Nokia 9 PureView hands-on review: A camera-heavy phone that's so last year

Nokia 9 PureView

Nothing gets more people talking about a smartphone launch than a bit of unusualness. This could well have been what HMD Global was hoping for when fitting a whopping five cameras onto the Nokia 9 PureView, but they launched the device at the same time as Samsung and Huawei broke the smartphone mould with foldable screens. Still, while the usefulness of foldable screens is yet to be proven, quality cameras on smartphones are in high demand. The Nokia 9 PureView may have five cameras, but what else can we do with it?

Nokia 9 PureView hands-on review: Design

The PureView 9 is nothing spectacular to look at from the front. It doesn't have an edge-to-edge display and there's a big bezel at the top (big by recent standards, at least) with a camera, speaker and Nokia logo. It may not be a big notch, but it is a big eyesore that will show all the more next to an S10 with its in-display camera or the Mate 20 Pro with its overt notch.

Round the back, there's a big improvement with a more modern, curved cover that's a lot more pleasing to the eye. There's quite a futuristic look to the camera arrangement - or a more nerve-jangling one if you're arachnophobic, as it does sort of resemble the eyes of spiders. It's nice in the hand and easy to hold, but there's a real slipperiness to it, similar to the Xperia XZ3 where it could easily slide off any smooth surface with a hint of an angle. There's also only one colour option for the PureView, but thankfully it's a rather nice blue that HMD has dubbed "Midnight".

Nokia 9 PureView hands-on review: Display

Due to its big bezels, there's only a 5.9in screen, which is a little small by today's standards. It's a POLED HDR10 PureDisplay; the 'P' stands for plastic, but don't let that put you off, because it's using a sharp 2,880 x 1,440 resolution. It's no Dynamic AMOLED screen, as seen on the S10, but it's not lacking - particularly with regards to brightness as it should be perfectly readable in most light. The device supports HDR10 as well, so this should be good for streaming.

Nokia 9 PureView hands-on review: Specs and Features

There are many parts of this device that show HMD is keeping Nokia in the smartphone game, but they're playing 2018's game because it has last year's chip: the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. It isn't your average Snapdragon 845 however - it's a special version made specially for the PureView's five-camera setup, developed by HMD Global, Qualcomm, Google and a few other companies to boot. And, to be fair, it's not a terrible choice of processor; there are many popular models from 2018 which use it, such as the Samsung Galaxy S9, or the OnePlus 6T - both of which we reviewed and loved - but we're now on Snapdragon 855 and technology is all about progress. It's the sacrifice it had to make for five cameras.

This device also falls just short of rivals with its 3,320mAh battery, which isn't terrible on paper - it's perfectly suitable given the processor - but other 2019 launches have slightly more juice. There is, however, 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, which is more fitting for a 2019 smartphone. The headphone jack has been replaced with a USB-C port at the bottom, now surely the norm for smartphones. Also, the PureView 9 has wireless charging, but how well it works is still to be seen.

There's an in-display fingerprint sensor too, following many other recent launches, such as the S10 and Mate 20 Pro. Early reports suggest that the PureView hasn't quite worked the technology out though, as it requires a significant press of the finger to register. Biometric security is great, but screen bleeds are not.

Nokia 9 PureView hands-on review: Camera(s)

The five-camera system is arguably the best part of this handset - and definitely the biggest selling point, despite the creepy bug-eyed look of it. Samsung opted for a bar of cameras on the S10, S10+ and S10e, but there's something more special about the PureView's layout. What's more, these cameras sit flush with the back which is part of the reason it's so slippery.

As mentioned, the Snapdragon 845 processor in the PureView is something special for Nokia. This slightly customised version of Qualcomm's popular chip is part of a complex multi-chipset architecture that's specifically designed for five cameras. The idea is that five cameras will mean lots more data and so the Snapdragon 845 will need a little help from an Image Signal Processor and a special Lux Capacitor chipset to harness the full power.

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On the PureView, there are five 12-megapixel lenses each with an f/1.8 aperture. When you tap the shutter button once, all five snap one or more photos, depending on the conditions, and fuses them together for a significantly more detailed image. Three of these cameras are monochromatic, with the other two being RGB. The result is the ability to capture quite natural photos that are rich in detail. Until it can be fully tested, having five cameras feels a little like speakers that go up to 11. It seems a bit pointless and showy, but the specs do suggest that these five cameras are very good.

Nokia 9 PureView hands-on review: Early verdict

The Nokia 9 PureView is a photo machine, no doubt about it, but what else it offers is still to be seen. There have already been a few phones launched in 2019 that have better specifications, such as the S10 and the Mate 20 Pro, but worse still, that's also the case for most of 2018's flagships.

Having five cameras will give this device some notoriety, but are those five snappers better than what is already available? It has the processing chops of last year's models and it has to be said, many of those devices have pretty decent cameras too, so there's a danger that these extra cameras may have been added in vain. After all, Google's Pixel 3 had a pretty impressive camera, as did the Huawei P20 Pro - and both of those launched in 2018. There's been a big effort and collaboration between HMD Global, Light, ZEISS, Google and Qualcomm to get this camera-heavy smartphone out, but the early take is that the Nokia 9 PureView hasn't quite captured our imagination.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.