Nokia 808 PureView: Best camera ever in a phone is not enough to buoy sinking Symbian

Nokia has reigned in camera phone technology over the years and the 808 PureView demonstrates the pinnacle of their imaging success. However, the camera is partnered with a dead OS that holds it back, especially with a price of $699 before tax and shipping.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I used to be a die hard Nokia and Symbian fan, I wrote the Nokia Experts site for two years, and was regularly one of the few voices in the U.S. talking about and defending the innovations and benefits of the Symbian OS. After using the Nokia 808 PureView for the last week, I have to say it is time for me to throw in the towel and give up on Symbian. It's a real shame too since the 808 PureView is the absolute BEST camera phone available today. However, if I can't reliably receive my email, struggle to browse websites, and be forced to give up apps I use every day on other platforms then there is no way I can justify the nearly $800 ($699 plus $70 in tax) for me to purchase this from Amazon.

A couple of years ago I picked up and orange Nokia N8 and was still using it for my travel camera. However, after my recent zipline video was corrupted and lost I realized that other smartphones come close in the camera department for most of the pics I take so back in the drawer it went. I was considering the Nokia 808 PureView and found the camera to be FANTASTIC. I almost put one in my shopping cart based on the camera alone, but realized I can save a ton of money and just pick up a dedicated digital camera if capturing photos is my main reason to use one. Nokia killed Symbian and I am not impressed with its current performance so I am moving one. You can check out some product photos and several photos I took with the 808 PureView in my image gallery. I had to resize the photos for ZDNet, but check out the links below to other reviews that show the camera in all its glory.

  Image Gallery: Check out several photos of the Nokia 808 PureView and a few taken with the phone.   Image Gallery: 808 PureView retail package   Image Gallery: Close up of the camera  

In the box and first impressions

Nokia sent the evaluation 808 PureView in a large box loaded with accessories in a very cool Golla GenMob camera and tablet bag that I may just have to pick up in the future. Inside the bag they included a flexible tripod (mount didn't fit together so I couldn't test it), Nokia micro HDMI cable, Nokia DC-16 pink charger stick, and Nokia 808 hard cover. I was disappointed to see Nokia move to micro HDMI since the N8 came with a mini HDMI cable/adapter and it is likely that the few people buying the 808 PureView are current N8 owners who will not appreciate having to buy another adapter.

The Nokia 808 PureView comes in a traditional Nokia blue case and after I pulled it out I immediately had memories of the Nokia N97 in my hand. The size of the 808 and the back felt similar. It is a very thick and chunky device, but is very well constructed and feels rock solid. I like the matte white finish and the use of volume, camera, and lock buttons on the right side. There is no power button as the end button is used to turn it on and off. Not really a modern design, but you are making the tradeoff for the huge camera.


Specifications for the Nokia 808 PureView include the following:

  • 1.3 GHz ARM 11 processor
  • 4 inch AMOLED (360x640 pixels) Nokia ClearBlack display
  • Symbian Belle OS
  • Limited to just 14.4 Mbps HSDPA on AT&T and T-Mobile
  • 512 MB RAM, 1 GB ROM, and 16GB internal
  • microSD card slot for memory expansion
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • NFC
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • FM transmitter
  • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • 41 megapixel camera (38 megapixel effective) with both a Xenon and LED flash, Carl Zeiss optics included
  • VGA front facing camera /li>
  • DLNA and HDMI out with adaptor
  • 1400 mAh removable battery
  • Dimensions: 4.9 x 2.37 x 0.55 inches and 6 ounces

The back camera is impressive, but that's really it for the Nokia 808 PureView. All the other hardware specifications are dated. With all carrier smartphones now supporting HSPA+ and LTE, it's sad to see a device in 2012 limited to a theoretical 14.4 Mbps with a fairly low resolution display. I do like the FM transmitter (Nokia has done this for years) and sure wish other manufacturers would include this functionality.

Hardware - Overall

As I wrote in my first impressions, the 808 PureView is not a small device and is quite chunky in the hand. The huge camera module protrudes out from the back, but then the back curves in so it actually feels comfortable in your hand. The front display looks fine, but after using HD resolution displays I cannot go back to something like this as a daily driver. It is actually sad that photos taken with the 808 PureView cannot be thoroughly enjoyed on the phone itself and look better on competing smartphones. There is a VGA front facing camera, but I am not sure what software there is to make good use of it. There is a single long button below the display for send, end, and menu/app launcher. Pressing and holding the end (red) button turns the phone on and off.

