HMD Global’s Nokia 8 is more ageing Professor X than Iron Man
Recently I was in London covering the Nokia 8 launch, something which was quite an understated affair for something of such importance considering this phone was HMD Global's first Nokia branded flagship phone. The launch itself was a combination of a pre-briefing and a small press event at London's tower bridge for a very limited audience. Since the launch, I have been playing around with the review unit quite a lot and for all intents, I have been using it as my daily driver for the last 3 days. Now, this isn't my review per se of the phone, but more like a 72-hour impression of the phone. I can't say that this phone wows me from the get go, but at the same time, it isn't something I hate. In fact, I couldn't have used the phone for this long if I disliked it. On the contrary, it is a phone that I love and it has been growing on me.

For most people, this is yet another boring flagship phone that just happens to bear the Nokia name which adds an element of cool to this. It doesn't have any glamorous features and nor does it set itself apart as a fashionista. So what's the fuss about? Well, it isn't boring because it grows on you with its form and function much like a wise man in his mid 60s who has been there and done that. It doesn't hold much regard for ceremony of flamboyant things that are gimmicky because he knows there's not much value in them for most sensible people. It feels more like Patrick Stewart's ageing Professor X in Logan than the brash muscular and arguably dumb Zach Efron from the Neighbours or the flamboyant and whizz bang Tony Stark/Iron Man played by the oh so charming Robert Downey Jr.

Yep, it doesn't have the cool of the Galaxy S8's bezel-less display. It doesn't have an ultra slim frame and doesn't pretend to be pseudo intellectual and be a know it all like Apple's iPhone 7 by forgoing a 3.5mm jack. It focuses on the basics, and it never oversells, which is why it grows on you. You aren't promised the moon, instead, you're told to keep your expectations low and the more you use the damn thing, the more pleasantly surprised you are.

The Nokia 8 is a classic example of a wise old man. Yeah, Charles Xavier, the father figure from the X-Men comics and in many ways that's what the Nokia brand is to the smartphone industry. True, HMD Global is a new Finnish startup, but one must not forget it is a company which comprises of a bunch of old Nokia DNA that was acquired by Microsoft and later transferred to HMD. So, yes, they know how to make phones, they have a lot of Nokia IP to fall back on and it shows in the product.

The design, for instance, is sleek and understated, but it isn't eye popping like the Galaxy S8 and the new Essential smartphone that Andy Rubin ( the creator of Android) has come out with. It has nicely bevelled sides which make this phone a delight to use on a daily basis as the edges don't poke into your palms. It is also 7.3mm thick on average which is sufficient in terms of sleekness and yet doesn't compromise on usability which is an often missed trait in a phone.

The Essential phone has straight lines which probably means that its sides will dig in the palm of the users and the Galaxy S8 with curved edges will probably be a very fragile phone.

On the back, for the finish on some models, HMD Global is using a glossy finish which is something Apple has championed. It works very well on the polished copper and polished blue models. They have also tried to be unique by not offering a traditional black or white colour option which will set this phone apart.

One of the less talked about things is the antenna design on the product. It has been seamlessly fused in the top spine and hidden in plain sight. HMD Global claims that its antenna design is one of the best around and in my use, I did find the call quality on the phone to be quite impressive. The thing is antennae aren't sexy to talk about but they are essential for the call quality and battery life of the phone. The positioning of the antenna also has ensured that it doesn't get covered by the palm of the user which can be disastrous for the signal and in turn torpedo the battery life of the phone.

The display too is interesting. While it is a quad HD LCD panel, it is one of the nicest LCDs you will ever see on a phone. That's not because it has these lush colours, but because it has 700 nits of brightness which makes it highly usable even under the scorching Delhi sun. HMD Global even chose an interesting screen size in 5.3-inches which lends the phone an element of compactness without sacrificing the usefulness of a large screen. This way they are able to provide a VR ready device, something that isn't too uncomfortable or ungainly to hold, and something that works well without sucking up a lot of battery life. It could be said though, that they could've gone a step up and added an AMOLED screen, but perhaps next time.

On the camera front, HMD Global did go down the dual camera path with Carl Zeiss branding in tow, but it is a different approach.They have gone the Huawei way by using an RGB and Monochrome sensor combination which over indexes on picture quality than much talked about features like a portrait mode with a bokeh effect. Yes, it does a bokeh effect but HMD Global doesn't talk much about it even though it works decently even with early software.

The image quality isn't only good on this phone but it even bakes in functionality inside the camera app to live stream to platforms like Facebook and YouTube - a new use case people have taken to in the last few years. There's also a unique new dual sight mode which engages the selfie camera and the rear cameras at the same time to create what the HMD Global folks are hoping is a " Bothie" effect. This can be used for stills videos and live videos streamed directly from the camera app.

HMD Global has even focused a lot on the audio recording capabilities of the phone which is often compromised on most phones like the OnePlus 5. HMD Global's hard work seemingly has paid dividends. It has Nokia's OZO audio recording technology baked in that works in concert with high dynamic microphones which are embedded in the phone. This is spatial audio which is hard coded on the files the phone records which are also transferred to third party platforms like Facebook and YouTube. This doesn't have happened with Dolby surround audio which is available on some phones in the market.

Finally, the core hardware and software experience are also indicative of this understated wise old man philosophy that HMD Global has adopted. It has the latest Qualcomm processor which is found on phones like the Essential and the OnePlus 5, but here we are just talking about 4GB RAM, not an insane or rather useless 8GB RAM. Why? Because of Android apps mostly only leverage 4GB RAM, and the Nokia 8 will be sold in a global market not only in China where there is no Google Play store which kind of creates a lawless app economy with apps behaving in erratic ways. At least, this is what HMD Global's Juho Sarvikas believed.

He further believed there was little benefit in more RAM and from a technical point of view, it must be noted that more RAM also consumes more battery. With a 3,090mAH battery, this phone has managed around 30 hours of battery life over three days which is commendable, further showcasing that HMD Global has made some intelligent product decisions.

The software is pure stock Android 7.1 Nougat. Fast, fluid and simple. It also comes with latest Google security patch, something which again isn't sexy but oh so important. Some of the other HMD Global phones like the Nokia 6 actually got this update even before Google's own Pixel smartphone which is some commitment. HMD Global also says that the Nokia 8 will be one of the first phones to get Android O as it is at a very advanced stage of the development of its Android O build which is another fantastic thing.

All in all, this makes the Nokia 8 an understated and a classy contender. The Nokia badge doesn't only add credibility but also nostalgia and a layer of swagger one would only expect from someone like Professor X, albeit aged, bruised and battered Charles Xavier, but oh so powerful and brilliant. In a way, it is the embodiment of Patrick Stewart and his classy and understated persona something that can be witnessed in his ice bucket challenge. Maybe HMD Global should give him one of these phones - food for thought for their marketing dudes. Anyhoo, I'll be testing this phone more over the next couple of days and will have a full review soon.

Disclaimer: HMD Global paid for the writer's travel and stay in London for the launch of the Nokia 8.