Change of Tune: The Nokia PureView 808 isn’t a gimmick, it’s amazing, but it’s also too early

I’ll admit it, when Nokia announced the PureView 808 the first thing that came to my mind was the word “bullshit”. How the hell could they possibly say that they made a camera phone with a 41 megapixel sensor? This industry may be fast moving, some might even call it exciting, but one thing it isn’t is random. Nearly every spec bump we’ve seen over the past few years has been predictable. Processors get a little bit quicker every year, radios give you an extra megabit or two per second, cameras get somewhat sharper, you get the idea. Seeing and hearing Stephen Elop announce a 41 megapixel camera phone activated every single skeptical neuron in my brain. At first I thought Nokia was doing something that Sigma has been doing with their Foveon image sensors for over a decade. Whereas normal cameras have a sensor with an array of pixels, each capturing a single color, Foveon’s sensors are radically different. Each individual pixel in their sensors capture how much red, blue, and green they’re seeing. So say a camera from Canon would have a 15 megapixel sensor. Sigma would say that their same 15 megapixel camera actually has 45 megapixels since each one of their pixels capture 3 separate colors. It’s a crude explanation, but I hope I got the point across.

Watching the video above, reading Steve Litchfield’s fantastic articles on All About Symbian explaining the PureView, and talking to various folks on Skype and Twitter has made me realize that what Nokia has done is honest to goodness truly amazing. They called up Toshiba and asked them to make a custom image sensor. It has the same tiny 1.4 micron (one millionth of a meter!) sized pixels that most image sensors have, but there are a mind blowing 41 million of them instead of 8 million or 12 million. James Burland, who to many is a brilliant photographer that can push a camera phone to its limits, uploaded some photos taken with the PureView to Flickr that are actually 38 megapixels large. That’s something I didn’t know was possible. Let me repeat that, by default the PureView will capture 5 megapixel photos, but if you mess with the settings it will gladly give you a 38 megapixel image. Why 38 megapixels? That has to do with aspect ratios, which you can read about in Steve’s article.

Anyway, mind bending numbers aside, I still think it’s not ready. First key point, no one wants a Symbian phone. Such a statement might upset a handful of you, but it’s true. If it really took Nokia 5 years to come up with “PureView Technology”, then why didn’t they wait an extra 6 months to unveil it along with the next version of Windows Phone? Second key point, the PureView 808 is 18 bloody millimeters thick. That’s twice what a phone should be. Motorola managed to make their 3,300 mAh battery packing RAZR Maxx less than 9 mm thick. Oh and by the way, it has a dual core processor and 4G LTE. Third key point, and the one that I’ve been obsessively reflecting on these past few days, is why couldn’t Nokia apply their PureView technology to existing sensors?

Hear me out on this. If Nokia needs a 41 megapixel sensor to crank out a 5 megapixel image, that’s basically 8 pixels needed to make 1 pixel. So why didn’t Nokia make a phone with an 8 megapixel camera that produces some of the best 1 megapixel photos on the market? And before you scoff at 1 megapixel, that’s a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, which just so happens to be the resolution of most netbooks, low to mid range laptops, and the 11 inch MacBook Air.

And if that’s not enough then Nokia could have used a 16 megapixel sensor, like the one HTC plans on putting in their Windows Phone running Titan II. Those 16 megapixels would enable a PureView processed 2 megapixel image, and that’s more than enough for uploading to Facebook or sharing via email.

So with that I want to apologize for my first PureView 808 article, which was stupendously incorrect, but at the same time I want to say that Nokia’s strategy to bring this new technology to market is flat out dumb.

  • Agreed on both fronts. I also think it was silly to default the camera to 5mp – defaulting to 8mp would have at least made it *seem* competitive (and would have avoided all the confusion of 5mp vs 41mp (vs 38mp). 

    I really really really agree, though, that another 6 months and this being in a Windows Phone would have been a MUCH bigger deal. Of course, it would have also cannibalized the Lumia 800/900 (why would you buy those if you could wait 6 months and get PureView?) 

