Nokia N8, the definitive review

11 Oct

It has been over a week since I have not touched my Motorola Milestone. After almost two years, it is for the first time that I have used a Symbian smartphone as my primary phone for this long a period. The last Symbian smartphone I had was the Nokia E90, which I loved to bits till the iPhone came along followed by Android smartphones. I tried using the N97 and the N97 mini but could not use either of the two for more than a few hours! Would I be able to survive the N8? Let’s find out…



Appearance



Let’s face it, the N8 is no mass murderer when it comes to killer looks. It looks smart, yet many find it short and stocky. Too many reviewers out there talk about how thick it is and like to compare it with the wafer-thin Galaxy S and the likes. Many of you might cry foul, but I don’t believe in quoting geometric dimensions of a phone’s chassis (though I’d admit, I’m forced to quote them at times). For me what matters the most is how comfortable the phone feels to hold. And for me, the N8 feels very comfortable. Yes, it is thicker than the Galaxy S, the iPhone and the XPERIA X10 but there is a reason for it – the Xenon flash. More on that later.



The aluminium casing with anodised paint on it is simply brilliant. It is virtually scratch proof and we have tested it by trying to scratch it with a key! The phone looks sturdy enough and should survive an occasional fall or two.



What I don’t like about the design is that every edge has something or the other on it. There is no plain/vacant surface on the phone. The top one has the mini HDMI port, the 3.5 mm audio port and the power button. The left edge has the microSD, SIM card and microUSB ports. On the right, there is the volume rocker, the screen lock and camera shutter. Hell, even the bottom edge has the Nokia thin pin charging port.



No matter how you hold the phone, you will be touching some button or the other. Nokia could have easily avoided some of these ports. Now since the phone can be charged using the microUSB port, I do not see any reason for the thin pin port. Even the screen unlock jogger could have been done away with. Instead, the menu key below the display could have been used to unlock the screen and the power button on the top to lock it. The designers could have taken a leaf out of Apple’s book and introduced an iPhone-like SIM tray. Overall, the N8’s design is a mixed bag. Some would love it while many would not be able to stand it.



User Interface



Nokia’s initial idea of having a touchscreen version of Symbian S60 was to simply put a touch layer on top of it and it expected users to use it like the non-touch version – tap an option to select it (akin to scrolling and reaching your desired menu item) and then tapping it again to open it (just like hitting the ok button). The result was devices like the N97 and the N97 mini. Another area where Nokia had faltered in the past was its reliance on resistive touchscreens.



I’m pleased to say that the N8 resolves most of those issues. The capacitive touchscreen is responsive, Symbian^3 now has a uniform one-touch only interface and online widgets actually work. Unlike the older touchscreen version of Symbian, this one does not freeze and things work at a quick pace. I was able to configure my Mail For Exchange account in under two minutes in my first attempt and had my contacts synced in about five minutes. For me, this is a personal record on Symbian.



However, Nokia might like to revisit the interface while inputting text. To do so, you first tap on the text box, which opens another window and the onscreen keypad. Enter the desired text and hit the green tick mark on the bottom left corner of the keypad. This will close that window and show the text on the original text box. Then click the send button. I’m sure there can be a simpler way.



Multimedia



One area where the N8 really shines and live up to its N-series branding is multimedia. This one is a multimedia monster. You name it, it is most likely to be present on the N8. Firstly, the 12.0 MP camera. It is simply one of the best that we have seen on a camphone. The other – the Samsung Pixon 12 and (the Pixon 12 runs Samsung’s proprietary OS) Sony Ericsson Satio – were also running on Symbian and had good cameras. But they were useless as phones.



Daylight, low light or no light, the N8’s camera performs like a pro. Mind you, the camera is set to click pictures at 9.0 MP resolution by default to ensure that the entire screen is used as a view finder (something to do with 16:9 aspect ratio, I hear). Like the Satio, the Xenon flash makes a big difference to photos clicked indoors or in low light conditions.



On the video recording front, the N8 can do 720p HD videos at 25 frames per second (fps). It would have been ideal at 30 fps. You can check out our sample video here.



I was expecting the N8 to be all about the camera on the multimedia front, that is until I found the Ovi Music Store. I had not used the Music Store on a phone before the N8 and my experience has left me impressed. The interface is simple – search for a song, find it, download it. I have so far downloaded over a 100 songs already and plan to download some more after penning this review. The best thing is you can download as many songs as you like for a year and keep them with you. The only downside is that these songs are DRM protected and are locked to your phone. Still, I believe Nokia has done a great job here.



The music player is pretty neat and you have the option of choosing an equaliser settings from a few pre-set ones or even create a custom setting. The onboard speakers are efficient if you are sitting in your room or are at a quiet place but are of no use in noisy environments, say when you are driving. For such situations, the N8 has an FM transmitter, which relays the music on a pre-defined frequency. You can set your car’s audio system to that frequency and enjoy the music playing on the phone from the car’s speakers.



Performance



After using the N97 mini, I was not really expecting much from the N8. However, the responsive touchscreen, the working widgets and its multimedia capabilities caught me off guard. The N8’s GPS got a fix in less than five seconds, again impressive.



The battery performance too is way ahead of most Android smartphones that have displays as big as the N8 (3.5-inches). A single charge lasted me for about 30 hours, which included about two hours of calls, another two hours of playing music, about four hours of downloading music, occasionally checking my Twitter and Facebook feeds and Wi-Fi turned on throughout this period. My Milestone usually gives me about 20 hours with Wi-Fi turned off!



