian-powered smartphone. Unfortunately, by today's standards it is not all that impressive, and it doesn't do enough to make up for Symbian's performance issues and dated feature set.

The version of Symbian found on the 808 PureView is called Nokia Belle, and it is the latest iteration of the decade-old platform. From the outside, it looks very similar to Android, as it sports five homescreens with customizable widgets and app shortcuts. It even has a pull-down notification tray that looks like it was lifted right from Android. But, that's pretty much where the similarities end, as Symbian is no where near as easy to use or intuitive as Android - much less Apple's iOS.

Though the 808 PureView has a capacitive touchscreen, the system does not respond well to touch inputs and can be frustratingly laggy-feeling as a result. Symbian is laden with menus after menus for options, which worked for smartphones five years ago, but feels terribly dated and clunky compared to today's platforms. Apps also take a long time to open, and actions like installing new apps can take what feels like an eternity (and even require a reboot at times).

The on-screen virtual keyboard offered by Belle appears to be large enough thanks to the PureView's 4-inch display, but the system's poor touch response and weak auto-correction (which is disabled by default) makes entering text a chore. The iPhone and many Android and Windows Phone smartphones have shown that a virtual keyboard can be very good even on a smaller display, but that is not the case with the 808 PureView.

Calling / Data calling: 3 of 5 score

The Nokia 808 PureView is sold unlocked here in the U.S. and sports a pentaband (850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz) cellular radio, which means that it can be used on either AT&T or T-Mobile's 3G networks. The 808 does feature HSPA+ data, but only of the Cat 10 (14.4Mbps) variety, so it doesn't support either carrier's 4G services. That's a bit of a disappointment for a $700 phone. Reception on the 808 PureView was comparable to other smartphones that I have tested recently (I used it with an AT&T SIM).

Calls on the 808 PureView were clear, though they weren't exactly stunning. Likewise, in speakerphone, the external speaker resisted distortion at full volume, but it didn't get exceptionally loud either.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

Messaging messaging: 3 of 5 score

The Nokia 808 PureView features a threaded messaging app that supports both SMS and MMS messages. It is pretty typical fare for a smartphone today, and doesn't really offer anything out of the ordinary. Messages are searchable, which is a nice feature when you are looking for a particular message among hundreds or thousands.

The email client on the 808 PureView supports IMAP, POP3, and Microsoft Exchange accounts. It also has an optional home screen widget. Beyond that, the mail app isn't that impressive. It lacks conversation threading, and though it supports HTML-formatted messages, zooming and panning around within a message is pretty slow and cumbersome. It also had some syncing issues with the Gmail account that I was testing with it.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

Apps / App Store apps: 2 of 5 score

There is a plethora of included apps on the 808 PureView, ranging in everything from document editors to maps to various games. Oddly enough, the 808 includes both QuickOffice and Microsoft Office for document work, and unfortunately, of the four games that are included, all of them are merely demos with only a few levels available.

Once you get past the included apps, there isn't much else available in the way of apps for Symbian. The 808 PureView includes access to the Nokia Store, but I found it to be lacking when looking for various app titles. If you are looking for Instagram, Words With Friends, Draw Something, or other popular mobile apps, chances are you won't find them in the Nokia Store.

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About the author

Dan Seifert
Dan is MobileBurn.com's Editor-in-Chief. Based in Poughkeepsie in New York, Dan can be found on Twitter as @DCSeifert.

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