Nokia 9 Pureview test: five-camera smartphone with five-star pictures
Only recently, dual-camera smartphones were still a novelty. These days, there are already various three- or even four-camera options. Nokia 9 Pureview sets out to offer up even better pictures with its five cameras.
Two of the five cameras at the back of the Nokia 9 hide colour sensors. The other three contain monochrome sensors, better at detecting light intensity. As soon as you take a picture all five cameras fire, after which the phone’s software compiles one single image from these five separate pieces.
The built-in Snapdragon 845, the exclusively dedicated to pictures Light co-processor and the phone’s six Gigabytes of RAM need to seriously work to achieve this. Patience is required to view an image in your gallery directly after taking it. The whole process takes a few seconds at the least. However, there’s enough of a buffer to where you can take another picture immediately after without any problems.
Something more annoying on the other hand is Google Photos. As a pre-installed gallery app, it needs to deal with mountains of data. Even pictures that were taken a while ago still require a few seconds to be viewable – even though the data is on the smartphone itself. I deactivated picture synchronisation. Even when simply zooming in, the app needs to think for a moment.
Voyage to the North Sea
In general, the picture quality on the Nokia 9 Pureview is soothingly powerful and seems natural. Even strong contrast doesn’t create any problems, whereby it must be noted that HDR is always on without an option to deactivate it. The amount of detail is noteworthy, but this still isn’t enough to elevate it from the rest of the expensive smartphones out there.
Something that does separate the Nokia 9 Pureview from the competition is its ability in creating wanted blurriness in a picture. No matter if you want to apply the Bokeh effect on a person, an object or some scenery: Pureview divides the picture into 1200 layers instead of the usual twelve. You don’t automatically see the Bokeh effect. You first need to find the depth options in your gallery’s editing software. Now you can move the point of focus as well as decide how detailed you want the fore- or background.
This process works best if the object in focus is in the foreground. Nokia 9 Pureview can also deal with hair better than most other smartphones – still, even here some thin strands will disappear. Problems often pop up when you want to have an area in the middle distance in focus while fore- and background are blurred. Even all those additional layers aren’t great at helping the software recognise what should be detailed or blurred.
Greyscale and zoom
In my opinion, another plus for the Nokia 9 Pureview is its greyscale function. Thanks to its three monochrome sensors, it can take actual black and white pictures instead of sucking all the colour out of normal ones. This results in impressive snapshots with clear structures and well separated shades of grey.
In truth, there are actually six cameras on the back of the Nokia 9 Pureview. The sixth one doesn’t actually contribute any picture data, however. Instead, it measures time of flight, which is why it’s called a ToF camera. Another developer who does uses this camera is LG in their new G8 ThinQ. However, they apply it to the front of the phone, allowing it to recognise gestures some distance from the touchscreen away, allowing contactless controls. Nokia uses ToF technology to assists its autofocus. Without exactly measuring duration, however, it didn’t seem to me as if Pureview’s camera app was any faster or slower at focussing than any other smartphones.
All five Nokia 9 Pureview cameras have the same focal length. You’ll have to do without the semi-optical zoom that some smartphones possess. Still, the camera app lets you choose between double and quintuple magnification. According to Nokia, the five cameras give its product more substance than the digital zoom of other smartphones. The magnification on the Nokia 9 looks fine in the end, but after some further inspection it still lacks the quality of its optically zooming counterparts.
Darkness is currently the thing separating good smartphone cameras from very good ones. I had high expectations for Nokia 9 Pureview’s night mode, due to its five cameras and especially its three light-sensitive monochrome sensors. I was sadly let down. Even in low-light, the five cameras still manage to have visible images. Still, when it comes to evening out light and dark areas, brightening up the image or the quality of details, it’s still limping behind other smartphones with explicit night modes – the Google Pixel 3, Huawei P30 Pro or Mate 20 come to mind. Currently, software is still beating hardware. Nokia 9’s only advantage: its five cameras give it significantly lower exposure times than the competition.
Selfies and RAW editing
Nokia 9 Pureview’s front side only has one camera. Selfies have a 20-megapixel resolution and carry HDR, which can be toggled on or off. Images with active HDR usually look much better than ones without – especially the colours. The quality of details generally tends to be high with these selfies. Not every smartphone with a front camera resolution this high manages this.
