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Nokia 9 PureView review: the camera gamble that (almost) pays off

Nokia 9 PureView review: the camera gamble that (almost) pays off

HMD Global did not miss out on the Mobile World Congress, unveiling four smartphones and a new member of its feature phone family. The Nokia 9 PureView is undoubtedly the head of the family, especially in terms of photography. Here's our full review of the phone that gambled big on photography.

Rating

Good

  • Hardware is rock solid
  • Clean Android 9 Pie out of the box

Bad

  • In-display fingerprint sensors still not ready
  • I expected more from the camera

Nokia 9 PureView release date and price

You can buy the Nokia 9 PureView direct from Nokia for £549 in the UK today. You also get a free screen replacement with your purchase, providing you smash the first one within 90 days of delivery of the phone.

For that price, you’ll get 128GB of internal storage and 6GB of RAM. The model we tested was a single SIM, but the consumer device is DualSIM.

In the US, the phone costs $699 and works with GSM carriers such as T-Mobile and AT&T. Early adopters were able to get the new Nokia flagship with $100 off, but that deal ended on March 10th, 2019.

Nokia 9 PureView design and build quality

HMD Global has already proved it can make a solid, well-made smartphone in the mid-range, and with a flagship device that costs a little more, it continues to match its competition at this price point. The build quality is excellent. It feels a little sharper in the hand than say, an S10 - the sides on the back curve into the frame but on the front, the joint is more square - but not in a cheap way. It's definitely smoother compared to the Nokia 8 Sirocco.

In terms of design choices, most of the flagship trends of today are present. On the bottom is a USB-C port and there’s no headphone jack. It comes with IP67 certification for water resistance and the fingerprint sensor is under the display.

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The build quality is absolutely excellent. / © AndroidPIT

What's good about the design of the Nokia 9 PureView

The ZEISS Optics camera module layout on the back might not be for everyone, but I love the way that HMD Global has managed to get everything flush to the glass back. Only the edges of the LED flash can be felt when you run your finger over the lenses. It’s all very slick.

What's bad about the design of the Nokia 9 PureView

There are those that will complain about the Nokia branding on the front of the phone in addition to the back. It doesn’t really bother me, and I’d rather have a Nokia logo up there than some extra display and whopping great notch, which I find more unnerving.

There’s no getting away from its slipperiness, however. This grows legs and goes wandering on any surface that isn’t completely flat. I’ll give you an example. The first time I placed it on my desk I did so on top of a popular brand of leather Italian brand of notebooks. There were a couple of business cards thrown into one of the pages, which provided enough of a gradient for the Nokia 9 PureView to slowly slide off and crash onto my desk. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I became conscious of this risk every time I went to put it down.

Gimmick-free 2K goodness

On the front of the Nokia 9 is a 5.99-inch P-OLED screen with a resolution of 1440 x 2880 pixels in an 18:9 format. The Nokia 9's PureDisplay supports HDR10 for vivid colors and sharp details. You can also unlock the smartphone through Face Unlock 2D. HMD Global renounces the notch, both traditional and drip.

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It's refreshing to be able to buy a flagship phone with no display gimmicks. / © AndroidPIT

The Nokia 9 PureView offers a 155 x 75 x 75 x 8.0mm format and 172g of body weight. It is made of aluminum and glass. Needless to say, the back is a fingerprint magnet. What's new?

What's good about the display of the Nokia 9 PureView

The 2K on is more than pleasant an I really appreciate the Nokia’s PureDisplay settings menu. You can choose between Vivid, Cinema, Basic or Dynamic - which will automatically adjust color, contrast and brightness according to your usage. This is not a feature unique to the 9 PureView, but it works just as well on this device as it did on the Nokia 8.1.

What's bad about the display of the Nokia 9 PureView

The only real criticism you can throw at this display is that it's not a Samsung AMOLED. This is at $200 less than the lowest spec S10 though, and 90% of regular smartphone users will be absolutely satisfied with this. My other nitpick is that the automatic brightness software is a bit too twitchy. It tends to favor too dull over too bright.

What we've come to expect from Android One

The Nokia 9 PureView is an Android One phone. That means it ships with near-stock Android 9 Pie with no bloatware or own-brand duplicate apps. You’ll also get two years of support for quick updates to major versions, such as Android Q for example, and three years’ worth of security updates.

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Android One is cluttery free, fast and easy to use. / © AndroidPIT

What's good about the software of the Nokia 9 PureView

It’s stock Android. Up to date and left alone. What more do you want?

What's bad about the software of the Nokia 9 PureView

If you are coming from a Samsung or Huawei device, you might miss your third-party calendar and email apps….

The Snapdragon 845 still gets the job done

The smartphone is not powered by the latest Qualcomm processor but by the previous version, the Snapdragon 845. It's not the latest addition to the line but should be able to offer good performance. The Nokia 9 PureView launches on the market with a price tag of $699, higher than that of the new Mi 9, and for this price, I think you can expect the latest Snapdragon 855. The included 6GB of RAM and 128GB UFS 2.1 internal storage should ensure a smooth user experience.

What's good about the performance of the Nokia 9 PureView

Despite the act that HMD Global has gone with a Snapdragon 845 rather than the latest 855, the Nokia 9 PureView is capable of handling daily tasks with ease. I’m no smartphone gamer, but the benchmarks for this device are mightily impressive.

What's bad about the performance of the Nokia 9 PureView

Unfortunately, we need to talk about in-display fingerprint sensors again. This is not really a Nokia 9 PureView problem, but a wider trend. In-display fingerprint sensors are just not ready yet. We saw it on the OnePlus 6T, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S10, and now I’m feeling the struggle on this too.

