Skip to main content

Weekend With An 808: A Review Of Nokia's Imaging Monster

When Julian over at the German branch of Nokia Connects (@Nokia_Connects) offered me the opportunity to take a Nokia PureView 808 handset for a test drive over the weekend, I happily told him I’d love to. I just had to pick the correct weekend. Suddenly realizing that I was a day or two from my last weekend in Berlin, I shot him an SMS and we made plans to meet so I could grab the phone. The plan? Wander and take pictures with the comparative freedom that one is endowed with when shooting from a phone compared to my much more attention-grabbing DSLR.

While I’m going to present this post in the form of most of my reviews, I plan on throwing a lot of fluff on the door and making this something more of a lightning review. After all, I’d have had to put my SIM card in the phone to actually use it as a phone, so as far as I’m concerned I was really only ever testing the camera anyway.

It’s a candybar. A somewhat hefty and unevenly chunky candybar, at that. This is a form factor that Nokia is good at, and they don’t disappoint with the 808. The white plastic body is textured, similar to that found on the non-glossy (or rubbery) Lumias. That means that the material has an excellent feel to it and at first touch exudes quality. The edge-to-edge glass on the front of the phone is cool on the finger and quite slick, in a good way; the phone’s touch elements are quite easy to interact with successfully but gripping the handset between two fingers, one on the glass and one of the battery cover, doesn’t feel like the phone still simply slip uncontrollably away. Not that anyone holds a phone like that, but it’s nice to know that the phone attacks all tangible grading criteria with a full-on, well-done attack.
The battery cover is a panel on the back and not the entire backside of the phone, as it is on many a Nokia handset. Underneath the battery one finds the MicroSIM and MicroSD slots- that’s right, no hot-swapping memory cards on the go. Despite the 16GB of built-in memory, shooting at the camera’s full resolution can take upwards of about 15 megabytes per picture. As I can easily imagine this camera- er, phone- being used as the sole imaging device during one’s vacation, this inability to hot-swap could definitely become an annoyance when it really counts. Especially if one loads their music collection onto the phone for MP3-playing duty.
As a protrusion, the camera module isn’t really quite so bad. The phone doesn’t lie flat on a table, but neither does it lie on its camera glass. (The E7 comes to mind here.) There is no shutter that one moves manually a la Nokia N97. Instead, start the camera app and a shutter located behind the protective glass lifts itself automatically. It’s a point for failure, sure, but it’s also a much more compact solution than a manual shutter would have been. A xenon flash is located above it and, unlike the N82 which had an unexplainably oversized flash window and the N8 which had an extremely small window, the window for the flash on the 808 is sized just-right.

After having been handed the 808 I quickly booted it up and wandered outside with it, eager to snap some photos along my journey home. I then wandered Alexanderplatz snapping photos before I suddenly realized: I’ve been shooting in PureView mode. While this mode gives one the ability to use massive amounts of zoom while maintaining an 8MP resolution (essentially using the 41 megapixel sensor as a digital zoom), I wanted full-res pictures that I could zoom later. I changed the settings to shoot in a 30+ megapixel mode and then the phone hung on me. I stood at a street corner for five minutes before I gave up, pulled out the battery and restarted the phone. I set it back into that 30+ megapixel mode (I forget the exact pixel count), and continued wandering. For some reason, I failed to find a mode that put the sensor into true 41 MP mode, but greater than 30 was already more than I wanted.

(I think it’s worth mentioning that in the Carl Zeiss presentation at #LumiaFactory they had a slide which labeled the 808 as technically having a 41.5 megapixel sensor. Good on Nokia for rounding down not up- though I guess they didn’t need to impress anymore and having a number such as 42 might have landed them on the butt of some Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy jokes.)
Shooting with the 808 turned out to be great fun. Literally point vaguely, focus (which was extremely fast), shoot, admire results, and repeat. Holding the camera button even when the phone is in standby will open up the camera app instantly, much as it does on many modern handsets (and most Nokia phones since… forever). Despite the fact that the camera app loads fast and is ready to snap pictures shortly thereafter I’m willing to have the opinion that it might be too fast. I now have a collection of photos of my feet and the pavement that were taken when I accidentally held the camera button too long and the phone decided I must need to take a picture, and take it now. Not a terrible bother, but just something worth noting.

Like I said, this is a lightning review so it’s now time to wrap up. My thoughts about the PureView 808, summed up: I love it. I simply wish that it wasn’t so expensive, as I would quite happily carry one of these with me everywhere. If I had to choose only one, I’d pick the Lumia 920 over the 808 any day. But the high-megapixel count and xenon flash mean that the 808 actually could serve as a backup point-and-shoot camera to complement my DSLR. Out running around with friends and in an area where pulling out a DSLR would be inappropriate or risky? That would be a perfect time for the 808.

It’s an absolutely excellent camera and the phone parts, the Symbian bits, have quite obviously improved immensely no doubt thanks to the upgraded hardware it is running on. If only Nokia had thought to spec up its Symbian phones, it might not be working on its comeback right now. I found the 808 to be a simply impressive camera and, at the end of the day… this one can even guide you home. How cool is that?


How useful is all of that resolution? Here's an example. The second image is simply a crop on the art located under the building's front arch.

Actual, uncompressed pictures from the 808: