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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

Browser browser: 1 of 5 score

The Nokia 808 PureView comes with a WebKit browser with support for multiple windows. That's about where the positives end. The browser is very slow compared to modern browsers on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, or even BlackBerry, and scrolling and zooming are nothing but frustrating and slow. I also had the browser crash on numerous occasions while trying to load a website that other browsers have no trouble with. The 808's low-resolution display does not help matters at all, as it is nearly impossible to read any text on a web site without zooming in significantly. The browser would have offered a passable experience in 2005, but here in 2012, it is just a waste of time.

Camera camera: 5 of 5 score

Now that we have pointed out the Nokia 808 PureView's various hardware and software faults, let's get into what really matters with this smartphone: the camera. To put it bluntly, prepare to forget everything you have ever learned about mobile phone cameras.

The PureView features an all new 41 megapixel camera with 26mm equivalent f/2.6 Carl Zeiss lens. Nokia claims that it has been working on the technology in the PureView's camera for the better part of five years, and the resulting images reflect that.

The camera features two shooting modes: full resolution (38 or 34 megapixel images depending on 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio), or the PureView mode, which can be set to 8, 5, or 3 megapixels. The full resolution mode is pretty stunning, and the 808 can capture immense levels of detail never before seen from other smartphones. It works best when you have enough light however, as in low light it can get fairly noisy. But, compared to other smartphones' 8 megapixel images, the 808's full resolution mode offers comparable color and noise control, while providing much more detail when cropped.

As impressive as the full resolution mode is, the PureView mode is really where the 808 takes a major step in imaging technology. Nokia says that it expects most users to utilize the 5 or 8 megapixel settings on the PureView, and I spent the majority of my time in the 5 megapixel mode, since that is more than enough resolution for a smartphone camera. Though the output of the image is a down-sampled resolution in the PureView mode, the camera captures all of the detail each time, and then combines the data from various pixels into one "super pixel." In the 5 megapixel setting, each outputted pixel has the data from seven surrounding pixels. This gives the camera much better light sensitivity and produces much more natural-looking images than we have ever seen from a mobile phone. Noise, grain, pixellation - all of these things disappear when you are using the PureView mode on the 808.

In addition to the incredible image quality, the PureView mode on the camera also lets you losslessly zoom in on your subject before capturing the image. Unlike traditional digital zoom, which results in a much lower resolution image, the 808's lossless zoom preserves image resolution while letting you get significantly closer to your subject. The trade off is that you lose some of the exceptional low-light capabilities of the PureView mode when you use the zoom feature. Zooming can be controlled by the volume keys, pinching-in on the display, or by just sliding your finger up and down on the screen, which I found to be the most natural method.

Thanks to the 808's proper xenon flash, flash photographs taken with the 808 are much more in line with what you would expect from a compact camera than a mobile phone. I am still not a fan of flash photography with a small camera, but in a pinch, the 808's flash can do the job as a fill light or to illuminate a subject in very dark situation. The LED light next to the flash is used for autofocus assist, which is enabled by default, and as a video light. I found the autofocus assist to be very aggressive and irritating to living subjects like people or pets, so I quickly disabled it.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

On the video front, the 808 PureView sports the same technology that makes its still images so impressive. The max resolution video that the 808 can shoot is 1080p at 30 frames per second, which means that there are 16 pixels of data captured for each pixel that ends up in the final output. Therefore, all of the great benefits of low noise, natural colors, and more that we see in the PureView stills are also present in the video clips. It is possible to zoom while recording, without any loss of detail, of course, and the video camera features continuous autofocus and tap to focus while recording.

Paired with the incredible video recording capabilities is also very impressive audio recording. The PureView features no less than two microphones and records stereo sound along with the video. The company is calling its sound technology Rich Recording, and it can clearly capture sound up to 143 decibels - more than enough to capture live music without distortion. Nokia says that in addition to the higher volumes that can be captured, the 808 can also record a much wider range of audio than other smartphones. I noticed this in the sample video clip I recorded: if you listen closely - and have decent enough speakers - you can hear a new message alert coming from the phone in my pocket around the 0:18 mark (sample video clip is on the following page), which is downright stunning.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

As far as the camera app's actual interface goes, I have little to complain about here. The app can be launched right from the lock screen by holding down the physical shutter key, or it can be opened through the app tray. Unlike many other apps on the 808, the camera app opens quickly, and navigation within the app is quick and responsive. There are various controls for flash, brightness, white balance, and ISO (up to 1600 if you dare), and there is a neat neutral density option that lets you take long exposure shots even in bright light. Experienced photographers can play around with the bracketing and interval modes, while those that just want to point-and-click can opt for the fully automatic and scene modes on tap. The camera features quick tap-to-focus, and switching between still and video modes is fairly fast. It is not possible to snap stills while recording video as on other smartphones, but you can pause your recording and pick up where you left off in the same clip.

Music music: 3 of 5 score

The 808 PureView comes with a pretty standard music player that supports playlists and album art. Unlike phone calls, music played through the external speaker is loud and rich, and sounds quite good. Nokia also equipped the 808 with an FM radio and an FM transmitter - a rarity among smartphones these days.

The 808 comes with a set of stereo earbuds with inline remote and microphone, but it loses major points for being incompatible with third-party headsets. Lose the included ones or wish to use a different headset that you already own? Sorry charlie, you are out of luck. The 808 does support A2DP streaming over Bluetooth, so you can use a wireless headset if you prefer. There is 16GB of on-board storage with the 808 PureView, and those with large music libraries can add more storage through the microSD card slot, which supports cards up to 32GB in capacity.

Nokia also includes its Nokia Music service on the 808, but it depends on where you live for how useful it is. Here in the U.S., for instance, it doesn't work at all.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

Battery battery: 4 of 5 score

The 808 PureView is equipped with a 1400mAh battery. Nokia claims that it should last for 6.5 hours of talk time on 3G networks, or up to 45 days of standby. In my usage, I was easily able to get well over 24 hours of use between charges with the 808, something that cannot be said for many smartphones on the market today.

Reviewer Spin spin: 2 of 5 score

The Nokia 808 PureView is a phone that excites and disappoints all at the same time. Its lackluster hardware, dated and clunky operating system, and lack of available apps make it difficult for anyone but the most die-hard Symbian fans to make it a daily driver. The $700 price tag and lack of support for 4G networks doesn't help there either. But, my oh my is that camera something to behold. To say that it is a breakthrough in imaging technology can only be considered an understatement. Nokia has promised that it will bring the PureView to its Lumia line of Windows Phone smartphones in the future. Unfortunately, the company hasn't said exactly when that will happen. Rest assured, however, once the PureView camera is available on a more modern smartphone, I'll be lined up to buy one. You can order the Nokia 808 PureView from Amazon for $699 now.

Nokia 808 PureView
Nokia 808 PureView

You will find a sample video clip and still images captured with the Nokia 808 PureView on the following page.

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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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