Nokia 9 Pureview allows you to save picture in RAW format. This only really is useful when you plan on editing your pictures later on. If you prefer having a completed picture seconds after taking it on the other hand, I’d recommend you save this storage space for something else. You don’t need to transfer RAW files onto a computer to edit them. You just need the right app. The pre-installed picture editor can only remove haze, however, and Snapseed couldn’t open RAW pictures, even if the description said it could. Adobe Lightroom CC is the most useful app, even if the full version does require a monthly subscription.
Display und storage
The Nokia 9 Pureview’s 5,99 inch P-OLED display is just what you’d wish for. With a 2880 x 1440 pixel 2K resolution, this image quality is detailed and not blurry. Its colours are intense, but still seem natural. As this smartphone is primarily meant to take pictures, the touchscreen needs to serve as the camera’s display – something it manages very well. At any given moment, the screen is very visible, even in direct sunlight. As long as you’re not in power-saving mode and the brightness is turned up to a reasonable level.
The Nokia 9 Pureview’s internal storage seems to be big enough at 128 Gigabytes, offering capacity for thousands of pictures. It doesn’t really matter that you can’t expand the storage capacity with a microSD card. However, if you record a lot of videos and save pictures in RAW, then this capacity might still fill up quickly, requiring external storage.
Aside from photography, you don’t need to concern yourself with Nokia 9 Pureview’s other hardware. It doesn’t just have enough juice to operate the display and open apps smoothly. It can also handle graphically challenging games such as PUBG Mobile without a problem. Traditional smartphone usage doesn’t bother the 3320 mAh battery too much, easily lasting a day. You should bring a battery pack with you on a day trip, however, if you plan on taking a lot of pictures with the brightness turned up to combat glare.
Finger print sensor and facial recognition
You can access Nokia 9’s camera app without unlocking the phone. Still, we need to talk about accessing this thing. Aside from PIN, patterns and passwords, facial recognition and fingerprint detection can be used parallel with these functions. Facial recognition is reliable at unlocking your phone – as long as its bright. At night, the display isn’t a sufficient light source.
Alternatively, there’s the fingerprint sensor, located underneath the display. It works by having a camera that looks through your screen in a way in order to read your fingerprint. However, this process is slower than a traditional fingerprint sensor and pretty unreliable on Nokia 9. It rarely recognised my finger on the first attempt. OnePlus 6T is more reliable and Samsung Galaxy S10’s ultrasound technology is quicker on top of that. To add to this, Nokia 9’s fingerprint sensor was also basically useless at night. No light, no unlocking. With your fingerprint, at least.
Software with an update warranty
Nokia 9 Pureview does gain a point by participating in the Android One programme. This means that Google’ current smartphone operating system Android 9 Pie isn’t just the only OS you’re guaranteed. Nokia guarantees Android updates for two years and security updates for three. During my tests, for example, the April 2019 security update arrived hot and fresh.
Additionally, Android One secures a clean interface on start-up without any pre-installed apps, aside from the usual Google ones. The developer isn’t making any demands and isn’t annoying you with apps you can’t uninstall. You can instead calmly install your own apps and easily adapt the interface to your liking with the launcher.
Five cameras are good, but not always better
Nokia 9 Pureview is a well-crafted smartphone with a neat design. My only point of criticism currently: The glass back cover is easily smudged, and without a protective cover can easily find its way out of your hand and onto the floor. With a non-binding 649-Euro price tag you get some completely sufficient equipment equal to 2018’s top smartphones. Their prices have sunk to about this level in the meanwhile.
The hyped up five-camera system doesn’t completely fulfil Nokia and Zeiss’ promises, but isn’t without advantage. These include the layers of focus, the sleek greyscale images as well as RAW format possibilities. I’ve already mentioned the many different scenarios which make the Nokia 9 Pureview an especially worthwhile purchase. Everyday pictures during daytime are on the same level as many smartphones out there, and if you want to photograph in the darkness, I’d get the Pixel 3 or Huawei P30 Pro.