The Nokia 8 was the first flagship smartphone from HMD Global, the Finnish company that bills itself as “The Home of Nokia Phones.”
It’s a handset of many firsts for the company, the first to feature ZEISS optics, the first flagship to be milled from a single block of 6000 series aluminium, and its first handset with a Snapdragon 835 chip.
It was up against the 2017 crop of flagships which included some strong contenders like the Galaxy S8 and the Google Pixel 2. While it has been positioned as a bonafide flagship, the Nokia 8 doesn’t quite hit all of the high notes.
- 5.3” IPS LCD Display (2560×1440)
- 13 Megapixel Camera, f/2.0 aperture
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 platform 6 GB RAM, 128 GB of Storage + MicroSD (256 GB max)
- 3090 mAh battery
- Android 7.1.1
The Nokia 8 was launched in October 2017 and was originally targeted at the high-end market market. At publishing time, the Nokia 8 was priced at ~$405 USD.
Even though this product was designed to compete with the best handsets, the truth is that many products will shift positioning as their price change over their lifespan. Let’s see how the Nokia 8 can compete today.
Based on pricing and popular requested comparisons, we chose a group of products which will be used to assess how the Nokia 8 fits in its immediate smartphone landscape: OnePlus OnePlus 5 (~479 USD), Huawei Mate 10 (~550 USD), Samsung Galaxy S8 (~600 USD), Google Pixel 2 (~544 USD).
The Nokia of days gone by was famous for its rugged cellphones that could take a beating and while it’s clear that HMD has tried to achieve the same standard, but it’s not quite there yet. The metal unibody build for which HMD Global sacrificed wireless charging for feels robust and doesn’t add heft to the device.
The way the metal curves from the sides at the back makes it quite comfortable to use the handset for extended periods of time without feeling fatigued. The volume and power buttons feel sturdy and respond with a reassuring click when pressed."THE METAL UNIBODY CHASSIS FEELS ROBUST"
The build quality is a step above what you would expect from a premium mid-range smartphone but firmly below rival flagships like the Galaxy S8. Moreover, it doesn’t quite feel like the indestructible Nokia phones of the past so probably don’t be too sure about its dropability (best defined as the ability to survive drops unscathed).
In addition to it being a fingerprint magnet much like many smartphones are these days, the Nokia 8 is also quite prone to scratches. Mild scratching was visible at the back of our unit merely days after it was taken out of the box.
Some particularly bad scratches were also visible at the front even though the device hasn’t been dropped. They were likely inflicted during normal usage which involved being kept in and taken out of a jeans pocket several times a day. Nokia 8 owners would be wise to invest in a case if they want to protect the look of the device.
Analyzing how the smartphone was designed, we estimate that the odds of cracking during a drop on a hard surface to be mild. You can refer to our reference article about how phones could be built to avoid cracks on impact.
With a width of 73.7mm (~2.9 inches) and a thickness of 7.9mm (~0.31 inches), the smartphone feels comfortable in hand. We use U.S M-size gloves for male hand-size reference, so this will vary from person to person.
The device weighs 160 grams (5.64 oz), and we would consider that weight to be average for its size. The Pixel 2 at 143g would be noticeably lighter, and the OnePlus 5 is both ~5% lighter and smaller in volume.
What the IP54 IP rating certification means in simple terms is that the Nokia 8 is splashproof but not waterproof. That leaves a lot to be desired on a smartphone that’s meant to be a flagship and doesn’t result in favorable comparisons with its rivals."SPLASHPROOF BUT NOT WATERPROOF"
The Pixel 2, for example, is rated IP67 which signifies the highest level of dust protection and the ability to be fully submerged in water up to 1 meter deep for up to 30 minutes. The Galaxy S8 takes it up a notch with its IP68 rating, and it can be submerged in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.
While the Nokia 8 has adequate protection against dust ingress, it can’t be submerged in water and is only protected against splashes. So a quick call in the rain will be fine but keep your fingers crossed if you ever spill your drink on it or drop it in the pool. No taking photos underwater as well, obviously.
