Photography

Nokia 9 PureView hands-on review

Perhaps it’s the photographer in me, or maybe it’s just the allure of tinkering with a new type of camera, but it’s not a foldable or 5G phone that has me so enamored at MWC 2019. No, it’s a Nokia phone with five cameras on the back — and an eye-catching design — that has me yearning to buy and make it my belated Valentine.

HMD Global makes Nokia-branded smartphones, and the new Nokia 9 PureView isn’t just interesting because it looks different. Unlike most smartphones with multiple cameras, the Nokia 9’s five-camera system works in unison to deliver a single photo rich with information. It allows for some nifty capabilities, but it also saves the RAW images alongside the JPEGs, so you can have complete control over the look of your photographs. Sure, other phones have RAW support too — but the image quality and information from the five cameras is so good that it’s much more enjoyable editing photos on the Nokia 9.

Before diving in, it’s important to note that the Nokia 9 PureView (which we’ll just call the Nokia 9 from here on out) is a limited-edition phone. As soon as HMD’s stock is gone, you likely won’t be able to buy this device again, and there’s no telling how soon that will happen.

Sleek design, good display

There’s nothing fancy about the Nokia 9 from the front. The screen is quite traditional by 2019’s standards — there’s no hole-punch camera floating somewhere on the screen and you won’t even find a notch. This may appeal to quite a few people that abhor these new screen styles.

Instead, there are relatively thin bezels on the top and the bottom, but it still looks smart. More impressive is the build quality — a 6000-series aluminum unibody is paired with Gorilla Glass 5, which helps make the Nokia 9 feel sturdy. The edges are slightly rounded, but they’re easy to grip, and the phone never once felt unwieldy. The power and volume buttons are easily accessible in all the right spots. You’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a 3.5mm headphone jack though, as there’s none here.

The Nokia 9 is outfitted with a 5.99-inch POLED screen with a sharp 2K resolution, so while it’s not jaw-dropping like the high-resolution Dynamic AMOLED screen on the Galaxy S10, I never found the screen lacking. I do need more time, though, to see how it directly compares to its competitors like the Galaxy S10e. I’m not a fan of the phone’s bottom-firing speakers, though. It’s easy to block them when playing videos, which isn’t a fun experience at all.

It’s the back that’s the highlight here. The five-camera setup is laid out in a way that mimics spider’s eyes, which may make some people shudder — and it also may irk people with trypophobia, a fear of clustered holes. None of that describes me, and I can’t stop admiring the beauty here. It looks so unlike any existing camera setup on a phone, but it’s the fact that the cameras sit flush on the back that makes it even more impressive — no camera bump here, the Nokia 9 will sit flat on your desk.

No camera bump here, the Nokia 9 will sit flat on your desk.

Notice that the fingerprint sensor is missing? The Nokia 9 joins a growing wave of phones that are opting for in-display fingerprint sensors, like the Galaxy S10, the OnePlus 6T, and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. But everyone’s using differing technology, and I’m not sure the Nokia 9’s sensor will be worth using as it gave me some difficulty already. It definitely requires longer use to make sure, but so far, I’ve found the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S10 to be the best around. Thankfully, you can use the Nokia 9’s 20-megapixel selfie camera for face unlock, though it’s not secure so you can’t use it to authenticate payments or access sensitive apps.

The body of the phone is IP67 water resistant, which is the standard for all flagship phones, and that means the Nokia 9 can stay alive submerged up to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

Performance

Promise you won’t grab your pitchforks, OK? Now here’s some bad news: The Nokia 9 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chipset, the processor that powered almost every flagship smartphone in 2018. Some of you may be a little annoyed by this, especially considering there are quite a few Android phones being announced with the latest Snapdragon 855 processor at MWC 2019.

Nokia 9 Compared To

Is the Snapdragon 845 a bad processor? Hardly. I never ran into issues with performance — the 6GB of RAM helps too — but it’s easy to feel miffed about buying a new phone that uses last year’s tech. Thankfully, the Nokia 9 comes with 128GB of internal storage, which is the base storage option you’ll find on newer phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 range.

There’s a reason for all this — the phone has been in development for quite some time, and HMD has been working closely with Qualcomm to ensure the 845 processor could support the five-camera array. The Snapdragon 855 chip is simply too new and opting to use it would have only further delayed the Nokia 9.

A camera made for shutterbugs

All this being said, the Snapdragon 845 chipset inside the Nokia 9 PureView is unlike any other. There’s a special Light Lux Capacitor that helps the phone harness the whole power of the chip for the camera experience. Five cameras mean a lot of data is being captured, and so the Image Signal Processor (ISP) needs help computing it. There’s 240 megapixels of data to deal with, after all. Tapping into the Digital Signal Processor delivers three times noise reduction, at 10 times lower power, and the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) manages the 1,200-layer depth map that’s captured.

Nokia 9 hands-on review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s not just a close partnership with Qualcomm that made this work, though. HMD worked with Zeiss to ensure the camera was tuned precisely, and the multi-camera technology largely comes in collaboration with Light. For those unaware, Light is a company that made the L16, a 16-camera device that promises DSLR-like image quality in a much more portable form factor. HMD and Light said transitioning the tech to a smartphone instead will offer “next-generation imaging for photography enthusiasts.”

