Killed By iPhone, Symbian’s Last Gasp Is Nokia’s Crazy 41 Megapixel Smartphone [MWC 2012]



BARCELONA, MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS 2012 — As a company, Nokia has embraced Windows Phone as their long-term smartphone strategy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some Symbian execs rattling around inside the company, and today, they’ve given us the PureView 808, a Symbian-driven smartphone with a laugh-out-loud claim: a 41 megapixel camera.

Does it really have that many megapixels? It seems so. Does it take nice pictures? Absolutely. But there’s a lot more going on here than just megapixels, and it’s doubtful anyone with an iPhone 4S will be clamoring for one.

First, some background information on camera sensors. Marketers would have you believe the more megapixels you have in a camera, the better quality the pictures will be. This is a lie: after a certain point, the opposite is true, and many top-of-the-line SLR cameras will top out at around 10MP.

Why? When you cram more pixels onto a sensor, they have to become smaller, and when they become smaller, they become less light sensitive, and thus, your images become noisier. You can adjust by making the sensor bigger, or by letting more light into the camera with your optics, but especially in smartphones, there’s only so much you can do.

By all accounts, a 41MP sensor in a smartphone should result in images that look like they puked static all over themselves in anything but the ideal lighting conditions afforded by doing your photography work on the surface of the sun. The PureView 808 gets around this though with some clever algorithms and a huge frickin’ sensor and lens that allow much more light through than most smartphones.

Here’s how it works. Nokia’s PureView 808 camera first captures a full 41 megapixels of information. That image is extremely noisy, and a lot of those pixels are just worthless, but what Nokia’s algorithm then does is merge 8 pixels into 1, outputting a filtered 5MP image that contains one “perfect” pixel.

Nokia says the technology is based off of satellite imaging technology, which makes a lot of sense. And it actually is fairly impressive in person, specifically when it comes to zooming in: after you take an image, you can zoom in to examine details with less degradation in quality than, say an iPhone 4S.

But there are a lot of design trade-offs here. For one thing, a full third of the back of the device is taken up by a huge Carl Zeiss lens, which bulges protuberantly. We’re convinced this huge lens is probably the more important factor when it comes to the PureView 808’s image quality: by being so big, it’s letting in a lot more light than an iPhone or Android phone, but it’s also a lot thicker and fatter.

Then there’s the fact that it’s debuted on a Symbian phone, which Nokia itself has labeled a dead end. Nokia claims the PureView 808’s camera will come to Windows Phones eventually, but right now, it’s an innovative new feature found only on an operating system that will soon be as dead as BeOS.

The PureView 808’s 41MP sensor isn’t just hype, nor is it entirely marketing bullshit based upon the credo that more pixels equals more better. It really does take quite nice pictures, and the way Nokia has leveraged satellite technology and some clever algorithms to take the data from a nigh-unusable camera resolution and make high-quality, ultra-zoomable 5MP images out of them is theoretically pretty neat. But you’re never going to be able to fit this sensor into an iPhone, and honestly, the image quality isn’t so impressive as to make the design trade-offs worth it for 99% of people out there.

The iPhone 4S already has an incredible camera, and the iPhone 5’s should be even better. If you care about mobile photography, you’ll be better off any day embracing iOS’s incredible app library than a chunky novelty phone built on the decaying ruins of the Sybmian OS. If for some reason you feel differently, though, the PureView 808 should be on sale in May for about 450 Euros.

  • Dinnie Lim

    This is quite a horrible design. I am not only saying this because I am an Apple fangirl.
    The Lumia 800 felt pretty good in my hand, and the WindowsOS was not iOS, but it was current and up to date with what the market is doing now.

    Symbian, on the other hand, deserves to be retired or completely revamped. Not sure why Nokia is doing this. The design of the phone looks clunky, like  Wall-E transformed into a phone. And that is not cute at all.

    Not too sure about the bulged out lens, wouldn’t it be scratched when placed on a surface?

  • Alexx Kidd

    This is not wall-e,it’s EVE.