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Like many flagships in 2019, the fingerprint sensor is under the display. / © AndroidPIT

You have to press hard, really hard to be in with a chance of having it read your print. Seven times out of 10 it works fine, but it's the other three that drive you crazy. Given how often we unlock our phones, 70% accuracy is not good enough.

You could resort to the 2D facial recognition if you want, but it’s not as secure. Whatever you do, don't have both activated at the same time. I ran into some issues where the phone had unlocked via facial recognition but was still trying to read my fingerprint even within apps.

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The phone is unlocked, but is still trying to read my fingerprint. / © AndroidPIT

Nokia 9 PureView Benchmarks

Test Score
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme 4641
3DMark Sling Shot Vulkan 4272
3DMark Sling Shot 6164
3DMark Ice Storm Extreme 64670
Geekbench (Single / Multi) 2397 / 9039
PassMark Memory 12553
PassMark Disk 63962

The camera is the star of the show, for better or worse

The main feature of this smartphone is obvious. Fi ve ZEISS lenses integrated into the body that take computational photography to another level. HMD Global thus manages to surpass Samsung and Huawei for the number of cameras in a smartphone.

The photo compartment includes three monochrome sensors and two RGBs. The five cameras, all 12 MP, 1.25 micron and 28mm focal length, work together simultaneously to offer a single, detailed shot. The images are captured in RAW format so that they can be easily modified later by the smartphone using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

HMD Global also had a word with photography specialists Light, the company behind the 16-lens camera, as part of the development process. The result is a smartphone camera that uses complex image processing and algorithms to make the magic happen after you have pressed the shutter button.

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Here is the army of ZEISS lenses that don't protrude from the body in any way! / © AndroidPIT

Due to the amount of processing that is going on here, there is a 4-5 second delay between taking a picture and seeing what you have actually taken. The preview image you get before you shoot is just the feed from a single RGB sensor, and it not representative of the final product. Doing the image processing in real time would be impossible. This is especially true when taking shots in low light. The pause doesn't inhibit the taking of photos, you can shoot as many as you want in rapid succession, essentially forming a queue the processing department.

Now, from the manual settings of the camera app, you can also set the shutter speed up to 10s as well as adjust the other parameters. There’s no advantage to having all these cameras for video. The Nokia 9 PureView records 4K video but only a single 12-megapixel RGB sensor is used. The videos I took looked great.

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Five cameras and lots of computational processing. / © AndroidPIT

What's good about the camera of the Nokia 9 PureView

The camera delivers unprecedented levels of depth and detail. The five camera sensors are able to gauge 1200 layers of depth, and some cool depth controls have been added into the Google Photos app to create what is easily one of the best bokeh/portrait mode phones around. Interestingly, the ToF camera is only used for autofocus and does not provide depth information.

What's bad about the camera of the Nokia 9 PureView

I also did find the delay a little frustrating. Not so much in the camera app, which was a touch sluggish but nothing to really complain about, but more in the time I had to wait to edit my photos. The problem is worse when you are in areas with poor network coverage where the Google Photos app really slows down.

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The camera app is not the fastest but could be improved with software updates. / © AndroidPIT

Given that the camera on this phone is a four-way partnership between HMD, Zeiss, Qualcomm and Light, I had high expectations for what this thing could do. I have to say I am a little bit disappointed. At times it is brilliant, at other times it feels like too many cooks have spoiled the broth.

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Nice depth detail and bokeh, but you can see the smudges in the background. / © AndroidPIT

You can see a gallery of photos taken with the Nokia 9 PureView at the link below.

Qi wireless charging at 10W

The battery is a is 3,320mAh . It features QuickCharge 3.0 and Qi wireless charging at 10W, which isn’t quite as high the Mate 20 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy S10 (both 15W). The Adaptive Battery that’s baked into Android Pie does its job.

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The Nokia 9 PureView features a 3,320 mAh battery. / © AndroidPIT

The battery can be charged using Fast Charging technology (18W, 12V/1.5A, 9V/2A,
5V/3A).

Nokia 9 PureView technical specifications

Dimensions: 155 x 75 x 8 mm
Weight: 172 g
Battery size: 3320 mAh
Screen size: 5.99 in
Display technology: POLED
Front camera: 20 megapixels
Rear camera: 12 megapixels
Flashlight: Dual-LED
Android version: 9 - Pie
RAM: 6 GB
Internal storage: 128 GB
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Connectivity: HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0

A camera for Photoshop fans, but not lazy shooters

The Nokia 9 PureView stands out from the crowd with its five cameras on the back promising a much improved photographic experience. For the rest, newcomer HMD Global decided to pass on the latest Qualcomm processor but this does not limit its overall performance. Considering the price of $699 and the current competition, it could have been part of the package, though.

The camera gamble is one that very nearly paid off, and still could with software updates. The hardware is undoubtedly impressive, but right now the software is just not quite up to speed. Results are too inconsistent to hail this phone as the camera king for 2019. The Huawei P30 Pro, although we've only just got our hands on it, looks way ahead in terms of snap and shoot photography. Professionals who want to capture photos in RAW could make it work wonders though.

What do you think of the Nokia 9 PureView? Would you buy it?

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  • Seems it's not Android Go?


    • Android Go is the light Android for low powered devices. This Nokia 9 (like almost all others) runs on Android One. This ensures frequent updates, 2 years of major version updates, and 3 years of security patches. Nokia has been very good on several of their phones we have, never getting more than a month behind.in