Nokia N8 smartphone review

Before I get on with this review of Nokia’s next ‘flagship’ phone, let me make it plainly clear that I have always been a Nokia fan- so much so that my first three phones were Nokia’s and till recently, I was using a Nokia phone. Now that I have managed to get that out of the system, let me get down to talking about this new phone.

Born to be riled about the ‘flagship’ chronicles


What really riles me about Nokia these days is the fact that they call/market/portray every new phone they launch as a ‘flagship’ phone. But the past experience is not very exciting. Remember the Nokia N95 8GB? Nokia called it their flagship phone, it was selling well, and then they inexplicably chopped it off their line-up. Then came the N96, which was called the next flagship phone, and which did not do well at all. Then arrived the N97 with the same chants of it being the next flagship phone. It was an extremely horrible touchscreen phone with a very uncomfortable keypad. It dies, understandably. Then the little brother arrived in the form of the N97 Mini Which was a little smaller and a little better than the N97, but didn’t cause any excitememt whatsoever in the market. Nokia, at this stage, were a bit flustered and apparently losing patience with Symbian. Thus, their next flagship phone was supposedly the N900- the Maemo OS based smartphone with a slide out QWERTY and a good touchscreen. But due to that fact that Maemo was still a bit unrefined and completely bereft of any apps, when compared to Android, iPhone and even Symbian in general, the N900 was not very popular, again.
Now it is the turn of the Nokia N8 to burden the responsibility of being Nokia’s next flagship phone, and I feel sorry for the poor phone! But Nokia has a lot riding on the Symbian^3 smartphone, in the face of some very serious competition from the Android phones as well as the iPhone.
I am not at all grumpy while reviewing this new Nokia phone, but just giving a bit of a background on the history of how Nokia has ruined phones by making them ‘flagship’! However, enough of a history lesson and let us move on to the present, and hopefully the future.
What I have with me is a Nokia N8 with the PR1.0 version of the software. This basically means that the software is one version prior to being the final polished version which will arrive with the phones when they hit the markets sometime in October 2010. Essentially, the hardware will remain the same as this test unit, with possibly minor changes in the software, if at all. Or any updates may arrive with the next software update.
Update: Nokia did send me a “final version” software loaded N8 for another round of tests- which have been factored in to this review.

Packaging and Contents

The N8 came with a smart looking charger, an HDMI adapter, a USB adapter, a decent headset and a lot of booklets.

 
First Impression


Take the N8 out of the box and you will be immediately impressed by the build quality. The anodized aluminum bosy comes with a nice finish, and the phone I had dark grey one, although the phone is available in multiple colors. The 3.5 inch screen is accompanied by one single button on the front panel- the Menu one. Well, there is a front facing video call camera, but that is safely hidden away. One side panel has the volume control, the camera and the screen lock buttons, while the other side has the sim-slot as well as the slot for the memory card, The MicroUSB port is also on this side.
The rear panel has a monster 12 MP camera, and just to fit the camera in, Nokia had to raise the area around the camera just a little bit. What this does is open the camera to a risk of scratches when you place it on the table or even keep it in the pocket with other stuff like keys and pens.
Also, Nokia has tried to give the phone a powerfully rugged feel by making two screws visible on either side panel. It may look good to some, but seems like an unfinished product to me.

Performance


The ARM11 processor powering the N8 clocks at 680MHz, and I believe that is more than sufficient if the loaded operating system is efficient. The OS this phone comes loaded with is the Symbian^3, which makes this the first phone in the world to do so.
The 3.5 inch capacitive touchscreen is a delight to use, and I have to admit, I did not expect it to be this good. Plus, the fact that it is AMOLED also lends a really high quality feel to it. Nokia have really come a long way since the pathetic touchscreen efforts of the N97 and the 5800 XpressMusic. It responds instantly, pinch and zoom works well and the screen is a delight to watch multimedia content on. This touchscreen is the Gorilla Glass one- which does not get scratched.

