Ever since Nokia announced the 808 PureView at MWC last year, I’ve been like a moth drawn to candlelight. Throughout most of 2012, while loving my MeeGo powered N9, I was been utterly intrigued by the 808, watching hours of YouTube videos, reading every brilliant word of Steve Litchfield’s 808 PureView reviews and positively drooling over the incredible photos it has produced that are now peppered all over the internet.
The 808’s huge camera sensor is obviously the main point of interest, but the list of specs also seems to be something that every Nokia fan dreamed of – in a Symbian phone that is. Because of course by the time the 808 was launched, Nokia was already shifting Windows Phones, namely the Lumias 800 and 710, with the 900 shortly to follow. But as someone who has enjoyed using Symbian phones for a long time, it was the fact Nokia had put every last goodie under the hood of the 808, and had crafted a solid device made from top-end materials, and I was drawn to it. I was very pleased to learn that it had a removable battery, a microSD slot, HDMI out port, Gorilla Glass screen (curving at the edges in a similar fashion to my much-loved N9), a radio transmitter, a Xenon flash and LED for a torch… the long list continues. There seemed to be no compromise this time, no skimping on the internals or externals. It was as if Nokia development and management had sat around a table together and decided that, seeing as this was going to be Symbian’s swan-song, it was going to be the best they could produce.
And it is.
I’ve had the Nokia 808 PureView for a few days now, so here is a summary of how I have found it as my daily device:
Getting back into using Symbian has been easy; I’ve been tinkering with my N8, E7 and E6 phones over the past months, and I had recently updated them all to Belle Refresh, so I have been enjoying the OS while still using MeeGo-Harmattan on my N9, and playing around with various Lumias on Windows Phone 7.5 and 8 as well.
Nokia Belle Feature Pack 2 is, without doubt, the very best Symbian has to offer, and I have had no problem navigating around the menus and home-screens within this last iteration of the much-loved – if aging – OS. The software has given me a couple of tiny headaches though, which I’ll go into later. But on-the-whole it has been just great, and of course, the OS has benefited immensely from the extra horse-power; the 1.3GHz processor moves things along with zero lag, and it makes you wish that Nokia had been this generous in the past with their initial run of S^3 phones. Going back to the N8 with its 680MHz chip just simply doesn’t do things the way it should. So yes, I am pleasantly surprised when I’m using the 808 because the lag and stuttering you’re sort of expecting doesn’t happen. It’s smooth and whizzy, and I like that a lot.
But the polished-up software is only half the attraction. For me, the actual physical build, design and feel of the 808 draws my hand toward it when I haven’t used it for a while. I bought the red version, and I’m so glad I did because it just oozes fun and is certainly unique, swimming in the ocean of black slabs. Was I a little worried about weight and thickness? Sure. But when I first held it in my hand I was shocked at how light it actually is, and the camera bulge actually makes the phone really easy to hold in the hand; it’s perfectly balanced for one-handed use and feels 100% natural in landscape orientation. Actually in landscape, you can’t think about holding anything but a camera, it’s really well designed and made.
So overall, I am extremely pleased with the 808 in terms of the general experience with Belle FP2 and the wonderful physical design and feel of it.
The camera is, of course, a monster of a camera. I haven’t taken a million photos with it yet, but I have taken a few, played with some of the settings, and every time I’ve been immensely impressed with the results. Over time, I will learn a bit more about the many options and settings the 808 gives you, and I’m sure my Flickr account will soon fill up with great shots.
Before I finish up this initial experience report, here is a list of likes and dislikes that I’ve experienced/found in these first few days:
* The FP2 keyboard is amazing, even better in many ways than the great keyboard of my N9. It has already learned some of my most commonly-used words, including my email address name, and tapping on the suggestions has really sped up my messaging. The new staggered layout is a breath of fresh air on a Symbian phone too; why has this taken so long?
