The Engadget Interview: Nokia's Kevin Shields on PureView, floating sensors and the 'missile' that is the Lumia 920

Tim Stevens
T. Stevens|09.07.12

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The Engadget Interview: Nokia's Kevin Shields on PureView, floating sensors and the 'missile' that is the Lumia 920

A conversation with Nokia's Stephen Elop, as we had earlier this week, is quite an experience. He's kind, friendly, charming and obviously extremely passionate about everything Nokia -- but his PR deflector shields are always full-forward. Ask him a challenging question and you'll be greeted with a very gentle response that sounds like an answer but is actually just a deftly delivered retooling of some standard PR-friendly message you've probably already heard.

Interviewing Nokia SVP Kevin Shields is, as we've seen in the past, a somewhat more... direct experience. Why did Nokia go with a gloss finish on the 920 instead of the matte we loved on the 800 and 900? "Because it's awesome." How durable is the 920? "It's like a missile." How confident is he that wireless charging will take off? "We are all in." Shields was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time after Nokia's event this week to talk Lumia and to explain just what "PureView" means now that it's been applied to a second phone. Click on through to get educated.%Gallery-164354%

"What we've done with the optical image stabilization is perhaps a minor mechanical miracle."

Waiting in a small meeting room with a spread of Technicolor Nokia devices and accessories scattered across a white table in front of him, you'd never know that Kevin Shields had just stepped off stage and away from one of the more painful demo fails we've seen lately. If you watch the broadcast you can see the moment where an on-stage laptop appeared to malfunction during his demo of Nokia's augmented-reality app, Lens. (It begins at around the 57 minute mark.) He made the best of it, sticking with the presentation despite the fact that none of us in the audience could really see what he was up to.

Still, in the room, at this table, he's as animated and excited as ever, and he's most excited about the PureView sensor in the Lumia 920.

What we've done with the optical image stabilization is perhaps a minor mechanical miracle. It's pretty crazy when that level of innovation comes to market.

Nokia's Kevin Shields talks PureView, floating sensors and the 'missile' that is the Lumia 920

He's of course referring to the floating camera assembly in the device, said to offer a sort of physical image stabilization of the sort we've never seen on a mobile device before -- a breakthrough that he thinks is as big as, or perhaps even bigger than, the massive leap forward we saw from the 808 PureView.

In the 808 the idea was to ship a massive sensor and it introduced the concept of pixel oversampling. Here, the goal is very different. We said 'Hey, let's suspend this entire optical assembly.'

The focus, then, is in creating sharper, crisper images in low light or unsteady hands, which contrasts with the 808's concept of a ridiculously high megapixel count to enable digital zooming. Could we ever see the two technologies brought together?

Stay tuned. Getting a sensor the size of the one in the 808 suspended using this approach is going to take some really clever engineering. But, it's a good thing we have some really clever engineers.

"PureView really is about our investment in radical camera technologies."

Many people don't see things that way. A quick glance on Twitter during the Nokia event showed a legion of tech fans insulted by the notion that this camera is also being labeled "PureView," the same moniker applied to that far higher resolution 808. If that's you, Shields says you're missing the point.

PureView really is about our investment in radical camera technologies. The 808 was one of them, the first one, and what we've done with the 920 is a different, radical approach. My message would be: 'Wait, wait, wait, wait. Let go a little bit. We've established a brand that is about the fact that Nokia is a company capable of delivering incredible camera innovation, so we wanted a brand to let you know as the consumer that this is the best that we've got.'

In other words, look at PureView as a special designation for Nokia's top-shelf offerings, not some holy surname applied to mobile devices that look more like cameras than phones. Just because this particular mobile device has "only" an 8.7 megapixel sensor doesn't mean that it isn't worthy of your attention -- so says Nokia, at least. And besides, we all know that megapixel count is a terrible way to judge the imaging quality of a camera, right?

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