Nokia 808 PureView Hands-on Review – Is This The Best Cameraphone Ever?

Nokia-PureView-homescreenBefore I start this review of the Nokia 808 PureView let me point out one thing to all those that have already made their mind up because this handset is running Symbian Belle – The PureView is an innovative handset. Name another cameraphone fitted with such a monster sensor.

The Nokia 808 PureView will never be described as slim but it does feel good in the hand and it also doesn’t feel like it will crumble if treated a little roughly. You go and ask any Nokia purists about Symbian and they will take no time in relating just how it is technically a very powerful and capable OS. Unfortunately, most users are just looking for something which is so intuitive to use that Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android have leapfrogged Symbian.

Then again, would you be buying the PureView more for the camera anyhow? It makes calls and you can send texts and emails as well as browse the interwebs – show me another 41MP camera that can do that 😉


There is no arguing that the Nokia 808 PureView seems to be more of an exercise in function before form as far as its aesthetics go. I feel that the Finns have pretty much just built a phone around the monstrous 41MP PureView sensor, instead of the other way around.

Weighing a chunky 169g, the Nokia 808 PureView can definitely be classed as being solid. The build is robust and sturdy and, with the Gorilla Glass display, this phone is built to last. The 808 may be deep but it’s also narrow so you can still use it single-handed quite comfortably.

If you showed this phone to anyone that wasn’t keeping up with the gadgety news I’ve no doubt that they’d look at it and see the normal soap-bar front with plain plastic function bar (call, end and home key/notification light) and think it was just another affordable Symbian handset.

Looking more closely, however, you notice touches such as the slightly curved edges of the glass which is a neat design element and reminiscent of the Nokia N9. To be honest, I found the design a refreshing change from the flat rectangular smartphones out there.

Nokia also chose to be different with their screen lock slider on the side of the phone instead of a lock button. Holding the slider down will turn on the flash to use it as a torchlight.

Flip the handset over and there’s the money shot! You just can’t miss the huge elliptical metal plate which takes over a quarter of the rear real-estate, and covers the 41MP sensor. You’ll also notice the rare combination of a Xenon flash for still shots, and LED light for focus assist and video illumination. This chunky Finnish phone means business.

When you start taking in to consideration that the sensor is 1/1.2” (the largest in a cameraphone) and its advanced optics you realise that Nokia has, in fact, managed to keep the phone size and weight pretty much in check.

I think that the 808’s hunchbacked form actually helps the phone rest in your hand better and also angles the screen towards you when on a desk or table so it’s better for reading messages or watching videos.

All side buttons – the volume rocker, lock slider and the two-stage shutter key are on the right and made of metal. They are both very easy to find and use. The ports (microUSB, HDMI and audio jack) are all concentrated at the top. The rest of the edges are left barren or uncluttered, depending how you see it.

Nokia has also included NFC tech which supports contactless mobile payments.


Nokia-808-PureView-tripod-viewfinderThe 4-inch 360×640-pixel resolution AMOLED screen was a surprise considering that this phone is built with imaging as its primary focus. This makes for below average 184ppi pixel density.

For me, I would have expected Nokia to have made it possible for you to enjoy your photographic genius in at least 720p.

If you look at other ‘normal’ smartphones such as the Sony Xperia S with its 4.3-inch 720×1280-pixel display and HTC’s One X boasting a 4.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1280×720 pixels it kinda beggers belief that Nok allowed the 808 to fall short.

One upside of the 808’s screen is Nokia’s proprietary ClearBlack display technology which does indeed give good readability under direct sunlight. This also means that you won’t have any problems working the interface or framing your shots even when the sun is shining directly on the display – pretty important for a cameraphone like the 808 PureView.

The AMOLED display does push out the colours but a tad harshly – they are bright but also to the point of being cold.

Interface and Functionality

The 808 PureView runs Symbian Belle which is the latest version of Nokia’s aging operating system which, in recent years, has had a surface makeover and now offers a simple interface of rounded square icons.

It is a big improvement on the older Symbian iterations and brings with it new features such as up to six customisable home screens, improved multitasking, scrolling widgets and an Android-like drop-down notifications menu. Symbian Belle Feature Pack 1 is the version running on the 808 and that offers a ton of new widgets, including a useful data counter.

I do like the multitasking menu – just give the home key a long press and life-size previews of the last state you left the running apps in appear. You can then select the relevant app and go back to how you left it.

