Nokia 8 review: Good, but not great

Alex Kidman 4 September 2017

Quick Verdict
The Nokia 8 is easily Nokia's best Android phone to date, and it's a perfectly solid premium phone. It's also a premium phone that lacks a true killer feature to make it really stand out from the pack.

Strengths

  • Dual cameras
  • Snapdragon 835 gives it plenty of power
  • Impressive battery life

Could be better

  • Design is bland
  • Low-light performance is poor
  • Bothies are a gimmick


The reborn Nokia's first new premium phone is a fine handset, but uninspired design and a less than premium camera detract from its value proposition.

When Nokia was reborn on the global stage at this year's Mobile World Congress, it did so with a trio of entry level to mid-level phones that were, at best, unremarkable. We weren't thrilled by the Nokia 3, Nokia 5 or Nokia 6 when we came to test them some months later, and that wasn't a great sign for a brand that used to be one of the world's best when it came to mobile phones.

Nokia 8 from DWI (Digital World International)

The ultimate in seamless unibody construction, Nokia 8 is designed to nestle perfectly in the palm of your hand.

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All that was meant to change with the Nokia 8, the first smartphone to come out of HMD Global with truly premium components inside, including lenses by Zeiss and the premium processor of choice in 2017, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. The question was whether Nokia/HMD could climb out of the budget ghetto and deliver a truly worthwhile premium contender.

Design

The design of the Nokia 8 doesn't particularly scream Nokia, although those who disliked the era in which Nokia produced smartphones in day-glo tones might find that a welcome relief.

While aesthetics are obviously a matter of personal preference, having used the Nokia 8 for a couple of weeks, I can't get past the point that this is a premium phone that just looks like, well, a smartphone. That's no capital crime, but there's really not much in the way of standout visual features.

At 151.5 x 73.7 x 7.9 mm with a carrying weight of 160g, it's nice and light and is easy to slip into your pocket. It has a slender front-facing fingerprint sensor that also doubles as the home button. This sensor is flanked by capacitive buttons on either side.

In an era where an increasing number of manufacturers are opting for bezel-free designs, the Nokia 8 almost feels like a throwback device with significant upper and lower bezel regions around its 5.3-inch primary screen. Buttons are easy to reach, and the fingerprint sensor is nicely responsive for the most part, although as is common with thinner fingerprint readers, you'll have to teach yourself the muscle memory to hit the right part of it for unlocking purposes.

In Australia, the official Nokia 8 colours are Steel and Polished Blue, although if you're keen on the alternative Polished Copper or Tempered Blue versions, you could always directly import the phone instead.

Nokia8_Lens_738

Camera

The previous Nokia phones in this generation only had passable cameras at absolute best, but the Nokia 8 is meant to represent a new era highlighted by the partnership with Zeiss for lenses on the new handsets going forward. In the Nokia 8's case that means dual 13MP f/2.0 Zeiss lenses on the rear, with one lens covering monochrome tones while the other is a colour lens. You can shoot with either lens exclusively or combine them for a theoretical best colour option for each shot.

Nokia's other party piece with the Nokia 8 is what it calls "bothies", where the front 13MP lens is also pushed into service for dual front and back photography and video. It's a cute concept, but one that's not always going to show you in your best light. Realistically, it's not a feature that anyone except the most extreme narcissists are likely to use to any great extent, if only because lining up the right lighting and framing on both sides of the camera in an appealing way is very difficult.

That leaves the Nokia 8 to stand on its own camera merits, and here the news is mixed. In simple brand terms, there's absolutely no argument that the Nokia 8 delivers the best photo results of any of its Android camera family, but that's to be expected at its price point. Standard-lit photographs can turn out quite well in most circumstances. Here are some sample shots:

Nokia8_TestShot5_738 Nokia8_TestShot3_738 Nokia8_TestShot2_738 Nokia8_TestShot1_738

In low light, however, it can be a real struggle to get the Nokia 8's camera to behave. Here's an ad-hoc (admittedly terribly framed) shot of my carport at night, taken with the Nokia 8:

Nokia8_TestShot4_738

Now, plenty of smartphones struggle with low light, but by way of comparison, here's the same shot taken a few seconds later on a Samsung Galaxy S8:

Nokia8_TestShotSamsungS8_738

I know it looks like I've thrown on a floodlight for the second shot, but they are the same shot, showing how the Nokia 8 compares against a premium phone that didn't particularly increase its camera grunt from the 2016 Samsung Galaxy S7. This isn't a good sign for the Nokia 8.

