Nokia has filled the gap at the top of its Android smartphone portfolio with the Nokia 8, the flagship phone that we've been waiting for since the announcement of Nokia's return came from HMD Global.
In the Nokia 8 we see the company hitting those spec sheet points that line it up amongst the flagship devices that offer the best of Android. Under the guidance of HMD Global there's now a resurrected partnership with Zeiss pouring into the camera, there's innovation in the design and oh, there's that beautiful polished copper colour.
But in the hand, is this the Nokia smartphone we've been waiting for?
Nokia 8 preview: Design
- 151.5 x 73.7 x 7.9mm
- Solid aluminium body
- Four colours
- Integrated antenna lines
Nokia hasn't stopped talking about design since the announcement of the Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6. Just as you'd expect, the story here is very much the same. The Nokia 8 starts life as a block of aluminium, hewn into smartphone form, with a soft curve across the back and rounded edges to make it sit comfortably in the hand.
Unlike the Nokia 6, its larger but lesser-specced sibling, there are no sharp edges here, just a phone that nestles into your hand with a feeling of premium quality.
One of the things that HMD Global has tried to do is move the antenna lines so they don't break the visual appeal of the back of the phone. These move to the top and bottom of the phone, so there's a plastic area that's almost the same colour, but not quite. From a design point of view it saves the rear of the phone, but the colours don't quite match.
Ignoring that fact, the biggest talking point about the Nokia 8 is likely to be the Polished Copper colour option. While Samsung is pushing its amazing Coral Blue, Nokia is punching hard with this copper phone. It looks wonderful and has been created through repeated anodisation and polishing. It's not quite the Solar Red HTC U11, but it's a unique look.
By contrast, the Nokia 8's other colours - blue in both matte and polished, as well as a steel colour - look a little reserved. Put us down for the copper please.
The front of the handset looks like any number of smartphones from the past few years with a bottom fingerprint scanner flanked by the recent apps and back touch controls and a fair amount of bezel top and bottom of the display.
Nokia 8 preview: Hardware specifications go flagship
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- 4GB RAM, 64GB storage + microSD
- 3090mAh battery, Quick Charge 3.0
As you'd expect, the Nokia 8 sits on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 platform. We've seen great things from this latest version of Snapdragon and the Nokia 8 joins the likes of the HTC U11 and Samsung Galaxy S8 in offering this premium hardware.
It means that there's going to be plenty of power on offer, and power is something that the Nokia 8 is going to need, because it has some intensive offerings like the ability to live stream video from both the front and rear cameras in Nokia's Dual-Sight feature - but more about that in the camera section.
To deal with the demands that might be put on the hardware, Nokia has opted for a water-cooled solution, with a big copper pipe running diagonally through the internals, combined with graphite head shielding. It sounds serious, and we can't wait to set it to task and see how it performs alongside 2017's top smartphones.
First impressions don't mean much as they are on pre-release software, but we found it fast to respond to actions and quick to launch the camera, meaning it's a good way ahead of Nokia's other low-power devices.
Additionally, we've no idea how the 3090mAh battery is going to perform, although over a day has been mentioned to us, but thankfully there is Quick Charge 3.0 support on this device, from the USB Type-C on the bottom of the handset.
Nokia 8 preview: Display
- 5.3-inch IPS LCD panel, 16:9 aspect
- 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, 554ppi
- 700 nits brightness
- Glance Screen
While there have been some major moves to increase the screen to body ratio of some smartphones - with rumours of more to come - the Nokia 8 sticks to a conventional 16:9 aspect for the 5.3-inch display. That means it comes with bezel top and bottom, which HMD Global explained to use was to allow them to accommodate the camera and fingerprint scanner.
At 5.3-inches there's plenty of space, but you can see that the more aggressive 18:9 displays will catch the eye more readily. However, the LCD display in the Nokia 8 looks great. It's bright, rated at 700 nits, meaning it should cut through glare on sunny days without too much problem.
Nokia is also pushing the pixels with a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, so it's up there with the likes of the HTC U11 and Samsung Galaxy S8 in offering you plenty of detail. We can't tell too much about the performance of the display from our brief time with it, but first impressions suggest that the colour calibration is better than Nokia's previous Android phones - the whites appear whiter and the blacks appear deeper too.
There's also the return of Glance Screen. Nokia made a lot of noise about Glance Screen when it appeared on Windows Phone a few years ago and these days it's pretty common to have some element of an always-on display. It's in the Nokia 8 too, with a section at the top offering the time and some notifications, so you can glance and be immediately informed.
