Hands-on Preview: Nokia 8 smartphone


Three budget handsets and a fifty quid dumbphone do not a resurgence make.

Ever since Nokia reappeared earlier this year, we’ve been wondering when it was going to truly make its mark with a flagship phone. That time has finally come – the Nokia 8 is here, and it’s every bit the high-end handset we’ve been pinning our hopes on.

Bringing back long-time collaborator Zeiss optics, and learning lessons from the Nokia 3, 5 and Nokia 6, put it in a great place to make a splash – even with big guns like OnePlus, Honor and Motorola already having made their mark.

I got to try one out ahead of launch, and based on early impressions, there’s a lot to like. Especially if you’re a fan of copper.

DESIGN & BUILD

If the Nokia 6 was a chunky slab of metal, the 8 is a slim, svelte slice. It’s 7.3mm in the middle, but tapers down to less than 5mm at the edges, with smooth curves that fit perfectly in your hand.

It feels slick to hold, whether you go for the grippy, matt colours with their coarser texture, or the shiny, polished variants that are a bit more of a fingerprint magnet, but look that little bit more premium. It’s a similar look to HTC’s U11, only here it’s metal and not glass doing the shining.

Annoyingly, I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the copper version, which is easily the best-looking phone in the line-up. The stealthy antenna lines at the top and bottom leave the entire back of the phone free from unwanted distractions, letting you get a good look at the shiny surface.

Up front, you still get the familiar screen bezels we’ve been seeing for the best part of ten years – Nokia hasn’t made the move to skinny screens just yet, leaving Samsung and LG (and possibly Apple later in the year) in a category to themselves. It still looks good, just not as future-friendly as some of the more expensive competition.

CAMERAS

With Zeiss making a long-awaited return to Nokia phones here, you’d expect the 8 to make a big splash, and on paper, it’s got every chance of doing it. There are three 13MP sensors on board – two on the back and one on the front.

One of those rear snappers is pure monochrome, with the other shooting in RGB colour. They work together with Nokia’s own algorithms to give your pics a detail boost, or you can use them individually for some moody black and white shots. Phase-detect AF, an IR range-finder and f/2.0 apertures should help it take high-quality photos.

Only the colour sensor has optical image stabilisation, though, so might be better suited to those low-light shots. I only got to take a few snaps in perfect sunlight, so it’s tough to tell how it will perform, but early impressions are positive.

The one thing I’m not so sold on? The idea that we’ll soon be using both front and back cameras to capture Bothies – it’s the kind of #millennial nonsense I’m clearly too over-the-hill to appreciate, but maybe the kids will be down with it once the phone arrives.

SCREEN & SOUND

When I first picked it up, I wondered if Nokia had used an OLED panel for the 5.3in display: everything looks impressively rich and colourful, with excellent contrast. There’s even an always-on display option, which pops the time, date and any notifications on the standby screen. Turns out it’s actually an LCD screen, which is pretty damn impressive.

The 2K resolution is par for the course in a top-spec blower like this, but everything still looks sharp and precise. Viewing angles seem pretty good, and it gets seriously bright, too – Nokia reckons it’ll hit 700nits, and it certainly stayed perfectly legible when I stepped outside with it.

Sound is more of a mixed bag. There’s only a single speaker, and I didn’t get the chance to properly try it out, but Nokia is promising big things when it comes to recording. Ozo audio is essentially a 3D recording algorithm that uses multiple mics to create surround sound. Again, it’s one to test before we pass judgment. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you don’t have to worry about living the dongle life just yet.

PERFORMANCE & SOFTWARE

If the new Nokia’s first three phones didn’t quite hit the mark when it came to power, this more than makes up for it. Here you get a Snapdragon 835 CPU and 4GB of RAM, which puts it on par with the most expensive smartphones around right now.

It certainly felt rapid when swiping between home screens and opening apps – although that could partly be down to Nokia’s barebones approach to Android customisation. It feels almost exactly like a Google Pixel, with no ugly UI or preinstalled bloat slowing things down. That also means it’ll be first in line to get Android updates, including the big push to Android O later in the year.

That Qualcomm chip also has one of the best mobile GPUs around for gaming, so we don’t doubt it’ll absolutely fly when you load up Asphalt 8.

The one worry is the 3000mAh battery, which isn’t exactly massive. Nokia reckons it has done a lot of work to optimise the CPU, which should translate to a day and a half between charges, but we’ll have to wait until a full review to see how that works out in real life.

At least you get USB-C charging here, and QuickCharge 3.0 support for quick top-ups.

NOKIA 8 INITIAL VERDICT

Sure, it might have a similar look, but the 8 feels a world apart from Nokia’s three other smartphones. The leap in build quality, hardware and general design is huge, and the dual camera tech shows plenty of promise.

With European pricing set to start at €599 (there’s no US or Australian pricing yet, but it should make it here eventually), it puts the 8 at the pricier end of the smartphone spectrum. Not quite as high as the Samsungs and Apples of the world, but more expensive than a OnePlus 5. It’ll be down to those cameras to make up the difference, then.

I’m not convinced that doubling up the front and back cameras is going to make enough of a splash, but maybe there’s still a lot of love for the Nokia name out there – and a flagship phone is what will bring the fans back.

We’ll find out in a few weeks, when the phone goes on sale and we give it a full review.

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