Nokia 9 Pureview review: A superior camera (sometimes)

Alex Kidman 10 May 2019 NEWS

The Nokia 9 Pureview's multi-camera approach makes it stand out from other premium smartphones, but this isn't a phone for everybody.

Quick Verdict
Nokia has taken a real risk with the Nokia 9 Pureview's camera, but the rest of the package is a little behind the premium pace, leading to a very uneven phone experience.

The good

  • Capable of spectacular photos.
  • Great for monochrome photos.
  • Android One means regular updates.
  • A great looking phone.
  • Priced at the low end of the premium tier.

The bad

  • Camera can be very slow.
  • Older processor.
  • No storage expansion.
  • No headphone jack.


We're at a stage in smartphone development where most manufacturers don't really take risks. New phones are largely iterative, and while the technology improves in small steps, there's not really much in the way of genuinely new and risky ideas out there.

Without a doubt, the Nokia 9 Pureview is HMD Global's most interesting phone to date. Interesting, however, doesn't lead to a phone that will necessarily appeal to every single buyer.


Nokia 9 Pureview: Design

  • Business the front, Beholder at the back.
  • Blue colour only.
  • In-glass fingerprint sensor is just plain awful.
  • No headphone jack.

From the front, the Nokia 9 Pureview doesn't look all that innovative or risky at all. Indeed, your first impression might be that somebody's slipped you the Nokia 7.1 or something similar, because it mostly follows the Nokia style guidelines to a tee.

Indeed, you might even view it as a slightly retro style, because there's no notch to be seen. Instead, the 5.99 inch display on the Nokia 9 Pureview is topped and tailed with noticeable bezels that house the front-facing cameras. For those that loathe bezels, that could be a definite plus. It certainly gets past the issue I've had with previous Nokia phones where you couldn't obscure the notch with a black bar, because it's absolutely built in.

Nokia 9 Pureview Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Turn the Nokia 9 Pureview around, and you're greeted with a rear camera array that will draw attention wherever you use it. I've been testing the Nokia 9 Pureview out and about in Sydney, and every time I stop to take a photo with it, it draws more than a few incredulous glances.

That's because Nokia's upped the ante in terms of camera lenses, with a whopping five lenses, plus a time-of-flight sensor, plus a flash.

More on the camera optics shortly, but the visual effect of cramming all those sensors is a phone that looks like it's had a Dungeons & Dragons Beholder crammed into the back of it.

The visual effect of cramming all those sensors is a phone that looks like it's had a Dungeons & Dragons Beholder crammed into the back of it.

Nokia only makes the Nokia 9 Pureview in a Midnight Blue finish, which is mostly pleasing to the eye in a rather stern, conservative way. There's no sign of official cases coming down under, but if you did want to change up the style, a case ordered online would be a wise step. Given the lenses sit under glass that could otherwise end up scratched, it would be a very smart move.

The Nokia 9 Pureview will at least (in theory) survive a dunking, with IP67 water resistance. That's rated against fresh water immersion, but any accidental splashing or dipping shouldn't damage it. Again, that's very much in line from what we'd expect out of a flagship phone.

One very neat aspect of the design is that despite having that many lenses at the back of the Nokia 9 Pureview, there's no camera bump to contend with at all. You also won't find a fingerprint sensor on the rear or on the side.

That's because one of the more contemporary features found in the Nokia 9 Pureview is an under-glass fingerprint sensor. We've seen this approach in phones such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Oppo R17 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10+ already.

There's a definite learning curve to using the fingerprint sensor on those phones, but where the Nokia 9 Pureview differs from those devices is that the lesson you very quickly learn is not to bother at all.

HMD Global representatives tell me that the model I'm testing with is using the latest upgrades with "improvements" to the fingerprint sensor reader. If that's true, they've still got a lot of work to do.

It's slow, it almost never actually reads a fingerprint properly, and ultimately I gave up and went back to a passphrase approach to unlock the phone.