    Announcing the 808 PureView with Symbian is unbelievably confusing to customers. Out of one side of its mouth, Nokia says that Windows Phone is its future and ‘there is no plan B’ but out of the other side, they release Windows Phone devices with run-of-the-mill specs (albeit killer design/build) and a Symbian device with the world’s best phone camera (and a killer DSLR competitor).

    • Anonymous

      I humbly disagree.  When Apple comes out with the iPhone 5 and its “FANtastic” camera, the 808 will have stolen that punchline.  Besides, Nokia will market the PureView technology hard…not the 808.  IMO, the 808 will sell well to the Nokia fanbase, but it will not run the tables in 2012.  PureView, on the other hand, is a different story.  It’s an imaging disruptor in the mobile space.  Better to get the technology into the market to capture mind-share now, not later.  WP8 integration will come, but it makes no sense to wait.

      If we view Symbian as a bridging strategy for Nokia during the transition to WP, it’s in both Nokia’s and MS’s interest to see this platform successful over the mid term.  A strong bridge is more likely to retain a larger portion of the install base, keeping them out of competing waters. Whether its PureView or Belle FP1 or MS Office Suite on Belle…it’s clear that the platform is getting the love it needs to accomplish this mission.

      Lastly,many have condemned Nokia for not capturing mind-share over the last few years or losing its identity by trying to become another company.  When it delivers great tech that plays to it’s strengths it should be positively recognized, not admonished. IMHO.

      • Spot on.. I don’t think Nokia have had this much press about a new product in such a long time. Plus even the ‘anti-nokia’ tech sites are reporting on this because they realize how many pageview (=ad clicks) this will generate, so some will go with negative news (link bait for clicks) to differentiate from the ones trotting out ‘regular’ reports because there are plenty of those reports around. 

  • Bradley Larcher

    Liked the article up to the point where you said nobody wants Symbian and it’s dumb. The world isn’t the U.S. alone and I dislike when people think that it is. Symbian still has a loyal fan following through out the rest of the world, like India, Africa, Caribbean, Europe and other smaller markets. And let’s not forget the influence Nokia has in emerging markets.

    Nokia commands a level of respect in the mobile world. In just one quarter, they became the number one Windows Phone vendor and the N9 sold very well despite lack of marketing and limited availability. So to count the 808 out is dumb on your part.

    Also, I don’t think they could have done that with Windows Phone due to the fact that Microsoft owns that OS and have complete control over it. Even if they wanted to, Microsoft could have told them no. So they needed a device to show off their achievement, and the 808 was perfect. And I also don’t see anything written anywhere that says a mobile phone has to be of a certain thickness. If they had gone thinner, then the camera housing would have looked huge, unattractive and off set the balance of the device.

    • Did you read my bio? I don’t live in the United States, I live in Finland, also known as the country where Nokia is from. I can count the number of my friends who have a Nokia device on one hand. That didn’t used to be the case two years ago.

      And you’re right, Symbian is huge in India and Africa, but do people who live in India or Africa have that much disposable income that they can purchase a 450 EUR phone? That’s before taxes too!

      As for Windows Phone, you’re right, Microsoft and Nokia signed their deal when Mango, the current version of Windows Phone, was pretty much done. Apollo however, Windows Phone 8, that’s a whole different story.

      • guest

        yes they do have that much cash, fuk u would b amazed how many iphones u will find in india.

        • Anonymous

           Yes, but if they have money to buy a Galaxy S III, HTC One X or iPhone 5, that’s that’s what they buy.

          Not Symbian crap.

          Nobody wants it anymore, except for some die-hard fands.

          And I am an ex-Symbian user, till I actually tried Android and found it is light years ahead – with warts and all.

          For an average person, iOS spanks any Symbian release silly.

          Symbian is dead.

          Good riddance.

          • It doesn’t matter how many times you or I say this apparently.