There is nothing on the left or bottom of the phone while the 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB port, and microHDMI ports are found on the top. The volume button, lock switch, and camera capture button are found on the right side. Like Windows Phone, you can press and hold the camera capture button to launch the camera application.

Hardware - Camera

The 41 megapixel camera dominates the upper back with a Gorilla glass cover piece over the lens. I like seeing both LED and Xenon flash modules so you can use the 808 PureView as a flashlight, use LED for recording video, and also get fantastic indoor shots with the Xenon flash. You don't even need a separate app for the flashlight, you simply hold down the lock switch to toggle it on.

The sample pics in my image gallery don't do the 808 PureView justice so make sure to check out the reviews linked below from All About Symbian and this Flickr site with sample photos. Nokia has always ruled the camera arena and the PureView is the ultimate in camera phone technology. I generally just take photos of my family and don't shoot a lot of landscapes or other subjects really required for such a high end camera. I am not a professional photographer, but I do like a fine camera and the results keep pulling me back to considering the 808 PureView.

Software: Symbian Belle

Belle is the latest version of Symbian and comes preloaded on the Nokia 808 PureView. Actually, when I first turned on the 808 a software update was pushed to it. Symbian Belle reminds me a lot of Gingerbread Android with home screens and widgets, custom folders in the launcher, and slide-down shade for notifications and wireless controls. It is not terrible, but it is definitely not as slick as Android, iOS, or Windows Phone today.

Gravity is a must have application on the 808 PureView and honestly if this application wasn't around then I would have no hesitation in dropping it on the spot. Gravity gives you a solid Twitter and Facebook experience in one slick application. Other apps I have use regularly and find essential include Nokia Maps, email, Spotify, and the web browser. However, I am so used to Android apps that a MUCH longer list of apps is missing and frustrated me every time I tried to use the 808 PureView daily. These essential apps include:

  • Good web browser like Chrome
  • Flipboard
  • YouVersion Bible
  • Kobo, Kindle, or B&N Nook app
  • Wunderlist
  • Evernote
  • USAA and American Express
  • TripIt Pro
  • Starbucks card app

There are also a LOT more games and apps I use on a less frequent basis that I am now spoiled with having on my Android devices so too many compromises would have to be made to use the 808 PureView.

Experiences and thoughts on the Nokia 808 PureView

The Nokia 808 PureView is currently available for $699 from Amazon. If it was priced at $450 or lower then I would likely pick one up, but I just cannot justify have a great camera that makes calls for over $700. I am sure that Symbian die hards will argue that the app story isn't that bad, but it really is and with no real future for Symbian there is not much incentive for developers to continue building apps. If the Nokia 808 PureView launched with MeeGo then I might reconsider since MeeGo at least has a slicker UI and better browser with a pretty good assortment of modern apps. I understand that Nokia started working on PureView many years ago and that is what forced it to launch on Symbian, but it will likely be a very niche product.

Nokia has stated a few times that their PureView technology will be coming to other platforms and given that they are only actively supporting Windows Phone moving forward we can expect a Windows Phone PureView sometime in the future. Since my wife is a die hard Windows Phone fan and loves to take photos a WP PureView device will be a perfect upgrade for her Nokia Lumia 710 that has a lame camera on it. I appreciate what Nokia has done with the PureView camera, but the 808 is priced too high for a one trick pony.

Reviews of the Nokia 808 PureView

While I enjoyed using the camera, I did not enjoy using the 808 as a phone and thus am limiting my coverage of all the fine details since there are Symbian fans out there that already did a much better job. If you are seriously interested in purchasing this phone, then I highly recommend you check out the continuing coverage at All About Symbian and these other few reviews:

UPDATE: I just ordered my own 808 PureView

Who do I think I am fooling? How could I play with the BEST camera phone ever available and pass it up? I just placed my order for my own black PureView that arrives tomorrow. I'll follow up next week with a more detailed post on why I had a change of heart and let you know how Symbian Belle FP1 is working out for me.

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