Nokia 8 review

Performance

Nokia/HMD Global went quite low-scale for its first trio of handsets, but the Nokia 8 features what is the cream of the current smartphone crop in the form of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, alongside 4GB of RAM. That's a potent combination that should deliver good performance. Both anecdotally and in benchmark terms, the Nokia 8 does deliver. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Samsung Galaxy S8+20206690
Samsung Galaxy S819896628
Huawei P10 Plus18636544
Nokia 819326529
OnePlus 519766506
HTC U1119196362
Sony Xperia XZ Premium19086324
Huawei Mate 919256068
Oppo R1116165895
Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
Huawei P1019225633
Apple iPhone 734525599
Motorola MotoZ Play 28914485
LG G618104228
Apple iPhone SE24494171
Google Pixel XL16294051

The differences between the various Snapdragon 835 processor-based units on that test are fairly marginal, which essentially means that the Nokia 8 performs as you'd expect it to. They're slightly outclassed by the Samsung Galaxy S8/Galaxy S8+ handsets, but we tested the Australian Exynos 8995-based variants of those devices.

HMD Global deliberately takes a hands-off approach with Android when it comes to its handsets, and this means that there's very little in the way of preinstalled software on the Nokia 8, excluding the camera app. The camera app needs its own customisation thanks to those dual lenses and the "bothie" feature. For most basic uses, it's perfectly serviceable, although fans of the much older Nokia handsets and their quick manual modes may find it a tad limited.

HMD Global has committed to providing two years' worth of updates for its handsets, including major OS updates, so while the Nokia 8 will launch in Australia with Android 7.1.1 (Nougat), it should see Android 8.0 (Oreo) in due course.

Nokia 8 review

Battery life

The Nokia 8 packs a 3090mAh battery into its frame, which is a solid battery quantity, although not the highest we've seen in a premium phone this year. Still, with a smaller 5.3 inch display, there's scope for it to give good battery life, and that's certainly what I found in my testing. As with any handset, it's feasible to drain it away quickly if you push it hard enough.

Using Geekbench 3's older battery test, the Nokia 8 placed second only to the Samsung Galaxy S8+ in terms of overall battery duration. Given the nearly 500mAh difference in battery capacity between the two handsets, that's an impressive achievement in itself.

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Galaxy S8+14:55:308955
Nokia 812:22:107421
Sony Xperia XZ Premium12:06:407266
Motorola Moto Play Z 211:50:507107
Samsung Galaxy S811:47:507078
HTC U1111:42:407026
Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
Huawei P10 Plus10:39:506218
OnePlus 59:33:305735
Huawei P109:31:305523
Google Pixel XL9:14:205543
LG G69:09:305495
Huawei Mate 99:00:305330
Apple iPhone 77:50:104701
Apple iPhone SE4:27:102671

Verdict

At $899 outright, the Nokia 8 is a very solid premium handset, but it's one that's a definite mix of excellent features, including battery life, and other issues that make it a less appealing prospect. It's not an exciting looking phone, and it's not one with a camera that ultimately impresses, unless the prospect of "bothies" captures your attention.

At this stage, the Nokia 8 is only available in Australia on an outright basis, and that means it's up against every other phone available around that price point. That includes the OnePlus 5 (if you can score one), which is $200 cheaper for much the same performance, the similarly dual-camera toting Huawei P10 and the Huawei P10 Plus as well as more truly premium options such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, the HTC U11 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.

There's little doubting that this is the best smartphone the reborn Nokia has produced to date, and it's a very good sign of what's to come, but I'm still waiting for that knockout punch that will signal Nokia is well and truly back. The Nokia 8 is a good phone, but it's just not quite a great phone.

Nokia 8 review

Specifications

Product Name
Nokia 8
Display
5.3in
Resolution
1440 x 2560 pixels
ppi
554ppi
Software
Android 7.1.1
Storage
64GB plus microSD
RAM
4GB
Battery
3090mAh
Processor
Snapdragon 835
Size
151.5 x 73.7 x 7.9 mm
Weight
160g

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