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Phone is a mobile photographer's wet dream, but poor decisions abound with this one

Leave it to Finnish phonemaker Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) to offer up one of the most consecutively exciting and frustrating smartphone announcements in the last couple months.  The company today showed off an amazing 41 MP smartphone, but then smashed the public's dreams, revealing that it would carry a variety of the soon-to-be-defunct Symbian OS and would only launch in Europe (for now).

I. Redefining the Smartphone as a Camera

The camera was among the first features to define what we today know as a "smartphone".  Before apps and app markets took off, before smartphones became the next generation of MP3 players, there were camera phones.

In the smartphone era, some phones -- such as Apple, Inc.'s (AAPLiPhone 4S -- offer pretty good images.  But most of these phones pack small 5 or 8 megapixel sensors.  Some -- like Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) have promised 16 MP (or greater) sensors, but such wonders have thus far not been available to U.S. consumers (for example, the 16 MP Sony Ericsson S6006 saw release in early 2011 -- but only in Japan).

But Nokia has wowed the world with its "Pure" announcement.  Today at the 2012 Mobile World Congress it unveiled an unprecedented imaging vision -- a 41-megapixel smartphone, dubbed the Nokia PureView 808.

First, the bad news: the cutting edge smartphone doesn't run Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) latest and greatest Windows Phone 7.5 ("Mango"), it instead runs Nokia's soon-to-be-defunct Nokia Belle (formerly Symbian Belle) operating system.  It seems silly to pack an OS of the past in a phone of the future, but at least the Belle release takes a fair bucket of polish to the old homely Symbian, which long stood as the world's most-used smartphone operating system.

The new phone packs a decent overall spec and price-point (weak points highlighted in red, strengths in green):

Nokia Pure
(Click picture to view in full screen)

II. A Superb Sensor

To understand a bit better what the phone's resolution number means, consider the 41 MP to be a "raw" metric of sorts.  While you can take 34MP images when shooting 16:9 images (7728×4354), or 38MP at 4:3 (7152×5368), there's also an "oversampling" setting, which in essence pre-converts your photos down to a more digestible resolution, taking 7 pixels and merging them into a single improved pixel.  In that sense, the new camera can act as a 5 MP camera "on steroids" with two resolutions.

Here's a white paper [PDF] on the technology.

The CMOS image sensor itself is a relatively massive 10x7mm (0.3937x0.2756 inches). Unfortunately the aperture is a fixed f/2.4 -- one place where even the best smartphone camera optics lag digital cameras.

For the non-photography inclined, the f-setting stands for the aperture settings.  This essentially fixes you to a large depth of field, but limits your artistic expression.  (A pretty good crash course on aperture settings and depth of field can be found here.)

Here are some (scaled) sample images from the insane sensor:

Nokia PureView 808

Nokia PureView 808
(Click picture to view in full screen)

Engadget has a full gallery up online.  Or grab some sample images [zip; large] direct from Nokia.

Now, back to the last piece of bad news -- the phone is set to launch in Europe in May 2012, but no U.S. release date has been announced.  U.S. photography buffs may consider an import, but for the rest of us, we can only hope that Nokia trickles down this marvelous lens/flash package into a high-end U.S.-available Windows Phone.  If it does that, it may have an international hit on its hands.

Launch colors will be red, black, and white.

Sources: Nokia [press release], [blog], Engadget [Image Gallery

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Nokia Belle OS
By Infms on 2/27/2012 3:57:50 PM , Rating: 5
The decision to use the Nokia Belle OS isn't perplexing, it's because the Broadcom SoC's that Belle phones use can handle very high pixel count camera sensors whereas the Qualcomm SoC's currently used in WP7 phones can't.

RE: Nokia Belle OS
By haukionkannel on 2/27/2012 4:06:59 PM , Rating: 2
Yes! Good point indeed! I am guite sure that we may see this kind of windows phone when next mobile version of windows for the phones is released. (mobile win8?)
I has higher hardware specks than in mobile win7, so it would allow more umph to toys like this!

RE: Nokia Belle OS
By MrMilli on 2/27/2012 4:01:43 PM , Rating: 3
True and to add to that, this technology has been in developement for five years. So all the software was developed for Symbian.
Might I add that Belle on my N8 is just great. I don't see a reason to downgrade to the feature set of WP7.

RE: Nokia Belle OS
By Ushio01 on 2/27/2012 4:43:15 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Nokia Belle OS
By jvillaro on 2/28/2012 7:04:34 PM , Rating: 2
Also, they stated that they took 5 years to develop this technology, so they have been always working on and for Symbian. In order to get it the fastest to the public, they had to go with Belle, but are already working to put it in WP. It's logical to expect they put it in WP8 where Nokia is getting a lot more input that WP7/7.5

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