Author(s): Ben Wood
Eight months into its journey to revive the Nokia mobile phone brand, the company that holds a licence for the iconic name, HMD Global, has announced its first flagship smartphone, the Nokia 8.
This is HMD Global's first foray into higher-tier Android smartphones, following its earlier mid-tier Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6. These devices were eclipsed by the reboot of the iconic Nokia 3310 feature phone (see A Blast from the Past), so the Nokia 8 will be hugely important in getting Nokia-branded smartphones back on the mobile phone map.
The Android smartphone market is a notoriously tough nut to crack, particularly the high end, which is dominated by Apple and Samsung. HMD Global will be hoping that the familiarity of the Nokia brand will help it stand out from rivals such as HTC, Huawei, LG and Sony, which are also trying to compete with Apple and Samsung.
The phone offers a few new tricks to help it stand out from the crowd. The first is what HMD Global calls "pure Android" — a vanilla version of Android like the one offered by Google on its own-brand devices such as the Pixel smartphone. The second is called Dual-Sight: simultaneous video recording and streaming from its front and rear 13-megapixel cameras. And the third major feature borrows technology from Nokia's 360-degree camera division, Ozo, to support spatial surround sound recording.
Live Dual-Sight videos can be shared directly to Facebook and YouTube from the camera app. Given the importance of social media capabilities on smartphones this is an interesting approach, although time will tell whether consumers will find it useful.
Despite an obvious focus on "creators", the most important thing for HMD Global will be getting the Nokia 8 to appeal to the broadest possible audience. It will be hoping the values of the erstwhile Nokia brand mean the device will be shortlisted by a wide spectrum of potential buyers.
With a retail price of €599, the Nokia 8 is firmly beyond the mid-range of the other Nokia smartphones. Given the device's specifications, notably its Snapdragon 835 processor, the company had little alternative but to opt for a relatively high price, although this may need to come down as the product becomes more readily available.
Indeed, HMD is sure to be watching the impact of the new iPhone, Samsung's Note 8 and Google's Pixel 2 as they launch in the coming weeks. It will need to be nimble in its positioning of the Nokia 8 to sustain sales against the onslaught of such formidable new models. Success also depends on the effectiveness of the marketing of the device and its features. This will be critical to raising awareness and interest among consumers, many of whom will very familiar with the Nokia brand.
The Nokia 8 moves HMD Global beyond its largely anodyne current mid-tier Android phones. The device has an important role as a "halo" product that could add a shine to its siblings. Whether features such as Dual-Sight and 360-degree audio recording will be enough to lure consumers away from Apple and Samsung remains to be seen. But HMD Global should be applauded for adding innovative elements to a nicely designed product as it seeks to carve out a position in this notoriously challenging market.