At €600 (~£550) it's on the edge of value—but where's that beloved Nokia charm gone?
The Nokia 8, just like every other flagship Android phone, is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. It has a QHD screen, 4GB of memory, 64GB of storage, and the obligatory dual-camera setup, complete with branded optics from long-term partner Zeiss. Priced at €600 (UK price TBC, but probably £550) and due for release in September worldwide (except the US), the Nokia 8 is about as exciting as its generic aluminium body and by-the-numbers spec sheet suggests—but perhaps that's the point.
After all, finding a reliable, well-built Android phone with few software modifications and a reasonable price tag is harder than it once was. OnePlus, a company that stuck it to the man building high-end phones at mid-range prices, has succumbed to the inevitabilities of big business and raised its prices. Motorola, now in the hands in Lenovo, continues to mess around with so-so modularity. Google got greedy.
At 7.9mm at its thickest point, tapering out to 4.6mm at the edges, the Nokia 8 has a comfortable curved back reminiscent of the HTC U 11. It even comes in similarly flashy "Polished Copper" and "Polished Blue" finishes, albeit with an exterior of solid aluminium instead of needlessly fragile glass. The metal body—which is bordered by volume and power buttons on the right, and combination SIM card and microSD card slot on the left—curves onto the crisp 5.3-inch, IPS, QHD display. It's surrounded by thick black bezels and flanked by a Nokia logo and old-school capacitive back and menu buttons, which look hopelessly dated in a market of micro-bezels and on-screen buttons.
A swift fingerprint reader sits at the bottom of the Nokia 8—which, according to Nokia's user research, is the preferred position—below which is a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port for data transfer and charging. Inside is a 3090mAh battery good for around a full day of use. Mercifully, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack too.
Like some of Nokia's most popular phones of the past (the N95 springs to mind) the Nokia 8 features camera optics courtesy of Zeiss. There are two 13MP sensors on the rear—one colour, one monochrome—which sport optical image stabilisation, phase detection autofocus, 1.12μm pixels, and a wide f/2.0 aperture. Similar to the iPhone 7 or Huawei Mate 9, the dual-sensors combine their data to help improve photos in low light, and allow for enhanced depth-of-field effects.
The Zeiss-backed camera sounds great on paper, but I wouldn't hold your breath on picture quality. The snaps I snuck out the pre-brief compared poorly to those taken by a Google Pixel, both lacking detail and appearing overly soft. Perhaps the final production models will fare better.
If that all sounds rather utilitarian so far, the Nokia 8's cringe-inducing "#bothie" mode does at least hark back to the colourful company Nokia once was. #bothie—or Dual-Sight, to give its proper name—allows you to stream to the likes of Facebook and YouTube using both the front and rear cameras simultaneously. The video, in 16:9 format, is automatically split down the middle to show both viewpoints, which is something you're either going to think is the best thing in the world, or completely pointless, depending on how heavily invested you are in the intricacies of social media.
In another bid to woo hip young social media types, Nokia has added what it calls "Ozo Audio" to the Nokia 8. The Ozo, for those not in the know, is Nokia's (that's OG Nokia, not HMD) take on a 360-degree camera for creating VR content. Priced at around £34,000, the Ozo is designed for professionals and production houses, rather than consumers, but HMD has supposedly pulled some of its tech in order to improve audio recording. There are three microphones in the Nokia 8 that capture 360-degree surround sound and attach it to 4K video via the use of algorithms first developed for the Ozo.
I haven't had a chance to listen to any Ozo audio yet, but I'd be surprised if it becomes widely used, particularly as the Nokia 8 is the only device that currently plays it back properly. That said, at the very least videos recorded on the Nokia 8 with Ozo audio will play on other devices, just without the surround effect.
Beyond the gimmicks, Nokia has made a serious commitment to Android updates. The Nokia 8 ships with the latest version of Android 7 (the device I tried had the August 2017 security update applied) in stock form, with Nokia promising that its phones will be one of the "fastest ways" to get hold of Android O. Security updates, bar those which modify the modem, are promised the same day Google releases them. Here's hoping Nokia can live up to its promises.
Whether or not the masses care enough to pass over the flashy surfaces and bezel-free displays of phones like the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8 (and potentially the upcoming Google Pixel and iPhone 8) in favour of prompt Android updates remains to be seen. Lackadaisical updates certainly haven't done Samsung any harm. It doesn't help Nokia that the Galaxy S8 currently sells for £510 SIM-free, less than the Nokia 8, offering a slicker design, the same processing power, and—more likely than not—a better camera. The OnePlus 5, while more expensive than its predecessors, still only comes in at £450.
With its non-threatening, staid aluminium and glass design, the Nokia 8 was clearly designed to appeal to the masses—but in doing so, HMD's flagship phone is missing what drew so many millions of people to Nokia handsets in the first place: the quirkiness that made the likes of the brightly coloured Lumia 800 and spring-loaded 7110 truly charming. Perhaps I expected a little too much from the company's first flagship after being freed from its stuffy corporate overlords at Microsoft. Here's hoping this one sells well enough for it to have a go at another.