Nokia's new super-cameraphone takes incredibly high-res images, but is unlikely to come to the U.S.
BARCELONA–Forty one megapixels. That's what it says on the back of the Nokia PureView 808, a new smartphone that can safely be called the highest resolution cameraphone ever. I got some time with it this morning and it's impressive, but perplexing.
The 808 is a solid block of white plastic. It isn't slim, but c'mon guys, it's 41 megapixels. More importantly, it feels like a premium device, without loose or creaky bits. There's an HDMI port on top, a dedicated camera button, and of course that camera on the back: a relatively large lens with a big Xenon flash above it. The phone has a 4-inch, 640-by-360 touch screen–that's a standard Symbian resolution–as well as a 1.3GHz processor and 16GB of memory, plus a memory card slot.
Pressing the camera button takes a picture within less than a second. So what can you do with 38 megapixels? You can zoom and crop. I took a shot of the Nokia booth and then zoomed in on a tiny little element, cropping it into what appeared to be a tidy image of 5 megapixels or so. That's the equivalent of a 3x lossless zoom at 5 megapixels, Nokia said. The camera has an f/2.4 aperture, which isn't as bright as HTC's new One X at f/2.0, but is still good for a cameraphone.
You can digital-zoom within videos without losing resolution, too, capturing 1080p video at up to 4x zoom and 720p at 6x zoom. Audio recording is "CD quality," according to Nokia.
You can also refine. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said the 808 can "capture seven pixels and turn it into one perfect pixel," pretty much eliminating noise from images. "You can take great images in low light, too," Elop said.
Now to the perplexing part. The PureView 808 runs Symbian, the awkward, decade-old OS that Nokia has said it's phasing out in favor of Windows Phone. Symbian is also not very popular among U.S. operators, making the PureView unlikely to come to a U.S. carrier. Nokia EVP Jo Harlow said the company has been working on the 808 for quite some time, implying that this device was in the works well before Nokia decided to move to Windows Phone. PureView technologies will come to "other devices" eventually, Harlow said.
The PureView I was playing with had plenty of apps on board, and the phone's home screens were set up with attractive imaging and social networking widgets. But like most Americans nowadays, I just find Symbian's interface unfamiliar, and it feels like it takes too many taps to get at things. Screens flicked smoothly, but Symbian's interface simply lacks the easy flow common to more modern OSes.
There's also some confusion around the size and resolution of the PureView 808's sensor. The phone says "41 Megapixels" on the back. Nokia EVP Jo Harlow said at its native resolution, it captures 38 megapixel images, that Nokia says are 7,152 by 5,368 resolution. When I looked at one of the images in the file manager, it was 5.2MB.
Some Internet reports are saying the camera is "interpolated," which isn't what's really going on here. The default mode records 5-megapixel images by condensing seven pixels into one, but you can turn off that default and get 38-megapixel pictures if you feel you can handle the file size. The 5-megapixel mode offers dramatically reduced noise and improved image quality because it's oversampling, though, and that's the mode Nokia thinks most people will be using most often.
In any case, this is absolutely amazing. I'm really looking forward to getting one into the PCMag Labs to see how it compares against dedicated digital cameras.
Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.