Ever since Nokia announced that they plan to bring back the familiar brand on the smartphone market, fans have been waiting for a high-end device that would pack all the things they have liked on previous Nokia phones. HMD Global, the Finnish startup responsible for Nokia smartphones, announced their first flagship in August 2017 in London, and it was named – Nokia 8.
HMD’s first flagship didn’t bring anything revolutionary to the smartphone world, but instead has familiar features, and some minor new ones, in a modern packaging. Nokia 8 is the first Android smartphone that comes with ZEISS optics, on all three of its cameras. It is also the first to feature OZO Audio, Nokia’s “Hollywood-class” 360° audio recording technology, some heat reducing solutions and last, but not the least, Nokia 8 is the first device that supports native livestreams to Facebook or YouTube, using both the front and the back camera at the same time. The old and familiar stuff are Glance screen, double tap to unlock, beautiful clean design and logo.
As you can see, the 8 is packed with some old and some new stuff, and as a real flagship, it features the latest hardware one can find in a almost every other flagship phone of today. HMD really needed a flagship of any kind, after the delays company faced with the 3, 5 and 6. They needed a device that will shine a new light to this young company (just like the 3310 did at MWC) and satisfy most of the fans. In some aspects Nokia 8 feels like a rushed product, in others like a long overdue product. But, the most important question that arises is: Is the Nokia 8 a smartphone worth the money HMD is asking for? To find that out, keep reading our review.
Too plasticy looking antenna lines on the Steel color
No wireless charging
In August 2017, HMD Global announced their first Nokia Android flagship simply called Nokia 8. With the Nokia 8, the first Nokia flagship on Android, HMD also introduced the first Android phone with ZEISS optics and the first phone to feature Nokia’s OZO Audio technology. The device went on sale the same month in some markets, with broader availability in September and October. The recommended launch price for the 8 was €599, but the device came on most markets with a much lower price, and is currently set at €500 for the 4GB RAM /64 GB storage variant. The device is also available in a 6GB/128GB variant on selected markets.
Nokia 8 comes in an aluminum series 6000 unibody, under which runs the Snapdragon 835 platform that is cooled using HMD’s new cooling system that consists of a copper pipe and graphite shield. The device performs excellent, like a real flagship with almost no heating at all.
On the front we have a 5.3” IPS LCD screen with QHD resolution, protected by Gorilla Glass 5. The device features three 13MP ZEISS branded cameras in a dual-camera setup on the rear, and one front facing camera. The rear camera setup gives excellent daylight, and average low-light shots, while the front camera is probably one of the best, if not the best front facing camera on the market.
The 3090mAh battery will be enough for more than a day of battery life, with the battery charging to little less than 50% in 30 minutes, and from 0 to 100% in less than 2 hours. The call quality on the Nokia 8 is excellent, with a really loud and clear earpiece with good noise cancellation and good signal reception.
Nokia 8 comes with Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box, and should receive Android Oreo Update by the end of the year. Our review unit is model number TA-1004 and a 4GB/64GB variant in Steel (silver) color.
The first element in which a flagship device stands out from lower-end phones should be the retail box, and that’s also noticeable on the 8. Instead of two hands that depict the iconic handshake that was followed by the “Connecting People” logo, we have four hands on the front of Nokia 8’s box. The box is quality made, easy to open, and overall nothing special, but it does look beautiful compared to other flagships that don’t have such nice motives on their packaging. The only thing I don’t like about it is that model name is written on only two places, and an untrained eye cand make the difference if it is a Nokia 5 inside or HMD’s first flagship. At least Nokia logo is everywhere.
Opening the box, first we see is the device itself, facing us with the all black front, a signature element of the old Fabula design. Below the device we have the hybrid SIM tray pin and some quick guides. In a separate white box next to the device, we have a wall adapter (18W max.), USB to USB Type C cable, and decent quality headphones with Nokia branding on them. A lot of manufactures does give even better quality headphones with their flagships, but at least you won’t end up with WH-108 that Nokia 3, 5 and 6 came with.
Design and Build Quality
Without a lot of hesitation, I must say Nokia 8 is a marvelous looking device with excellent build quality. I was surprised by the Nokia 5 and it’s great design, but the 8 is a step, or maybe two steps further. The whole housing, even though it reminds me of Nokia 5, feels much better, thinner, more profound, and must say that HMD’s designers created an amazing effect of quality and beauty by narrowing the sides of the 8 to just 4.6mm. The whole device is thin, with just 7.9mm at its widest part which is slightly raised camera housing, probably so the user can feel it to prevent touching the lenses accidently.