The Nokia 8 has not received a U.S Military MIL-STD 810G certification. You can check the link we added to see all the details, but this standard is a series of test used to ensure that military gears can survive some rough treatments. Most phones don’t have this certification, but some do, in case you’re looking to better the odds of survival
This industrial design packs very good performance in relation to its size, but is not exceptional for a phone in this category.
From another standpoint, the amount of battery capacity the user gets is slightly above average for a handset of this big. The screen display-to-body ratio of 69.4% is relatively small overall, with other competitors outpacing it, except for the Pixel 2 which has substantial bezels.
The Nokia 8 Camera
Phone cameras have become impressively good over time. But, it is true that there is a huge gap between them based on cost, but also depending on technology and expertise of the OEM.
It is important to understand that mobile photo has two foundations of great importance: Software and Hardware. Full-size photo samples are available on our Flickr account.
The software is usually very secretive, and it is very difficult to have good information to gage its quality through an unbiased process. Also, photography is not just science. It is also art.
The camera specifications is the other factor which is more measurable. Camera hardware is potentially a substantial limiting factor to mobile photography performance. Even if you use the best algorithms on it, the quality of the input image data still plays a major role in the final image outcome.
For example, on a sunny day, a nature photo with a higher megapixel count could capture finer details. Between 12 MP, 16 MP and 21 MP differences in small details can be quite noticeable, if printed or viewed on a large and/or high-PPI display.
In dim lighting situations, the high Megapixel count (>12) does not matter much. Also, the physical size of each sensor pixel is critical. With higher megapixel counts, sensing pixels (sensels) may have to be smaller.
Each obtains less light information, and in dark conditions, it is better for the overall image quality to sense more light with fewer (but bigger) sensels than the opposite. It is a balance that needs to be struck. Today, 12 Megapixel seem to be the best sensor compromise between sharpness, low-light and autofocus performance.
OIS helps to improve image clarity and higher low-light performance by offsetting tiny hand-shaking motion. OIS makes it feasible to leave the shutter open longer to gather more light (more prolonged exposure). Optical and digital stabilization are utterly different, with digital stabilization suitable to improve video recording smoothness.
This handset supports Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), which is specifically designed to stabilize video recording from excess motion induced by hand-holding, walking, running. Road vibrations or drone flight turbulences could also be offset by this technique.
EIS does NOT help with still photography and is not meant to replace OIS. Certain video formats such as extreme resolutions or framerates may not be compatible with this device EIS capabilities.
The autofocus of the Nokia 8 camera is based on Contrast, Phase-detection and Laser technologies. Phase-detection AF that was originally built into discrete AF sensor chips in the DSLR days. Then it got integrated into the camera primary sensor. It works by having specialized AF pixels sensors that would tell if specific points in the image were in-focus.
This method is very fast, and the AF capabilities work well in most cases. AF performance is somewhat proportional to the number of hardware AF sensels. Typically this number can go from dozens to hundreds of Phase-Detection AF points. Phase detection AF is an excellent system, which is only inferior to Dual-Pixel AF.
The Nokia 8 also has a laser-assisted AF. The principle is that a lot of photos subjects are either away (infinity) from the camera, or are very nearby (macro). By projecting an infrared pattern (structured light) and looking at how it bounced back to the camera, it is possible to very quickly determine if we need to zoom far or close.
This is important because unneeded forward/backward focus-motor motion is avoided, thus saving precious AF time. The system can also handle many in-between situations, but not all. It is possible to fall back to Contrast AF. Laser-AF is faster than contrast-AF but is inferior to Phase Detection AF and Dual-Pixel Phase Detection AF.
The Nokia 8 Selfie camera is very decent for this category. It has an above-average size sensor and features auto-focus in a space where most cameras have fixed focus.
System Performance and Battery
The amount of RAM is important for heavy usage, or for having many apps/services on the phone. When the memory is tight, the system may become less responsive if the OS has to read/write from the slower Flash storage instead.
This used to be one of the big differences between low and high tiers of phones, but this line is blurry now. You can look at various benchmarks results below, but in our opinion, this smartphone’s performance puts it in the Premium class of phones.
