Nokia's 808 PureView: Redefining The Stupidphone

Nokia's 808 PureView phone grabbed headlines with its 41MP sensor. Big 'ol whoopty doo -- this is still a remarkably stupid phone, and anyone who buys one on the basis of the sensor is in for some harsh lessons in buyer's regret.

Part 2 Of This Story: Nokia 808 PureView -- Answering The Critics

There's at least one at every trade show: lame duck products. It could be a speaker dock shaped like a toilet. It could be the Shenzhen knock-off of a well-known brand at a fraction of the price. It could be small mechanical ducks that sprays boiling hot coffee into the eyes of anyone who doesn't know the precise PIN code to stop them waddling towards them.

Actually, that last one isn't half bad. Excuse me for a second while I dash off to the patent office. On second thoughts -- maybe not.

Second thoughts are what Nokia should have had regarding the 808 PureView phone, too. I think we can add Nokia's 808 PureView to the list of daft products announced at trade shows, with one important caveat, which I'll cover off shortly.

If you've not followed the news, overnight Nokia announced the 808 PureView, a 'smartphone' with a 41MP sensor. No, that's not a typo; this thing packs in more megapixels than any consumer DSLR right now into a camera body.

WOW! AMAZING!

Oh, that's right. Sarcasm doesn't play well on the screen, does it? Anyway, as a cold, hard reminder, the number of megapixels in a camera sensor doesn't mean you'll end up with superb images; if it did, professional photographers everywhere would be dropping their expensive Canons and Nikons on the concrete floor and rushing out to buy 808 PureViews.

They won't, though, because they understand that the megapixel count is just part of the image -- and for most photos, an increasingly less relevant part. OK, so the 808 PureView can capture 41 million pixels of information onto its sensor when you take a snap with it. Let's leave aside the fact that most smartphones would fill up with 41MP images very quickly, and get onto the other factors that make up a good image. Like the sensor that lies behind that 41MP figure. Smartphone sensors are tiny -- they have to be -- and therefore what you end up with in a 41MP shot is a lot of erroneous noise and distortion. Likewise, smartphone lenses are equally tiny. There's a reason that serious photographers spend an awful lot more on lenses than they do on camera bodies; while the right camera body can make a difference, if the glass it's travelling through can't capture the image you want, you're stuffed before you even start. Nobody's seriously pushed for a DSLR smartphone yet, and the 808 PureView isn't it.

Yes, I've not used one as yet, and I'm not about to say that the PureView 808 is going to take terrible images. Nokia's pedigree in good quality smartphone cameras speaks for itself, and I'd be disappointed if the 808 PureView gave off poor images -- for a smartphone.

The claim from Nokia is that it's not about 41MP images at all; the 808 PureView's meant to be able to 'over-sample' images in order to get more clarity in your shots. That might make a difference when shooting standard happy snaps from a smartphone, but handing over the choice of image manipulation to whatever algorithm Nokia's chucked inside the 808 Pureview's GPU? I'll pass, thanks -- I'd much rather discretely alter images in a software tool where I'm in control.

The other part of the 808 Pureview that befuddles me is the part where Nokia decided to throw Symbian on it. Yes, Symbian. That'd be the operating system for smartphones that got Nokia in the excellent financial position where it is today. You know, producing Windows Phone 7 handsets thanks to some heavy investment from Microsoft, because despite several revisions and some admittedly stunning hardware, Nokia's own smartphone operating system simply couldn't cut it in today's marketplace. That, to me, marks the 808 Pureview out as a stupid phone, not a smart one.

I did mention that there was one important caveat to the announcement of the 808 Pureview, and here it is. If the objective was to grab headlines, it's certainly done that. '41MP Smartphone' makes for great headline fodder, and it's got people talking about Nokia. Given that its MWC lineup otherwise consisted of entry level WP7 handsets -- worthy, but hardly headline grabbing -- and the non-LTE version of the Lumia 900 -- again, nice but not new -- I've got this sneaking suspicion that this is perhaps Nokia's end game here

Part 2 Of This Story: Nokia 808 PureView -- Answering The Critics