(Pocket-lint) - Nokia filled the gap at the top of its smartphone portfolio with the Nokia 8, the flagship phone that we'd been waiting for since the announcement of Nokia's return, which has seen the birth of the Nokia 3, 5 and 6 in the first year of its life.
On the spec sheet, this is a flagship Android phone that's aiming to compete with the very best, but pitched in at a price that's substantially cheaper than many rivals. Some of that might come down to a refreshingly pure take on Android removing the need for long hours developing unnecessary software, something that most rivals are caught up in.
That purity has already paid off: the Nokia 8 was one of the first flagship-level devices to receive an update to Android 8 Oreo, with HMD Global delivering on that promise of speedy updates. But what's this phone really like to live with?
Design that might divide opinion
- 151.5 x 73.7 x 7.9mm
- Solid aluminium body
- Four colours
- Integrated antenna lines
- IP54 rating
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. It has a glossy and low-friction finish, in need of a regular polish to keep it free of fingerprints and it doesn't feel like metal - not like the HTC 10 or iPhone 7.
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 sit to the top and bottom of the phone, so there's a plastic area that's almost the same colour as the rest of the phone, but not quite. From a design point of view it saves the rear of the phone, but the colours don't quite match. The blue perhaps blends the best, but the steel grey colour is decidedly different, with a silver vs grey look.
The same applies to the in-fill around the camera. Aside from the slightly chintzy chrome trim, the blue background then doesn't match the colour of the body of the phone. It's something that makes the Nokia 8 look a little cheap.
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, and although there was an early suggestion it wouldn't be available everywhere, you can get it from Carphone Warehouse in the UK.
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. That makes this design feel a little old and with recent launches like the OnePlus 5T and Honor 7X pushing 18:9 displays instead, it's not just the top price phones that are pushing this new display format.
With all that said, the Nokia 8 is one of the most affordable devices at this level of spec: while the LG V30 or Samsung Galaxy S8 might be better looking, they're also a lot more expensive. While it's not as waterproof as some, it does have an IP54 rating.
Nokia 8 hardware specs 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 plenty of power on offer, and power is something that the Nokia 8 needs, 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. We've not found it to get hot, but similarly, we've not found overheating to be a problem with other Snapdragon 835 devices either.
What this phone does share with those devices is speed and fluidity. The Nokia 8 is just as fast in daily tasks as its rivals, fast to move around, enter text and everything else. You expect that from good hardware pared with unsullied Android software. It's then a bit of a kick in the teeth that the slowest part of the performance is the camera - the one area of software that has been tweaked by Nokia.
The battery is a typical size for this size and spec of device. It doesn't have the greatest endurance, but it will get you through a typical day, with fast charging to top you up. There's also a fast charger in the box to connect to the USB Type-C on the bottom of the phone.
One thing that the Nokia 8 would benefit from is better battery saving options. It uses the stock Android approach which is rather basic, feeling more like a "get you home" power saving mode, rather than a "save battery all day to get you through the night" approach that HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony offer.
Old skool 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, 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 away as a perfect place to accommodate the camera and fingerprint scanner. There's no notch or awkwardly-positioned rear scanner here, but at the same time, it's strictly an established approach to display design.
As we've just mentioned the fingerprint scanner, it's worth mentioning that we're happy with the position. Like the HTC U11 it's easy to get to and far better placed that the Samsung Galaxy S8 devices. It seems a little slower than HTC's application, however, taking a little longer to unlock in our experience, but it generally does what it's supposed to do.
Back to the display. 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 - especially as there's now affordable options in that aspect too. However, the LCD display in the Nokia 8 looks great. It's bright, rated at 700 nits, meaning it cuts through glare on sunny days without a problem.
It also has a nice colour balance, something that's become a focus on devices since the launch of the Pixel XL 2. This is an LCD display so sits firmly in the realistic colour ranges and while the icons might not pop with saturated colours like you get elsewhere, we like the overall look. If you're a fan of HTC flagship displays, you'll probably take to the Nokia 8 too. Fire up Star Trek Discovery on Netflix and you're rewarded with wonderful balance and detail, not overstressing the highs to the detriment of the shadows and keeping those skin tones accurate.
There is some dimming when you view from angles other than directly face on, with a slight red colour shift, but it's not a huge problem. The biggest downside to this display is when it comes to scrolling when the "night light" is enabled. This feature reduces the blue light coming from the display (it's supposed to be easier on your eyes in the evening). But there's a lot of red ghosting that occurs when you scroll with night light on, which is really noticeable if you're browsing something like Twitter or Gmail in bed.
