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Nokia 8 hands-on review: A great-looking phone that wants to reinvent the selfie

David Phelan

Since its return on handsets made by HMD Global, the Nokia name has appeared on three middle-tier smartphones. There’s now a top-of-range phone to go with them.

The new handset, launched at Tower Bridge in London, is called the Nokia 8.

It marks the first collaboration between Nokia and optical masters Zeiss in Nokia’s new life, and is the company’s first two-lens phone.

Design

The design is closer to the Nokia 5, with its smoothly curved edges, than the blockier Nokia 6, and it certainly feels more comfortable in the hand as a result. In feel alone, this is easily the best phone the new HMD Nokia has produced, slick and smooth enough to slide easily between your fingers.

The 5.3-inch display sits between the size of the 5.2-inch Nokia 5 and 5.5-inch Nokia 6, but feels very manageable in the hand. Not least because of the curved back, which gleams especially in the two glossy versions available.

Nokia has always had a strong eye for colour and scored big successes with handsets that dared not to be black. Here, there are four shades: matte silver, polished blue, matte blue and polished copper.

The copper is the real standout, though that glossy polished blue is fierce. Both the polished surfaces attract some fingerprints, though not to the level I’ve found on some other glossy phones. Anyway, part of the pleasure of a shiny phone is polishing it to its most gleaming, I find.

Display

The display's 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, which translates to 554 pixels per inch, is much sharper than Nokia’s previous screens. It looks great: rich, detailed and brightly coloured – even though it’s an LCD screen, not the OLED display favoured by Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8 and rumoured to be in the next iPhone.

The display, though, is fine. But some may have problems with the bezels at top and bottom of the phone, which are noticeably bigger than on recent premium handsets such as the Samsung and the LG G6.

Still, Nokia has strong arguments for designing it this way. First, the company says it wanted to keep the Android Back and Recent Apps buttons on the front of the phone, either side of the fingerprint sensor. So that sensor requires some real estate below the display edge.

The company also says that including a 13-megapixel front-facing camera was a priority, and there’s a limit, it says, to how narrow you can make a bezel at the top and still have the room the camera sensor needs.

Personally, I think it looks fine, for now at least. But as more phones arrive with tiny bezels and near-fullscreen fronts, it may come to look dated.

Camera

The camera is such a big selling point on every smartphone now, it’s no surprise that Nokia is putting such emphasis on it here, especially with the Zeiss collaboration.

We’ll have to see just how good the images are, but Nokia’s cameraphones in its previous existence were consistently strong and innovative, and certainly Zeiss was at pains to tell me that its input is more than just the lens – the software, for instance, has a big Zeiss input.

The rear dual cameras are both 13-megapixel sensors, one colour and one monochrome. Huawei has a similar approach on its latest phones, saying that the monochrome sensor can get a sharper result as it grabs light quickly, and the colour one gives you the colour fidelity.

The system is certainly flexible: you can opt to shoot using both sensors – which is the choice it will automatically go for – or with one or the other. So you can go for a black-and-white image, which is strong on contrast and less muddy than many colour sensors could manage. Quite why you’d just use the colour sensor isn’t clear, but, hey, it’s nice to have the option.

Judgement will have to wait until I can test it properly but first impressions are very strong: sharp, effective images resulted from even lowish light situations, with an imperceptible level of shutter lag.

Oh, one more thing about the camera, the front- and rear-facing lenses can be put to use simultaneously to deliver a combination image showing, as it were, selfies in two directions, which it calls – wait for it – the bothie.

Nokia isn’t the first to have both cameras active at the same time, it’s true, but this is easily the most intuitive and simple implementation of this effect. Will it catch on? Who knows, but it’s an imaginative feature that sets Nokia apart.

Audio

Nokia also stressed the importance of audio on the phone, with expertise it has learnt from its Virtual Reality sensors. There are three microphones that work together in a system it calls OZO, which records audio binaurally so that it provides, Nokia claims, high-quality audio automatically, with no special playback system required.

Android

Nokia stresses that it uses the latest version of Android generally available, version 7.1.1, and that because it has a pure form of Android on board, this phone will be one of the very first to receive Android O, when it goes live shortly.

A pure version of Android should indeed mean quicker updates to the latest version, though we’ll have to see how this pans out in practice. Meantime, most of the phone uses pure, vanilla Android, with only the camera behaving in a strikingly different way from rivals.

The Nokia 8 goes on sale in early September with networks announced nearer to the time and an initial SIM-free price point of €599 (£545) – noticeably lower than most top-of-the-range from rival manufacturers.