Our review unit is the least attractive, in my opinion, Steel variant, primarily because the antenna line, that is pushed up and wrapped around corners, is in a different color than the rest of the unibody. And it’s not the difference in color the problem per se, but that the housing at first look seems like it’s made from plastic. But, a second look and having the 8 in your hand, gives you a contrary experience, especially when it’s colder and you can really feel the cold metal, combined with very thin sides and the slightly curved back that make the device fit perfectly into your hand. On warm days, the aluminum body of the 8 will feel like it is made out of policarbonate which gives warmer feel.
A thing I found that could’ve been better made on the 8 is the transition between the front glass and the sides of the device. They are in my opinion, sharp when you go with your finger over it. It’s interesting, that the transition from screen to sides is much software on the top and the bottom of the device, probably to be more comfortable while doing phone calls. The Nokia 5, for example, that shares the design lines of the 8 (or vice versa), has soft “front-to-sides” transition on all four sides. Additionally, the power button and the volume buttons seem to be a little loose. Maybe it’s by the design (because of the very thin sides), but personally I would like them to be more firm, and in place.
That’s practically all bad that I have to say about the design, and now to the good stuffs. As with all Nokia smartphones, HMD really invested a lot into the finish of the housing made from series 6000 aluminum, that goes through multiple anodizing and polishing processes. Another great thing is the placement of the antenna lines, that wrap around the corners of the device so in case of a fall, the plastic lines will better absorb the impact energy than aluminum.
Nokia 8’s side bezels are really small, maybe few millimeters, but above and below the screen we have quite a lot unused or poorly used space by today’s standard. It’s fair to mention that Nokia 8 is a “classically” designed smartphone, with a price below the attractive “bezel-less” devices. A good side of having more bezels is that you cannot accidentally press the screen with your palms while watching a movie, and you can have a better grip on it.
As said, ergonomically speaking Nokia 8 is fantastic. It’s elegant and robust at the same time, and the narrowing of sides gives an effect that the device is even thinner that it really is. The 8 weights 160 grams, and is 7.3mm thick on average. The weight is nicely balanced across the device, meaning it isn’t a problem holding the 8 steady while taking photos or recording video, and provides you with just enough mass to feel stable in your hands.
Below the 5.3” screen on the front we have the 3 navigation buttons, with the fingerprint sensor taking the role of the home button. On the left we have back, and on the right side the open apps button. Double pressing the “open apps” button allows you to switch between two last opened apps, but that’s an Android 7 feature, not just on the 8. Above the screen we have the earpiece, a microphone located in earpiece grill, front 13MP camera with ZEISS optics, standard set of sensors placed below the earpiece and the iconic Nokia logo in the right corner. The front camera, as well as the whole front side, is protected by a 2.5D Gorilla Glass 5 screen.
On the device’s left we don’t find any buttons, as with every Nokia smartphones. Removing the unessential is a Fabula design principle, that is also one of the fundaments for HMD’s “Scandinavian Design Philosophy”. On the buttonless left side, we have just the hybrid SIM slot, that can take two nano-SIMs (Dual SIM variant) or a nano-SIM and microSD card. On the device’s right side we have the power button and the volume up and down buttons. As said, they don’t sit tight in the housing, but move a little when pressing it. Maybe it’s a better solution for the curved thin sides, than having firm button that sit tight in their place, like for example on Lumia 830, that was called the affordable flagship back then. Also taping the buttons, you can hear a sound like the buttons are hollow, something that’s not the case on Nokia 6 for example.
On the top we have just the 3.5mm headphone jack, and the already mentioned antenna line, that is good placed, but in an unattractive color on the Steel Nokia 8 variant. Such placement of the lines also secure great signal reception. On the bottom of the device we have a microphone, USB Type C port and mono speakers. Also, the second antenna line.
The back of the device is gently curved, and has the camera system, microphone, Nokia logo and some legal stuff printed on it. Microphone is located right above the camera setup, with the logo classically being in the center. The camera setup is divided in to parts. The upper part consists of the two sensors (RGB and mono), while the bottom part has the IR sensor for focusing and dual-tone LED flash. Both rear cameras, that feature ZEISS optics, IR sensor and the LED flash are covered by Gorilla Glass 5, meaning it’s unlikely they will be scratched under normal usage. If you followed carefully, Nokia 8 features three microphones for OZO Audio sound recording, that allows you to record surround sound in 360 degrees, but more about that in the camera segment.
