Nokia 8 review: Good, but not great
- 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.View details
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.
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:
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:
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:
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/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:
|Handset||Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)||Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)|
|Samsung Galaxy S8+||2020||6690|
|Samsung Galaxy S8||1989||6628|
|Huawei P10 Plus||1863||6544|
|Sony Xperia XZ Premium||1908||6324|
|Huawei Mate 9||1925||6068|
|Apple iPhone 7 Plus||3374||5649|
|Apple iPhone 7||3452||5599|
|Motorola MotoZ Play 2||891||4485|
|Apple iPhone SE||2449||4171|
|Google Pixel XL||1629||4051|
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.
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.
|Handset||Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration||Geekbench 3 Battery Score|
|Sony Xperia XZ Premium||12:06:40||7266|
|Motorola Moto Play Z 2||11:50:50||7107|
|Samsung Galaxy S8||11:47:50||7078|
|Apple iPhone 7 Plus||11:11:20||6713|
|Huawei P10 Plus||10:39:50||6218|
|Google Pixel XL||9:14:20||5543|
|Huawei Mate 9||9:00:30||5330|
|Apple iPhone 7||7:50:10||4701|
|Apple iPhone SE||4:27:10||2671|
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.
- Product Name
- Nokia 8
- 1440 x 2560 pixels
- Android 7.1.1
- 64GB plus microSD
- Snapdragon 835
- 151.5 x 73.7 x 7.9 mm