It is nicer than the older Nokia interfaces but should you have already been spoiled by Android, iOS or Windows Phone then you could find the Belle experience a little frustrating.

Symbian’s Ovi store has quite some room to make up with its apps too. Apple’s app store contains ten-times more apps in comparison. The PureView handset that I was sent came pre-loaded with a selection of apps including an edition of Angry Birds, Let’s Golf! 2, Asphalt 6, Shazam, National Geographic, YouTube, BlockBreak 3, Nokia Drive and QuickOffice. I was able to find a Twitter client but no dedicated Facebook app (although you can link your Facebook account to Nokia’s Social widget).

The partnership with Microsoft has filtered down to Nokia’s Symbian handsets so you get polished versions of Office Mobile with OneNote, plus Microsoft’s enterprise IM app Lync complete with SharePoint logins. There’s no tethering from the OS itself, but the best app for the task, JoikuSpot, is pre-installed.

The phone has a 1.3GHz processor with 512MB of RAM and 16GB of memory. You can expand the storage with a microSD memory card via an internal slot – handy if you intend to take super-high res snaps. I would’ve liked an external card slot too though for quick file transfers.

The single-core processor is certainly not the snappiest in the market (especially with quad-core smart phones being released). While the camera is smooth and slick to operate, performing other tasks on the 808 causes the phone to drag its feet. Widgets often display a loading swirl and web browsing is not the speediest out there.

The camera was generally perky and eager to act, although there can be a small lag when saving pictures. This is especially noticeable when taking full-sized 38-megapixel shots. For extra processing power, the 808’s camera module features a special companion processor that handles part of the workload before sending it to the graphics chip. This process may explain the lag.

The 808’s 1,400mAh battery is rated by Nokia as being good for up to 6.5 hours of 3G talk time, or up to 540 hours on standby.

I found the battery easily lasted more than a full day with average usage – but if you’re going to be spending a day taking lots of pictures and using the flash then it may be wise to buy a back-up battery as the 808’s cell is removable.

Internet and Connectivity

The Symbian Belle FP1 browser renders pages pretty badly and when zooming in or out you will see the checkered box background appearing almost every time. Scrolling and panning around are also choppy compared with the competition, unless the page has loaded completely.

Browsing full-fat HTML5 websites is not on the 808’s list of favourite things to do either. The screen slows down so much you’ll find yourself giving in. In fact, most websites seem to overload the processor.

It supports Flash Lite 4.0, so ads and some Flash video websites will run, but most embedded videos and other Flash content won’t be visible. The pre-loaded YouTube app is just a shortcut to a mobile site, so even when using this I came across videos that can’t be played on the device.

Add that to the 360×640 screen res on a 4-inch screen – if you’re a heavy browser user then you’ll soon loose your patience I think.

The Nokia 808 PureView has a pentaband radio with up to 14.4 Mbps HSDPA downloads, so it should work with any micro-SIM you put in it. The handset has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and A-GPS, which puts the free offline voice-guided navigation of Nokia Drive in most countries worldwide to good use.

There is DLNA streaming managed by the DLNA Play app, and a NFC chip in the battery cover which allows you to exchange content with other Nokia phones and accessories, play games with them and even pay for stuff.

The microHDMI port at the top allows you to hook the phone easily to a TV and use the Big Screen app to manage your mirrored content. An FM Radio rounds it up, and the phone can serve as an FM transmitter to stream tunes to your car stereo with the Play via Radio app.


Nokia PureView Street Art
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Let’s face it – this is the reason why we’re all here.

Snappers on most decent smartphones will be around 8 megapixels. The PureView has 41 megapixels, which is more than most ‘real’ cameras except those that cost the same as a house. That’s why it’s worth noting the postage stamp-sized 1/1.2-inch sensor.

The PureView’s super-sized sensor means less distortion, less grain and more crisp, glorious detail. It also gifts the PureView a longer focal length (8.02mm) than many camera phones. Add in its large f/2.4 aperture and, if you’re focusing on something in the foreground of a scene, the PureView will produce seriously impressive shallow depth of field too.

There will be many of you asking yourselves “what’s the point of having 41 megapixel photos on a phone anyhow?”. That’s perhaps the wrong way of looking at this cameraphone.