Have to say, that after 15 days of usage, no scratches appeared on the 8’s back or front, but a transparent case could help preserve the 8’s beauty long term. Also, the device has the IP54 certificate, meaning that is splash proof.
After Samsung forced its biggest rival to use AMOLED screens (Apple), HMD’s decision to use an LCD screen seems a little strange. At the moment, only Samsung really mastered the production of OLED displays, so to improve the logistics, Foxconn (HMD’s manufacturing partner) probably suggested using LG’s and JD’s LCD panels, that are proven to be good and may be easier to supply. The LCD on the Nokia 8 is a quality one, that comes QHD (1440 x 2560 pixels) resolution. On the 5.3-inch diagonal, that gives 550 pixels per inch. Thanks to the polarizing filter (previously known as Clear Black) and the 700 nits brightness, Nokia 8 can be used in outdoor conditions without any problems. Color representation is fine, and didn’t experience any problems.
Nokia 8 comes with the familiar Glance feature, known from older Nokia smartphones. HMD reserved the upper part of the screen for showing the clock, battery, date, alarm, phone and SMS notifications and events from calendar. In contrast to Lumia phones that used the proximity sensor for showing Glance, Nokia 8 uses the accelerometer, meaning it will turn the Glance on when it feels the device has been moved, but it also knows when the device is in pockets (light sensor covered) and it won’t turn on Glance then. In the settings, you can change what notifications you want to see on Glance.
Alongside Glance, Nokia 8 features Double Tap to wake up. It’s interesting that you have three ways to wake or unlock the Nokia 8 without raising the device: fingerprint sensor, double tap or the power button.
Overall, in the 2 weeks I used the Nokia 8 it was really a joy to use the screen for doing emails, social media, browsing, playing games and so on. I personally would like the screen more if it were bigger, but it’s just personal preference. Anyway, if you owned LG G3 before, the usable part of the screen will be the same since G3 had software control buttons, and you won’t feel like you are loosing something with smaller screen of the 8.
Hardware, Performance and Connectivity
Like every true flagship, Nokia 8 comes with the latest components that can be found on the market. The 8 uses the Snapdragon 835 platform, with the processor consisting of four Kryo cores clocked at 2.5GHz, and four cores at 1.8GHz. Graphical processor is Adreno 540.
Unlike some well-known manufacturers that used different memory for different markets, Nokia 8 in all variants comes with 4 or 6GB of LPPDDR4X RAM and 64 or 128GB of UFS2.1 internal storage. The 8 handles all tasks without any problems, no matter if we are talking about everyday stuff or graphically intensive games. The device just flies. If you want to test how good the memory is managed by opening different applications and games, sometimes the 8 doesn’t fully keep the “intensive applications” in RAM, but they have to reload. In everyday usage you will probably never notice that, but that is an aspect where HMD can make improvements. Thanks to the new cooling system, which uses a wide copper pipe connected on a graphite shield, the Nokia 8 will never get hot. The best way to demonstrate how good the cooling works is to start recording 4K video. Unlike other 4K phones (not all) that often have the recording limited to some number of minutes that the device doesn’t overheat, Nokia 8 can record 4K until it runs out of battery or the memory fills up completely. Apart from using latest hardware, pure Android 7.1.1 also helps the device run smoothly.
Nokia 8 has a really loud earpiece, so for conversation in quite environments you will have to keep the volume at half, and when it gets noise, the 8 can bump up that sound loud enough that you will be able to continue your conversation without any problems. The audio quality is great, with the sound being crystal clear. As mentioned before, reception is also on a Nokia flagship level.
At first, I was disappointed that HMD didn’t use the stereo loudspeaker with Dolby Atmos from Nokia 6 on the Nokia 8, but after testing both loudspeakers side by side – I chose the one on the 8. It’s louder, but with the same clarity, and it’s obviously that OZO guys didn’t just work on audio recording, but also on reproduction.
For charging, connecting with a computer or USB OTG, Nokia 8 features a USB3.1 Type C port. Apart from allowing fast charging and faster data transfer, type C port is the same on both sides so there will be no problems guessing which side is right when putting the device on charge, especially in dark environments. A bad side is that most phones still use the “universal” MicroUSB port, meaning you have to carry your charger (or an adapter) to make sure you can charge your phone wherever you go.
