Saturday 7 July 2018

Nokia 8

The Nokia 8 is a very capable, but boring, Android slim-slab. Which is a shame as the old Nokia were always at the forefront of experimental design and interesting shapes and ideas. This could be just one of many, many Android anonymous slates coming out of China.

Phones these days (in my view) really need to have a USP, but many don't have them, and this one doesn't either, really. Well, the claim for that is the Nokia OZO Audio for recording super spacial stereo sound. I've tested this against the Pixel and yes, when recording 4K video with Surround engaged the recording, when played back through headphones it's significantly better quality, with good stereo separation and clarity. But you'd have to be some sort of video nut, YouTuber or amateur film maker to make use of that. Who's going to really make use of it day in, day out otherwise, I wonder.

Anyway, apart from that, this is a 7.1.1. Android smartphone (with 8.0 apparently out there, but it's not being pushed to this SIM Free UK unit just yet) hosting a Snapdragon 835 with 4GB RAM. It has 64GB of storage, IP54 (splash proof) certification, an aluminium body and 5.3" 16:9 HD LCD screen. The cameras are 13MP f2 units x 2 plus another round the front, with Carl Zeiss optics and OIS on the main units. There's a single speaker which is fairly loud but when pushed, gets tinny. It's equipped with a 3.5mm headphone socket and a 3090 mAh battery. This unit is in Tempered Blue but there's some other colours, some glossy.

But anyone interested in this will have seen a rook of reviews and spec. lists, so I won't go on! Specific observations and real world use are probably of more use and my first one is size and shape.

Yes, it's a boring slab which could be any one of many but this one does have, to me, a specific HTC kind of feel about it. Not sure why except maybe the way in which the Home button/fingerprint sensor is very low down in the chin and a very similar 'not tall' rectangle, which makes sure that most of the time the finger/thumb misses it and forces the user to fish around and find it. There's no outline or markings, so it just blends into the black glass. BlackBerry's Motion's might have had a big BB logo on it, but at least you know where it is!

The other thing which strikes me is that there's no way to turn the screen off except to wait for it, or hit the power button the side. No double-tap on the screen. No press/hold the fingerprint sensor. No waving the hand over the screen to turn it on in the first place. That's annoying! Little things! And the 'always-on' screen, which lights up for a few seconds with a cluster when Notifications come in, but then goes off. Then you have to lift it to invoke the display. And the display is very dull (presumably to save battery) compared to, say, the LG G6 using the same screen technology. When the 'always on' display is on in pitch darkness, it's very clear that actually the whole screen is lit up.

The Chin and Forehead are disproportionately large (though not as bad as the BlackBerry Motion's) making the overall device feel much bigger in the hand(s) than the 5.3" screen suggests it should. The bezels on the sides are not bad, but it's that top and bottom which push it out to a size unhelpful, making one-handed use impossible a lot of the time. It needn't be. Other devices with screens around that size do much better. Wileyfox. Honor.

The 8 is very slippery. And thin. Yet again... why oh why we can't have more battery for a tad more thickness! It curves round like a finely ground pebble towards the back, which houses the slightly proud camera cluster and NOKIA logo then, underneath, printed right on the casing, logos and legal jargon, icons and model information in tiny writing. What on earth made them do that! As it happens, it probably doesn't matter, however, as there's no way this can be used without a case, because of dropping it otherwise, so all that writing/logo stuff will be covered.

The body does feel classy. Metal and glass always feels like the real deal. The volume rocker and power button on the right are nicely made of metal with chamfered edges. The top 'cap' of plastic for aerials on this very dark unit is near invisible, but I imagine with a lighter colour it would be a bit of an eyesore. Various microphones festoon the perimeter for the aforementioned OZO and the bottom houses the USB-C charging/data socket and speaker.

The company promises quick updates in line with Google Security releases and so far, that seems to be holding out. The UI experience, much like the Nokia 6, is pretty much Vanilla with no bloat at all (in fact, the only extra software I can find is the Camera), but for some supporting Settings, for a few bits and bobs specific to the phone. Like the Glance, DTTW, control of the capacitive Navigation buttons and a couple of additions for Phone use. So that's good. Close to a Stock experience.

The battery life seems good. No problem getting to bedtime after a day of average to heavy use. The screen is bright and colourful. The Launcher supplied is very close to Stock (though with those annoying 'badges' still in situ. which can't be turned off in Settings). Google Now Launcher can be installed of course (or any other you fancy), but it seems a shame to need to do so for that one blight. Google Assistant is running out of the box as is the 'new' UI with 'circular' folders and 'white' swipe-up App. tray.

I have found that connectivity is actually very good. Wifi and Cellular connects well and with strength. Bluetooth seems consistent and easily paired, including with NFC (and NFC for Android Pay). So I can only report what I find here and this particular unit seems a good connector +Leon Buxton

Don't get me wrong. Maybe I started off on the wrong foot. It's a very capable device with lots going for it. It's powerful and flies through every task presented. I just think I'm just snowed under with loads of Android devices that are all the same, bar a tweak here and there. I like a world where different devices have a different feature or physically have a point of interest - and not just copies of everything else that's out there.

To some degree, however, I suppose it's difficult to have your cake and eat it - also wanting timely updates and security patches. It's a difficult balance often. The devices which do the best with the balance are sometimes lurking in the background and not so mainstream. A reason that I keep going back to the BlackBerry KEYone which seems to have it right.

I wouldn't particularly recommend the Nokia 8 any more than I would many others but that being said, if you want a powerful, capable device with an in-vogue look and feel and aren't bothered about the lack of a USP, it's no worse than many - and better than a lot. Value for money, it's a great proposition as asking price drops from £499 to £399 and now £369. A lot of boring Android slab for your cash.

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