* I love activating the camera straight from locked. Simply pressing the shutter button instantly brings up the viewfinder, and if you keep the finger depressed (cheer up! haha) on the button it will actually take a photo. So from locked to photo in about 2-3 seconds. Very cool.
* Swiping to unlock the phone is wonderful, especially for someone like me who has been swiping the curved glass lock-screen of an N9 for over a year. There’s no double-tap here, but pressing the home button is fine as even that has been really well made. It’s reminiscent of the button-strip on the Nokia 603 and Lumia 710, but it’s much less stiff and really seems to glide almost seamlessly into the screen.
* The speaker is excellent; listening to some podcasts while doing the housework (grrr!) was nothing short of amazing, and the volume wasn’t even up all the way (I’m looking at you, N9!)
* The screen is very bright and colours really pop. It’s superb, and the Clear Black Display means the blacks are really deep, just like on my N9 – you don’t know where the screen ends and the bezel begins…excellent and very pretty and gorgeously smooth under the fingertips.
* My connection to T-Mobile has been strong and solid. My kitchen can be a mobile phone ‘dead spot’, but the 808 manages to cling on to 1 or 2 bars. Good signal strength around New York City as far as I can tell.
* The wifi bug seems to have visited my 808 and it doesn’t like to cling on to my Apple Airport Express wifi signal. I have tried a few easy fix options like rebooting the router, changing the password, having my 808 be the first device to connect to it, etc, etc, but unfortunately, the wifi connection will drop off the phone and I’ll have to manually connect to wifi again, select my Airport and wait for it to connect. This happens when I have Mobile Data switched on (it will ‘prefer’ the 3G cellular data over the available wifi, even though my wifi is Priority 1 in Settings/Destinations), or if I have Mobile Data switched off, and then there will be zero data connectivity going on. And yes, wifi Power saving is set to ‘disabled’, and yes, I have downloaded the WLAN ‘fix’ from Nokia Beta Labs. Oh well, I’ll deal with it and hope for an update soon. Not the end of the world!
* I have experienced a few reboots, which I was tutting and rolling my eyes about, until I think I found the culprit: Opera Mobile. So now I’m using Opera Mini which to be honest is much better for handling websites while I’m out and about on 3G, so I’m very happy with using that as my main browser.
* That said, it was Symbian Web that fully loaded a Google Doc I needed to look at while out and about; neither Opera browsers could. So I’m not dismissing the default Web browser just yet.
* The screen resolution is taking some getting used to. I’m not going to incessantly bemoan it; I just can’t help but wish that Nokia had gone with something more like 400×800 or something similar. 360×640 (184 ppi) is a little rough at times, especially on tiny web fonts or on Angry Birds. The photos I’m taking look fine on the phone’s screen, but superb on my computer’s screen. I sort of understand Nokia’s logic in going with an nHD screen; it was probably cheaper and something that was needed with an already-expensive device, and the photos you take with this beast aren’t meant for looking at on a tiny 4” screen anyway. So I’ll get used to it. I think!
All in all, this red Symbian monster is very pleasurable to use. Keeping an open mind from the outset it’s really obvious, actually blindingly obvious that all those tech reviewers that wrote this off as “great camera, shame about it running that awful Symbian” didn’t use it for more than 10 minutes. Sure, the screen isn’t 1080p, sure it doesn’t have a quad-core processor, and Symbian has been around for a while. If those reviewers were simply harking back to the autumn 2010 days of the first release of S^3, then yes, I would say it was clumsy and sticky and not really fun to use. But Belle FP2 is excellent and nothing like my N8’s out-of-the-box S^3 software tragedy. So I’m happy Nokia continued to invest in Symbian throughout 2011 and 2012 despite going with Windows Phone, because the improvements are palpable and really add a modern flavour and feel to the device.
Stay tuned (does that apply to a website?) for more on my adventures with the 808 PureView in the coming weeks. There’ll be loads of photos to upload and plenty to write about too, I’m sure!