The Nokia 9 PureView embodies HMD Global’s capability in the higher-end market. It has all the big names tied to it, featuring a collaboration with some of the biggest companies in the tech world. There was Nokia’s frequent collaborator, Carl Zeiss AG, then Google and its Android One team, and some minor help from Adobe. There was also the then-independent startup, Light, coming in with some crazy innovative camera ideas we have never seen on a smartphone before.
The smartphone has all the right recipes for success but ultimately suffers from its own complexities. We didn’t know how much this cost HMD Global, but it is bonkers how the company changed the way they make their devices since then.
Some people who owned the Nokia 9 PureView admit that it has issues from the get-go. And while some of it has been remedied via a software update, some of the more glaring ones remain to this day. It was a major compromise for the consumers who bought the device with some Nokia flagship expectations. But the inconsistencies in user experience, paired with the sudden neglect from its developers, and Light eventually halting its business for mobile imaging, caused a bit of a stir, not just for the users, but also within the whole Nokia community. What was left was the promise of Android One which was later proven to be false hope. Questions about HMD Global’s claims of honesty quickly arose, criticizing its famed tagline which partly reads “secure, and up-to-date”.
In the recent article published by Android Authority, Adam Ferguson, Head of Product Marketing for HMD Global, admitted that developing a flagship doesn’t make sense for HMD Global at the moment. The company just can’t afford another flagship phone with complex R&D requirements while keeping the price as low as it possibly can. The money right now is in the budget segment although we are yet to see if they can sustain its healthy growth in subsequent quarters.
This isn’t to say that the Nokia 9 PureView was all a bad take. HMD Global and ZEISS created a device that is finally worthy of the PureView name after its long hiatus. The device did some things right, only if the application was done well without cutting some corners.
In this article, we will list what we think was the best part about the device while also writing down some of its absolute worst.
Love it (or hate it), the choice of HMD Global to go all-in with Android One on its Nokia phones convinced a lot of potential consumers to users. The promise of pure, secure, and up-to-date smartphones was Nokia Mobile’s major selling point, and it didn’t take a while for them to become a major player in Google’s pure Android initiative. The move wasn’t at all expected for the flagship lineup, but the Finns were able to include Android One on the Nokia 9 PureView. However, this also later became one of the major criticisms of the device.
While HMD Global’s promise of pure, secure, and up-to-date seems to entice a lot of people, the choice was also frequently polarized by some of the fans. They argue that going Android One is a lazy move and that the device could have been better with a custom Nokia-developed skin. This is understandable because, compared to OneUI or ColorOS, Android One doesn’t come with some nifty extra features unless Google cares to implement them. It is basically the most barebone an Android could possibly can.
This year, the remaining Nokia 9 PureView users were stunned to learn that HMD Global is scrapping its Android 11 promise for the 2019 flagship. HMD Global reasons the camera’s incompatibility with Android 11, and that the experience didn’t meet its “high standards”. This caused some big tech YouTube names like Marton Barcza, famously known as TechAltar, to voice out their disappointments towards HMD Global saying he would never buy from them again.
The first generation PureView Penta-lens system
A Nokia flagship without the PureView branding doesn’t sound like a real deal. Thankfully, the Nokia 9 PureView features a one-of-a-kind PureView technology. Instead of using just one sensor to capture images and fuse them together to create photos with a high dynamic range, the Nokia 9 PureView uses five camera sensors, three of which are native B&W sensors, delivering unrivaled DNG files. However, this also became a major criticism of the device.
You see, the setup on the Nokia 9 PureView isn’t as varied as what Apple or Samsung is offering. You are pretty much stuck with one focal length, or B&W images if you fancy. However, the big issue really lies in the way the smartphone performs during the image-taking process. The smartphone uses five camera arrays, six if you include the depth sensor, so it’s a huge amount of data to process (60MP per shot or 240MP when each of the cameras takes multiple shots). The old Snapdragon 845 isn’t that powerful for the workload and note that this is even after Nokia and Light tried to share the work with ISP and DSP, and even added a dedicated image processing chip. It just wasn’t ready for it.
