Nokia 808 PureView Lightning Review: A Really Great Camera With an Infuriating Phone Attached

By Sam Gibbs on at

Nokia's 808 PureView made a big impression on the tech world at MWC this year, and for good reason. With a 41-megapixel camera that's as impressive as it sounds, it's certainly something special. We were amazed by the photos it produced when we took a trip to the home of Carl Zeiss to have a play, but what about the rest of the phone?


What Is It?

It’s Nokia’s first phone with its brand new PureView camera system, featuring an actual 41-megapixel image sensor; specially developed Carl Zeiss optics, and a dedicated GPU for handling the proprietary image processing.


Who’s It For?

Anyone who prioritises photos above all else out of a phone (and wants 41-megapixel's worth of bragging rights).



Nokia's packed a lot into that beastly imaging sensor, which itself is enormous compared to your average phone camera sensor, so there's no getting over that this is one chubby phone. It's both fat and heavy at 169g, with a large bulge where the camera sits, but it's relatively well balanced and even the bulge sits well in the hand. Being bulky doesn't make it an ugly phone though -- it resembles other Nokia Lumia phones and even the Samsung Galaxy S III -- but when compared to most modern smartphones it ends up looking like something out of 2008.

I guess you could say the weight lends itself to a quality feel -- it certainly doesn't feel like a budget smartphone or cheapo feature phone, even with that plastic button bar on the face like the Lumia 710. In fact, there's absolutely no creek or give at all on any part of the phone. The textured plastic feels solid and reassuring in the hand, if slightly unremarkable compared to the metal, glass and other fancy materials used on high-end phones these days.


Using It

From a hardware point of view, the 808 PureView is perfectly usable. I like the slider lock button and the two-stage camera shutter button on the side, plus even the fascia buttons for call, cancel and menu work well. The 4-inch AMOLED screen is bright and relatively crisp, even if it has a resolution of just 640 x 360 pixels. Both it and the camera lens are covered by Gorilla Glass, which should make them durable. It's got 16GB of on-board storage, with microSD expansion, which you'll probably need if you're taking 10-15MB photos all the time. On the connectivity front, it's also pretty well endowed -- microUSB; mini HDMI; Wi-Fi; Bluetooth, and NFC are all there -- plus it's got pretty decent battery life. The haptic feedback is also really good, with multiple mini vibration levels that really add to the tactile experience of the phone -- this is how haptic feedback should be done.

The elephant in the room, however, is Symbian -- it's the single biggest problem with the 808 PureView. It is in its Belle flavour here, but it doesn't feel like it's moved on enough from the days of the N95. It's simply not up to the task of being a modern, fast, fluid and good-looking smartphone OS. I know some people love it, that it's technically more advanced on some levels, and yes it can do things other smartphone OSs can't, but it's just straight-up painful to use on the 808.

Apps are slow and incredibly manual; the keyboard, even with dreadfully slow Swype integration, is awful, and, while it's not strictly ugly, it lacks the polish and shine of its competitors. All three -- iOS, Android and Windows Phone -- are miles better in both usability and speed and that's not counting a slick user experience. When you have to manually refresh your incredibly clunky Twitter app to get the latest tweets, and it takes you about 30 times as long to post a tweet as it would on any of the other platforms, it just sucks all the fun out of it. There were times when I actually wanted to send the thing through a window; it was that infuriating.

Having said that, when it comes to actually taking and viewing photos and video, Nokia's done wonders with the camera app. It's fast, probably thanks to the dedicated GPU; useful, and well thought out. Taking photos is a breeze, especially in the do-it-all-for-you "Automatic" mode -- literally just point and shoot. For those who like to get "creative", Nokia's included more camera options that you can shake a stick at, including unleashing the full bore of that monster sensor. Taking video is also as automatic or customisable as you're likely to want, producing pretty decent home movies with well-saturated colours and sharp, clear lines. Nokia's also thought about how you actually use it as a camera too. It's included nice touches like one-finger zoom, because you can't use two fingers to pinch to zoom when you're wielding it like a camera. To have a gander at what the 808 PureView is capable of camera wise, check out our camera hands on from Germany.

