Nokia 8 Review: The Reliable Flagship


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It’s probably fair to say that there’s a bit of nostalgia associated with the Nokia brand. Most cellphone enthusiasts have sported one at some point in their life and others continue to swear by the legacy of the brand. There was a collective hurrah in the tech reviewer/journalist/blogger community when HMD Global first announced its comeback. Rooting for the underdog while maintaining a degree of skepticism, it was a bit disappointing to see the entry-level, mid-range offerings at MWC. The question on everyone’s mind was obvious. Where’s our flagship, Nokia? Fast forward 6 months and the company has delivered. The Nokia 8 is here and is raring to recapture the throne.

Nokia 8 specifications

  • 5.3-inch (2560×1440 pixels) Quad HD LCD display at 554ppi pixel density, sculpted Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection, 700 nits brightness
  • Octa-Core Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform with Adreno 540 GPU
  • 4GB DDR4X RAM, 64GB (UFS 2.1) storage, expandable memory up to 256GB with microSD
  • Android 7.1.1 (Nougat), upgradable to Android O
  • Hybrid Dual SIM (nano + nano/microSD)
  • 13MP (Colour) primary camera with OIS + 13MP (Mono), ZEISS optics, 1.12um pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, 76.9-degree wide-angle lens, PDAF, IR range finder, dual tone flash
  • 13MP auto focus front-facing camera with ZEISS optics, PDAF, 1.12um pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, 78.4˚ lens
  • Fingerprint sensor, Barometer
  • Splashproof (IP54)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack, 3 microphones, Nokia OZO 360° spatial surround sound
  • Dimensions: 151.5 x 73.7 x 7.9 mm
  • 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11ac (MIMO), Bluetooth 5.0, GPS/ GLONASS, USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 1, NFC
  • 3090mAh battery with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0

Design

Minimalist. Scandinavian. Clean. These are some of the adjectives you can use to describe the design of the Nokia 8. Boring and sterile however are some of the others. There are two very distinct camps when it comes to opinions on the aesthetics of the Finnish flagship.

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The front like any modern smartphone is mostly just a large touchscreen display. The Nokia 8 has a 5.3″ QHD IPS panel and employs Gorilla Glass 5 to ensure scratch protection. Below the display are two capacitive keys flanking the center mounted fingerprint scanner. Above the display is a 13MP front facing camera that has the same sensor as the rear camera, offers PDAF as well as Zeiss optics.

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Where the world has moved on to bezel-less displays, infinity panels and curved edges, the Nokia 8 is seemingly stuck in 2016 with significant bezels on the right and left and even more prominent ones above and below the screen. There’s the usual comment to be made about ergonomics and while I can’t deny that the Nokia 8 feels absolutely fantastic in the hand, these bezels also make the phone feel remarkably dated for a device being launched in the last quarter of 2017.

The right side of the phone sports the volume rocker and power key. In typical Nokia fashion, these feel great and deliver precise action. The left side meanwhile houses the hybrid SIM slot. Up top is a 3.5mm audio jack while the bottom has the USB Type C port as well as the loudspeaker.

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Moving to the back, you’ll spot a lot of design commonalities with the Nokia 3, 5, 6 and to a lesser degree with the Lumia devices of yore. Our brushed aluminum unit looks like a well made premium piece of kit though there are more flashy colors on offer too.

Software

You’ll find we don’t have much to talk about the software aspect of the Nokia 8. The company has chosen a path we’ve long advocated and is providing an essentially stock build of Android. This is as close to the  Pixel as you can get without buying one of Google’s devices.

From the stock lockscreen to the homescreen and no extraneous pre-loaded applications, we didn’t observe much in the name of additions which is all well and good. The camera app is where most of the customizations have been made to accommodate for some of the unique features.