There's no headphone jack present on the Nokia 9 Pureview, but you do get a USB C adaptor in the box for your existing wired headphones. Early buyers of the Nokia 9 Pureview will also score a set of Nokia True Wireless Earbuds as a bonus offer to cover audio duties.

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Nokia 9 Pureview camera Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Nokia 9 Pureview: Camera

  • Three primary RGB lenses.
  • Two monochrome lenses.
  • Capable of some amazing photos... with patience.
  • Less flexible than competing options.
  • A camera for the pros, not the everyday shooter.

If the presence of all those lenses on the back of the Nokia 9 Pureview didn't tip you off about how serious HMD Global is about the camera prowess of this phone, then the fact that it strongly suggests that you download and install Adobe Lightroom for Android probably will.

I'm used to plenty of phones suggesting download apps, but these are usually rubbish IAP-laden games or vendor-specific browsers or email apps that I'll never even touch. Having Lightroom installed as part of your set-up process speaks volumes about the target market for the Nokia 9 Pureview.

It's in those lenses that HMD Global has taken a risky route. I say risky because the multi-lens approach of every other vendor tends to mix wide and telephoto options alongside fixed focus lenses. You'd think with five lenses on board that you'd have a smorgasbord of differing zoom options to play with.

You'd think with five lenses on board that you'd have a smorgasbord of differing zoom options to play with.

Instead, you get 2 12MP RGB lenses alongside 3 monochrome lenses to play with. The special trick here is that by default, when you take a photo all five lenses fire at once. The phone throws all of those shots at once to a specially designed Light ASIC that handles smashing them together to come up with a shot that crams 240MP of detail into one 12MP photo.

Any decent photographer will tell you that taking a good photo takes patience and time, and that's absolutely true of the Nokia 9 Pureview. The shifting of that much data around the phone means that its post-processing time when you take a regular photo is measured in seconds. It's notably longer if you opt to shoot in RAW, and if you engage that sixth time-of-flight sensor to give the phone even more depth detail to process.

You can watch the processing happen in the notification window if you want to track it. As a rough guideline, shooting in both JPG and RAW with the depth sensor on, a single shot takes around 25 seconds to process.

shooting in both JPG and RAW with the depth sensor on, a single shot takes around 25 seconds to process.

You can keep taking photos while this is going on in the background, but sharing them around is a different matter. The one exception is if you shoot in burst mode, but then it only fires off a single 12MP lens, which rather defeats the purpose.

That slow processing speed also extends to what the Nokia 9 Pureview doesn't do well, and that's action shots. Firing all those lenses at a fast moving scene will often lead to a blurry shot, and one that you won't even know is blurry for a good half-minute or so.

Likewise, standard low light shooting is well below the standard you'd expect out of a flagship phone unless you deliberately kick it into Pro mode. Even then, it's easily outclassed by phones such as the Huawei P30 Pro or Google Pixel 3.

There's also some very definite lag when switching camera modes. These encompass Square, Panorama, Monochrome, Bokeh, Pro, Photo, Video, Slow Motion and Time-Lapsed options, but shifting between them often sees the Nokia 9 Pureview slow down to a crawl. Again, that's less than ideal if you're scrambling to capture a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

There are some solid highlights to the Nokia 9 Pureview's operation. If you're happy in the land of post-processing and you shoot a lot of monochrome shots, it's an utter joy to use, again as long as you have the patience.

Nokia 9 Pureview sample photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

It manages a good portrait shot for the most part too.

Here's Finder's own Jacob Smith in standard photo mode:

Nokia 9 Pureview Standard portrait photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

And in bokeh mode:

Nokia 9 Pureview Bokeh sample photo Image: Finder

And finally in monochrome:

Nokia 9 Pureview Monochrome portrait photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

I've deliberately included non-edited photos in this review, because for the general consumer, they're not as likely to get into the minutiae of adjusting levels on a given photo. The reality, though, is that the Nokia 9 Pureview is at its best when you do shoot in RAW and post-process those shots.

It's very clear that the Nokia 9 Pureview is a camera phone for the camera enthusiast with both the patience for slow and deliberate shooting and post-processing photos afterwards. For everyday consumers, there are much easier and more flexible camera phones that would be a better fit.

