With Mobile World Congress now over, it’s time to take a look back at one of the biggest stories to have emerged during the tech conference. One of the biggest talking points was Nokia’s PureView 808. The Finnish company has caused quite a stir by unveiling a phone that is twinned with a 41 megapixel camera. This bold gambit has captured the imagination of even professional photographers, as Nokia look to decisively end the “megapixel war” which has been rumbling on in smartphone-land.
Nokia appear to have grasped that this escalating war has not actually been delivering better pictures. It’s long been accepted in the mobile phones industry that “anything above 5 megapixels is a waste of time”: the increased resolution is largely unnoticeable to casual users, while photography enthusiasts would be better using a dedicated digital camera. Nokia say as much in their PureView White Paper, stating that 5-6 megapixels are “more than enough for viewing images on PC, TV, online or smartphones. After all, how often do we print images bigger than even A4?” If this seems like a baffling and contradictory statement from a company who has just released a 41MP camera, bear with us.
Those cynics who have been quick to gripe that “it can’t possibly take 41 megapixel images” are technically correct. However the PureView 808 is capable of taking 38 megapixel images: they just won’t be very high quality. This is basically missing the point anyway: what Nokia wanted to do was provide an unparalleled camera phone experience, for pictures in the 3 megapixel to 8 megapixel range, which is all an amateur or aspiring photographer should need.
As such, what the PureView 808 does is utilize a technique called “oversampling”. Basically the camera takes 5MP images with its super-high-resolution sensor – with an active area of 7728 x 5368 pixels – but each pixel is a combination of seven smaller pixels. This allows for remarkable image quality, a “lossless” zoom function that maintains great picture quality for multiple zoom enhancements, and superb performance in low light conditions. Nokia also invested a lot of R&D in complementary technologies, from a lens co-designed with Carl Zeiss, to a larger sensor – 2.5 times bigger than that of the groundbreaking 12MP Nokia N8 – which both work in tandem with the astonishing resolution.
All this means that the pictures are sharp to an unprecedented degree, but are still small enough be edited on the PureView and shared around social media networks. The PureView 808 also has a special “companion processor” to deal with pixel scaling because of the sheer volume of pixels involved, particularly when shooting video. That’s right, PureView 808 also takes incredibly good 1080p full HD video footage, and the audio quality is supposed to be top notch.
How does it shape up as a phone? Well, the PureView 808 has a 4 inch AMOLED touchscreen featuring around 16 million colours, protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass. It’s powered by a 1.3GHz single core processor running Nokia Belle Feature Pack 1, 16GB of built-in storage, and a microSD expansion slot that can handle 32GB cards. Some commentators are unhappy that the phone runs on Symbian, and that the processor power will lead to sluggish operations, but hopefully the companion processor will shoulder the burden of the incredible photographic capabilities. As Nokia have a good reputation for producing reliable handsets that make good voice calls, you would expect the PureView 808 to continue that proud tradition.
So there we have it: the 808 is the biggest surprise to emerge from MWC 2012. It won’t displace a bona fide digital camera, but it’s certainly an innovation that will attract attention, something which Nokia could sorely use right now.