          • NokiaSimon

            iOS does NOT spank Symbian.  At least, not in my mind.  I like the ability to manage files.  iOS lacks this.  I do have an iPAD.  I doubt I would buy another iOS product.  I currently use an Android phone.  Android is better than iOS in this regard and most others.  I had an N95, then N8.  Got rid of the N8 mainly because of small screen, and it was a bit sluggish. Symbian is not quite as shiny as Android or iOS, but once you get into the meat of it, it’s a better OS.  Way more functionality.  This new 808 has a bigger screen, and a faster processer (and GPU), so I WILL be buying one.  The fact is though, a big part of the market wants a shiny, simple OS.  I hope there are enough out there like myself, who appreciate the functionality that Symbian brings to the table to keep it alive.  I’ve used W7P for about a month, and it really did suck.  Hopefully, Windows 8 will be a great OS, because Nokia really does make superb quality phones.

          • NokiaSimon

            Above, I meant to say, the Android is better than iOS in regard to file management, and most other areas (swype input, home screen personlization etc)

          • Guest

            I like the ability to use my phone the way I like and not to be told what to do and how to do, cos I paid full price for the phone. You/Most people here will not understand this.  Have you ever talked to a person using non symbian OS and compared the voice quality with Symbian phone?

          • That’s true, it doesn’t matter how many times you say it. Just like it doesn’t matter how many times someone tries to convince a Fandroid not to by Android, or how many times tries to convince someone not to buy a walled garden iOS. Different folks, different strokes. The difference is you are using your ‘platform’ to share your view. Doesn’t mean people have to agree with you. There will certainly be a niche market for this device, but overall, it’s a good way for Nokia to grab back some mindshare, something they have done well with this 808…. what are the expectations? 

            I would say the benchmark for sales on this device is not  iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, the benchmark for them to beat is N8 sales (around 10M i believe) because it is positioned to be the camera flagship… not the smartphone flagship.

            The common argument that Apps *should* be the reason to purchase a phone is only relevant to the segment that deems that the most important. For some people, some apps is enough, the amount of enough will vary, device purchasing priorities differ for different segments and a catch-all device ends up being a jack of all trades, master of none, when sometimes, people want their device to be a master of a specific function because they value the other functions less.

        • So someone with enough cash to buy an iPhone would rather buy the PureView 808?

          • Anonymous

            Yes, if he/she prioritises camera and best sound recording in marketplace.

            If camera is not so important and games are more important, he/she might select iPhone or some Android.

        • Kenyatogether

          i am buying this phone as soon as its out. you’ll be amazed how much money people have even here in nairobi. so many people have ipad iphones and all other top range phones tablets. i have nokia N8 and galaxy tab 8.9. I love symbian (multitasking) and im happy that 808 is running on it. Also i suspect that nokia will do another worlds first and we may find that the 808 hardware can support windows os as well, which would mean that with an software upgrade OTA we could in one year or so switch to windows OS without any problem!!!

      • Guest

        Have you ever been out of your “Bubble”? People in India, Africa, Middle East BUY their phone. If you still don’t know what that means “They pay full price for the phone and not contract out. So yes they do have lot more disposable income, infact real disposable income and not credit to buy phones.

        • Hey “Guest”, I’m not living in a bubble. I can’t even remember the last time I signed a contract. I’ve probably been buying my phones, as in unsubsidized, for at least 7 or 8 years now.

          • Guest

            Living in Bubble= Not knowing what happens in other part of the world. Just to say that.. “but do people who live in India or Africa have that much disposable income that they can purchase a 450 EUR phone? That’s before taxes too!” Clearly shows that you are in a BIG BUBBLE.

  • Anonymous

    Wrong in your 1st 808 article and wrong again in your 2nd. Many of want this technology, and I much prefer to have it on the proven Symbian platform now than wait another 6 to 12 months to get it on the as yet unproven new version of Windows Phone.

  • StephanCanNotTalkForMe

    I want a symbian phone…

    • My name is Stefan, not Stephan. If you’re going to troll me, at least spell my name right.