Moreover, on the connectivity side we have Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, accelerometer, e-compass, gyroscope, hall sensor, and barometer. NFC works perfectly for pairing the Nokia 8 via Bluetooth with old Nokia accessories, but it can also be used for making payments. The internal 64GB memory on our device, or 128GB on the 6GB RAM version, can be expanded with a MicroSD card with up to 256GB of memory.
There is not much need to discuss software on the new Nokia smartphones, because HMD uses pure Android 7.1.1 with slight modifications, like more blue icons of Glance option. The device comes preloaded with two HMD-made apps – Nokia Camera and Nokia Support. Rest of the preinstalled apps are Android system applications and Google services. For example, there are no custom Gallery or Music Player application, but the 8 comes instead with Google Photos or Google Music. It does lack some useful (and gimmicky) software features that other vendors include in their Android skins, and that’s a downside for Pure Android. To add the battery percentage icon, you have to hold the settings icon in the notification center to activate “System UI Tuner”, and activate it from there. To access the file manager, you have to open Settings->Storage. Hopefully, HMD will include some software modification to make the 8 more convenient out of the box. Of course, for (almost) every problem, there is a solution on the Google Play Store.
As part of the standard Android experience, the 8 has features like Multi-Window, allowing you to use two apps simultaneously on the screen. App shortcuts are also there on supported apps, and you can activate them by longpressing an icon.
The review unit came with Android 7.1.1 out of the box, and received the October security update during our review period. Android 8 Oreo should be available for the device before the end of this year.
Nokia phones’ reputation has been built around three pillars: design, build quality and unmatched camera performance. The 8 features a great design, outstanding build quality, and on the camera side we have some well-known team behind the one on the Nokia 8. As a first in the Android word, Nokia 8 comes with three 13MP cameras with ZEISS optics: one on the front, and two on the back. All three cameras have a f/2.0 aperture and 1.12µm pixel size. The rear camera setup features a 13MP monochrome, and a 13MP RGB camera, with dual-tone LED flash, laser focus and phase detection autofocus (PDAF). The front camera doesn’t have a proprietary flash, but instead uses the LCD screen that rumps up the brightness as flash.
Probably the biggest downside of Nokia 8’s camera, and what could shock some Lumia users, is the camera application. For an average user that will shot most, if not all photos in automode, the UI is in fact decent. It’s fairly simply to navigate and go between front and rear, or use them both in bothie; switch to video or activate HDR or flash. The confusion starts with a deeper dive into the different camera features the 8 offers, like live bokeh (portrait mode), beautify and of course, the limited manual mode. Lumia users now how intuitive and feature rich was Nokia Camera app’s manual mode, and HMD’s camera app simply isn’t that good and needs to be better. Hopefully, HMD will copy something from the Nokia Camera UI, now that it owns the right to use that UI.
In the photo mode, Nokia 8 has the option to take panorama shots, that really works flawlessly. Then we have the already mentioned “Beautify”, that enhances faces; and Live Bokeh or HMD’s version of portrait mode. I needed some time (like few minutes) to learn how the Live Bokeh feature works, and I can conclude that the best way to use it is to take a photo from some distance of the subject(s), and then the camera will let you retroactively change the focus and level of blurriness between various objects you took in a shot. You can use Live Bokeh to take great macro shots, but then the “Nokia Refocus-like” feature won’t be available. In video mode, the camera offers the options to record in slowmotion or do timelaps videos.
A feature that was available on some Android devices form quite some time, that HMD decided to improve it and making an unique selling point of it is “bothie” and “Dual-sight” video recording. Bothie is the technical term (HMD’s dictionary) for taking a photo with the front and rear (RGB) camera at the same time, while Dual-Sight stands for the video simultaneously made with the front and rear camera, with the option to go live to Facebook or YouTube from the camera app. For people that like selfies with friends or/and taking photos of food, bothie and dual-sight livestream could be a fun feature to use.
Apart from using “dual cameras”, which stand for using the front and rear camera at the same time, Nokia 8 has an option called “Twins”. That is using the 13MP rear monochrome and the 13MP rear RGB camera for taking photos. The monochrome sensors is there to secure better contrast, and light in low-light conditions, while the RGB sensor, coupled with OIS, takes a normal picture that is stitched with the black and white photo to produce an overall better image.
In real life, there is not much difference between the “twin” camera and using the RGB camera in normal daylight conditions, but the difference can be more noticed in low-light conditions. Just the monochrome sensor is capable of making some great black and white shots, and if you’re into that stuff, you will like the 8.
