HMD Nokia 8 and ‘bothie’ take aim at Apple & Samsung, Essential finally ships

Nokia, or at least its brand, is hoping to make a return to the battle to define the flagship smartphone, by way of HMD’s new Nokia 8 – a smartphone seemingly built around the ability to take ‘bothies’ (to share both your view and the look on your face). With such novelties, the Nokia licensee is hoping to steal market share ahead of Apple and Samsung’s launches later this year. Also this week, another new contender, the Essential Phone from Android creator Andy Rubin, has finally begun shipping.

The hardware and software specs are not leading edge, except when it comes to the cameras. For the Nokia 8, a polished aluminum body encases a 5.3-inch 1440p (2K) LCD (not OLED) screen, and the operating system is Android 7.1.1 OS (Nougat, not the new Android O). The handset is powered by a Qualcomm 835 system-on-chip, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage, with MicroSD support for an additional 256GB of expanded storage. Notably, it retains the headphone jack.

Its differentiation is heavily focused on the camera. It features two 13-megapixel cameras provided by longtime Nokia optics partner Carl Zeiss. There is a dual-lens camera on the back of the phone and a wide-angle single lens on the front, and ‘spatial audio’ tech that was developed for Nokia’s Ozo 360-degree camera system. That detail shows how the Finnish firm has not just licensed its famous brand to HMD (a start-up led by former Nokia employees and partly funded by manufacturer Foxconn), but is also providing key technology for the project.

As for wireless links, the Nokia 8 houses 802.11ac MIMO WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS/GLONASS/BDS for satellite connections, and NFC. It supports LTE Cat 9, providing up to 450Mbps downloads, with 50Mbps up. For users who need dual-SIM options, the device will support that configuration, at the expense of the MicroSD card. USB Type C (3.1) provides the physical I/O link. Holding a non-removable 3090 mAh battery, the Nokia 8 is rated IP54 – so only splash-proof.

Nothing here screams ‘bleeding edge’, but it is certainly a competent handset. Particularly notable are its substantial bezels and buttons, which most of the other flagships have tried to iron out and minimize, in their efforts to become more svelte.

The early promotional material really focuses on the live streaming and ‘bothie’ feature, which uses the dual cameras to create a merged photo that captures the front view and the selfie view side-by-side (so people can see what you are looking at, while looking at you looking at them, when the image is shared). HMD and Nokia argue that being able to see the capturer’s own emotion inside the story is a big value add.

There are already apps that make use of simultaneous cameras, with Samsung and LG supporting them in their native apps, but the selling point of the Nokia 8 is the ease of use and the quality of those Carl Zeiss cameras.

Bothie takers seem like a fairly niche user base, but one that could grow quickly should the habit become popular among ‘influencers’. Of those influencers, it isn’t clear whether they would be promoting the action of live-streaming video in general, or the Nokia 8’s dual-view feature in particular. The growth of live-streamed video and the sales of the Nokia 8 are far from inextricable, and so it would perhaps have been wiser to focus on the phone’s raw specs to get a foot in the door – as marketers know that bigger numbers help sell things.

Of course, Nokia isn’t building the phone. HMD has licensed the brand, and will be pushing out the flagship in the hope of capitalizing on Samsung’s misfortune in the Android market, and cannibalizing iPhone users that might be uninspired by recent designs.

The Nokia 8 is the first premium flagship phone from HMD, following the 3, 5, and 6 models – and the nostalgia cash-in that was the 3310 old-style candybar, launched back at Mobile World Congress in February. The Nokia 8 is being sold in Europe for €599, launching in September, but won’t be available in the US. HMD acting CEO Florian Seiche said that “the US requires a separate strategy, even a separate portfolio and tech investment, so we are not in a rush today around that because we are seeing such strong demand across the globe”.

By comparison, Apple is selling the base model iPhone 7 for $650, with the iPhone 7 Plus beginning at $769, scaling out to $850 and $969 for the 256GB models. Considering that HMD would be looking to compete head-on, the Nokia 8 looks a bit overpriced. In Germany, the iPhone prices are €759 to €979 for the iPhone 7, and €899 to €1,119 for the iPhone 7 Plus.

The Nokia 8 is also not being launched in China yet, though the Nokia 6 has already been launched there, through JD.Com, and Seiche said that demand for the handset was beyond expectations. The 6 is also set to launch in India, and apparently has over 1m pre-registrations through Amazon.

So it sounds as though China, and possibly the US, the world’s largest handset markets, are going to be receiving customized marketing strategies for tailored devices.

As for the Essential Phone, which has suffered some rather pronounced delays to its scheduled June launch, is now available for purchase – with the first units expected to be shipped this week. The upfront cost in the US is $699, but Sprint (the exclusive carrier, although the ephone will work on other networks) is offering a pretty aggressive deal for 18-monthly payments of $14.58 – meaning that it would cost a buyer just $260, if they opted for Sprint.

In terms of its specs, the Essential is pretty similar to the Nokia 8. It uses the same Snapdragon 835, has the same 4GB of RAM, but lacks the expandable storage and instead opts for 128GB of flash. It also has a dual-lens rear camera, but lacks the headphone jack, and is running Android 7.1.1.