What is a flagship? In the world of smartphones this can be the philosophical question to which none have found the answer. There’s Apple’s iPhone, which everyone loves to hate but somehow it keeps selling. Samsung has its Galaxy S and the Note series where the display keeps getting bigger and better. Now Google has Pixel 2, where it tells us that the premium Android phone does not need dual-rear cameras.
In this world of confused flagships, HMD Global is entering the market with Nokia 8. This mobile phone is their first flagship for 2017, and Nokia 8 ticks some boxes that we have come to expect in flagships. Dual rear camera? Check. New feature in the camera app? Check, thanks to ‘Bothie.’ 2K display ? Check. So does Nokia 8 really perform well as a premium smartphone? Does it have the ‘superior’ Nokia experience that was once so revered? Here’s what I thought after reviewing the device.
Nokia 8 specifications: 5.3-inches IPS QHD (2560 x 1440 pixels) | Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor | 4GB RAM + 64GB storage (expandable to 256GB)| 13MP (Colour + OIS) + 13MP (Mono) +13 MP front camera| 3090 mAh battery | Android v7.1.1 Nougat |
Nokia 8 price in India: Rs 36,999
Nokia 8 Design, Display
Nokia 8 might not come with a fancy bezel-less display or an all-glass or ceramic body, but that doesn’t mean the design is not premium. I appreciate that the Nokia 8 is smaller in size (5.3-inch display instead of 5.5-inches) and it is light, easy to grip and use with one hand. The matte finish versions are not slippery and will fit easily in most jeans pockets without the danger of them falling out.
Nokia 8 has a curved back and comes in four colour variants: Polished Blue, Tempered Blue, Steel, Polished Copper. The polished copper might seem a bit much for some folks, but that’s the colour I preferred and this is more because it looks different, even if it is flashy. Of course, the polished colours are more prone to scratches, and the tempered blue is what makes the most practical sense. The steel is a bit dull, I’ll have to admit.
Nokia 8 has dual rear cameras stacked vertically and there’s Zeiss branding in here. The flash is placed below that, and the front has Corning Gorilla Glass 5. There’s a front button with two buttons on the side and the fingerprint scanner is embedded into the home button itself.
Nokia 8’s 5.3-inch 2K display works very well with rich, vivid colours. The phone was my primary device for a week or so, and the display quality is more than suited for daily video consumption. Also unlike Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2 or OnePlus 5, this is a 2K one, which is good to see at this price. Yes, the bezels might seem so outdated, but remember HMD Global is still a startup and it will take some time before it can offer such features.
Nokia 8 Performance
Coming to the performance, Nokia 8 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, but this has only 4GB RAM and 64GB storage on board. The RAM is more than enough, though in this price range many folks might be expecting 6GB as the standard option given what the competition offers. The issue is 64GB storage and while the phone does have a microSD slot, more onboard storage is always better. Also HMD just announced a 6GB RAM and 128GB storage variant in Finland.
The Nokia 8 review unit I first used was one meant for global markets with the software not entirely optimised for India. Nokia 8 was then my primary phone for a week or so with WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc all moved to this. For daily performance, this is a fairly smooth device and can handle most heavy duty tasks. Yes, I didn’t really enjoy typing on this phone, given I’m an iPhone user and switching to Android usually results in an increased number of typos.
Still, Nokia 8 can hold its own in benchmark tests and daily performance. There were no app crashes, games like Asphalt 8 run smoothly and multi-tasking is not issue. This performance consistency holds true for both the review units I ended up trying, the global one and the India one.
However, the global unit was prone to heating and losing battery very quickly. I was told this was because it was not optimised for India. A software update was pushed post the official India launch, which has stabilized the battery performance. More on that later. But heating is still a concern on both units, and the phone does tend to get warm around the camera, which is noticeable. HMD Global will perhaps need to push out more software updates to fix this.
Nokia 8 Camera
Ok, I’m just going to say it, ‘Bothie’ is not going to catch on. The reason selfie is a trend because people took to it on their own, it was something that started as a hashtag on Instagram and just grew as smartphones boomed. ‘Bothie’ while an interesting idea is nothing new. Apps like FrontBack offered the option of using the front and back camera at the same time in 2013.
The idea of using both the front and rear camera might seem like a need, but it is not. The selfie is good enough by itself, my moment of narcissism doesn’t need one else in the background. But hey, for those who want Nokia 8’s inbuilt camera app has that option. You can even livestream your ‘Bothie’ to Facebook should you wish to do that.
Nokia 8 is relying on two 13MP + 13MP cameras which are a combination of RGB and monochrome sensors for the ‘Bokeh’ effect. This is still a work in progress and the camera doesn’t quite deliver that portrait effect one would expect. Hopefully Nokia 8’s camera software can be improved with future updates.
Coming to the camera, there’s a problem with the auto-focus not latching on to the object and it keeps shifting. The pictures captured in bright daylight are stunning, but this is not as sharp as one would like on a flagship. Colour reproduction is accurate for most part, though the focus issues means that when you zoom in on the picture at times, details are missing and it is very noticeable.
Still, the phone is capable of delivering some good shots, even in dying light. It manages to capture a wide range of colours and the overall picture composition is quite nice. Still video quality in low-light is not up to the mark even though the Ozo Spatial audio adds an interesting effect. I recorded some live music from phone at night and while I don’t care for the video, the audio is something else.
Nokia 8 Battery
Nokia 8 has a 3090 mAh battery and as I mentioned I was first playing around with a global unit, where the battery life was not so great, around 8 hours with constant usage. However, post the launch and update, Nokia 8’s battery life has become much more stable with the phone last 12 hours plus with heavy duty usage. But heating is a constant problem on both units as I’ve already pointed out.
Nokia 8 Verdict
Nokia 8 has some positives, including the design and build quality, the display. The performance of the device is also fast, similar to other phones running this processor. But given the competition in this price range, Nokia 8 is not yet a flagship killer. In the camera department, I feel it has a long way to go before it can challenge either Apple or Samsung.
Still as a mid-range flagship, Nokia 8 delivers on most expectations. However, I would say this is far from perfect and needs more software tweaks around the camera and heating to really stand out against the competition.