In daylight conditions photos made by the Nokia 8 are good in contrast, details, exposure, and sharpness. Overall a solid shooter in daylight, that gives consistent results with its price class. The lowlight photography, a segment made popular by Nokia phones like Lumia 920, 925, 1020, and later 1520, isn’t really where Nokia 8 shines. It gives solid low light photos, but probably an average at the price point. The monochrome sensor helps in low-light, but there is still a lot of noise and less sharpness compared to top of the line competitor devices, but to be fair, Nokia 8 does come at a lower price from start.
An interesting revelation is that using 3rd party camera applications, with a richer manual mode, you can take photos that turn out better than the one made with the camera app. That indicates that Nokia 8 camera could be improved via software updates, and now that HMD and ZEISS work together on the camera, we should expect fixes and further improvements that could make the 8’s camera maybe a competition to Note 8, LG V30 or iPhone 8 Plus.
Take a look at some photos made by the 8 in different light conditions down below. You can find more samples in full resolution on out Flickr profile.
Video taken with the Nokia 8 in FullHD (1080p) resolution is on pair with top of the line flagships, with excellent details, fast refocusing and good exposure. Nokia 8’s sound recording is probably unmatched on the market, because of Nokia’s OZO Audio technology. Before shooting a video, you can set the mode of OZO Audio – in other words, do you want to record surround sound, front sound (if you are taking at the camera) or rear sound (if you are taking behind the camera). The 8 can record 4K videos on both, the front and the rear camera (but not at the same time), without any limitation except battery life and storage. The front camera also gives some of the best photos and videos of any devices available on the market.
As mentioned above, you can record “Dual Sight” video and go live to Facebook and YouTube, but with some limits. At the moment, you can go live to just your personal Facebook profile and not on the page you run, but on YouTube you can chose what account you wish to stream on.
Check some videos made with the Nokia 8 in different condition down below.
Overall, Nokia 8 features a solid camera, equipped with some interesting features. For social media photography the 8 will be a perfect device, except in low-light condition where the device is an average in its category, but hopefully that will be improved via software updates in future. If you like to record concerts, or taking videos in which the sound plays an important part, the 8 won’t disappoint.
The Achilles’ heel of (most) today’s smartphones is the battery life. To improve the experience related to battery life, most manufacturers don’t increase the capacity of the battery, but rather work on optimizations, user power-efficient SoCs (like Snapdragon 835), and use Quick Charge or Fast Charge. HMD opted for that solution for not going after high mAh numbers, but keep the device thin, use a power efficient SoC and includes Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.
The 8 has a 3090mAh battery, that is sufficient for more than a day of battery life. With an average usage that includes taking few photos, an hour of listening to music, working with emails, browsing and using social media, the 8 ended the day with 40% battery capacity remaining. Thanks to zero to one percent over the night (standy time) battery consumption, the 8 could survive the second day of use with a more limited usage. Keeping the battery between 20% and 80% is recommended, so daily quick recharges will be needed to keep it in that ideal capacity.
The battery goes from 0 to 100% in less than 2 hours, with a little less than 50% of the capacity being charged in first 30 minutes, and the last 20% at a much slower rate to conserve the health of the battery over a longer period of time. It’s a shame the phone doesn’t have wireless charging, because I have two wireless chargers, but Quick Charge and the power efficient Snapdragon 835 partially eliminates that need.
Nokia 8 is a device HMD needs and fans deserve. It’s a true flagship featuring latest specifications, amazing build quality, pure Android, all in a classical form factor. HMD implemented some essential Lumia features like Glance Screen and Double Tap to Wake on the 8, but we also have ZEISS optics on front and back, OZO Audio sound recording, a new and functional cooling system, and new antenna design for better positioning on the device and signal reception.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows on the 8, though. Some may not like the fact that HMD opted for a classical form factor, and not a “bezel-less” screen. The screen could’ve been AMOLED, wireless charging would be a nice addition (limited because of aluminum unibody), and better photos in low-light conditions would make the 8 even a more attractive flagship than it currently is. Regular security updates and Android Oreo coming soon, is a plus for the 8, but good software support can be found on almost all flagship devices today.
The most important element of the Nokia 8, and the reason why it has our recommendation, is the “affordable flagship” price point. The price varies from market to market, but for about €500, Nokia 8 in its current state won’t disappoint as an investment and the phone can only get better with software updates, and the price lower.