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Hands-on with Nokia's insane 41-megapixel 808 PureView phone

updated 06:10 am EST, Mon February 27, 2012

Nokia 808 PureView gets our photographic test

Nokia might be winding down Symbian, but it has given the old platform one big last hurrah in the 808 PureView. The design centers on a seemingly reality-defying 41-megapixel camera. We got to try that sensor, and the phone, and you can read-on for some first-hand experiences.

The camera is by far the centerpiece of the 808's design; it's so big that it needs a huge lump in an already huge phone. Ergonomically, the phone feels like a return to the N95's heyday, albeit with more hand-friendly rounded sides. It did feel comfortable, though. While the four-inch ClearBlack display was 360x640, it didn't matter as much, and a gentle Galaxy Nexus-like curve gave it a distinct touch.

Actually shooting with the camera is a bit of a feat in itself, not that it's hard but rather that there's a sheer number of options. If you dare, you can take direct 41-megapixel photos, which we can vouch are genuinely that high in resolution. We snapped a photo of signs from the opposite end of the booth, and they came out reasonably sharp -- effectively the equivalent of digital zoom without the penalty. The files are no more than 10MB, we were told, and single-shot response was still very fast even at the giant image size.

If you don't need photos that big, the camera has two approaches to lower resolution shots. You can simply 'zoom' with a cropped resolution like five or eight megapixels, or you can take a one-for-one picture covering the entire frame. If you do, it uses pixel binning, here combining seven pixels into one effective pixel, to improve performance in low light. A brightly-lit venue wasn't ideal for that, but there were certainly test samples to prove it. Even a sunset scene at the full 41 megapixels had a large amount of detail.

Video recording has some of these improvements, too. You can't record video at 41 megapixels, given that no modern camera can, but the 808 PureView is one of Nokia's few phones that can record 1080p. You can still have a virtual form of zoom by choosing a part of the scene to center on. Audio has been given a lift through both Dolby 5.1 support and a new "rich recording" that can take sounds as loud as 140dB; no more clipping and harsh noises when you're recording a rock concert,

Misgivings mostly center around the choice of OS. It's still Belle, not Windows Phone, and that still means a somewhat awkward and (if our experience is an indicator) crash-prone platform. As fast as it can be, it's a platform on its way out.

That makes the 450 euro ($604) price for its spring launch a bit much to take. What you're really paying for is a capable, experimental camera; the phone almost comes for free. It's certainly tempting -- even if you're an Apple fan, the iPhone 4S doesn't have that much resolution to work with. If you don't want to use Symbian, Nokia's Jo Harlow mentioned at the event Monday that the hope was to spread it to Windows Phone, which could make it ideal for anyone accepting of Microsoft's platform.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Jeronimo2000

    Joined: Dec 1969



    And I thought the days of the "megapixel craze" were over. Would like to see the sensor size of that thing.

  1. Mr. Strat

    Joined: Dec 1969



    41MP or not, it's still a point-and-shoot.

  1. smoak5

    Joined: Dec 1969


    sensor size

    i think the sensor size is descent at 1/1.2 inches. you should see the downloaded full res sample photos on engadget. pretty impressive regardless! gotta love competition. cmon apple, the bar has been set for best camera phone and it is not the iPhone 4s anymore.

  1. tundaman

    Joined: Dec 1969


    not a phone

    Sometimes people seems to forget that a camera in a mobile phone is a feature, not a product in itself. You cannot compromise with things that are essential for a good mobile phone experience, like size, battery life and memory, to highlight something that should be a feature, and still call it an upgraded phone.

    Like the article pointed out, this ugly aberration looks more like camera with a phone as bonus, not the other way around.

  1. SierraDragon

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Pixel counting is silly

    That phone is a waste of space, except as an experiment to see if a segment of fools (and web media fools) will be impressed by pixel counting. Sales will approximate zero.

    And making DUMB statements like "the iPhone 4S doesn't have that much resolution to work with," implying that more pixels would by definition be better just reveals photographic ignorance.

    Camera competence is all about optimizing the _balance_ of OPTICS, software, sensor, ergonomics, intended use, etc. Increasing pixel count to such a high number has consequences in other areas that will degrade the overall competence of such a camera for its intended use handheld in a phone format at $600 price point.

    Note that about half of Nikon pro photogs consider the 36 MP of the new Nikon D800 pro DSLR to perhaps be too many pixels. And Nikon pros use lenses that cost more than that phone by a lot. And often with the cameras on tripods that also cost more than that phone.

  1. Makosuke

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I think there's probably a market for a good point-and-shoot that happens to have a phone attached to it. That is, that phone hardware is trivial in comparison to the guts of an average compact camera, and some people care more about the camera than the phone, but would rather carry around one brick than two.

    Not sure how big that market is, or if it's big enough to support actual products, but niches can be successful.

    What I'm curious about is what the resolution of the lens on this thing is. I've seen plenty of tests of high-megapixel cameras that, if you downscale and then upscale the image, it looks exactly the same--that the megapixels are just in the file size, not in the actual data being recorded.

    And I've seen plenty of tests of lenses that weigh significantly more than this entire device and can't support more than a dozen or so megapixels of resolution--any more megapixels than that, and the glass is too blurry for it to matter.

    Now, I'm not saying that this is definitely the case here--it might not be. I am saying that I'm highly skeptical that when Nikon is putting 36 MP on a 35mm sensor several times the surface area of this one, and I'm personally complaining about the noise on 14MP sensors on an APS-C sized sensor, I honestly wonder how good those 41 million dots are. Particularly in, say, less-than-ideal light--most point-and-shoots with ~10MP, decent sized sensors can do okay in bright sunlight, but in even modestly challenging light they turn into a noisy mess.

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