The Nokia 9 PureView has five cameras and a lot to prove

HMD Global has a new Nokia flagship, and it might be the company’s most ambitious phone yet: the Nokia 9 PureView, with a show-stopping five — count ‘em, five — cameras on the back that officially takes the crown for the most rear cameras ever put on a phone.

It’s perhaps the biggest play yet by HMD to invoke the old Nokia, from back before it bought and resurrected brand. And while the Nokia 9 PureView may not have the staggering megapixel count Nokia’s phones were known for, it’s certainly a product meant to evoke those glory days.

There’s a lot to unpack about the Nokia 9 PureView. Unlike other multi-camera phones, like the LG V40 or Samsung’s newly announced Galaxy S10, the Nokia 9 PureView uses the same key specs for all five cameras: each one has a 12 megapixel sensor and an f/1.8 lens. But only two of those five cameras shoot in color — the other three are monochrome.

Whenever you press the shutter, all five cameras shoot different exposures at the same time, which then get merged together into a single, ultra-detailed shot. Depending on the scene composition, Nokia says that individual cameras can even shoot multiple exposures on their own to add even more data to the final image. The result — at least in theory — is a smartphone camera that offers new levels of detail and color.

As one might have expected from seeing a device with this many cameras, Nokia partnered with Light (makers of the 16-camera L16), making it the first phone that the camera company has contributed to. Nokia is actually employing Light’s Lux Capacitor camera-control chip here to manage the five cameras, since the Snapdragon 845 is only built to handle up to three lenses out of the box (although the company also worked with Qualcomm to optimize the cameras as much as possible with the 845).

I was able to try out the Nokia 9 PureView’s cameras in person, and even on a pre-production unit, the phone was already delivering some pretty impressive detail, despite the rather dreary lighting outside. We’ll have to wait for a final version of the software and hardware before we make any real judgements, but it’s not a bad start.

Nokia 9 PureView sample photos (shot on pre-production hardware)

While the photo details are impressive, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that the phone doesn’t offer more versatility out of its array of cameras. The exciting promise of both the original L16 camera and subsequent multi-lens phones like the V40 was the idea that you could have different lens types on a single device, giving you the power of carrying around a full kit of lenses at the tap of a button. The Nokia 9 PureView just offers a single focal length.

Another issue is the processing time — this isn’t quite final, but shooting in RAW DNG with all the depth mapping features on is pretty slow. In my tests, it took around 10 seconds or so to process a picture once it was shot, and then another few seconds to fully load the finished result in full resolution in the photos app. Now, Nokia says that those features will be off by default, and that regular JPEGs should shoot faster. But if you’re someone who’s buying the Nokia 9 PureView, odds are you’re probably interested in taking full advantage of all those cameras.

Nokia is also teaming up with Adobe for the Nokia 9. Lightroom will come preinstalled on the device, and the two companies are developing Lightroom presets specifically tuned to the lenses on the Nokia 9 PureView.

While the camera is obviously the star of the show here, the rest of the Nokia 9 PureView is still close to a modern Android flagship. It’s similar in both design and specs to last year’s Pixel 3 and Galaxy S9 — it uses the slightly older Snapdragon 845 processor, for instance — as opposed to the flashy 2019 phones that are being announced.

Compared to HMD’s previous Nokia flagships, though, the Nokia 9 PureView is HMD’s most high-end phone yet, with premium features like an in-display fingerprint sensor and a face unlock system, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and IP67 waterproofing. The display itself is a 5.99-inch 2K OLED panel, and there’s a 3,320 mAh battery as well (although no headphone jack — sorry, folks). The phone has Gorilla Glass on both the front and back sandwiching an aluminum side.

HMD Mobile has announced that the Nokia 9 PureView will be available starting in March. Price will depend on market, but it’ll sell in the US for $699.

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