Why? Because most phones with multiple cameras have clear, identified roles that do not let you use them all at once. Instead it’s usually a standard lens paired with a telephoto lens for 2 times optical zoom, or an ultra-wide-angle lens for a wider shot. On the Nokia 9, you’re getting five 12-megapixel lenses with a f/1.8 aperture each. Tap the shutter button once, and all five cameras snap a photo — sometimes more — and fuse them together for a much more detailed image.

Three of the cameras are monochromatic sensors, while the other two are RGB. This is because monochromatic sensors can capture 2.9 times more light than RGB cameras, so the Nokia 9 has the potential to deliver up to 10 times more light. There’s also a fantastic monochrome camera mode that uses the three sensors for beautiful, true black-and-white images if that’s a style you want to pursue.

From what I’ve seen so far, photos are well-detailed, with true-to-life colors. There’s one photo of the dog I edited from RAW — the original image was a little overexposed, but it was easy to bring that brightness down in Adobe Lightroom, and the end result looks great.

Here are two images compared with those from the Google Pixel 3 XL. The Pixel cranks up the colors on the image of the car, which makes it a strong photo, but the Nokia 9 holds its own, and you may prefer its more natural tones. I much prefer the Nokia 9 photo of the tree and the sun. It’s a tricky shot for most phones, and the Nokia 9’s original image was dark, but I was able to brighten it up in Lightroom, and I think the photo looks better than the Pixel’s.

Where the Pixel and some other phones may win out is with subjects that move a lot, or when you have shaky hands. There’s no optical image stabilization on the Nokia 9, and I noticed it struggled with the dog moving around, as the images were blurry.

But the Nokia 9’s biggest issue is the processing time it takes to compile the images. You get a preview that you can look at — and you can keep taking photos if you want — but if you want to quickly jump in to edit a photo right after capturing it, be prepared to wait up to 30 seconds to a minute. I was okay with waiting most of the time if it meant getting a more detailed photo, but it may be a deal-breaker to some.

One feature I’m excited to use more is Depth Control — which you may recall is baked into Google Photos on supported devices. The Nokia 9 captures more than 1,200 layers of depth data in normal photos, so in Google Photos, you can completely refocus a photo, while also adjusting the intensity of the background or foreground blur. You can completely change how the photo looks, and based on early testing, it doesn’t look overdone.

The downside is that Depth Control is only available for JPEG photos, which may not be the files you want to use most of the time. The Nokia 9 gives you both the JPEG and RAW files of an image — the former is processed and is instantly shareable. The latter not so much, but you can then take it into Adobe Lightroom (which the phone lets you install in the setup process) to tweak to perfection. RAW photos are what photographers use to edit rather than JPEG images, because RAW maintains all the data uncompressed, giving you more control over editing color, exposure, and more. Editing JPEG photos is restrictive, but editing RAW is the opposite, and that’s what makes the Nokia 9 a lot of fun.

Adobe will also be issuing an update to the Android Lightroom app so it will support all five lens profiles on the Nokia 9, for better image quality and robust control.

What I’m worried about is how much storage space you’ll need to save these RAW images. Google Photos will automatically back up high-resolution JPEG images for free, but you’ll likely have to start paying to back up the RAW images, as it will quickly eat up your free storage space. Sure, there’s a 128GB of storage, but there’s sadly no MicroSD card slot to add more if you are running low.

Overall, there’s a lot to test with the camera here, but using the Nokia 9 is thoroughly engrossing, and I genuinely can’t wait for it to be my next camera companion.

Android One software

There’s nothing to worry about regarding the phone’s software, as it’s an Android One smartphone, meaning it runs a clean and uncluttered version of Android (also known as stock Android), with no bloatware. The bigger selling point is the promise of fast software updates — the phone will get two years of version updates and three years of security updates. It’s already running the latest Android 9 Pie version, and HMD has a good track record of maintaining a fast pace of updates for its phones.

There are virtually no other software features on the phone, which is a part of the allure of Android One. This bare-bones approach helps make the interface dead simple to use, while still looking good.

Battery life

A 3,320mAh battery capacity is packed into the phone, which means the Nokia 9 will last just about a day — no more, no less. If you’re a heavy user, there’s a good chance you may need to plug it into a charger to make sure it will last.

Alternatively, you can place it on a Qi-enabled wireless charging pad throughout the day to keep it topped up, as the phone supports wireless charging.

Price and availability

The Nokia 9 PureView costs 599 euros and when it comes to the U.S. it will set you back $ 699. That puts it $ 100 less than the Google Pixel 3, and $ 50 below the new Galaxy S10e. As mentioned previously, it’s a limited-edition phone. There’s a genuine chance it could be sold out soon after orders start — or HMD’s stock could be vast. The phone is releasing in March, and pre-orders have begun immediately in certain markets.

Is the five-camera setup worth the price? The target demographic is photographers, and people particularly fond of the classic Nokia brand — the fact it’s limited edition alone may help it sell like hot cakes.

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Photography – Digital Trends

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