  • Srimasis Rout

    what d ….. ???? see john, i don’t know what your statistics are upto, but i can tell you that this mobile is gonna sell millions. the only problem of symbian is, it hangs a lot due to the sluggish 680 mhz cpu. even you know how ios4 runs in iphone 3g, it doesn’t means ios 4 is poor. symbian is still the most colourful mobile OS and many girls of my college still appreciate my nokia c7 even they have an iphone 4/4s in their pockets. 808 allows you to take direct 34-38 megapixel shots, so no need to cry for your 5 mp images like you did it in your article.

  • Srimasis Rout

    what d ….. ???? see john, i don’t know what your statistics are upto, but i can tell you that this mobile is gonna sell millions. the only problem of symbian is, it hangs a lot due to the sluggish 680 mhz cpu. even you know how ios4 runs in iphone 3g, it doesn’t means ios 4 is poor. symbian is still the most colourful mobile OS and many girls of my college still appreciate my nokia c7 even they have an iphone 4/4s in their pockets. 808 allows you to take direct 34-38 megapixel shots, so no need to cry for your 5 mp images like you did it in your article.

  • KrisW1001

    If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.   Read the specifications – each of the Pureview module’s sensor photosites is the same size (1.4micron) as those of the iPhone 4S sensor.  Even at maximum zoom, the raw image is no more “worthless” than that out of an iPhone.  In fact, it will be much better, as the Pureview has a far superior lens, and at full zoom it will be only using its highest-performing central area.
    As a photographic tool, all the iPhone’s good work is undone by not being able to turn off the grossly oversaturated yellow-tinged color post processing. If it was possible to disable this, the 4S would be a great phone camera (the 4 was less noisy, though, and neither are as good as the old Nokia N8).  As it is, it stinks for anything where you need color-accurate rendering. 
    But, don’t kid yourself – this Nokia is leagues ahead of the current crop of camera modules. Sure, the 808 will have no impact on the US market, but when the tech comes to Windows Phone, later this year, you’ll have a better chance to compare it.

    The huge disadvantage of this is that a large sensor (1/1.2″) needs a large lens-to-sensor distance, so a thicker phone. You can’t change the laws of physics here.  But the performance, especially on video, may be we worth the extra bulk for a sizeable number of people

  • Gereon

    This is completely ridiculous. The only reason mp is a is of any marketing value, is the fact that you can put a frickin number on it and compare products.
    The difference between a photographer and the average phonecam user is the amount of light they have available. I have yet to see one phonecam that doesn’t suck big time under low light conditions, no matter if iPhone, Nokia, Sony or Motorola.
    That is the reason why 99,999% of party-, family-, or birthday-pics, are one big, noisy mess.When your dad (or granddad) chose a film for a special purpose in the 70s I bet he never said “Hey, there’s a bithday coming up, i’ll need bigger slides!”No, he chose a better film in terms of ISO.And if he had any experience at all, he didn’t pick the cheapest one from a supermarket.They really should come up with a marketable name or value for this, that complete noobs can understand because that’s what most people are – and start to market that instead of blowing up images that fill up your memory in no time while 99,99999999% of your precious images never leave screens that max out at 2560*1600 (just to name one).
    In most of the cases they will never leave the screen of the phone, so do the math.
    And while you’re at it, count the amount of times you actually did a large format print or felt the absolute need to zoom in on an image.

  • joewaylo

    That camera phone looks bulky. Yikes. I certainly wouldn’t buy it as a white phone with a lump on the back to increase the camera’s fitting dimension. Even if it has five times the amount of MPs than the iPhone, the design alone makes it not worth it. Especially with “Symbian”.

  • a_rob

    Ouch…this article is VILE!  Talk about ignoring any actual facts, and merely bleating on about what a beautiful device the iPhone4 is.  Nokia N8 is the current BEST EVER cameraphone….bar none!  Apple uses WAY too much post-processing to make their images look nice, but at the expense of detail, natural colours etc…

    True, the 808 isn’t a sleek design and is more retro compared to the standard generic look of an iPhone, but the 808 is a phone for people who like their tech, not just pretty glass boxes.  Read the Nokia PureView white paper and you’ll see just how poorly written this article is, and how pretty clueless the writer is!  If you don’t have anything nice to say, there’s no point just making up things to say!