First things first, the interface is pretty straightforward and has the usual flash, HDR, timer adjustment options. Another option lets you get into the much talked about Bothie mode. Then there’s the option to switch from the Twin/Composite camera mode to just the Color or Monochrome sensor. Not immediately noticeable, an additional button on the side brings up additional options like Portrait mode, Panorama and Beauty mode.

It’s quite clear that Nokia built this device for savvy media creators. There’s a wealth of toggles and switches that enable some robust functionality hidden away under settings. From customizable watermarks to a compass on the viewfinder, you’ll also be able to log into Facebook and Youtube from here to enable the live stream functionality. Yes, you don’t need to fumble around with the Facebook app, you can broadcast live to Facebook directly from the camera app itself. The functionality isn’t too feature rich and we’d like the ability to select specific pages or profiles from here. That said, you can interact with viewers directly from the camera app. In practise, the implemention is really nicely done albeit a bit basic on features.

Performance

Like practically every flagship device, the Nokia 8 too is running on the Snapdragon 835 platform and is paired with 4GB of RAM. Pair that with the squeaky clean Android build and you get a blazing fast phone. The Nokia 8 storms through anything you throw at it. Games, apps, multi tasking, no matter what your use case, it is nearly impossible to make this device slow down. Then again, with top of the line specifications, you’d hope it wouldn’t! We’ve included a bunch of benchmarks to give you an idea of comparative performance.

Nokia 8 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited

In the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the phone scores 40391 points which places it ahead of the OnePlus 5 and even the Galaxy Note 8.

Nokia 8 AnTuTu 6

In the AnTuTu Benchmark 6, the phone scores 174494 points placing it near the top of our test bench.

Nokia 8 Basemark OS II

Similarly in the Basemark OS II benchmark, the phone does well and scores 4189 points.

Nokia 8 Geekbench 4 Multi-Core Finally in the Geekbench 4 Multi Core benchmark, the Nokia 8 scores 6509 points placing towards the top of the test bench.

Display

HMD Global is using an IPS LCD display on the Nokia 8. The screen is visibly of a very high quality and is more than capable of holding its own in the harsh Indian sun. Brightness levels top off at 700 nits which is sufficient for outdoor viewing. It’s not quite as good as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 that can hit 1000 and 1200 nits respectively but compared to something like the OnePlus 5 which hits 400 nits, the Nokia 8 does very well.

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The display is a Quad HD unit that at 5.3 inches results in a tack sharp 554ppi. Despite being an IPS panel, the black levels are very impressive. Overall the contrast levels are as good as any other flagship and media content looks really good. Watching high quality video content and images is a treat on the display. Viewing angles are great and there’s practically no color shift even at extreme angles.

Camera

PureView, Lumia and the partnership with Zeiss led Nokia to become a veritable giant in the imaging space. At its zenith, Nokia was perhaps the most popular camera manufacturer in the world. When the first wave of HMD/Nokia devices launched, the underlying current of disappointment was largely around the lackluster optics. With the Nokia 8, the company is trying hard to solve that. It gets quite close too. It’s not just still photography though that the 8 excels at. There’s three high dynamic range microphones onboard that paired with the proprietary Ozo algorithms create an immersive audio experience. The end result is videos encoded with binaural audio that creates a true to life stereo effect when watching your content over headphones. Since it is a part of the encoding process, the improvements are audible even when viewed on another device.

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The phone is equipped with dual 13MP cameras with one of them being a monochrome sensor. This set up is similar to that used by Huawei. In theory, the camera combines information from both the sensors to reduce noise and improve the level of detail. Unfortunately, we observed no obvious benefit with shooting in the dual camera mode with the downside being very long processing times. That’s not to say that the camera is bad though since even in the color camera mode, the Nokia 8 produced some of the best results we’ve seen in the category. Shots in fairly well-lit conditions with HDR mode resolved a good level of details. As you’ll notice in the image above, despite the overcast sky, there’s minimal loss of detail and even when pixel peeping, there’s a good amount of detail. HMD has tuned the algorithms to add minimal sharpening and noise reduction which helps prevent the splotchy mess that is often visible on competing smartphones.