To be fair, the delay in image processing wasn’t all that felt as it was happening in the background. So taking multiple simultaneous shots doesn’t cause some misbehavior in the camera app, although the heat from the processing queue is all but felt. It is the preview of the recently taken images that are usually criticized.
The camera also has some existing issues, as some users reported. There was the clicking sound, the camera app crashing in some instances, and the complicated, not user-friendly camera UI. But the biggest compromise to the Nokia 9 PureView users is the fact that the camera is too complicated, HMD Global wasn’t able to push updates to support Night Mode, and recently it was also mentioned as the reason why Android 11 is scrapped for the device. If you have the device though, you can take advantage of a proper night mode using the pro mode settings.
The first-generation in-display fingerprint scanner
HMD Global tried so hard to bring some value to the Nokia 9 PureView by trying to use the latest technology. This made the device even more enticing, at least on paper. One of the features, as seen highlighted on the leaked Nokia 9 PureView video material, was the in-display fingerprint sensor. During this time, the technology is already about a year old. Other manufacturers have already figured out and solved existing issues with the tech and it is on its second roll-out. But the device was, being a budget flagship, expected to come with some trimmed corners. Unfortunately, HMD Global seemed to think they can get away with using an old generation in-display fingerprint scanner.
HMD Global tried to roll out some software fixes but never solved the issues (because the issue is hardware). This is ironic on so many levels. What was promised as secure, isn’t as secure anymore. Of course, users can opt to use the regular most-likely-unsafe face unlock or manually type the password. To be fair though, it is possible that the only option they had during the research and development was the first-generation in-display fingerprint as it is said to have taken a long-time for them to figure out some things.
PureView setup on nonexpendable storage
PureView has always been synonymous with quality images, and we know that quality images take a lot of space. When the Nokia Lumia 920 came out in 2012, one of the major criticisms it received was the limited storage options without any access to expandable storage. It took years for Nokia to correct this. In fact, it wasn’t until Microsoft took over.
It is a similar story to the Nokia 9 PureView. The storage maxes out at 128GB (a bare minimum of any flagship these days), and so users are forced to use Google services for storage which the phone came with. Unfortunately, with Google recently removing options for high-quality backup, the only option left for users is to manually backup the files using a computer on local storage.
I recently talked to Abdulla about the issues that still linger with the Nokia 9 PureView. In our opinion, even if Nokia 9 PureView came with the Snapdragon 855, it still isn’t able to solve all the issues it has come with. First, the camera technology is still pretty much in the prototype phase and probably requires a separate custom SoC development to work properly. This means throwing a lot of cash with uncertain success which could have caused even bigger issues with HMD Global.
Unlike backup brands like Realme and OnePlus, HMD Global can’t afford a thinner profit margin. This means that creating a flagship that never exceeds a thousand dollars without cutting some corners is a huge challenge. This is the reason why a startup usually struggles to create something unique to the existing market while also delivering it in a timely manner. The time and resources spent on the R&D of a single product aren’t always a hundred percent successful. Limited R&D also means delay, and delay will result in products being launched with dated specifications.
However, this isn’t the first time HMD Global had difficulties regarding its flagship offers. In 2018, it was reported that the Finns had struggled with the production yield of the Nokia 8 Sirocco. This has something to do either with its extremely curved display or the thin-chamfered stainless steel frame. Regardless, perhaps the phone didn’t sell well enough that HMD Global straight up abandoned the Sirocco branding a year later. It also didn’t help that the device received a major snub from Juho Sarvikas, the CPO for HMD Global, during the MWC 2018 announcement when it called the Nokia 7 Plus his favorite instead of the premium flagship.
Big shout-out to Abdulla for helping me with this article.