    Still, nothing else was really to be expected I guess.  Here’s hoping enough people are intelligent to actually go find out about the device, rather than read hate pieces like this that can’t get over Nokia=Symbian and therefor everything must be bad.  Belle is a great OS compared to previous versions, and is still different enough to Android and iOS to keep the haterz happy.

    I really can’t wait for some proper imaging sites to do their tests comparing the best of Nokia vs iPhone vs best of Android…already pretty sure who it’ll play out!

  • Eric

     What “yellow-tinge”?  My 4S’s pics turn out great.  Best among all the other smartphones I’ve tested side by side.

  • winski

    A 41-megapixel CARL ZEISS LENS is about the same price as a house here in the US…. THIS is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen…. I have an OLD Nokia blackberry-clone-alike that’s useless as are ALL symbian-based Nokia phones…. Limited everything….

    WHEN is the company going to change it’s name to Nokia-Soft ????

  • Eric

    The 4S camera is much, much better than the 4.  That being said, I haven’t tried nor seen any samples from the 808.  But I’ve tested pic quality of my 4S in various lighting conditions against other smartphones including the Galaxy S II, and the Razr.  4S comes out on top hands down.  Except for very low lighting, as in minimal to no lighting the 4S (using the flash of course) takes pretty decent pics.  Colors are as natural as it can be.  In outdoor situations during a sunny day, it’s even more incredible.  No “yellow-tinges”, no over saturations, no desaturation.  Colors are are amazing.  They are so good (to me), I’ve stopped carrying my stand alone point and shoot, as well as my HD cam.  The only negative thing I can say about the camera on the 4S, is that it doesn’t have an optical zoom.  They’ve improved a little on the digital zoom, but still no where near as good as what it would look like in optical zoom.

    If I were going to print most of my pics (larger than 6 x 4) I’d definitely go with a DSLR, without a doubt.  But most things these days are viewed from a mobile, or a computer screen, and don’t need to be printed larger than a standard 6 x 4.  So the iPhone 4S does the job quite well, and more.

  • KrisW1001

    I mean the yellow-orange tinge that makes everything look like “golden hour”, regardless of when it was taken.   The iPhone’s camera boosts colour saturation, and applies a “warm tone” color filter to all pictures taken.   True, it doesn’t matter if the user is only going to mangle the pictures further with Instagram, but there should be some way to turn off the processing for those of us who don’t want our pictures sugar-coated.

    … and speaking of the golden hour,  Nokia have posted some full-resolution samples from this camera:

    (warning – big image, may choke your browser)

  • NMo9

    The 808 has a 1.3GHz processor..

  • rock_n_diesel

    So.. are all iFans this arrogant? Face it. Nokia rapes Apple in the camera department. The iPhone hasn’t got a chance against this, maybe it does against the N8. But that’s only because of the post process Apple automatically adds to the images it takes. With RAW files the N8 would easily take it.

    They made a superior camera phone that will be king for a very long time. Maybe at the expense of the design? I personally think it looks great apart from the buttons. I mean with a hump that big for a camera there’s ever so much you can do. 

    You can’t put that sensor in the N9’s body now can you.. I guess we all can agree though that iOS is better than Symbian Belle, even though they will put it on WP7(8?) I still think iOS is superior.

    The iPhone 4s camera is great and more than enough for the average consumer. This phone is more for the camera enthusiast. There’s no need for the crappy biased blog post. Blogs like this are the reason people despise Apple fans because they make you come off as brain dead ‘sheeple’.

    In other news, I would like to see something new from Apple. iPhone 4s was pretty… ‘s’.. The iPhone 5 best have something better than just upgraded specs with no real innovation, its not an Android..

  • jrtorrents

    stfu Apple fangirl!!

