When Nokia unveiled the PureView 808 earlier this year, it triggered a pitched battle between the camera phone and camera lobby. Yes, the PureView was indeed a smartphone, but what made news was its staggering 41.0-megapixel sensor — you don’t get to see that kind of megapixel count in most DSLRs, leave alone humble camera phones (in India, we are still stuck in 12.0-megapixel territory with the likes of the Sony Xperia S and Nokia’s own N8). The days since have seen endless photographs being taken by the device being shown to the world, with camera phone enthusiasts insisting that the era of specialised cameras was coming to an end — a notion traditional photographers scoffed at.
Well, the PureView has finally landed in India. And while we are sure that it is unlikely to win any beauty contests with its rather bulky and heavy frame (13-mm thick, 169- gm heavy), we are equally sure that not many would give the device’s looks a second look (pun intended). It is a sturdy device with a 4.0-inch AMOLED display, a three-button panel beneath it and a plastic back that is rendered bulky by the 41.0-megapixel sensor with Xenon flash. It is a solid device, but not designed to turn heads.
What a camera
What it is designed to do, is take great shots. We can confidently say that this is by far the best camera we have seen on a phone — period. You can shoot pictures in Automatic, Scenes and Creative mode. As the names indicate, Automatic allows the camera to decide what is best, Scenes lets you specify the conditions in which a picture is being taken (night, close up and portrait, etc.) and Creative is the one in which your inner photographer can run amuck, tweaking settings like ISO, white balance and exposure compensation, among other things. We stuck to taking pictures in Automatic mode for the most part and were rewarded with pictures that were rich in detail and colour and easily a match for some of the low-end point and shooters in the market. HD video was outstanding too, with no lags.
What really impressed us was the fact that the images (you can go up to 38.0-megapixels on this baby) contained a wealth of detail that we could zoom into to create new shots. You actually could take a picture of dozens of people scattered over a large area and then zoom into a small portion of it, crop it and have a new shot that was also perfectly capable of being displayed and even printed out. That is the power of all those megapixels. Take it from us, if Abraham Zapruder had been using the PureView 808 to shoot JFK’s assassination, we would have been able to see not just the gunman (if there was one) on the grassy knoll, but also every blade of grass on it.
It’s a phone too
With all the attention being focused on to its camera, it is easy to forget that the PureView is a smartphone as well. And a very powerful one at that. It is powered by a 1.3 GHz processor, 512 MB memory, storage of up to 48 GB (16 GB onboard) and just about every connectivity option you can think of, from USB-on-the-Go to 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. There is also stacks of software that comes preinstalled on the device including games, maps, e-mail, social networking apps and apps that let you mess around with your camera output. We loved Silent Film Director, which allowed us to create videos with old film effects (including a charming Chaplinesque one). Sound quality was among the best we have heard on a phone — in fact, it was right in iPod territory, thanks to some magic from Dolby, we hear — and the battery life was frankly staggering. We got two days comfortably on a 2G network and through a day with no hassles on a 3G one.
The OS let down
All of this would have been enough to make this an awesome smartphone in its own right. The catch is that it runs on Symbian Belle, which is nowhere near as smooth as iOS, Android or even the OS Nokia recently took to heart, Windows Phone. The result is a device with phenomenal hardware that is tripped up by an OS that seems determined to play spoilsport. There were moments when onscreen buttons stopped responding, text and picture alignment went haywire and images that we intended to send to our Facebook walls ended up in other albums, and yes, there was the occasional lag, specially as the number of pictures, messages and mails began to accumulate on our device. The number of app options is limited too, as Symbian does not really have the kind of apps that iOS and Android do (no Instagram, no Pixlr-o-matic, not even Facebook and Twitter apps on par with those on other platforms).
Should you get it?
At a price tag of Rs 33,890, the PureView starts looking like an expensive proposition, especially as that puts it bang in DSLR territory for camera lovers and close to the likes of the Galaxy SIII, iPhone 4 and Xperia S in smartphones. The problem is that the PureView comes out on top in neither area — it cannot really batter DSLRs yet and as a smartphone, is let down by its OS. What it is, however, is perhaps one of the best convergence devices we have seen — it is good enough to be a camera, a phone and thanks to its outstanding sound, a media player, in its own right. As a whole, alas, it is not greater than the sum of its parts, though it comes close. If only it ran Windows Phone.
No sweat for DSLR
While there is no doubt that the PureView 808 redefines cellphone photography, it is unlikely to pose a threat to DSLRs, as many had thought. DSLRs offer changeable lenses, ease of use and the option to zoom in while taking a shot rather than afterwards, which feels a lot more normal (and less time-consuming) than taking a shot and then figuring out which parts of it we wish to zoom into. They may be heavy, more bulky than cameraphones and yet another gadget to carry, but if you have Rs 34,000 to spare and are into photography, a DSLR remains your best option.
See what the 41 mp camera can do
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