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 - but then pretty much every other phone has some form of always-on display these days too.
Zeiss cameras 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 Zeiss branding on the rear of this Nokia smartphone. The reinvigorated 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.
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. To be clear, this arrangement of lenses is about quality rather than zoom or wide angle as you'll find on the LG V30. That sees Nokia walking a line similar to the Huawei and Leica deal, with two sensors capturing the same information, but with dedicated RGB (colour) and monochrome sensors.
The camera's biggest failing is speed. It's relatively slow to open the camera at times; you double press the camera button and have to wait a few heart beats for it to open. But it's not entirely consistent: sitting writing this review comparing the launch times against the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 it seems the same, but when we've been out using the phone's camera, we've often been left standing waiting for it to open.
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In low light, it's also pretty slow to focus and capture, which you notice when you deploy this camera after dark. Low light results are average, despite the arrangement of cameras designed to give you better performance in the dark. In dim conditions there's plenty of noise; as it gets darker the shutter speed slows so blurred results are pretty common.
One of the big things that's improved smartphone photography in recent years is HDR. Nokia offers auto HDR and this will aim to balance out your photos, but it's not currently up to the standard of Samsung or the leading Pixel phones. When it comes to HDR it's pretty much a lag-free experience which is good, but the Nokia 8 doesn't produce hugely exciting photos.
There's also the option to switch between the sensors capturing the data, so you can have twin, colour or mono. This will give you great monochrome photos (if you feel the need to shoot these without colour rather than applying a filter post-shoot), but we haven't really seen the difference between RGB (colour) only or twin. If twin is better, why have the option for RGB only? It only adds an option that will potentially confuse.
In truth, most will probably be happy with the Nokia 8's performance, but find yourself with an old Pixel in your hands and you'll be getting better performance on the photo front.
In addition to those rear cameras 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". In fact, the bothie became the thing that Nokia talked about the most with the Nokia 8 launch - which is a little like Apple reducing it's £1000 iPhone X to talking about Animoji - but that's marketing for you.
Using the Dual-Sight camera mode 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. 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.
As much as we want to belittle bothies, we've used it on a couple of occasions with fun results. It seems to be a camera feature you roll out late one night in a bar and share, so if nothing else, there's some novelty fun to be had in the world of bothies.
It's pure Android Oreo software
- Android 8 Oreo
Originally launching on Android 7.1.1 Nougat, the update to Oreo arrived in November, making the Nokia 8 one of the first devices to update. It's certainly seen off big players like Samsung when it comes to updating. Nokia has also held a good track record of delivering security updates to its devices, and that's a good look for Nokia.
In some ways, this positions Nokia as a sort of Android alternative if you can't stretch to a Pixel. There will be more coming in this space as Android One gains more traction - see the recent HTC U11 Life for example - but there are few high-end pure Android handsets outside Google's own. In most cases, manufacturers want to stamp their mark on it - OnePlus, Huawei, and even the fairly clean Moto all make changes to own the experience.
For Nokia, that means there's not a huge amount of distinction in the software apart from the camera, which could be better. For Android purists that's not a problem as there's less to delete from your phone, you can just get on with filling it with the apps you want. We like that position too, because, while there are fewer customisation options, Android makes it simple to change your keyboard, launcher and whatever else you want.
The Nokia 8's biggest selling point is likely to be that it runs pure Android and that it got on and updated the phone with little delay. That puts this phone in a good software position, so you can enjoy a clutter-free experience with minimal bloat and with plenty of power.
The size of this phone is good and there's a lot to like about the build, but there are a few niggling things that we're not completely sold on, like the colour variations across the bodywork and the slippery finish. While the display sticks to a 16:9 aspect, its performance is actually very good during daylight hours, while the red ghosting from the night light mode is a little irritating in the hours of darkness.
A lot of talk was put into the Zeiss camera experience of the Nokia 8, but it doesn't really shine. While "bothies" can be a bit of fun, this isn't a star performer, it's rather average and at times the camera software can be slow too. It takes perfectly good daylight shots, it just doesn't quite wow.
But you do get a lot of phone for your money in the Nokia 8. It's flagship spec, but it's not not quite cutting it with the big boys when it comes to the overall flagship experience.