The size of the sensor enables a technique called ‘pixel oversampling’. Oversampling combines the myriad neighboring pixels that the gigantic sensor produces, and makes one “super pixel” out of several – seven when in Automatic mode. These pixels are bound together into what Nokia claims is the perfect one, using its proprietary algorithm to keep the highest amount of detail and average out the noise that all of the pixels carry. Basically, a lot of visual information is condensed down into fewer but ‘truer’ pixels – the result is extremely sharply detailed shots.

That is why the automatic mode on the 808 shoots in 5MP. This keeps speed and file size in check, but using the staggering amount of info from the 41MP sensor to create a picture which Nokia says is many times better than your average smartphone or compact camera, because of the pixel oversampling.

Naturally, the more you zoom in or the higher the resolution you shoot in, the more of the oversampling effect is lost, that is why Nokia recommends to stick to the Automatic or the 8MP PureView modes.

Also, the handset has a dedicated ISP attached to the sensor, which is keeping the staggering amount of pixels and frames manageable for the processor. In fact, Nokia said it had to wait until mobile processors reached their current strength, so they are able to cope with the PureView sensor workload. The presence of an in-house ISP explains how we get fluid 1080p video with only a single-core CPU, for example.


Nokia PureView zoom street art
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Nokia has been aching to put a real zoom in to its phones for ages but the added bulk and the noise that these solutions produced while zooming into the footage made it a non-starter. Then a Nokia engineer had a revelation and thought about the way satellite imagery is done. The lab then decided to use resolution unheard of for a smartphone, in order to achieve lossless zoom without moving optics, and the associated distortion.

In PureView mode you can do up to 3x lossless zoom for stills, while in video mode you can go up to 12x, depending on the video definition. When you shoot in full resolution with the 38 or 34 (16:9) effective megapixels you can’t zoom, of course.

If you look at digital zoom as taking a regular photo and blowing it up – PureView takes a huge, high quality poster and allows you to cut the bit out that you want to keep.

Shooting Modes:

There are three basic modes to choose from: Automatic, Scenes and Creative.

The Automatic mode is, as you’d expect, for quick snaps. This function allows you to only adjust the flash status.

Nokia’s camera guru, Damian Dinning, explained that they took a bit of a different approach in automatic mode this time, compared to the Nokia N8.

The main goal with the N8 was to achieve more natural looking scene which is the preference of more professional photographers. The thing is that the average user would prefer more fun snaps with over-saturated colours and higher contrast. The difference between a high definition and natural sound-stage for audiophiles and a pair of Beats headphones where volume and bass is best.

The Nokia 808 PureView’s 5MP automatic mode produces slightly more appealing colours and contrast for the more casual user with the more professional Creative mode switching to a more natural colour reproduction.

The Creative mode is where you are able to unleash the full potential of the 41MP PureView camera.

You can manually set it at full 38MP resolution in 4:3, or 34MP in 16:9 ratios. Alternatively, you can use the PureView mode in 3, 5 and 8MP with 4:3, and 2, 5 and 8MP with 16:9 aspect ratios, while setting the JPEG quality output as Normal or Superfine.

There’s even programmable presets, which I found incredibly useful: C1, C2 and C3 recall the last combination of settings you’ve made, so you can quickly set up three macros that suit your photographic needs for the moment, and are very easy to get to quickly.

There’s even more for tinkerers – you can set different levels for saturation, contrast and sharpness via sliders.

You can fiddle with colour tones – Normal, Vivid, Sepia and B&W. The Vivid mode is roughly what you get from most consumer cameras and smartphones, with higher than normal saturation and contrast, which makes for extremely eye-pleasing results.

You also get Capture choices – there is the usual Self-timer at 2, 10 and 30 seconds but there is also Interval capture. Interval shooting allows you to fix the phone somewhere, and tell it to shoot 2-1500 pictures in 5 seconds to 30 minutes intervals – perfect for time-lapse photography. This is where the tripod in the VIP pack becomes handy.

Scenes takes you one step further than the fully automatic mode, sort of a station on the way to the fully manual Creative mode, yet frankly the Automatic mode is sufficiently intelligent when it comes to choosing settings on the fly depending on the situation.

Scenes has a fair amount of preset settings: Portrait, Night Portrait, Night, Macro, Landscape, Snow, Sports, Spotlight and so on. You get the same 5MP 16:9 shots as in Automatic mode.