However, all is not well with the N8. While the hardware is just about perfect, it is the operating system that really lets it down. The default Internet browser is pathetic and unusable. This is the state when Nokia wants to transform its N-series from multimedia smartphones to Internet services driven smartphones. The web browsing experience is so bad that I did not browse the Internet at all on the N8. Thankfully, the default Ovi social networking app covered my Twitter and Facebook needs efficiently.



Then comes the Ovi Store for applications. For some strange reason, Nokia has not pre-installed the Ovi Store client. Instead when you boot the N8 for the first time and hit the Ovi Store icon, it navigates to a web page and asks you to download it. What is the reason behind that is something I really want to know. Nokia should better have a good reasoning.



Once installed, you’d find only a handful of apps, nothing like what you expect to see when Nokia claims more than a couple of million app downloads a day. In fact, I do not see any new application on the Ovi Store that was not there when I first started using the N8. No new apps in about a week? This does not impress me, who uses both an Android smartphone and an iPhone. It would be interesting to see if Nokia ever reveals how many apps does an average user download every week.



I do not have an iota of doubt that the N8 is indeed the best smartphone to come from Nokia, ever. But it just does not have in it to take on the likes of iPhones and Androids of the world. No doubt, it outdoes them when it comes to multimedia, but the absence a decent browser and the lack of apps kills the smartphone part of the experience. Serious smartphone users might like to give it a pass but those looking for just a great multimedia phone without the ‘headache of apps and the Internet’ (not my words) would get their money’s worth considering it carries a price tag of approximately Rs 26,000.

12 Responses to “Nokia N8, the definitive review”

  1. Not Me October 11, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    “Nokia could have easily avoided some of these ports. Now since the phone can be charged using the microUSB port, I do not see any reason for the thin pin port.”

    You can charge the phone at the same time as having an external hard drive, printer, keyboard etc plugged into the usb port. It’s called ‘Usb on the Go’, you forgot to mention it in your review, among other features.

    • Rajat Agrawal October 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

      Yes, USB on the Go is a good feature, but it is not new. O2 had launched a Windows Mobile phone with a similar feature about 4 years ago. Obviously, it is not a must-have feature.

      Also, what are the odds of having something plugged in the micro USB port and running out of battery at the same time. In that case, phones in which the charging and the headset port are shared would be a pain to use.

      • Aki October 13, 2010 at 6:22 am #

        I would think the odds of that are pretty good when considering the N8 can be used as a multmedia player medium between USB drive and a tv screen at your home and one would think that pin charger would be a welcomed addition while watching e.g. a full movie.

        And besides that if you are running low on your battery you can use old Nokia chargers that are laying around on millions and millions of peoples homes around the world. Much more likely you’ll find a Nokia pin charger than micro USB connector, don’t you think?

  2. rohan` October 11, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    rajat thanks for the review. i had a query,,,,when will be lg launching the optimus one(p500) in india and what will be its price?

    • Rajat Agrawal October 11, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

      Rohan,

      We expect the Optimus One to launch sometime in late-October or November. Should be priced between Rs 10k-12k.

  3. JP October 11, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    The definitive review?

    You don’t really mention HDMI capabilities – the fact that the phone re-produces whole UI on the tv-screen and that you can hook it in HDTV out of the box. You don’t mention that it plays almost any video format out there including 720p .MKV?

    I might add that .MKV isn’t supported by Windows 7 and requires some tweaking to get it to work and even more tweaking is required if you want to have subtitles on Windows 7.

    And obviously charger comes in handy when you have hooked your N8 to HDTV and are watching videos from USB-stick and run out of juice.

    You don’t mention that the browser update is forthcoming and don’t even test the browsing experience with the free Opera browser that you can download from OVI.

    • Rajat Agrawal October 11, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

      Nokia does not bundle an HDMI cable in the sales pack, which is really a pity.

      Opera browser works almost the same on all operating systems where it is available. There is no option to set Opera as the default browser, so no matter what you do, links in mails and text messages will open on the default browser. We will test the updated browser when it comes.

      • JP October 12, 2010 at 12:16 am #

        “Nokia does not bundle an HDMI cable in the sales pack, which is really a pity.”

        Neither does Microsoft with Xbox 360 even though most people probably use it with HDMI cable. If you were to review a Xbox 360, would you just use the cables that come with it and settle for analog content and not mention the fact that you can use (and should use) it with HDMI?

        “There is no option to set Opera as the default browser, so no matter what you do, links in mails and text messages will open on the default browser. ”

        Yes, there is:

        ” To set Opera Mobile as the default browser go to Settings>Application settings>Default applications>Browsing internet and select Opera Mobile as the default browser.”
        from: http://nokiaexperts.com/nokia-n8-qa-answers-questions/

    • Rajat Agrawal October 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

      Yup, we found out that Opera can be set as the default browser. However, Opera for the N8 does not give the best browsing experience when compared to that on Android and iPhone. The browser crashes often, especially while multi-tasking and clicking on links is a hit-and-miss affair. Again, browsing the Internet on the N8 is an epic fail.

  4. Thakur October 13, 2010 at 6:22 am #

    Very informative

  5. ex-Nokia fan October 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Except for the camera, the Nokia N8 is an epic fail for a smartphone.

    http://n8fail.tumblr.com/

    Half a year plus of delay and this is totally unacceptable.

    Unless Nokia does something drastic, and fast, in 2011, it can kiss the smartphone market goodbye forever.

    Sure, Nokia will continue to dominate the mobile phone market – the dumbphones, the lower-mid range phones. You can sell millions of C1-00’s to developing countries… but you can forget about competing with the big boys in the high end of the market.

    Stephen Elop, your move.

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