If you’re smart you’re probably waiting until November before upgrading or getting a new phone. It’s a wise move because by then all the major 2017 releases will be on shelf, with refreshes only coming in about 6 months time. That said, 2017 is an infuriatingly glorious year to buy a high-end smartphone. There just isn’t a bad one on the market, but the choice is crazy. Except if you’re shopping below R10 000. At that price point the Nokia 8 is the only sensible option if you’re not chasing after the new Blackberry.
By now you should know the deal: HMD Global holds the Nokia license and went about its business at Mobile World Congress launching three budget devices alongside the 3310 redo which was mainly a marketing gimmick. Nokias 3, 5 and 6 are exquisitely built devices that are real stars in the sub-R5 000 category.
Then the CEO Aarto Nummela left the company and along with him the tale of Nokia catering to the low end and only launching at MWC. Nokia 8 was unveiled shortly after that on the eve of IFA. And we’re here, holding the 6 000 series aluminium chassis in our hands and wondering whether or not the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and 4 GB of RAM make it equal to the other flagship Android phones we’ve already seen this year.
In short: yes it is. But that doesn’t tell the full story.
You might not believe this, but the Nokia 8 made Samsung’s Galaxy S8 feel a bit pedestrian. The S8 holds the design trump card, sure, and has a gazillion more features under the hood. Then the Nokia swings back with pure speed. Switching back to my preferred email app – Samsung Focus is truly amazing – made me realise how much fluidity Samsung sacrifices to deliver its sizeable hit of convenience software add-ons (aka bloatware).
That beastly silicon is unburdened on the Nokia, pushing around the lightest Android skin I’ve ever come across with ease. Seriously, Nokia only added its own camera app and changed the now circular icon colour scheme to blue. Everything else is Android 7.1.1 as it came out the Google factory.
This light-handed approach should make the firmware updates come through a lot quicker, but who knows what the network operators will do to retard that situation.
From a size perspective Nokia 8 is about on par with the likes of the Huawei P10 Plus and other 5,5-inch screen bearing slabs. It’s a shame that HMD couldn’t trim the bezels down to get a better screen-to-body ratio on the 8’s 5,3-inch IPS LCD. We do, however, appreciate that the metal unibody folds in over the glass front, which adds the the structural rigidity and also protects the front glass in corner drops. But it’s still criminal to put that size screen in such a large footprint.
Other design question we have is why the slender fingerprint reader? Half of the relatively slow reaction time can be attributed to the narrow scan that the device takes. If you don’t get it just right, or didn’t move your finger around enough in the enrolment process, it just fails.
Screen quality, however, is top notch. This LCD panel may be in the out of fashion 16:9 format, but the 1440p resolution is pin sharp. It’s also one of the brightest panels on the market with deep blacks that create almost OLED levels of contrast. On the downside, Android Nougat doesn’t support the “night shift” or “eye comfort” blue light dimming modes which are intended to guard the integrity of your circadian rhythm which can come as a bit of a shock when the lights go out.
That bright and bold LCD also doesn’t tax the 3 090 mAh battery too much because the Nokia 8 consistently made it to 10 PM with around 20 per cent charge from around 6 AM. We suspect the Snapdragon 835 efficiency has a lot to do with that endurance.
You’ve probably noticed the return of the Zeiss branding to the Nokia camera. To be fair, the lens quality can’t be faulted, just image processing. Nokia, like many other manufacturers lately, tried to go the Huawei monochrome+colour sensor route. While this approach can capture more detail in good conditions, the processing lag in less than optimal conditions can really harm the system.
This 13 MP dual camera isn’t something you can trust when shooting handheld in poor lighting. just look at the difference between it and the current low light champion Samsung Galaxy S8.
In good daylight, however, it’s a different story altogether. It did match the similarly equipped Huawei P10 Plus in some instances, but there’s something weird going on with the white balance which pushes the sky into turquoise territory as opposed to the Huawei’s more accurate blue:
But I digress. The star of the show here, according to the market material, is the so-called “Bothie” which captures video and pictures from the front 13 MP camera as well as the main camera at the same time. It’s a mode that Samsung also offers, but Nokia take ownership of because of the camera symmetry and ability to livestream to social media platforms (Samsung only offers 5 minutes of video capture in this mode on the Exynos-powered Galaxy S8 and rebooted once while I was doing the test shots).
HMD deserve praise for its achievements with the Nokia 8. Not only did the company deliver one of the very best chipsets on the market at a reasonable price, but it also flexed some engineering muscle to deliver a creative camera function. Audio nerds (like certain tech journalists who are always looking for a better interview recording solution) may rage at Nokia for not using the OZO 360 audio capture in a dedicated sound recording app, but we can confirm that your videos shot on this device will be more immersive experiences.
Well done Nokia. While this isn’t the very best on the market, it’s a great value proposition for those who prioritise raw power over camera quality or lifestyle features. The Nokia 8 is on sale now for R9 500.