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We especially liked shooting with the Monochrome sensor since that exhibits even higher dynamic range. The contrast levels go a bit higher in this mode and the noise levels go down even more. In fact over our testing period, we found ourselves reaching out for the monochrome mode quite often due to the very appealing image signature and great results we got.

In mixed-use, indoors and outdoors, the camera proved to be a reliable performer. We wouldn’t rate it as better than the Pixel or the Galaxy S8 but pit against the OnePlus 5 and similar devices, the Nokia 8 not just holds its own but often pulls ahead too. Yes, it doesn’t have a telephoto mode but still manages a fairly robust portrait mode. Since this is a completely different dual camera implementation, we won’t hold it against HMD. End of the day, it really comes down to what you want from your smartphone camera.

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And that brings us to the next feature ie Bothie or Dual Sight. Nokia has made a big deal of this in its marketing. In practise, this is a bit cumbersome to use with not many obvious benefits. Anyways, the mode lets you shoot 8MP stills simultaneously from the front and rear cameras. Since the front camera module is the same as the rear camera module other than the lacking OIS, image quality is pretty great. 8MP is a strange choice of resolution since both the camera have 13MP sensors and you cannot save individual frames anyway. You can check out a sample shot above. Yes, Dual Sight mode works in videos as well.

Video quality is fairly average and resulting footage appeared soft. The OIS helps you get stable footage and Ozo algorithms dramatically improve the audio recording. We also tested out YouTube and Facebook live streaming. The resulting footage is fairly lackluster. The entire experience is relatively seamless but the image quality just isn’t that great and seems like upscaled footage.

Connectivity & Battery Life

Connectivity options on the Nokia 8 are effectively the same as what you’d expect from a flagship phone. There’s 4G VoLTE support over the Hybrid SIM slot. You get Wi-Fi 802.11ac (MIMO), Bluetooth 5.0, GPS/ GLONASS as well as USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 1 in addition to NFC. Like most other Bluetooth 5.0 hardware, the Nokia 8 too does not support dual wireless headphones since that is something that Samsung has built into their hardware. The phone has 64GB storage built in and you can further expand that via the microSD card slot though you’ll unfortunately lose the second SIM slot. Oh yes, the phone has a headphone jack too.

Nokia 8 FoneArena One Charge Rating

HMD Global has opted for a smaller than usual battery on the Nokia 8. Rated at just 3090 mAh, it certainly is on the lower end of the spectrum. It was still good enough for a full day of use. In our battery test, we observed over 13 hours of mixed usage including calls, web browsing and media consumption. It might not be the best but most people should be able to easily get through a full day without any hassle. The phone supports Quick Charge 3.0 to quickly top off the battery. We will bring you the complete set of battery life test results soon.

Conclusion

Let’s say this again… Nokia is back! HMD Global has done a wonderful job with the Nokia 8 and it is without a doubt one of the best devices in its price band. There’s no gimmicks here, the design is understated and elegant. The software is virtually untouched and the camera is pretty darn good. The Nokia 8 chooses a safe path and offers a reliable no-nonsense experience.

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Of course, no phone is perfect and the Nokia 8 isn’t either. But you’ve got to choose the compromise you’re willing to make. If its stand out design you are looking for, the likes of the Mi Mix 2 might be more interesting but you’ll miss out on the headphone jack. The OnePlus 5, on the other hand, gives you a telephoto lens and more storage. The Nokia 8 is what we’d chosen for the reliability, great build quality and of course that hint of nostalgia. Priced at Rs. 36,999, you can’t go wrong with it. It is available exclusively from Amazon.in online as well as offline retail outlets across the country.

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Author: Dhruv Bhutani

Dhruv loves technology & is passionate about travel, science in equal measure. Currently using a ZF2. Catch him on Twitter (@DhruvBhutani) / Facebook . The metal head down the block ;)