Nokia returns to the high-end smartphone market with style and power – but is that enough?
The Nokia 8 aims to make a statement: the world’s once-dominant phone brand is back. Not that the 8 is the first new Android smartphone from Nokia. There’s the cheaper Nokia 3, and it has also released mid-range Nokia 5 and 6 handsets. But the Nokia 8 is the most important – the premium handset that’s set to compete with the likes of the iPhone and the Galaxy S8.
It’s wonderfully slim, measuring 7.3mm, and because it’s hewn from a single block of aluminium it has a solidity like few other phones. Its chamfered edges and curved sides ensure that it sits snugly in the hand, and make it easy to access the front-mounted fingerprint reader without adjusting your grip or shuffling the phone about in your palm.
Front and centre, of course, is the screen. It’s not an edge-to-edge design, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8’s or the LG G6’s, but at 5.3in across the diagonal it’s a decent size, and its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution translates to an impeccably crisp 554ppi. It’s super-bright too, hitting a blinding 663cd/m2, so everything looks vibrant. A coating of Gorilla Glass 5 means it also has a good chance of surviving accidental drops without shattering.
Under the aluminium, the Nokia 8 has the sort of internals you’d expect from a modern flagship smartphone: an eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and a full 4GB of RAM. Predictably, therefore, the 8 achieved benchmark scores that were on par with all the big-hitters of the Android world: 6,540 in Geekbench 4’s multicore test, 1,930 in the single-core benchmark. That’s a hair’s breadth behind the Galaxy S8. The same was true in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 gaming benchmark.
There’s even better news when it comes to battery life. The marketing has made much of the Nokia 8’s “advanced heat management solution” – an internal liquid-cooling system that’s designed to draw heat away from the chipset. The idea is to extend battery life by keeping heat levels to a minimum, and we have to say, it works.
With this in place, the Nokia 8 played back continuous video for a stonking 18hrs 46mins on a single charge. That puts it ahead of the best that Apple, Samsung and Sony have to offer; in this class, only the OnePlus 5’s 20hrs 40mins could beat it.
At the rear of the Nokia 8 sits a 13-megapixel Zeiss-branded camera. In fact, it’s a dual-camera arrangement: in addition to your bog-standard RGB sensor, there’s an f/2.0 monochrome sensor that’s used to resolve fine detail. The input from the two sensors is combined in-camera to create a final image that offers both sharp details and bright, punchy colours. This isn’t a Nokia innovation – we first saw it on the HTC One M8 way back in 2014 – but it works well here.
The front camera also uses a 13-megapixel sensor, and, intriguingly, it’s possible to activate both cameras at once, to capture what Nokia is optimistically calling a “bothie”. The resultant image shows both the scene in front of you and, to the side, your reaction to it. It’s a fun little feature, and it works with video as well as still images; I can see it catching on for Facebook and YouTube live streams.
The Nokia 8 is an attractive and powerful smartphone, no doubt about that. Everything about it oozes quality, from the high-res screen to the impressive battery life – and, happily, Nokia has equipped it with stock Android. The price is competitive with other flagship phones too; it’s worth mentioning that you get 64GB of onboard storage, which can be expanded by up to 256GB via a microSD slot.
The only question that remains is whether, in 2017, there’s much appetite in the market for another high-end handset. It’s a long time since the Nokia brand alone was enough to sell phones. Even so, the Nokia 8 is, on its own merits, a worthy rival to the established giants of the market. It might not fully re-establish the prestige of the Nokia of old, but it’s a big, confident stride in the right direction.