Nokia 9 Pureview Smartphone REVIEW
PAT PILCHER auditions the new Nokia flagship and is amazed at its five cameras but not so taken with its fingerprint scanner
It’s that time of the year again. You know, when smartphone flagships begin to drop into the market. Nokia is keenly aware of this. And has just launched its newest, the Nokia 9 PureView. The big hook is its – count ‘em – five rear cameras! So, is it a camera attached to a phone?Or a phone with a camera bolted onto it? And is it any good? Find out in this Nokia 9 PureView Smartphone Review.
Design-wise, the phone is as you’d expect from Nokia: thoughtfully designed and well built. Its curved glass back and flat front screen means that it’s essentially a glass sandwich with alloy sides.
“Its curved glass back and flat front screen means that it’s essentially a glass sandwich with alloy sides.”
Under its glass back sit the five cameras, a flash and the time of flight sensor, which have all been arrayed in a circular layout. Because these are under the rear glass panel, there’s no camera bump.
But this also means you need to be wary of smudging the glass over the cameras. A good case is also recommended, as it’s very slick and had a habit of sliding off my lap, the sofa, table and chairs.
In hand, it feels substantial. A lot like a piece of high end-jewellery or a good watch. Its 5.99-inch OLED display delivers 2K resolution, vibrant colours and decent brightness levels. Gamers can also rejoice in its excellent touch response and accuracy. There is no screen notch to speak of, but there are subtle bezels.
The camera is clearly a big focus (pun intended!). But it isn’t just all cameras, and there’s also plenty of other bells and whistles I discovered during this Nokia 9 PureView smartphone review. These include an in-display fingerprint sensor, wireless charging and a high-res OLED display. And the PureView is IP 67 rated. Which means that it can take a dunking for 30 minutes in up to one metre of water.
Where Nokia phones have long offered solid engineering at an affordable price, the Nokia 9 Pureview is a flagship and comes with a flagship sticker price ($1049). That might seem a tad steep. But they also throw in a pair of their rather excellent wireless earbuds to sweeten the deal.
“The huge deal with the Nokia 9 PureView, however, is the five cameras.”
The huge deal with the Nokia 9 PureView, however, is the five cameras. Huawei took twin camera-equipped phones into the mainstream with their highly regarded P8. Now, Nokia’s parent company HMD has decided to take things further by installing five 12-megapixel rear shooters, plus an LED flash and ToF (Time-of-Flight) camera sensor.
Colour capable cameras are used in combination with mono shooters. The theory here is that the filters used to split light into red blue and green for colour snaps reduces the amount of light the sensor can capture. Mono shooters have no filters.
Because of this, they capture 3x more light. Mono images and colour images get merged thanks to smart image processing. The end result is a richly detailed photo.
Further helping things along in the photography department, HMD partnered with computational photography experts, Light, for the development of the specialist hardware and image processing algorithms used to pull off this photographic magic. More photo magic are the optics from Zeiss.
Data from all five rear image sensors is consolidated to a single image each time you take a photo. In practice, this can generate between 60 and a whopping 240-megapixels of data being used to craft the final 12-megapixel snap. This does create a lag, but more on this later in this Nokia 9 PureView smartphone review.
“Equally useful for photographers is support for RAW uncompressed images”
The phone can also capture 1200 layers of depth (most other smartphones typically capture only 10 depth layers). Nokia has tweaked the stock Google camera app so photos can be refocused after they’ve been taken, which is dead handy.
Equally useful for photographers is support for RAW uncompressed images which can deliver content that’d usually be lost to photo compression. HMD also partnered with Adobe, the result of which is Lightroom for Mobile which can edit RAW files, and is also about to gain a Nokia 9 Pureview lens update.
While there are no DxoMark benchmarks available for the Nokia 9 PureView yet, photos shot with it were detailed . And they delivered natural colours and accurate white balance. One interesting point to note is that the photos tended towards more natural and subdued colours instead of the slightly oversaturated and sharpened results delivered by other phone cameras.
Because of this, I frequently found myself using Lightroom for Mobile to bump up saturation levels.
There is also the minor matter of image stabilisation … or the lack thereof. While five cameras allow for shorter exposure times, even in low light scenarios the lack of OIS quickly became apparent when shooting video. This sees only one of the five sensors used. While there is electronic image stabilisation, OIS would have been useful too.
“There is also the minor matter of image stabilisation, or the lack thereof”
Beyond the cameras, the UI consists of an almost stock version of Android Pie. And this comes with a commitment from HMD to supply an update to the next major release of Android as well as security patches for at least three years, which is a huge selling point. Wireless charging is also baked in, and there is support for fast charging via a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 compatible USB C port as well.
Battery life also impressed. I managed to wring a full day’s use on average with enough charge to get me through an evening if needed. This isn’t bad at all when you consider that the Nokia 9 only has a 3320mAh battery.
If that’s what’s good, what about the not-so-good?
While in-display fingerprint sensors are a must-have spec, odds are that you’ll probably not want the sensor used by Nokia. It is slow and unreliable to the point of being unusable. I gave up trying to register my dabs and made do with the quick but easy to fool face recognition and more secure pin combo. I’m frankly at a loss as to how HMD ever allowed the phone out of the factory with such a terrible under-screen fingerprint sensor.
“Odds are that you’ll probably not want the sensor used by Nokia”
The other issue is its specs. The Nokia 9 Pureview might be a flagship, but under its hood sits last year’s king of the silicon hill, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC instead of the workhorse of the moment, the 855, as used by a good number of circa-2019 flagships.
This is not a biggie. But considering the not too inconsiderable sticker price of the phone, it might give some prospective buyers pause for thought. In use though, it was pretty zippy. And it had no problems with most of the demanding game titles I installed and played, thanks to the generous 6GB of RAM (there’s also 128GB of storage).
The spec issues don’t end there though. Taking a photo sees the camera pause as it processes the vast screeds of data generated by the five cameras. Given the sheer amount of data generated by the five shooters, this is unavoidable.
I can live without a 3.5mm headphone socket. But I find the lack of an SD card slot irksome. Shutterbugs wanting to use RAW images will be looking at the pointy end of around 30MB per image. Because of this, it won’t take long before a dent is put in the generous 128Gb of internal storage provided.
Nokia 9 PureView Smartphone Review: summary
These grizzles aside, there’s a lot to like with the Nokia 9 Pureview.
But engineering a useable smartphone with so many cameras will always entail compromises. Sadly, some of these have held back what should have been an effortless 10/10 for Nokia. An unusable fingerprint sensor and the lack of an SD card have limited what is otherwise a great piece of smartphone hardware.