Nokia 8 preview: Zeiss camera swing into action
- Dual 13-megapixel rear, 1.12µm, f/2.0
- Phase detection AF, IR assisted focusing
- RGB and monochrome sensors
- 13-megapixel AF front camera, selfie flash
- Dual-Sight camera mode
Nokia fans will welcome the sight of Zeiss branding on the rear of this Nokia smartphone. The new partnership sees Zeiss adding its expertise to ensure the quality that's coming out of this new dual camera arrangement, which adds some interesting options to the mix.
To be clear, this arrangement of lens is about quality rather than zoom or wide angle as you'll find on the iPhone 7 Plus or LG G6. That sees Nokia walking a line similar to Huawei and Leica, with two sensors capturing the same information, but on dedicated RGB (colour) and monochrome sensors.
The aim is to get better results no matter what the situation is, with the monochrome sensor being able to pull in details in low light conditions and preserve those without compromising the colour information. The really clever part is in how the camera uses this information, as it's the combining of the data to create a final image that really matters.
HMD Global told us that the camera could also take multiple shots from both sensors and combine the information if the situation demanded it. As we said, the aim is quality. We're yet to test it, but we're keen to see if this is a camera that can be ranked amongst the best.
That's not all the camera has to offer. There's also a 13-megapixel camera on the front of the phone and Nokia wants to move beyond the selfie, into something it's calling to "bothie". Ok, we'll not say that again. Nokia wants you to use both cameras at the same time.
This isn't totally unique, as there's an increase push towards capturing both the subject in front of you and your reaction, which is one of the things that the so-called Dual-Sight camera mode will offer. You'll be able to take front and back photos, but the twist is that the Nokia 8 will also let you capture video from the front and back cameras at the same time.
Oh, and it will let you livestream this video too, so you can share your experiences. We can see this being popular with YouTubers looking to get their face in to tell the story that's unfolding.
You'll get access to Facebook and YouTube right from the video window, so you'll be able to get live reactions on your screen as your watches get involved.
Nokia 8 preview: Audio skills
- Nokia Ozo Audio
- Binaural audio preservation
- 3.5mm headphone socket
Nokia is also bringing some special sound capture to the Nokia 8, teaming up with its team working on Ozo to add those audio skills to the new smartphone. That will mean that the phone can better capture surround sound audio to make video more immersive.
That's not unique, but Nokia wants to preserve this audio so it stays intact when you share it. Many devices will capture 3D audio but then lose it when the video is moved to a different platform. Nokia wants to preserve the Ozo Audio, so that anyone using a stereo setup to watch it can benefit from the more immersive audio.
We've seen moves towards binaural capture elsewhere, with the likes of Sennheiser announcing a binaural headset designed to do exactly the same job - and with no need for special codecs or decoders at the recipient's end.
Nokia 8 preview: Software
- Pure Android 7 Nougat
As with Nokia's previous devices, this is a pure Android handset, with little changed by Nokia. It will launch on Android 7 Nougat, aiming to bring you rapid updates. That means you should have the latest Android security updates, but also that Android O should arrive promptly.
Talking to HMD Global's Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer, it's clear that the aim is to have the Nokia 8 running Android O as quickly as possible after launch. While much of that depends on Google releasing the software and various stages of testing, the clean Android installation on the Nokia 8 should mean that Android O arrives promptly.
According to Sarvikas Nokia should be "one of the first" to roll out the update.
Leaving that to one side, the Nokia 8 is pure as the driven snow, with the only changes being to the camera app and the addition of a help app to provide support to Nokia handset owners. Otherwise, this is a stock Android experience.
HMD has global ambitions for the Nokia brand and while the markets in north American and Europe have been waiting for a flagship device to square up to the established players like HTC or Samsung, in developing markets, the company says its been happy with how its low-level devices have been received.
For us, the Nokia 8 is the device we've been waiting for since the company announced its plans to get back into the game. The competition is fierce and the Nokia 8 doesn't offer a huge amount that's unique. The build quality and specification can be found elsewhere and there's almost nothing on the software front to make it unique - unlike phones from the dominant Samsung.
That means an awful lot rides on the performance of this hardware and the battery life, as well as the camera experience. In the hand the Nokia 8 feels like a flagship phone, it's making the right noises, and hitting the right notes. But it's real value will be set against how it delivers.
Fortunately, the Nokia 8 will be globally available from September 2017 and for an attractive €599 asking price.