Ever since the brand’s revival at the hands of parent company HMD Global a few years ago, Nokia has become a major player in the budget and mid-range smartphone markets, but it’s struggled to crack the flagship space. Can the Nokia 9 PureView change that?
Announced at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, the 9 PureView has one clear selling point – it’s the first smartphone with a whopping five rear camera lenses – but it comes with a few major compromises that leave us still wondering if it can really compete with the latest phones from the likes of Samsung and Sony.
Price and availability
So far Nokia has only announced that the 9 PureView will be available in March, with pre-orders starting soon. As for the price, it’s currently set for $699 – with pricing for the UK and other markets yet to be confirmed.
$699 is arguably fairly affordable for a flagship phone – it’s a lot less than Samsung’s new £799/$899 Galaxy S10 for example – but with affordable competition from the likes of the £499/$549 OnePlus 6T or £499 Honor View 20, Nokia has to prove that the 9 PureView is worth what it still a considerable amount of money.
One lens good, five lenses better
So let’s jump straight in with the main reason anyone would consider picking up the Nokia 9 PureView: that absolutely mad camera configuration.
Flip the phone over and you’ll find yourself looking at a spider’s web of lenses: two colour lenses and three black-and-white, accompanied by the flash and autofocus. It’s a design sure to prove a bit controversial – I, for one, think it looks absolutely horrid, but you may well disagree.
More interesting though is what those five lenses do. Unlike multi-lens setups in other phones, the 9 PureView doesn’t include a variety of wide-angle and zoom lenses that it can switch between on the fly. Instead, it uses all five lenses together in every shot, stitching the results together with some nifty computational photography.
This is essentially the same thing that Google’s Pixel phones do with just one lens, but by using five lenses at once Nokia says it can achieve faster results, processing the five shots in parallel rather than in series.
There are other benefits to the set-up too. The three monochrome lenses can be used for native black-and-white photography (which should result in sharper, richer shots) and Nokia also claims that the five lenses acting in conjunction will produce the best bokeh shots around, with up to 1200 layers of depth that you’ll be able to choose from after taking shots.
Photography is so clearly the focus of the device that not only has it crept into the name, it’s also seen Nokia partner not only with Zeiss for the lenses (as in previous phones) but also with Adobe, offering users a copy of Lightroom during setup to edit their shots – including the option to edit in RAW.
Of course, the big question mark is around how good all of this actually is in the final phone – especially since it’s missing out on zoom and wide-angle options. After a brief play around the camera seemed impressive – if not revolutionary – but a poorly lit hotel meeting room isn’t exactly the best place to put a camera through its paces, so we’ll have to wait for the final review to really assess the 9 PureView.
The camera is strange enough, but in its own way the rest of the phone is even trickier to place. Nokia is positioning the 9 PureView as its 2019 flagship – and pricing it to match – but just like last year’s 8 Sirocco the phone matches that in some respects, but sits uncomfortably short of what consumers are likely to expect from a high-end phone this year in others.
That’s obvious nowhere more than in the phone’s internals. Nokia is at pains to emphasise the massive amounts of processing power required to fire those five lens simultaneously, which makes it all the stranger that the phone isn’t packing a Snapdragon 855, but instead the 845 – now over a year old.
Nokia insists that this is because it’s been working closely with Qualcomm for months on optimisations, and that it’s essentially pushing the 845 further than any other phone out there, but a flagship phone with last year’s chip is still a hard sell. The included 6GB RAM and 128GB storage are better at least, though even there 8GB is rapidly becoming the new standard.
You can see the same mix of compromises in the design. The 9 PureView is slim at just 8mm (and with no camera bump, impressively), and looks slick with Nokia’s now-familiar anodised aluminium edges. But it’s still packing bezels at both the top and bottom of the screen, at a time when other flagships are rapidly going full-screen.
Of course some people still prefer the bezelled look, which might give the 9 PureView some extra appeal. The bezels are at least wrapped around a decent display – a 5.99in 2K POLED display that’s curved at the edges – which also boasts an in-screen fingerprint sensor. That, together with wireless charging, IP67 water-resistance, and the omission of a headphone jack, are the design aspects that do feel flagship.
One final note on software – as with the rest of Nokia’s lineup, the 9 PureView is part of the Android One program, which means you’re getting the ‘pure’ Google software experience throughout.
That not only means things like no bloatware and a clean UI, but also three years of security patches and two years of feature updates – meaning the phone will eventually be updated not just to Android Q, but also to Android R in a couple years’ time.
It’s always tricky to fully assess a phone early after spending just 20 minutes with it, but even harder when it’s as photo-focussed at the Nokia 9 PureView.
With its design and processor lagging behind the competition, the 9 PureView is likely to stand or fall based on whether or not the photo output lives up to Nokia’s hype. If it does, this could be a popular choice for phone photographers, but if it can’t stand out then this will feel like little more than a relic of 2018.