It is critical to understand that most benchmarks are only loose pointers, usually for system or graphics performance. It is possible to notice sharp performance deltas between different classes of devices (entry-level, mid-range vs. high-end), but it is much more difficult to do so within handsets of the same class. Benchmarks alone should NOT drive a smartphone purchase decision. To learn more, read our Are Benchmarks Important? article.
Gaming performance tests apply mainly to heavy applications using 3D graphics. Casual apps like puzzles and 2D games do not require this kind of performance and can run pretty much on any modern handset.
Perhaps, the most important aspect of the Nokia 8’s performance is how much speed you get for every dollar spent. As the chart below shows, the Nokia 8 has an excellent value when it comes to computing.
Wireless Broadband Performance
The higher the “paper LTE performance” and the better the average actual performance. Also, cellular carriers have better and more efficient LTE networks to lower their own costs.
The Nokia 8 has an LTE CAT9 modem. This level of performance is below-average in its category but remains very good in general, because high-end phones tend to have technology beyond the network capabilities for most users.
The battery of the Nokia 8
The battery capacity of Nokia 8 is 3090 mAh, which is very good in general, and slightly above average in its own category. With a charge speed of 49 mAh/mn, the Nokia 8 charge speed is fast in absolute terms, and well in line with many high-end devices.
However, to give you some perspective, the fastest-charging phones out there can top ~65+ mAh/mn, which is truly extraordinary. As you can see above, the value proposition is quite interesting for this handset.
Battery life is one of the most critical features of a handset. A key metric is obviously the battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other).
It is impossible to accurately predict through synthetic tests how much energy drain YOUR unique lifestyle will create. However, two things are without a doubt always good:
- A higher battery capacity
- Faster charging
It is generally impossible to predict real-life battery life by running synthetic tests. Factors such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will vary too much. Also, the number of apps on-board and their usage is unpredictable. Battery capacity is the most important battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.
This product does NOT have a detachable battery, which is the norm for a smartphone these days. Closed batteries cannot be taken out or easily exchanged, but they do allow for smaller designs and slightly larger battery capacity within the same product volume.
This device has an extremely sharp display (2560×1440). This is great to show extremely crisp images, but handling 1.61M pixels more than a 1080p/FHD (2M pixels) screen will draw a bit more power from the battery.
One can continue to sing praises of its robust metal design and its sharp display, the fact that it’s powered by 2017’s flagship Qualcomm chip, and that it comes with a vanilla iteration of Android that doesn’t bog down the handset in any way. The battery life is good too, and you can expect to get a day’s life out of it with mixed usage. However, this was meant to be a flagship-level device, and despite all of that, it just doesn’t hit that mark.
The dual cameras at the back leave much to be desired particularly in low-light conditions. It’s hard to miss the exposure and focusing issues from time to time, and the lack of advanced options won’t appeal to pro users as well (Nokia is finally rolling out the Pro Camera mode for this device, though)."THE NOKIA 8 UNQUESTIONABLY OFFERS A LOT OF PROMISE FOR THAT PRICE POINT"
It feels a bit underwhelming compared to its rivals particularly the Galaxy S8 which is far ahead with its bezel-less display and its exceptional camera. Those who want a vanilla Android experience with better cameras than the Nokia 8 may find the Pixel 2 to their liking as well. The fact that it doesn’t offer any protection against water ingress stacks up the cards against the Nokia 8 even further.
That being said, Nokia has jumped on the latest smartphone design trends with its more recent handsets like the Nokia 7 Plus which features a 6 inch 18:9 aspect ratio display.
Now available for under $400 on Amazon, the Nokia 8 unquestionably offers a lot of promise for that price point. You get an elegant and comfortable design, solid power package, stock Android, and swift firmware updates for the handset. Nokia has proven itself to be one of the fastest OEMs to roll out new updates for its Android smartphones and that’s one area where it does better than the likes of Samsung.
Above all, it proves that HMD Global is on the right track as the Nokia 8 is a commendable effort on its part for the brand’s return to the flagship market. It leaves us with the hope that the company will be able to deliver better flagships that hold their own against rivals in the coming years.