  • Derrek

    Um… Nokia spent 5 years working on this technology. I really doubt they could just thrust it upon any phone they wanted. Sure the RAZR Maxx  has a 3,300 mAh battery (which is pretty cool), but this phone is using satellite imaging technology. I dunno many people that could fit that into a RAZR form factor. Though it does make me question why the mAh is significantly lower than the RAZR, but then again, that’s probably the only phone with a capacity that large, so that argument could be applied to any phone, not just the PureView

  • If Nokia’s strategy with the 808 is so dumb then why are so many people writing about this?  It’s because they came out with an incredible 41 megapixel camera in a phone which is a real attention grabber.  If they had debut Pure View technology with a 16 megapixel sensor like I am sure that they have plans to do so it would have never have grabbed as much attention. I currently have a Nokia N8 which I will upgrade to the 808 as soon as it is available and the fact it is on Symbian does not bother me at all. In my opinion Android which I have on a tablet is highly overrated. I have a feeling in the near future the makers of Android and Apple products will really hate to hear the words Pure View.

    • You equate the number of blog posts the internet cranks out about a device with the success of said device? Can I point you to the Palm Pre and the year 2009?

    • Michel Lai Poon

      i follow you 100%…i can’t wait to hold this jewel….what a twist from nokia….well done

  • Anonymous

    Symbian believe it or not is still very popular in Asia and other places, WP hasnt hit those markets yet, so Nokia needs something to hock until they can ramp up the WP story.

    Also, it seems 7.5 didnt have the hooks to be able to run this kind of hardware, dont know how true that is but thats the story. So i guess by throwing it on Symbian it gives them a chance to work out the bugs until WP8 and creates marketing buzz to keep Nokia in conversation.

  • I’m having a feeling that even if Nokia would have whip this up on windows phone outright, you would still persist that it is flat out dumb. *-^

    • On Windows Phone 7.5? Maybe. Windows Phone 8? Nope, assuming the feature list we’ve all seen isn’t bullshit.

  • Hello Howdy

    I live in Singapore. There are lots of iPhones and Android here.  

    Many of us carry two phones. 

    My 2nd phone will be a PureView camera phone regardless of the OS, whether Symbian or WM.  I don’t care much abt the tech behind the phone; but I want a good quality photo when I zoom and can upload conveniently.  

    The photos that I take on my Samsung Galaxy is not nice when I zoom.  And a bulky digital camera that needs extra steps to upload is NOT my choice.  I think that the PureView phones whether Symbian or not, will be a hit since there are people like me who swore OFF Symbian a few years ago, will simply come back to it because of PureView’s convenience & quality at zooming and that we almost always have two phones.  

    By the way, two phones not because of only biz and personal use separation but when roaming, the 2nd phone with a local sim card will make the outgoing calls to minimise roaming charges.  All incoming calls and sms to the home phone while roaming is only to view the caller or the sms.  

    And Nokia does have an excellent reputation for call quality and built quality.  And making or receiving calls on my Samsung is not a precise experience anymore.  With data on, it can hang or simply make me wait.  Don’t know why, but the experience is not that good.  I will switch to a Nokia Lumia soon too.

    • I too have a second phone I use when traveling, an ancient Nokia with an olive and black screen. It even has a flashlight! If you’re going to bother carrying two devices, why not carry a dedicated point and shoot camera?

  • PBX

    This is the very 1st mobile device with 41 megapixel sensor, this i really incredible.

  • Lucas

    My view is this is a test phone before they put it in wp8 most likly next year. Yes the camera is Amazing but when you pick up this phone it is very chunky compared to the Lumia 900 (which is so sexy). Yes this phone will sell but not to a wide audiance due to the OS (which i still personally enjoy). Nokia is on the right path and i look forward to seeing the second Generation of this product on a Windows Phone.

    Guys stop with the personal attackes on Stefan as he is just telling you his views as not everyone went to MWC.

Back to top ▴