  • jrtorrents

    Mixture of enviousness  and ignorance brewing up here.. Check the video and still  sample .. The bloody thing even does DoF!!… 

  • KrisW1001

    Hmm.. my reply got “moderated” away,  maybe it was because I had attached a link to one of the sample pics. Go to “press dot nokia dot com” and follow the links if you want to see them – they really are good. The quality of the images is unusual – more like scanned transparancies than digital photos. No, I’m not saying they’re better than modern high-end DSLR pics;  a DSLR image would have far less “grain” or noise than these, but the images don’t have that nasty smudgy noise-reduced quality you get from small-sensor cameras. 

    Do a search for “iPhone color accuracy” and you’ll see what I’m talking about regarding the color casting – it’s more like a permanent oversaturated golden tone, which might look nice in the shop, and may be what most people want (looks good, rather than being true to reality) but the effect is always-on, which it makes it impossible to capture color-accurate images with iPhone. 

  • Eric

    Thanks for the link.  Not bad.  Much better than the Galaxy S II.  Especially the quality of it zoomed in.  But in comparing to a pic I took with my 4S, they are comparable size as.  Zoomed in, it does have an advantage.  Less noise.  But no one ever looks at pics that close.  It’s a little excessive IMO (going 41MP).  But better than S II for sure.

    I do know about the notorious “yellow tint”.  Apparently it’s only on some phones.  Apple has admitted that for some reason, some lines (where the the “defective” phones are assembled) had the lenses with a film that wasn’t “cleaned out”. That overtime it would just disappear.  My old 4 and current 4S doesn’t have it.  My brother’s doesn’t have it either.  Color accuracy on our phones are great.  Guess we got lucky.

  • rafaelinux

    Woah woah woah, seriously are you all over the physical dimensions and design of the phone? I prefer features to presentation, come on!, better resolution, better videos, better audio, better battery, what is not to like?

  • techgeek01

    It should be mentioned that this phone has the best camera out of any phone out there, better camera than a lot of point and shoot cameras and that this phone can record CD-LIKE QUALITY AUDIO.

    Meaning?  There is no competition between the iPhone 4S and this regarding photos or video.  This just slaughters the 4S like no other.

    Well, depending who are what you look at, the 4S isn’t the best camera phone out there and may not be even close.  The high end HTC phones (like the Amaze 4G or Titan) can take better photos than the 4S.  Also, the Samsung Galaxy S II has been said to take better photos (overall) as well. And same with Sony’s phones.

    The point of this phone (really) is to show that this will be coming to windows phones.  Well, nokia windows phones.  Nokia already confirmed that.  Slap that camera sensor/technology into a windows powered phone? (especially a nokia?) You are looking at one freaking good phone.

    Slap the camera/audio recording capabilities of this phone, with xBox live, Nokia Maps/transport, skype integration, voice commands/actions, skydrive, office “suite”, and more, you will have a phone out of the world.

    It’s safe to say, this camera (along with the the audio/video stuff as well) will be in Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 (apollo) phone.  Along with either a Snapdragon S4 CPU or TI OMAP 5 CPU.  Most likely they will be clocked between 2.0 GHz and 2.5 Ghz.  And these have massive upgrade GPU’s as well.  Toss in next generation LTE chips, HD screen, NFC, USB 3.0 (should be coming to phones later this years), the hardware is going to be simply, amazing.  Toss Nokia’s design, you will have one beautiful, and powerful phone.

    This phone will have the Nokia apps.  Nokia Maps/Drive/Transport/Reading(?)/and what ever else they have.  Toss in Microsoft Office suite, Skype, xBox live, Zune (or whatever next generation media player will be) and skydrive?  This is going to be one beast of a phone.  I honestly can’t tell you what exactly the stuff will be, because almost all of the Microsoft things are going under a massive update/upgrade.

    The point being:  This phone shows that the Next Nokia Lumia (high end model) will have a freaking good camera on the phone.  And toss in all the other stuff, this will be one hell of a phone.

    Laugh all you want about this phone, but once this lands in a Nokia Windows phone, you won’t be laughing.

