The year 2017 has been special for HMD Global as it successfully managed to revive the iconic ‘Nokia’ brand. Besides relaunching the nostalgic Nokia 3310 in a completely new avatar, the company also launched a bunch of Android smartphones at different price points. The latest is the Nokia 8, which is HMD Global’s current flagship smartphone featuring top-of-the-line hardware, a dual-camera setup at the back, new design and more.
The Nokia 8 is competitively priced at Rs 36,999 and is available to purchase online exclusively via Amazon India, and from offline retail outlets. The company’s flagship smartphone competes with the likes of OnePlus 5, Honor 8 Pro and LG G6 to name a few. I spent a while with the Nokia 8 to see what HMD Global has to offer, and here’s my review.
Looks good, but nothing refreshing
Talking about design and build, edge-to-edge displays are quickly becoming the hottest trend of 2017 smartphones. Forget the high-end smartphones like Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8, or the Apple iPhone X, even budget smartphones like Micromax Canvas Infinity and LG Q6 that are priced under Rs 15,000 feature edge-to-edge displays. Sadly, the same is not the case with the Nokia 8. ALSO READ: OnePlus 5 Review: Feel the power
HMD Global has gone with the mainstream and rather boring 5.3-inch IPS QHD display with thick bezels at the top and bottom. The display is crisp and bright enough to be visible even under harsh sunlight. The color reproduction of the panel is quite punchy, the blacks are dark and whites are adequately bright too.
The earpiece and front camera are placed just above the display, whereas the Android navigation buttons are below the display. Here, the home button is of a capsule shape and also comes embedded with a fingerprint sensor, which works well in unlocking the smartphone quickly. The power / sleep button and the volume rocker are placed on the right, whereas the hybrid dual-SIM card slot is placed on the left. The 3.5mm headphone jack is at the top, whereas the USB Type-C port is at the bottom.
Now, while most smartphone makers are opting for the glass back design, HMD Global has gone with a 6,000-series aluminum back with a polished surface. And despite having a glossy finish, the smartphone doesn’t easily slip out of the hand. The upper half has the dual-camera module with ZEISS branding, the dual-tone LED flash and a laser auto-focus module, all of this housed in an elongated capsule like design. To add to the aesthetic appeal, the company has added a metal ring around it. It does have a slight bump, but it isn’t bothersome at all. ALSO READ: Honor 8 Pro Review: A premium smartphone at less than a premium price
Dual-cameras: Decent, but not impressive
Nokia smartphones have been known for their camera prowess, and those who have used the N-Series or Lumia smartphones would know that better. With the Nokia 8, HMD Global has revived its older partnership, and the new smartphone now comes with Carl ZEISS optics. Continuing with the latest trend, the Nokia 8 also comes with a dual-camera setup, featuring a 13-megapixel RGB (color) sensor with optical image stabilization (OIS) and a 13-megapixel monochrome sensor, both of f/2.0 aperture. Both cameras are backed with laser auto-focus for faster focusing.
The camera app on the Nokia 8 is fairly straightforward, but for some, it can be a little complex too. On the top left, you have the hamburger menu to enter camera settings, followed by an icon to toggle between dual-camera shot, color or monochrome. Next is the camera switcher – front or rear camera, followed by timer, HDR and LED flash toggle.
At the bottom, you have the video recorder on the left, camera shutter in the center and gallery shortcut on the right. Now, just above the camera shutter, you have one more shortcut to toggle between manual mode, live bokeh, panorama and beauty mode.
Before I talk about the quality, I would like to highlight the fact that the camera app is quite buggy, and the core issue is with the shutter lag. There were several occasions where it took about two-seconds to save the photo to camera roll. A couple of times, it also resulted in blurry shots. To ensure I don’t always get a blurry shot, I had to click the camera shutter button and keep holding the phone for a couple of seconds until I see the photo being saved in the camera roll. With a device running the top of the line hardware, I did not expect this.
Moving on to the quality, I had high expectations but the Nokia 8 disappointed me. Daylight shots captured outdoors are decent, with enough details, but character is missing in the images. Take an example of the shot below, the sky looks a bit washed out, whites look a little pale, whereas the overall picture looks hazy.
But now, look at this other shot, suddenly, you notice that the vibrance and clarity is much better than the pervious one. And this is what I have noticed often; the Nokia 8’s dual-camera setup lacks consistency. Even with the close-up shot – while you get a decent depth-of-field, the flower looks blurry, and the edges aren’t sharp enough either.
