Review: Nokia N8

The N8 is Nokia’s current leading phone. Traditionally Nokia has had some incredibly well featured handsets – the N95 being a prime example. So while candybar or feature phone...

Nokia N8Nokia N8 back

The N8 is Nokia’s current leading phone. Traditionally Nokia has had some incredibly well featured handsets – the N95 being a prime example. So while candybar or feature phone users may look at the N8 adoringly, its real test is how it competes against other leading smart phones from other manufacturers. So how does it stack up ?

Hardware
The camera in the N8 is a 12 Megapixels and actually takes pretty great photos, for a mobile phone camera. Credit a large part of this to the glass, Carl Zeiss lens and LED flash. Only problem is that the camera internals couldn’t fit into the main body of the phone and results in a significant bulge strapped to its back. Not a massive problem, just would have been sleeker if they had been able to squeeze it into the main body. The camera also records 720p video, but you’ll need to bring your steady hands for a decent result. There’s also a front-facing camera, but just like FaceTime, there’s no way of knowing if the person on the other end has a compatible phone.

The N8 hits a lot of the standard smart phone features we expect today, capacitive touch screen, accelerometer, compass, GPS, proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. A not so common feature is the HDMI out port to playback your pictures and video on your TV. The phone features 16GB of storage built in with an micro-SD expansion slot for more room if you need. To be used for video this micro-SD card will need to be class 4 this is due to the data rate of HD video. When installing apps, you get a choice between local or micro-SD storage.

There has been some strange decisions made on the design, like the fact that the mini-USB port is left open, while the mini-HDMI has a cover over it. Also the screen lock switch is a pull down-design on the side, while the power button could have been used for this purpose. Instead, tapping the power button allows you to switch profiles, you remember profiles don’t you ? General, Silent, Meeting, Outdoor, Page, Offline – the only of which was useful is silent.

Screen
The 3.5” AMOLED display runs a relatively low 640×360 resolution. Compare that to the 960×640 resolution of the iPhone’s display at the same 3.5 inches and you can see its somewhat lacking. In terms of responsiveness, it also lags behind other competitors with swipes suffering from a noticeable lag. This is particularly evident when using the web browser.

Software
There’s no gentle way to say it, the worst part of this phone is the OS – Symbian 3. The OS uses 3 home screens of widgets to show you music, mail, messages, feeds and links to online services. Swiping between these results in a noticeable lag. Launching applications is slow, in some instances up to 5 seconds before the phone reacts., by that time you’ve probably tried pressing a second time. Some of the blame should probably go to an underpowered processor – a 680Mhz ARM.

Applications are offloaded to a separate Menu screen accessible by pressing the home button.

While the N8 supports Social Networks, your forced to sign up for a Nokia account before you can configure them. I’ve experienced issues with both Facebook and Twitter saving the password. Let me reassure you, entering strong passwords on the N8 is about as pleasurable as pulling teeth.

The on-screen keyboard uses T-9.. come on guys.. T9.. seriously ? I thought we’d all moved on from that, apparently not. Turning the phone sideways does get you a qwerty keyboard, but you loose all context to input fields.

Update
Some commenters have suggested downloading a 3rd party keyboard like Swipe, but given most users won’t do this, my comments regarding the default T9 keyboard stand.

One saving grace is that the home screen does actually rotate to landscape, something not possibly on the iPhone or WP7.

Nokia Ovi desktop software 2

Desktop Software
The Nokia Ovi Suite on the desktop actually feels like it was made by a different company. Using this software is actually a far better experience than using the phone itself.

Surprisingly the Nokia N8 supports Windows 7 Device Stage, something their own Windows Phone 7 devices done.

Device Stage

Ovi Store / Apps
Everybody has an app store these days, Nokia isn’t left out with their Ovi Store. There is actually quite an extensive range of applications available in the Ovi store. Undoubtedly Nokia’s massive market share is incentive enough for application developers to build apps for it. Given the user experience of Symbian 3, if this was a new entrant into the mobile market, I suspect developers would invest time elsewhere.

As I mentioned above, Applications are kind of buried on the phone, taking at least 3 clicks to launch an app.

Update
It is indeed possible to add applications to the front page. Ideally there would be an option to add any newly download apps to be added to one of the home screens.

Included in the Ovi Store are top level apps like WordPress, IM+, Swipe, Fring, Angry Birds and many more.

Overview
Overall this phone feels like a phone from 5 years ago, largely due to bad UI and that damn T9 keyboard for 2002. While it may be an upgrade for a Nokia feature phone user, for anyone looking for a smart phone, you have 3 very viable alternatives. iOS, Android, WP7 are all better than Symbian 3 and by some.

My advice to Nokia is to ditch Symbian and take on Android as your smart phone Operating System. Stick to and focus on building great hardware.

My advice to consumers thinking of buying the N8 is to consider all other options first, even if you’ve only ever owned a Nokia before. It’s a fantastically competitive market in smart phones right now, which ultimately benefits consumers with choice.

More @ Nokia Australia

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.