Is a picture worth a thousand words? How about $700? That's the going price of the unlocked version of the Nokia 808 PureView, a phone with a 41-megapixel camera, the highest yet on such a device. The technology behind this camera enables some the best photos we've seen from a phone. Actually, this device is a camera first and a smartphone second, which is why you should wait for Nokia's PureView magic to hit the Lumia line.
At 4.9 x 2.4 x 0.56 inches and 6 ounces, the Nokia 808 is certainly bulkier than most smartphones with a similar screen size. The back of the 808--ours was an elegant white plastic-- bulges out at one end to accommodate its camera and flash.
However, because of the gently curved back, which has a slightly gritty surface, the 808 didn't feel awkward to hold--especially when taking pictures. The handset also slid into our pants pocket easily. It's certainly a lot easier to hold in one hand than the massive Samsung Galaxy SIII (5.4 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches), although that phone is a much lighter 4.7 ounces.
As with most touch-screen phones, the majority of the front of the Nokia 808 is taken up by its 4-inch screen, below which is a black bar that contains a Call, Home and Power/Hang Up button.
At the top of the Nokia 808 is a covered HDMI port, microUSB,and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The right side of the device has a black volume rocker, a sliding lock switch and a dedicated camera button.
All in all, despite its bulk, the Nokia 808 is very elegant, and looks and feels like a premium device. It feels solid enough so that we wouldn't fear for its life if we were to accidentally drop it.
The 4-inch AMOLED display on the Nokia 808 uses ClearBlack technology, which makes colors look very bold. Explosions were bright, and blacks and other dark scenes in an "Avengers" trailer didn't suffer from noise and artifacts that we've seen on many other smartphones. Averaging 488 lux, the Nokia 808's screen is far brighter than most smartphones, too. The average is 303 lux.
Too bad the Nokia 808's display has a resolution of 640 x 360 pixels, which is lower than you'll find on some BlackBerrys. What makes this even more tragic is the fact that all those gorgeous photos you took appear grainy and pixelated on the screen.
A small speaker just below the rear-facing camera cranked out loud, but tinny, sound. When holding the 808 PureView in portrait mode, our middle finger had a tendency to cover it, muffling the sound.
We found it fairly easy to type in portrait and landscape keyboards on the Nokia 808. We like that the QWERTY layout uses the entire width of the display, but found it a little cumbersome to use the number pad, which is jammed in the left side of one of the secondary keyboards. We'd also like to see a ".com" button when typing in URLs. However, we did appreciate the gentle haptic feedback and predictive text feature.
Of course, the main star of the Nokia 808 is its camera. In front of the 41-megapixel sensor--which is more than twice the size of what you'd find on a traditional 8-MP cameraphone--is a five element f/2.4 Carl Zeiss lens and xenon flash.
But it's more than just the hardware that's impressive. The camera app uses oversampling to make those 41MP shots into an 8-, 5-, or 2-MP image. As a result, images are much crisper, and there's much less noise than you'd find on a similar-size image from any other camera phone.
Details on photos were amazingly crisp and lush. Images were on a par with, and in some cases, surpasses the iPhone 4S. Because of the Nokia 808's aperture, you can get some great depth of field. A close-up shot of pink flowers popped off our desktop screen, and the background was nicely blurred. While a photo of the same flowers on the iPhone was equally vibrant, zooming in past 100 percent revealed a much greater amount of noise in the iPhone's shot.
You can adjust everything from the ISO and the exposure to the lighting compensation and video stabilization.
If you don't want the Nokia 808 to oversample images, you can also have it take full-size photos, too--it maxes out at 38MP, big enough for a poster, if you choose. Of course, if you select this option, you lose the benefits of oversampling.
The xenon flash also performed superbly. A photo taken inside a dark bar illuminated our subjects better than some point-and-shoot cameras, without washing them out. A similar photo taken with the iPhone left a whitish cast on everything.
One feature we wish the camera app had was HDR. While the app can automatically take three photos at different exposures, it can't combine them into a single shot, as with the iPhone.
As a result, when we took a photo of the Flatiron building against a bright blue sky, either the sky was overexposed, or the building was way too dark.