Nokia 9 Pureview sample photos

Nokia 9 Pureview Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Nokia 9 Pureview Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Nokia 9 Pureview Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Nokia 9 Pureview Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

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Nokia 9 Pureview Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Nokia 9 Pureview: Performance

  • Snapdragon 845 is powerful, but not up to current premium smartphone standards.
  • Android One promises plenty of updates.
  • 128GB of fixed storage only.

The Nokia 9 Pureview runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 processor with 6GB of RAM. Had it appeared in 2018, that would have put it at the cutting edge of premium smartphone performance. However, in 2019 it leaves it trailing the lower edge of that performance space. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test.

It's a better story on the 3D graphics front, where the Nokia 9 Pureview manages to tilt towards the top of the performance we've seen out of flagships to date.

The practical reality here is that while you're not getting absolute top-tier flagship performance out of the Snapdragon 845, for day to day usage – excluding the already mentioned camera lag issue – it's absolutely powerful enough for everyday tasks.

Nokia doesn't load up much in the way of additional software on the Nokia 9 Pureview, because like most of its other phones, it's an Android One device. That means that Google handles the software updates with a guaranteed two year update cycle for operating system releases, and three years for security updates.

The Nokia 9 Pureview should easily see Android Q when it launches later this year, as well as Android R in 2020. That won't be quite as quick as you might see it on a Pixel phone, but HMD Global's track record suggests you won't have to wait too long.

Nokia 9 Pureview Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

One factor here, if you like a guided experience, is that Android One is essentially a blank canvas. It's Android for folks who are happy to tweak apps and interfaces to suit their own style, which may not be a good match for your needs. I'm a big fan of clean Android, but those who prefer a more controlled environment may prefer something like Samsung's One UI or Oppo's ColorOS.

For a phone that's so solidly about pro photography and shooting large RAW files, it's super disappointing that the Nokia 9 Pureview features no storage expansion whatsoever. There's 128GB onboard as a total, and even some of that is of course taken up with Android files. If you're shooting a lot with the Nokia 9 Pureview – and you should be – you're going to be spending just as much time shuffling files off the phone simply to free up space.

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Nokia 9 Pureview: Battery life

  • 3,320mAh battery offers mediocre performance.
  • Android One might improve battery life.
  • Fast wired charging.

The Nokia 9 Pureview has a 3,320mAh battery under the hood, which isn't huge for a flagship phone, although it's a little better than, say, Apple puts into a phone of this size.

Android 9 is pretty good at battery optimisation for the most part, and the clean Android One interface gave me high hopes for the Nokia 9 Pureview's battery performance. Sadly, those hopes were rather dashed. Here's how the Nokia 9 Pureview compared using Geekbench 4's linear battery test.

When you can't even outpace an iPhone, something isn't quite right. The Geekbench 4 test is quite measured, while in reality we all tend to use our phones in bursts. In more anecdotal testing, the Nokia 9 Pureview could generally last to the end of a working day, but any more than that was out of its range.

There's a very small silver lining here by way of its Android One status. Battery life optimisation is something that Google takes pretty seriously. There is scope for some optimisations to hit the Nokia 9 Pureview later in its life. Still, you should always buy based on what it can do now, not what it might do.

The Nokia 9 Pureview recharges via USB C with a supplied fast charger, or via wireless charging. Bear in mind that while it is Qi-compatible, that's an inherently slower way to recharge your handset.

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Nokia 9 Pureview: Should you buy it?

  • A truly different smartphone, but not one for everybody.

The Nokia 9 Pureview is a bold statement from HMD Global that it's seriously targeting photography enthusiasts.

The issue is that this is a narrow niche of the population, and the Nokia 9 Pureview is the functional equivalent of buying a fixed focus lens for your DSLR.

It's great for some very specific photographic purposes, but not terribly adequate for other purposes.

There's some great technology here, and it's good to see a camera phone that takes monochrome seriously after Huawei dropped it from its camera lines. It's even relatively competitively priced in the flagship stakes, and the clean Android One interface is also a plus.

