Nokia's 808 PureView Symbian smartphone may never make it to the North American market but it is one device that's generated a lot of interest. The 808 PureView is a Symbian "Belle" smartphone with all the latest features of that mobile OS. But all that aside, it is also the only smartphone that carries its own 41-megapixel camera.
It's a wild idea and one that's particularly intriguing. I was given the opportunity to spend some time with the PureView 808 and take it around to test mainly the camera functionality.
Since there are no plans to offer this model in North America (it is a European model) I really didn't bother too much with the other aspects of the phone.
Nokia is no slouch in the cameraphone department. They've had consistent success marrying great camera functionality and Carl Zeiss optics into their premium smartphones. Off the top of my head I can list th N95, the N8 and the Lumia 800 and 900 as some handsets that come with compelling cameras. The Nokia N8 was a particularly superb shooter with its 12 megapixel camera and 1/1.83" sensor.
The 808 PureView continues what the N8 started but really pushes the boundaries of what is achievable. The Nokia's 41 megapixel sensor is a game changer.
Most point-and-shoots and even many DSLR's are now at the 18-21 megapixel ceiling (and there's a reason for that, more pixels means more noise is captured), but by sheer volume of pixels alone, the 808 PureView is unlike anything we've seen on a phone.
The 808 PureView features a 41MP sensor, Carl Zeiss lens, PureView imaging technology and Full HD video. It features a is a 1/1.2" sensor that is already larger than most point-and-shoot cameras and most smartphones (iPhone 4S has a 1/3.2" which is almost three times smaller).
The biggest benefit isn't better photos per se but the fact that if you need to, you can zoom in or crop into a lot of detail within the picture. Details are the big feature of this camera since it captures such a staggering amount of detail which might not always translate accurately on smartphone or computer screens. They will look awesome when you print them out, though.
The photo above of the sculpture may look like a regular smartphone pic but you can zoom in to almost make out individual blades of grass in programs like Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture, there's that much information in there.
In case you were wondering why a 41MP sensor creates a maximum 38MP image. Chad Saliba, Nokia’s Portfolio Manager, explained that this is due to sensor size vs. picture aspect ratio.
The super-high-resolution sensor has an active area of 7728 x 5368 pixels, totalling over 41Mpix. Depending on the aspect ratio you choose, it will use 7728 x 4354 pixels for 16:9 images/videos, or 7152 x 5368 pixels (38 MP) for 4:3 images/videos.
After spending some time with it, the 808 PureView feels more like a point and shoot camera with a smartphone attached to it. The bulbous rear lens, which houses the Hulk-sized camera sensor, adds significant weight and heft to the whole package which really sinks into your pocket. the design of the phone itself is quite minimalist and has a bit of a Stormtrooper vibe to it with the white with black highlights.
The camera function is easily deployed by a dedicated button on the lower right hand side. The controls are easy to figure out and the camera is very responsive taking about one second to adjust to lighting and be ready to shoot.
One thing that bugged me was when holding the camera in landscape mode my left hand kept getting in the way of the image and you need to work around that aspect of the phones' design.
Once you take a photo, there's a neat animation that generates a thumbnail of the photo and stores it in a folder. As for the photos themselves not all of them are full 41 megapixels (you can get them up to 38 megapixels in size, but why?). Nokia uses an oversampling algorithm that compresses the information of the photo into a 5 megapixel image with finer detail.
Photo quality and colour accuracy out of the box is good but could be better. You can get far better pictures if you take time to play with the settings and move out of auto mode (which for the purposes of my test, I did not do. All my shots here are from the auto setting).
Will the 808 PureView make me leave my DSLR and Micro Four Thirds cameras? No, not really. While it possesses and above average sensor and potential to make great photos and video, it doesn't have the range of control or versatility that standalone cameras have. Will it supplant my Android smartphone or iPhone 4S? Probably not, because while the cameras on those devices are inferior in size and possibly overall quality, I rely on a bevy of apps to tweak and share my photos, Sadly, Symbian doesn't offer as many ways to do that.
The 808 PureView does give us a peek at the incredible potential for smarpthone cameras in the future. In and of itself, it is a triumph of engineering and a reminder of how bold and innovative Nokia can be. The Nokia PureView 808 is the ultimate camera phone for users who make calls, send text messages and love to take and share pictures and video but don't need all the frills offered by smartphones.
Photos by Gadjo C. Sevilla
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