Nokia Maps stands out, as the Espoo cartographers prove they know exactly what we want from mapping software.
On the surface, navigation around home screens is generally responsive and slick, with a nice transitional animation between each screen -- these can all be customized with a specific photo. The photo widget is worth noting, by the by, as you can assign a plethora of images to cycle through. It'll refresh the photos shown when you transition between screens. The app drawer is also responsive to your swipes, with a new list or icon view that bounces at the top and bottom of the respective views. You can either sort alphabetically, or customize for your heavy-use apps and drag them to the top. Folders can be added to categorize apps, and it was something we did soon after setting up our test device, as there are several settings options taking up space that could otherwise be dedicated to standalone apps. It's impossible to drag and drop items into these, however, and you'll have to laboriously "tag" each icon with the respective folder name.
Across the app selection, Nokia Maps stands out yet again, as the Espoo cartographers prove they know exactly what we want from mapping software. Even here, there's a faint whiff of Symbian's aging status, with minimal app integration to share your location. Still, you'll be able to check in with several major social networks including Facebook, Foursquare and even Sina -- although this courtesy extends to an announcement post only. Another nice touch is the fact that location-tagged photos will automatically populate the map wherever you took them. Nokia's Public Transit app separates route planning for metropolitan hubs that have their train and bus routes mapped out. There's a lightweight selection of underwhelming pre-installed games. Arguably the richest of the bunch, Asphalt 6, stutters during play despite the humble screen resolution. The number of appealing titles in Nokia's store means you won't be shopping for a new game all that often -- a criticism that can be leveled at its app store in general.
While there are icons for both Facebook and Twitter, these are merely integrated into Nokia's Social app, with no native applications for either. Also, they bear tedious interfaces compared with the Facebook and Twitter apps you'll find on competing platforms. You won't be able to see images posted to these, and you'll have to tap through links to take a look.
Nokia continues to roll out NFC functions, with a handful of apps and features appearing on the 808 PureView. These range from useful contact and data-sharing between compatible devices to the quaint NFC iteration Angry Birds -- although why Nokia couldn't afford to bundle the full version of Angry Birds Magic baffles us. There's also a gentle NFC tutorial to guide you around what the device has to offer, although it's largely a hub of links to web-based content.
Video support is surprisingly broad, with support for most codecs necessary to play our various sample videos. Here's another caveat, though: where's your Netflix or Lovefilm account going to live?
While this is the best native keyboard Symbian's got to offer, it makes the iPhone's appear positively forward-looking in comparison, to say nothing of Android's well-rounded stock offering and SwiftKey (an Engadget staff favorite). While Swype is free to download, this is one of the least intuitive iterations we've used in some time -- an odd mix of the Swype we're used to and some poor touchscreen sensitivity and excess keys. Suffice to say, we soon returned to stock. The issue is partly due to the key arrangement, a rigid grid of letters and symbols, with none of the off-center spacing seen on rival mobile OSes and your PC keyboard. Despite Symbian Belle's new additions, this keyboard remains old and difficult to steer. Conversely, selecting text to copy and paste is easy to pull off, and we always seemed to highlight exactly what we intended to.
Giving some credit to that 1.3GHz processor, the web browser on the 808 PureView is faster and more capable than any Symbian device that came before it. Still, it trails the performance of other phones that are half the price. Page scrolls are a stuttering affair, and crashes are a regular occurrence. Throw in a media-rich site and you'll have signed the browser's death warrant. Design-wise, the address bar now disappears once a page is loaded -- necessary given that screen-size is at a premium at this resolution -- while the menu bar is decked out with five icons, including a new quick-access tabbed browser option. Even the obscurity-bound Meego-powered Nokia N9 handled browsing with more aplomb. Could you imagine a Meego PureView cameraphone? As we played with the 808 PureView, we imagined this tech on almost every other mobile OS -- the disappointing user experience of Symbian pervades everything you do with the phone, detracting from all that camera magic. We'd have been willing to wait a few more months if it meant tighter app integration, faster transition between programs and a better (even just average) browsing experience.