Nokia's also blended the magnificent camera into other areas of the phone. For instance, Nokia Maps can show you where all your photos were taken. A small thumbnail sits on the map where you took the photo, which you can then hover over to show a larger image as you navigate your way around the world. It's a great way of using the geolocation data from your photos, and it shows what Nokia's capable of in the way of interesting and useful software -- something to look out for in Nokia's Windows Phone Lumia line.


The Best Part

Without a doubt, it's the camera. Its crisp, detailed, well balanced, and produces shots you really don't think a camera is capable of. In fact, it pretty much blows away compact cameras and even most non-interchangeable lens cameras. With a three-times lossless digital zoom, 41-megapixels to play with, and excellent low light performance, not to mention a beastly flash that's actually useful, it's a one-stop point-and-shoot shop. Honestly, that might be doing it a disservice. This is how phone imaging should be; heck, this is how all imaging should be. It won't replace my DSLR, but I no longer have to take my DSLR everywhere I go just to take decent pictures, thanks to that stupendous image sensor.


Tragic Flaw

Symbian, plain and simple. It's almost intolerable.


This Is Weird

The first review unit I got had a line of dead pixels on the image sensor. They weren't visible in the images until you got zoomed right in on the photo. Also, they weren't visible on anything other than full-bore photos, which I guess shows that Nokia's fancy oversampling really does remove noise and artefacts from your photos like it claims it does. Nokia assured me that this was just a faulty image sensor in the phone, and I didn't experience it with the 808s I had access to in Germany or the replacement handset. We'll call this a one-off, for now.


Test Notes

- The phone sits on the camera bulge when on the deck, which I could see getting really scratched up pretty quickly. It shouldn't do anything to the imaging, but it could ruin the aesthetics of the phone pretty quickly.
- You can fire up the camera even if the phone is locked (as long as you haven't set a passcode), which makes capturing those spur of the moment shots a little easier.
- Nokia’s done what it can to bring loads of apps to Symbian -- Nokia Maps, Drive, Transit, Social (Twitter and Facebook), QuickOffice, Microsoft Office mobile, and original subscription-style Nokia music are all there, plus you can download apps and games like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, etc, not a lot of apps, but more than you might expect.
- The haptic feedback works really well throughout the whole phone experience. I'd like to see more phone manufacturers doing it as well as this.
- Pull down quick settings menus, and widgets on the home screen provide quick access to frequently used settings, which is good, because the actual settings menu is a bit of labyrinth.
- Video playback works quite well, including from YouTube with decently loud audio out of the built-in speaker. If you're using headphones, Nokia's included Dolby headphone technology, which is a nice touch.
- The browser is amazingly woeful -- it won't even let you zoom out from actual pixel size unless I'm doing something horrendously wrong -- thankfully you can download Opera Mobile for free, which is miles better.
- Nokia has also bundled an FM radio, both for listening and transmitting, which makes hooking it up to your car stereo a breeze, just like an iTrip.


Should You Buy It?

If you want the best in phone imaging, yes. If you love Symbian, then yes. But if you want a satisfying, useful, day-to-day useable, modern smartphone, then definitely not. There's no two ways about it, Symbian is hateful when compared to Windows Phone, iOS or Android, but that's just my opinion. I know people who love Symbian, and you might too, but I can't recommend a Symbian phone like this over even a budget Windows Phone to your average person. That said, if you just use your phone for phoning people, and taking pictures, but not for sending text messages, emails, Twitter, Facebook or any of the other normal smartphone usages, then I'm sure it'd be just fine.


Nokia 808 PureView

- Screen: 4-inch AMOLED ClearBlack with Gorilla Glass
- Processor: 1.3GHz single-core processor
- Storage: 16GB flash
- Camera: 41-MP rear camera (f 2.4) with Xenon flash
- Connectivity: HSPDA/3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Ports: microUSB, mini HDMI, 3.5mm headphones
- Battery: 1400mAh
- Price: £500 off network
- Gizrank: 2.5