As with still images, 1080p video shot with the Nokia 808 PureView was excellent. Even in one of the most difficult shooting scenarios--a nighttime fireworks display--colors were bright and crisp, and there was no noise in the surrounding night sky. Zooming was very smooth, though the camera had trouble focusing at times; we had to put our finger on the screen to select the area we wanted it to focus.
Microphones on either end of the Nokia 808 also ensured the sound of the fireworks was as impressive as the spectacle. Even though we were a few miles away, the camera picked up the thuds of the explosions well.
Symbian may be on its way out, but it's making a last stand on the Nokia 808. Similar to Android, you can populate the Nokia 808's four home screens with widgets and shortcuts to apps.
This phone's oversized, rounded icons for apps look pretty basic, but we like the small circle that appears at the upper left-hand corner of any app that's running. (For those unfamiliar with Symbian, in order to close an app, you must press the Hang Up button while in the app itself.) Pulling down from the top of the screen reveals notifications, such as the active wireless radios, as well as any running apps.
One thing we like is the black-and-white clock on the lock screen, so you can find out the time without pressing a button.
The 1.3-GHz ARM 11 processor and 512MB of RAM in the Nokia 808 isn't going to wow anyone, but it provided enough power to allow the phone to scroll smoothly through transitions, open apps quickly and play a few rounds of "Asphalt 6" without issue.
The phone has 16GB of built-in memory, but can be expanded via a microSD card. That's a highly recommended upgrade, considering the size of the photos and videos.
The Nokia 808's Web browser is less than ideal for surfing the Web. Pages such as ESPN.com's mobile site and Laptopmag.com weren't formatted properly, as text and images ran off the side of the screen. Compounding this problem is the low screen resolution, which makes everything look grainy.
Still, riding on AT&T's HSPA+ network (which amusingly shows up as "3.5G" on the Nokia), sites loaded fairly quickly. The NYTimes' mobile site loaded in about 9 seconds, and Laptopmag took about 20 seconds.
Preinstalled apps on the Nokia 808 PureView include Music Player, Maps, Big Screen, DLNA Play, YouTube, Social, Drive, F-Secure, Shazam, Vlingo, Nat Geo, FM Radio, "Angry Birds," "Let's Golf! 2," "Asphalt 6," (pictured) and "Block Breaker 3."
However, some of these apps aren't up to a par with those on Android and iOS. For example, the Facebook app simply shows friends' updates on the main screen; a button at the bottom opens a second screen showing icons for News Feed, Me, Friends, Inbox, Events, Requests, Photos and Notifications. The YouTube app merely opens the browser.
Even the photo gallery app needs improvement. For example, you can only view one photo at a time, which makes finding a particular shot overly tedious. We wish there was a thumbnail view so we could more quickly get to the image we wanted. Also, the only social networking site you can share photos with is Flickr.
The Nokia Store has about 120,000 apps, which pales in comparison to Android (450,000+) and iOS (650,000). Even the Windows Phone store has 100,000 apps, and that operating system is far younger than Symbian.
The Nokia 808 comes with 802.11n Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth and NFC. We attempted to share photos via NFC by touching the Nokia 808 to a Samsung Galaxy SIII, but while we felt the "bump," were unable to send files in either direction.
An unlocked device, the Nokia 808 PureView can accept microSIM cards from AT&T and T-Mobile.
Aside from the camera, one of the best aspects of the Nokia 808 are the Maps and Drive navigation apps. The maps in each are attractive, easy to understand, and even shows things as detailed as subway lines and traffic congestion.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Over AT&T's network, calls were fairly clear. For the most part, our voice came through cleanly in a call to a landline, although we did notice a little bit of static.
We couldn't get as accurate a battery life time on the 808, because the screen kept dimming and then brighten when a new page would load. However, in anecdotal use, we were able to use the phone for most of the day taking photos, playing games and surfing the Web.
Nokia estimates that users should see about 6.5 hours of talk time from the Nokia 808; of course, this time will be greatly impacted the more photos and videos you take, especially if you use the flash.
The Nokia 808 PureView is a great demonstration of what good hardware paired with excellent software is capable of--at least when it comes to the camera. It's not just the oversized 41MP sensor, but the PureView technology that goes along with it that makes this phone an imaging breakthrough. However, it's clear that Symbian's time has come and gone. If this device ran Windows Phone, then it would be a lot more compelling. We say wait until Nokia's technology spreads to upcoming devices.