The dual-camera setup also lets you add DSLR-like bokeh, where you can manually adjust the aperture to keep the subject in focus and defocus the background. But because the smartphone is not using a dedicated telephoto lens, instead using the other lens as a depth sensor, it does not do a good enough job.
Take an example of the three photos below – the one that was shot indoors shows decent level of background blur, but the area around the laptop is left in focus. In the second photo, which was taken outdoors with enough depth in the background, the dual-camera setup does a decent enough job. But then look at the third photo, where you have the sofas lying behind and the grass on the size, the cameras fail to do a truly good job.
Lastly, the addition of monochrome sensor theoretically means that you would be able to capture photos in low-light with less noise. However, the Nokia 8 disappoints in this department. The photos lacked clarity, turned out to be a bit grainy and when exposed to light, it did show some lens flare. Take a look at some of the sample shots below, same frame captured with twin cameras and with the monochrome sensor.
For selfie lovers, the Nokia 8 comes with a 13-megapixel front camera. Selfies captured with ample lighting conditions looked good with decent skin tones and adequate details. But you really need to keep your hands steady while capturing selfies, else the photos will turn out to be a bit blurry. I had to put a timer to ensure I was able to capture good shots.
Nokia has also added a dual-sight (Bothie) mode, which lets you capture photos or record videos using both the front and rear cameras at the same time. The mode can also be used to go live on Facebook or YouTube to show both sides of the story to your viewers. It pretty much works and those who often go live on their social networks will definitely love this mode.
Pure Android, speedy performance
It is no secret, the fragmentation issue on Android ecosystem has been talked about a lot. You may end up buying a top-end smartphone, but you hardly get any major software updates on time, and forget about the security patches and bug fixes. Nokia wants to differentiate itself from others and has opted for Pure Android OS, rather than going for those fancy over the top customizations. This allows Nokia to roll out timely updates and keep the smartphones away from vulnerabilities.
The Nokia 8 runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat OS with the latest October security patch. The Android 8.0 Oreo beta update has already been rolled out for early testers, and the final version is expected to roll out for the masses in the coming months.
HMD Global has added some customizations though, but that is only in the form of the camera app. Also, there is no bloatware; instead you just get the essential Google apps such as Gmail, Photos, Drive, Chrome, Calendar, Maps and Duo. Other additions include an always-on display that shows you the time, and notifications count. The company has also included double-tap-to-wake feature and some motion gestures, such as flip to silence, and lift to decrease the ringtone volume.
Performance on the Nokia 8 is not an issue at all. The Snapdragon 835 octa-core SoC and 4GB of RAM ensure a smooth and speedy performance. The pure Android OS and optimizations from HMD Global also help to keep things butter smooth. I heavily rely on apps such Slack, WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, and I constantly keep switching between them. Even with all the multitasking, I did not come across any lag.
Gaming performance on the Nokia 8 is also pretty smooth. Casual games such as Subway Surfers, Super Mario Run and Ludo King, among others, run smoothly. Even graphics-intensive games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne or Modern Combat 5 run butter-smooth without any hiccups. While the back of most smartphones tend to get a little warm, the Nokia 8 remained cool throughout. Much of the credit can be given to the heat pipe that is used inside to keep the thermal levels at low, and also the Snapdragon 835 SoC that is known to function as efficiently as is possible today.
For Rs 36,999, the Nokia 8 does ticks most of the checkboxes, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, near-stock Android Nougat experience, and the dual-camera setup. At this price point, the Nokia 8 features a good design and build, offers stock Android with timely security updates, and offers a speedy performance.
However, the performance of dual-camera setup is disappointing, especially in low-light. It is not on par with what you get on competing smartphones, and battery life could have been a little better. With the Nokia 8, HMD Global is taking on the likes of the OnePlus 5, which is our de-facto recommendation in this price range. Unfortunately, it simply isn’t as good as the OnePlus 5, and makes sense only if the nostalgia element of owning a Nokia flagship appeals to you.
If you’re looking for a smartphone that offers a premium look and feel, and features top-notch hardware, the Mi MIX 2 could be a good alternative. And for those who have a slightly lower budget but looking for a good overall smartphone, the Honor 8 Pro is not a bad choice either.