HMD Global (which owns the license to make Nokia Mobile devices) knows how to make a good smartphone. Especially ones that are in the entry-level or mid-range space, offering great value for money. When it comes to flagship phones, however, things are a tad more mixed for the company.
Its first flagship phone, the Nokia 8, offered superb value for money given how aggressively priced it was locally, but ultimately faded into the background when more powerfully equipped Android devices hit the market.
So what about the latest flagship offering – the Nokia 9 PureView?
I recently got the chance to take it for a spin for a few weeks, and this is how it performed.
Business in front, party in back
Look at the PureView front on and it doesn’t seem all that special. There’s a 5.99″ display that greets you, with distinct bezels on the top and bottom of the screen.
Flip it over, however, and things get markedly more interesting. The most eye-catching element on the back of the PureView is the camera setup, with five lenses present here which the company refers to as the five camera array. Even in the age of more being more when it comes to phone cameras, the PureView is packing far more than the average.
When I showed off the camera in the office, many of the questions were why so many lenses were needed, and Nokia’s reasoning for it is the ability to edit things in post, but more about that later.
Either way the Nokia 9 PureView has one of the more divisive designs in recent smartphone memory.
I’m impartial when it comes to the penta lenses, especially if they’re going to help me take better pictures. My more immediate concern is some of the other design elements that Nokia has gone for here. The aforementioned 5.99″ screen features a fingerprint sensor under the display, but for whatever reason HMD Global hasn’t opted for an all-screen design with the cursory selfie camera notch at the top.
Given how notches are a fixture on most flagship phones, and even some of Nokia’s own mid-range options, its absence here is a curiosity. As such it feels like HMD Global focused solely on the camera for this device – and it shows.
Not quite there
What I mean by that is that all the elements on the Nokia 9 PureView are solid, but ultimately feel like they could have been improved slightly to create an overall superior smartphone.
The fingerprint sensor for example is erratic at best, and is one of the poorer ones I’ve encountered on a phone to date. The screen although clear and bright, does not serve up the richness expected of a panel with a 2880×1440 resolution.
Added to this is the performance. Things here aren’t slow, and multitasking is handled well enough, but every now and then some sluggishness creeps in, which is particularly odd given a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset is present, there’s a generous 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
Perhaps it’s simply a symptom of handling phones that already sport the 7 nanometer Snapdragon 855 processor or HiSilicon Kirin 980, that things don’t feel as quick or as sharp as they could.
This proved evident during benchmarking, with AnTuTu (v7.2.2) where a score of 293 707 was recorded. This is by no means mediocre, but doesn’t trouble the standout devices of 2019 at the moment.
Glimmers of hope
It’s not all bad news though for the PureView, as there are three areas in particular where the smartphone shines. The first is the operating system, with the undistllled version of Android 9.0 Pie working a treat here. The interface is intuitive and the fact that there is no bloatware as found on skinned versions of Android, or indeed duplicated apps, is a welcome sight.
If you’re an Android fan and wanting the best experiences that the OS has to offer, the PureView can serve them up for you. Added to this is the fact that HMD Global has kept to its word to date in rolling out timely updates for the OS, which likely means the PureView should be one of the first devices locally to receive an update to Android Q, if that’s a big selling point for you.
The second aspect is battery life, with HMD Global able to eke out almost two days of use under medium conditions in my time with the Nokia 9 PureView. This all the more impressive given the relatively modest 3 320mAh battery on offer here.
The final aspect worth mentioning is perhaps the PureView’s most notable – camera performance. The five camera array on the rear is handy in a variety of scenarios, and copes with light well, whether snapping away indoors or outdoors.
Each serving up 12MP, the lenses all work together to capture images, resulting in great accuracy. The Pro mode was also a pleasure to use, and affords easy controls to change ISO levels and exposure. The bokeh and monochrome modes are also solid, and can produce dramatic shots under the right circumstances.
Sure cynics might say this is camera overkill, but given the quality of image it yields, it’s a welcome addition here. What should be interesting though, is whether HMD Global deems fit to use a similar setup for future flagship phones.
At R13 999 (RRP) the Nokia 9 PureView is one the “cheaper” flagships on the market. It’s camera setup, battery life and operating system are the clear standout elements here, but I question whether that is enough to compete with the likes of what Samsung and Huawei have been able to muster this year already.
With HMD Global lagging ever so slightly behind those two companies, as well as some other Asian competitors in the processor and display stakes, the PureView is missing a handful of higher specced components to separate itself from the rest of the pack.