Still, this is ultimately a phone that you'd only buy if you wanted a backup to your existing DSLR rig, or something that you wanted to take very deliberate and slow photos with. It's a new move in the smartphone space, but not one that I suspect too many wider market consumers will warm to.

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Nokia 9 Pureview: Pricing and availability

Nokia 9 Pureview

Nokia gets serious about photography

With an astonishing 5 rear lenses and guaranteed updates through Android One, the Nokia 9 Pureview is the phone for photography professionals. Get yours today.

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The Nokia 9 Pureview is available to buy in Australia now at an outright price of $1,099.

Nokia 9 Pureview: Alternatives

If you want a phone at this kind of price point with a great camera that's substantially easier to use, the obvious competitor is the Huawei P30.

Huawei P30

Built for photography

Sleek, powerful and equipped with Huawei's market-leading camera technology, the P30 is an impressive addition to the premium smartphone space. Get yours now.

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The Huawei P30 Pro is even better, but you do pay a substantial premium for it.

Huawei P30 Pro

Huawei's flagship camera phone

The Huawei P30 Pro combines the power of Huawei's own Kirin 980 chip, an exceptional battery and a class-leading quad-lens camera array.

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It's also worth considering the Samsung Galaxy S10 or Samsung Galaxy S10e in the camera stakes, alongside the very slick Samsung One UI experience. Those phones also feature easy MicroSD card expansion for all your photos.

Samsung Galaxy S10


Samsung's Galaxy S10 features an in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor and a pin-hole selfie camera, providing more room for its 6.1-inch screen to shine. Get yours now from Amazon Australia.

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Samsung Galaxy S10e


Samsung's Galaxy S10e gives you a more affordable Samsung Galaxy S10 experience while retaining plenty of power and camera features. If you want a small and powerful Samsung Galaxy phone, this is the one to buy.

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Buy the Samsung Galaxy S10+ 128GB

Buy the Samsung Galaxy S10+ 128GB from Amazon AU

The Samsung Galaxy S10+ packs a massive 6.4-inch screen with support for HDR10+ and an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor concealed beneath the display. Grab yours now from Amazon Australia.

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If the Android One side of the Nokia 9 Pureview appeals to you, consider the Google Pixel 3, which runs on the same Snapdragon 845 as the Nokia 9 Pureview. It's packing less RAM, but will see Android Q ahead of the Nokia 9 Pureview.

You can compare local Google Pixel 3 price options right here.

Google Pixel 3 XL

Google's newest big flagship

The Google Pixel 3 XL combines a clean Android interface with the smarts of Google in a handset clearly designed for Android lovers.

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Or the freshly-launched Google Pixel 3a:

Google Pixel 3a

Google's Pixel for the masses

The Google Pixel 3a provides the best of Google at a lower price point than its flagship Pixel phones.

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If you wanted to keep in HMD Global's more usually affordable space but retain some photo features, consider the Oppo R17 Pro:

Oppo R17 Pro

Oppo's affordable flagship

The Oppo R17 Pro is Oppo's best phone for 2018, combining plenty of battery power with an excellent camera and in-display fingerprint reader.

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Specifications

Nokia 9 Pureview Specifications

OS Android 9
Display size (inches) 5.99
Display resolution (pixels) 2880 x 1440
Pixels per inch (PPI)
Processor Snapdragon 845
Height (mm) 155
Width (mm) 75
Depth (mm) 8
Weight (g) 172
Battery size (mAh) 3,320
Wireless charging Qi
Internal storage 128GB
MicroSD expansion N/A
Fingerprint scanner Yes
RAM 6GB
Water resistance IP67
Rear camera (1) resolution 12
Rear camera (1) aperture f/1.8
Rear camera (2) resolution 12
Rear camera (2) aperture f/1.8
Rear camera (3) resolution 12
Rear camera (3) aperture f/1.8
Front camera (1) resolution 20
Front camera (1) aperture
Front camera (2) resolution
Front camera (2) aperture
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Network category speed Category 16
NFC support Yes
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