Since selling off its Lumia range of phones to Microsoft in 2014, Nokia has been notably absent from the high-end smartphone market. Now it’s back with a new Android-powered flagship, called simply the Nokia 8 – and it’s looking more formidable than ever.
Strictly speaking, the Nokia 8 isn’t the first new Android smartphone from Nokia. We’ve already seen the cheaper Nokia 3, and the mid-range Nokia 5 and 6 handsets. But this is arguably the most important one – the premium handset that’s set to compete with the likes of the iPhone and the Galaxy S8.
Physically, it’s a hell of a looker. It’s wonderfully slim, measuring a mere 7.3mm thick, and it’s hewn from a single block of aluminium, which gives it a fantastic solidity in the hand. Its chamfered edges and curved sides ensure that it sits snugly in the hand, and make it easy to access the fingerprint reader without adjusting your grip or shuffling the phone about in your palm.
Front and centre, of course, is the screen. It’s not an edge-to-edge design, like the Samsung Galaxy S8’s or the LG G6’s, but at 5.3in across the diagonal it’s a decent size, and its super-high 2,560 x 1,440 resolution translates to an impeccably crisp 554ppi. It’s super-bright too, hitting a blinding 663cd/m2, so everything looks vibrant and alive. A coating of Gorilla Glass 5 means it also has a good chance of surviving the odd accidental drop without shattering.
Nokia 8 review: Performance and battery life
Under the hood, the Nokia 8 has the sort of internals you’d expect from a modern flagship smartphone, namely an eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and a full 4GB of RAM. Predictably, therefore, the 8 achieved benchmark scores that were effectively on par with all the big-hitters of the Android world.
Things were a bit more mixed in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 gaming benchmark, however. In the offscreen test, the Nokia 8 once more proved itself more or less equal to its rivals. But in the onscreen test, performance took a dive – an inevitable consequence of that super-high-resolution screen, which means the Nokia 8 has to push a hell of a lot of pixels around. Performance is still decent, but it’s not up there with the best.
And there’s good news when it comes to battery life. The manufacturer has made much of the Nokia 8’s “advanced heat management solution” – an internal liquid-cooling system that’s designed to conduct heat away from the chipset. The idea is to extend battery life by keeping heat levels to a minimum, and we have to say, it works.
Yes, the Nokia 8 managed to play back continuous video for a stonking 18hrs 46mins on a single charge, with the screen set to our standard 170cd/m2 brightness. That puts it ahead of the best that Apple, Samsung and Sony have to offer; in this class only the OnePlus 5 managed to outlast it.
Nokia 8 review: Camera
At the rear of the Nokia 9 sits a 13-megapixel Zeiss-branded camera. In fact, it’s a dual-camera arrangement: in addition to your bog-standard RGB sensor, there’s also an f/2.0 monochrome sensor which is used to resolve fine detail. The input from the two sensors is combined in-camera to create a final image that offers both sharp details and bright, punchy colours. This isn’t a Nokia innovation – we first saw it on the HTC One M8 way back in 2014 – but it works well here.
The front camera also uses a 13-megapixel sensor, and, intriguingly, it’s possible to activate both cameras at once, to capture what Nokia is optimistically calling a “bothie”. The resultant image shows both the scene in front of you, and, to the side, your reaction to it. It’s a fun little feature, and it works with video as well as still images: we can see it catching on for Facebook and YouTube live streams.
Nokia 8 review: Verdict
The Nokia 8 is an attractive and powerful smartphone, no doubt about that. Everything about it oozes quality, from the high-res screen to the impressive battery life – and, happily, Nokia has equipped it with stock Android, rather than some mucked-about-with custom shell. The price is competitive with other flagship phones too; it’s worth mentioning that you get 64GB of onboard storage, which can be expanded by up to 256GB via a microSD slot.
The only question that remains is whether, in 2017, there’s much appetite in the market for another high-end handset. It’s a long time since the Nokia brand alone was enough to sell phones. Even so, the Nokia 8 is, on its own merits, a worthy rival to the established giants of the market. It might not fully re-establish the prestige of the Nokia of old, but it’s a big, confident stride in the right direction.
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