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November 13, 2017

Here’s why I think Nokia 8 is the top choice for a mid-range flagship smartphone

by John_A

When HMD Global announced its first lineup of Nokia smartphones at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year, the budget devices – Nokia 3, Nokia 5, and Nokia 6 – were underwhelming. Some of them were fine devices, but they were only a timid representation of what the Nokia brand was.

And then came the Nokia 8, the company’s flagship smartphone that we all deserved, and needed.

The Nokia 8 doesn’t attempt to dazzle you with any design shenanigans. Instead, it goes for a safe, minimalist design – some may even call it boring. The design aesthetics of the Nokia 8 are divisive, but I’m in the camp that really likes the clean, refined look. It has a definite Scandinavian, or maybe that’s just our Nokia hangover, feel to it.

Not every smartphone needs to break new ground in terms of design – Mi MIX 2 does that quite well, OnePlus 5 doesn’t even bother – but an understated elegance with solid build quality and brilliant ergonomics can in no way not impress a lot of discerning users.

Carved out of a single block of series 6000 aluminum, the Nokia 8 offers a slim 7.9 mm chassis with rounded sides and curved edges which makes it a delight to hold. HMD Global seems to continue the legacy of solid construction of Nokia devices, and the Nokia 8 too gives you that assurance when you grip it.

While the world has moved on to bezel-less displays with 18:9 aspect ratio, Nokia 8 once again plays safe with a 5.3-inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440) IPS LCD screen. While it doesn’t aim to stand out from the crowd, it delivers one of the best displays out there, despite not being an AMOLED panel.

Once again, the display on the Nokia 8 is a testimonial of the fact that if basics are done right, sometimes the result is more impressive than what eclectic experiments yield. The display boasts of accurate color reproduction and is quite vivid. The text and images are sharp, and the viewing angles are on point with no color shift even at extreme angles. The brightness of the display is impressive, and at 700 nits, sunlight viewing is great. There’s also Gorilla Glass 5 for scratch protection.

While the display is one of the highlights of the Nokia 8 and watching videos or gaming on it is a treat, the significant bezels on the left and right and above and below the screen make it look dated. It enables practical ergonomics, but form over function or vice versa is a subjective debate and a matter of individual preference.

Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor paired with 4 GB of RAM, Nokia 8 delivers snappy performance across the board. It also indicates how 6 GB or 8 GB of RAM is mostly an overkill if the hardware is optimized well to deliver fast and fluid Android experience.

Nokia 8 can easily take anything thrown at it with aplomb – be it everyday multitasking or hardcore graphic-intensive gaming sessions. Even after a month of extensive use, there has been no stuttering or lags while navigating through the UI.

One of the reasons behind that smooth performance is also that Nokia 8 runs on stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box with no bloatware or unnecessary gimmicks. HMD Global has promised monthly security updates for its entire lineup of devices, as well as an upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo by the end of the year.

The 3,090 mAh battery on the Nokia 8 is just good enough on the specifications sheet, but in real-world usage, it manages to squeeze in extra juice than what one would expect. Even on heavy usage, the phone consistently offers a full day of battery life, if not more. Then there’s also support for Quick Charge 3.0 for fast charging.

The company claims that the Nokia 8 packs in an elaborate heat management solution with a copper pipe running from the upper right corner of the device to the lower left. It is filled with liquid that evaporates in the middle and condenses when it is carried to the edges, and this continuous cycle carries heat away from the main components. There’s also a graphite layer that transfers the heat to the aluminum body uniformly, thereby getting a larger surface area to dissipate the heat.

There’s no way to see how that works, except take the company’s word and infer from the evidence that the Nokia 8 never gets warm even after long gaming sessions or extended use of Google Maps for navigation in a long commute.

Nokia’s association with Carl ZEISS has given us some iconic smartphones that made the company an absolute leader in smartphone imaging. HMD Global wants to emulate that success and has again partnered with Carl ZEISS to power the optics on the Nokia 8 – both front and back.

Imaging is also the only department where the Nokia 8 keeps up with the latest trend – that of dual cameras. The rear camera setup includes a 13 MP RGB sensor with optical image stabilization and a 13 MP monochrome sensor, along with a dual-LED flash. The secondary sensor allows capturing images with depth of field effects and improves low light photography.

In good lighting conditions, Nokia 8 manages to capture sharp images with no noise. The colors are natural, contrast is on point, and there’s good amount of details. In low light, some amount of noise creeps it although the details are still sufficient. It’s no Pixel in low light, but a pretty good and reliable camera for the price. There are few issues like the shutter lag, but none that cannot be taken care of with a software update down the line.

On its own, the monochrome sensor can take some great black and white shots with striking contrast and details, especially in daylight.

The 13 MP front camera with f/2.0 aperture on the Nokia 8 is an unexpected highlight, and clearly best in class. You’d manage to click some great selfies with accurate color reproduction.

That brings us to the highlight of the Nokia 8 – Bothie. The bizarre naming aside, it’s actually a nifty feature. Like many, I was quite dismissive of it initially – especially because of the awkward name but warmed up to it once I started using the Nokia 8.

Technically called Dual-Sight mode (a fine name, this), the feature allows you to use the front and rear camera at the same time in a split screen view. It’s interesting to click photos of your pets or kids and capturing your reactions while doing so at the same time. You can also record and stream (on YouTube and Facebook) videos in similar scenarios or when you’re recording yourself letting your hair down at a concert or doing an interview with someone across the table. As the marketing pitch correctly points out, sometimes it makes for a better capture than a selfie. Sometimes. Like selfies.

Nokia 8 allows you to record videos (up to 4K) with Nokia OZO spatial 360° audio technology that records surround sound via its three high dynamic range microphones. I’m not an audiophile to judge the specifics, but it does offer an excellent immersive audio experience.

While Nokia 8 claims to runs ‘pure Android’, it is near-stock because of the customizations of the Camera app to accommodate the dual camera setup. The app is set to capture photos in ‘Twin’ mode by default which you can change to ‘Color’ or ‘Mono’ if you so desire.

Overall, the Nokia 8 is a well-rounded package with top-notch performance, an understated elegance, and a darn good camera. All that at the price of a mid-range flagship where it competes with the likes of Xiaomi Mi MIX 2, OnePlus 5, and Honor 8 Pro – each one with more than one standout features. Yet, it is the only one in the segment that offers pure and up-to-date Android experience.

At ₹36,999 ($565) in India, Nokia is a reliable smartphone that you can’t go wrong with. It doesn’t dazzle you, and some would say that HMD Global has played too safe with no unique differentiation. Yet, with all those phones on my table, I picked the Nokia 8 to use as my primary device well beyond the review period. It’s a balanced amalgamation of form and function.

Nokia 8 is a device that fans of the Finnish brand of the past had asked for. It is just the right device for a discerning professional who wants a solid smartphone that just works. Nokia 8 is not cutting-edge but does everything right.

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