updated 06:10 am EST, Mon February 27, 2012
Nokia 808 PureView gets our photographic test
Nokia might be winding down Symbian, but it has given the old platform one big last hurrah in the 808 PureView. The design centers on a seemingly reality-defying 41-megapixel camera. We got to try that sensor, and the phone, and you can read-on for some first-hand experiences.
The camera is by far the centerpiece of the 808's design; it's so big that it needs a huge lump in an already huge phone. Ergonomically, the phone feels like a return to the N95's heyday, albeit with more hand-friendly rounded sides. It did feel comfortable, though. While the four-inch ClearBlack display was 360x640, it didn't matter as much, and a gentle Galaxy Nexus-like curve gave it a distinct touch.
Actually shooting with the camera is a bit of a feat in itself, not that it's hard but rather that there's a sheer number of options. If you dare, you can take direct 41-megapixel photos, which we can vouch are genuinely that high in resolution. We snapped a photo of signs from the opposite end of the booth, and they came out reasonably sharp -- effectively the equivalent of digital zoom without the penalty. The files are no more than 10MB, we were told, and single-shot response was still very fast even at the giant image size.
If you don't need photos that big, the camera has two approaches to lower resolution shots. You can simply 'zoom' with a cropped resolution like five or eight megapixels, or you can take a one-for-one picture covering the entire frame. If you do, it uses pixel binning, here combining seven pixels into one effective pixel, to improve performance in low light. A brightly-lit venue wasn't ideal for that, but there were certainly test samples to prove it. Even a sunset scene at the full 41 megapixels had a large amount of detail.
Video recording has some of these improvements, too. You can't record video at 41 megapixels, given that no modern camera can, but the 808 PureView is one of Nokia's few phones that can record 1080p. You can still have a virtual form of zoom by choosing a part of the scene to center on. Audio has been given a lift through both Dolby 5.1 support and a new "rich recording" that can take sounds as loud as 140dB; no more clipping and harsh noises when you're recording a rock concert,
Misgivings mostly center around the choice of OS. It's still Belle, not Windows Phone, and that still means a somewhat awkward and (if our experience is an indicator) crash-prone platform. As fast as it can be, it's a platform on its way out.
That makes the 450 euro ($604) price for its spring launch a bit much to take. What you're really paying for is a capable, experimental camera; the phone almost comes for free. It's certainly tempting -- even if you're an Apple fan, the iPhone 4S doesn't have that much resolution to work with. If you don't want to use Symbian, Nokia's Jo Harlow mentioned at the event Monday that the hope was to spread it to Windows Phone, which could make it ideal for anyone accepting of Microsoft's platform.