Hands-On, MWC 2019, Smartphone

Nokia 9 PureView Hands-On: Five Cameras Are Better than One

The Nokia 9 PureView is here, and yes, just as the leaks and rumours have suggested, HMD Global’s latest smartphone truly has five camera sensors on the back. Why on earth would you need that many lenses, you ask? Well, for a couple of very good reasons.

See, even though the Nokia 9’s five-camera configuration doesn’t have the versatility of other flagships’ camera systems, it could very well deliver the best camera performance on a smartphone. At least, that would be the case if HMD can truly deliver what it promises.

So what’s the deal with the Nokia 9’s five cameras? For starters, all of them are 12MP f/1.82 shooters. What else? Three of them are monochrome sensors, while the other two are standard RGB. Sounds weird? Sure does, but there is a good explanation for the unique camera system.

Developed in collaboration with Light (yes, the very same company that released the L16 camera with 16 lenses), the Nokia 9’s three monochrome sensors can absorb much more light than the other two RGB shooters. This, in turn, improves the camera performance by quite a bit, especially in low light conditions.

When you press the shutter button, all five of the Nokia 9 cameras snap a picture at various exposures, which are then combined to form one single image. In theory, this phone would be able to capture very detailed pictures by combining information from these five cameras.

In my brief time photographing with the Nokia 9, I was quite surprised with the results. Although there is noticeable shutter lag whenever I took a shot, not to mention the extra processing time (hey, it’s capturing and stitching images from five sensors here), the image output is nothing short of impressive. It has great detail preservation, dynamic range, and colour balance.

Judge for yourself with these sample images I took, along with comparison shots from a Samsung Galaxy S9+. Do note that the Nokia 9 is still running on pre-production hardware, so the image quality may be different in the final retail version.

On top of that, with so many camera sensors, the Nokia 9 can capture a lot of depth information; there’s even a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor on the back of the phone to further help in this regard. The most immediate benefit of this is better, more authentic-looking background blur, and it also allows you to refocus a shot after you have taken it.

This isn’t a new feature, of course – plenty of other smartphones allowed you to do this for the longest time. But the Nokia 9’s implementation should be superior, considering the fact that it is working with more depth information.

Then again, this only sounds great in theory at this point in time. Until I have the opportunity to test a final, retail unit of the Nokia 9 for myself, I’d hold off my judgement of the device’s camera performance. But for what it’s worth, I’m very optimistic of the phone’s shooting capability.

But there is one shortcoming of the Nokia 9’s five-camera system: it is not very versatile. In a market where other flagship smartphones are offering cameras with different focal lengths, the Nokia 9 cannot take ultra wide-angle shots or zoomed in, close-up images.

Is this a big deal? Personally, I don’t mind at all, especially if the Nokia 9 can take better-looking images. I’d take quality over versatility any day of the week.

Okay, so that’s the camera aspect of the Nokia 9; how about the rest of the phone? Quite decent, actually. It has a nice, solid build quality thanks to the glass and metal construction. It looks premium, and best of all, it doesn’t have any notch or selfie camera cutout to house the 20MP front-facing shooter.

Other specifications of the Nokia 9 include a bright and vibrant 5.99-inch 1440p POLED display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset (it’s still a plenty powerful SoC despite not being top-of-the-line anymore) paired with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of non-expandable storage, a decently-sized 3,320mAh battery, and IP67 water and dust resistance.

Except for the Nokia 9’s Snapdragon 845 chipset, it’s a reasonably good flagship smartphone even in 2019. If you’re particular about software, you’ll be happy to know that this phone – as with most Nokia devices – is part of the Android One program. So you’ll get a clean, stock version of Android, as well as timely updates.

The Nokia 9 PureView is expected to be available sometime in March next month, and it will retail at $699 (about RM2,840) in the US. While it may not be the fastest, sleekest, or most desirable smartphone, this is HMD Global highest-end, most ambitious device yet.

The company is betting big on the Nokia 9’s unique camera system, and considering HMD’s past track record when it comes to its smartphones’ lacklustre camera performance, there’s a lot to prove here. But if the Nokia 9 can truly deliver amazing camera performance, other phone makers will have to pay attention.

As insane as five cameras on the back of a smartphone sounds, it’s not crazy if it works.