Portrait and Night Portrait emphasise flesh colour, for example, focusing on the faces within your subject group. Snow ups the exposure a bit to allow for reflective surfaces and Spotlight would be perfect for a concert or a theatre play, where there’s a strong light-source directed at to the performer.

Image quality:

nokia pureview lowlight
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Nokia recommends shooting in the Automatic mode, which gets you 5MP photos with 16:9 aspect ratio.

The Automatic mode is the perfect one for the casual photographer, since the resulting pics are less than 1MB, compared to the 2-3MB in 8MP, or 10-12MB at full resolution.

These 5MP ones are easy to post on Facebook, Flickr, or ping off in an email – the 808 provides these easy sharing options. Yet you can still get high quality prints up to 10.2/5.7” (26/14.6cm) from them, if that’s your thing.

They say that the devil is in the detail – and the snaps from the PureView has it by the truck-load.

Open the gallery and you’ll see a grid of your shots broken up by handy date stamps. Tap on a snap to open it and zoom into it with the usual pinching gesture of your fingertips.

Keep pinching…. keep pinching…and again… pictures are so detailed you can zoom in on really small details captured in the background of your shots.

The extra detail means you can crop a picture on the phone by way of the handy crop icon that appears below each shot and, once you’ve cropped it to death, you’ll still have a decent size for printing or sharing online. There’s a quick shortcut to share pics on Facebook immediately. Flickr is also integrated, but not Twitter at the moment.

The 808 PureView proved that it’s able to handle low light with great performance as well as producing images with pleasing colour, without being overly saturated – unless you’ve chosen that effect via the settings.

Here’s one of the Olympic Village (there’s more on my Flickr).


Video is shot in 1080p Full HD in Automatic mode, with consistent 30fps and sports continuous autofocus, which can be toggled on and off even while filming. Clips are recorded in the popular MPEG-4 format with 20Mbps.

Video capture has Scenes mode too, with its Low Light, Spotlight, Sports and Snow settings.

The Creative mode from the pics is present for shooting video, and allows for 1080p, 720p and 360p definition settings, with 15, 24, 25 or 30fps. In the default 1080p mode you have four times lossless zoom, which becomes 6x if shooting at 720p, and the whopping 12x lossless zoom at the screen’s nHD 640×360 resolution.

You also get colour tone with Normal, Vivid, Sepia and B&W. Saturation, sharpness and contrast levels can be adjusted with individual sliders before video capture in Creative mode as well. There is digital video stabilization in Preferences – this is set to off by default.


Symbian’s music player looks pretty good and is equipped with Cover Flow-like album art, song categorisation, a few equalizer presets, and gets the added bonus of Dolby Mobile surround sound in headset mode.

The loudspeaker on the 808 is decent with respectable output clarity and volume.

The video player has a stripped back interface but will try to play anything: DivX/Xvid and MKV files up to 1080p are handled straight out of the box. Not sure if you need full HD on this screen but squirting it over to your big screen via HDMI is another matter.

Call quality

The Nokia 808 PureView provides adequate volume in the earpiece during conversation, with no audible distortions, hissing or echo.

The dual mics also do a decent job relaying our voice to the other side clean enough, and weeding out the background noise while talking.


The Nokia 808 PureView is a camera first and a smartphone second.

As a compact camera, the PureView scores top marks. It is amazing what Nokia has produced in such a small package and this must point the way for up and coming Finnish flagship phones. This is what I meant by innovation at the top of the page – Nokia is years ahead with this camera tech.

I have to remember that this is a smartphone though and, this is where it starts dropping points. As much as this version of Symbian is better than the others, the reasons why the iPhone 4S, HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III are popular is mainly down to their idiot-proof user interfaces, apps and decent cameras. In these all important areas – Symbian is found sadly lacking.

The browser was most frustrating to use and it never gave me the confidence to use the 808 PureView as my sole phone – unlike the HTC One X. That and the fact that I couldn’t update my Facebook Pages or manage multiple Twitter accounts easily.

As a ‘feature phone’ – then the phone part and the camera part are both very solid. It’s just the ‘smart’ part… well… isn’t the head of the class – let’s put it that way.

What I can see is that if Nokia brought the PureView technology to the Windows Phone platform, then the combination of the slick Windows interface and Nokia’s impressive camera kit could make for a very competitive combination.

I think it will be left to enthusiasts and people looking for an impressive compact camera first and a smartphone second to purchase the 808 PureView. However, I feel most other people will find a different way of spending their £500.

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