  • Noah Hayes

    John, all you do is hate on any phone that is not an iPhone. This phone will probably sell reasonably well outside of the US, so stop getting so pissed about Symbian.

  • a_rob

    You’ve obviously never used the Nokia N8 then….

    People keep forgetting…their OS might not be the sexiest around (even if it is natively the most capable) – but hardware Nokia has been at the forefront for a long time, especially with imaging.

    Everyone else is playing catchup…and if you do a little reading, you can see that PureView isn’t about chasing high megapixel output, but making use of high megapixel input to do some very impressive data manipulation without the need for the heavy post-processing that’s evident on iPhones.  Look up the white paper and understand what PureView is, before you think it’s all about megapixels.  This clever use of oversampling means that low light images will have far better signal-to-noise content that what your used to with the usual smartphones.

  • Gereon

    If that’s the case, then why not communicate that instead of throwing around ridiculous mp numbers? Btw, the first images on the net shot with this phone, were taken in the mountains in bright sunny daylight. That’s where i take all my pictures :)
    You are right, I never used the N8 but during the cambrian of smartphones I used to have an N95. I liked the camera and its features a lot more than the one of the iPhone 3gs which i got later. The iPhone had (and still has) a lot of nice apps but in terms of hardware it sucked big time!
    I am not laughing about this phone at all!
    If someone out there need this thing – great, go get it and love it.
    But I don’t think I am only speaking for myself saying that I don’t see myself switching a complete ecosystem for a few pixels more.
    And I think that’s Nokia’s real problem, no matter what fancy gadget they come up with.

  • a_rob

    I think you need to step back and look at the bigger picture.  PureView has been in development for 5 years, so it’s obvious it would premier on Symbian/Nokia…they’re already working on making it work for Windows Phone.

    And really going with PureView isn’t a case of giving you a few pixels more…it’s a complete overhaul and rethink of mobile-based imaging technology.

    I’m pretty sure Nokia know that the 808 will be limited in its appeal due to the attitude towards Symbian/Nokia OS (unfortunately bashed by the press for not being finger friendly to begin with, which has led to all kinds of distorted and misguided attitudes to an OS which is very capable, especially after the Belle update).  Although they’ll be happy with any non-Symbian users who move to this phone, I’m sure they’re expecting most market capture from PureView when they’ve adapted the tech for Windows.  Considering all the pluses Windows Phone has over iOS and Android, PureView would be a welcome and game-changing addition!

  • Stephen Pate

    BeOS isn’t dead…just very quiet. RADAR disk recorders run on BeOS, and used by none other than Daniel Lanois who wouldn’t be caught dead using OSX / ProTools. They crash too much.

  • James_Ala1

    For the brave few this would be a tempting phone. The satellite imaging computing power, the gorgeous Carl Zeiss optics, the 41megapixel sensor wold make an excellent back up camera for the pro-sumer camera addict. As a matter of fact if this Nokia phone came out as a Win8Phone I would seriously consider it as a replacement for the phone I now own. Please note I despise the Beast of Redmond and went over to Apple because I just got so tiered of working with Mr. Ballmer’s mickey mouse OS.

    I would not know about the iPhones shooting warm, I only own an iTouch. Bet meh, makes sense. As most iPhone pics will be candid shots, I can see a bias toward shooting warm. In the old days of silver halide you actually looked for this in choosing your film. I still remember: Fuji Green for grass, trees and other green items, Kodak Yellow for anything in that hue and Agfa orange for the Tangerine color crowd. So Apple decided to follow in the footsteps of George Eastman and opt for a more yellow cast to the photos. Meh, it’s only candid shots, and Facebook nonsense, so why not? People who care about color cast and other issues are going to be packing serious photographic heat; a quality point and shoot, a bridge camera, or a DSLR rig. Even a modest point and shoot will clobber most smart phones in term of imagery. Glass optics still beats out sensor manipulation, and will continue to do so for some time to come.

    I will look into this phone when it released into the wild, and give it due consideration, probably six months after the New Improved Win8Phone comes out. There is still no way I’m being an early adopter to a new OS from Redmond, that way lies madness.