Battery life and performance
With that optical cannon on the back and a relatively meek AMOLED display -- how does a modest 1,400mAh battery fare? In short, well. Understandably, the camera component takes a fair bit of power to capture 34- and 38-megapixel images, let alone oversample and churn out polished 5-megapixel masterpieces. In a day of shooting, we found the camera lasted through a day of social network usage, map queries, intermittent web browsing and snapping over 100 images at various resolutions. On our video rundown test, we enabled WiFi without connecting to a network, and tried to fix brightness at 50 percent (as mentioned earlier, the light sensor still interferes). The 808 PureView offered us eight hours and 40 minutes of playback, which was a pleasant surprise. Viewing, cropping and editing images will naturally impinge on how much mileage you'll get from a single charge. However, Nokia's stylish Universal Charger (more on that in a moment) offers some relief, and there's also the option of purchasing a spare juicepack. Unlike Samsung's recent NFC-equipped phones, the Nokia 808 PureView keeps its near-field hardware on the casing, so you'll be able to swap the battery without issue.
Symbian is ready for retirement. It's had its run, and while there's still plenty of clever ways to augment what it can do, why go through the hassle?
We're going to split our comments on performance in two here. First, Symbian is ready for retirement. It's had its run, and while there's still plenty of clever ways to augment what it can do, why go through the hassle? We hope we're less than a year away from a Windows Phone 8 device packing a similar optical wonder, because we soon fell into frustration with Symbian Belle, with its often tortuous menu navigation and temperament. The phone automatically stores images and installed apps on the mounted drive, which means that when we plugged in the phone to transfer images or simply give the phone a quick top-up, many apps came crashing down, disappearing outright as the phone spiraled into panic.
On the camera side, however, it's a marvel. The camera app launches swiftly from the lock screen, thanks to that single-core 1.3GHz processor, and capture follows about a second afterwards. You'll find the full-resolution stills will take a few seconds to store -- understandable, given that file sizes skirt around 12MB per shot. At oversampled (and lower) resolutions, however, pictures are quicker, if perhaps not even close to the speeds seen on the One X or Galaxy S III's burst modes. Navigating around your creations is easily accomplished and the phone is willing to scroll around hundreds of images with ease. They're all fixed in date order, and although there is a tagging system to add some sort of classification, it's such a long-winded way of organizing that we soon gave up. Interestingly, there were more gallery options on preceding Nokia devices, which makes it a curious oversight that there are literally no menu options on its latest phone. You'll have to select each unwanted photo individually if you want to delete. We found it easier to fill the phone up with photos, connect to a PC and delete in batches, but it remains another niggle of the Belle OS.
Nokia still continues to deliver on voice call quality, with crisp calls augmented by an extra noise-cancelling mic. The Nokia 808 PureView is a world-friendly slice of camera phone, with pentaband 3G connectivity up to 14.4 Mbps down and 5.76 Mbps up -- making a strong case to replace both your smartphone and your point-and-shoot on that upcoming holiday.
The 808 PureView won't be alone when it hits stores. Alongside our review model, Nokia delivered a smorgasbord of accessories to augment its new cameraphone, including a tripod adapter, rubberized case, micro-HDMI cable reel and that new universal portable USB charger.
The tripod adapter is a spring-loaded bracket that's happy to grip onto the device whether it's in the case or not. This can then be attached to a (small-fixture) tripod, stabilizing the cameraphone when you're seeking out the crispest images, or looking to make the most of the full-resolution mode -- those extra pixels are prone to blurring.
The hard cover wraps around the back of the phone, the sides and just around the lip of the front side. While it's not as pleasing to the touch as the phone's own finish, it's a snug fit and the plastic casing adds a bit more rigidity to the shutter key. The other ports are left open to access, while the case includes a tethered cover for the lens component which satisfyingly clicks into place.