Good thing, since most phone buyers don’t bother buying a screen protector and the screen inevitably gets badly scratched.
The 12MP camera is a monster, so much so that Nokia had to give it an elevated platform on the rear panel to allow it to fit in the device body! Images are great, and comparable with any compact camera- as far as a brightly lit environment is concerned. In the dark, this one too becomes a bit tempramental, just like most phone cameras. HD video recording is smooth. Basically, the camera is the best thing this phone has, by a long way.
The 680MHz processor, in the opinion of a lot of people, is a tad underpowered for a smartphone. More so because most smartphones thse days come powered with a 1GHz processor. However, if the N8 is able to play 720p videos successfully, then the processor is more than adequate. And yes, the N8 handled HD videos perfectly- no stutter, phone freeze or the general jerkiness.
Another testament to the fact that the processor is more than adequately powerful is that a gaming session playing the NFS Shift (downloaded, for Free, from the OVI Store) unvelied a smooth gaming experience and absolutely no jerkiness.
16GB built-in memory and the ability to expand to 32GB more via the external memory slot is a feature worth it for people who click and store a lifetime of memories in the photo gallery and keep the entire soundtrack of their lives in the Music folder!
The HDMI out is a thoughtful feature. I connected this to my Samsung LCD television and watched a couple of HD videos off the phone, and it was perfect quality. Even more so that if someone just walks into the room and does know that the video is being played off the phone, he/she will certainly imagine it’s some device like the WD TV media player or a BluRay player. Apart from this, when the phone is conencted to a television, you can see on the TV everything you can see on the phone screen. viewing a picture album with friends and family will be a breeze now, just be careful not to let your personal messages show up on the screen! Full marks to Nokia for this.
The N8 also comes with USB input, which allows you to access, read and copy contents from a USB drive (Pen drives or powered external hard drives). Quite useful for copying data to the phone without having to use the Ovi Suite all the time.
Coming back to the interface, the on screen keyboard is extremely comfortable to use. The portrait mode shows the standard alphanumeric keyboard while the landscape mode shows up the full QWERTY keypad. Both are very comfortable to use, and the amazing screen quality really makes typing out SMSes fun.
The N8 has 3 home screens which you can customize according to your need, but the widgets are bound down by size limitations. Unlike the Android OS, where widget sizes are free and not bound down by any pre-set bureautcratic order.
The battery life of the phone is a tad better than most Android smartphones. This one will last you a couple of days on one charge. Symbian 3 handles applications better than Android, and allows you to completely close them via the new visual task manager (can be accessed by long pressing the Menu button), something Android does not do very well.
However, the phone is not without it’s share of flaws. And the most glaring flaw here is the Symbian 3 operating system. Staright out of the box, you will be greeted by a software interface similar to the earlier Symbian phones you have been used to till now. And that is not a good thing, particularly since Android and Apple are trying to reduce the steps a user needs to execute to reach where he wants to- and the Symbian’s previous version was not very good in terms of simplicity. The Symbian 3 menu is still in the same format as the previous edition symbian phone- lots of sub-menus. It is in-explicable why the developers would spend so much time developing a new OS to replace a dated one, and yet decide that the new one should look like the old one!
Also, the “final release” OS was so buggy that I actually got three people around me to use and confirm if the mess of the Symbian 3 was indeed real or was I just dreaming. Apparently, I was not dreaming, as confirmed by all of them. Alas, not good news for Nokia, then? Some examples of the problems we faced- no images (clicked using the camera) show up in the Photos folder. No videos show up in the Videos folder. Click the menu button, go to Applications, go to the Office folder and then click on File Manager. Here, search for the Photos or Videos using the File Manager folder menu. Quite a while later, you manage to find the photo you just clicked. Now you want to view it, right? Click on the photo. And then, the phone hangs. Why? Because I think that Symbian 3 is useless. After some teeth gnashing and use of some un-printable language, it suddenly dawns upon you to take out the battery and restart the phone (admit it people, this is what we have always done!). But alas, not possible. Nokia has put two screws to lock the battery in (Inspired by Apple, in the wrong way, it seems). Now, the only way to do the restart is to press the power button for about 10 seconds. And hope for the best. This is how the phone restart mechanism works in the N8, and I am sure you will need to adopt this method very often!
The second really annoying drawback of the complete mess Symbian 3 has made of the entire social networking scene. The N8 comes with one app which allows access to both Facebook and Twitter which is decent enough to use, but the accompanying widget is a pain to use. The widget shows up one update at a time, and if your FB and Twitter timeline is very active, it’ll be a pain to scroll back up to the latest updates after you have read all the updates. Nokia supporters tell me to download third party apps and use them. But why? Wasn’t Nokia’s N8 supposed to be their best phone ever? And it can’t even deal with something as simple as social networking properly?
The N8 is apparently so advanced (arrogant and pretentious is what I call it) that it does not sync via the PC Suite. It needs the Ovi suite to cajole it to digest as well as spit out data. Despite having PC Suite on my laptop, I was forced to install the Ovi Suite. Tried syncing the contacts to the N8. The process would go on for a while, and then would just throw up some error saying the Contacts could not be synced. I had to keep retrying multiple times for it to finally relent and sync properly. This is something which cannot be blamed on anything else but the phone, since I tried it on different laptops.
Something which really drive me up the wall is the fact that when you click on the Ovi Store icon for the first time, it asks you to download the entire application. Not only is this a waste of time, but also costs a lot, if you don’t have an unlimited data usage plan or are not using Wi-Fi at that time. Why can’t Nokia just ship their phones with the app pre-installed?

 
Conclusion


For a price of Rs 26k, the N8 is a phone which has it’s positives, but does have some glaring negatives too. It will essentially retail in the market for about Rs 25k (am getting reports that some dealers are offering it for Rs 24k already), but for this price, and a bit more, you get much better phones. If Android catches your fancy, then there is the HTC Legend (Rs 24k), HTC Desire (Rs 25k), Motorola Milestone (Rs 25k). If you can spend a bit more than the Rs 26k you almost spent your money to get the N8, you get the Samsung Galaxy S (Android- Rs 28k) and the Apple iPhone 3GS 8GB (Rs 28k).
The N8 has a monster of a camera, no doubt, as well as a solid and expensive feel to it. But it has been completely let down by the Symbian 3 OS, which is slow, hangs and is buggy- some problems which Android phones and the Apple iPhones don’t face a lot of.

Price: Rs 26259

Specs:
Quad-Band GSM3G Capable680MHz ARM11 processor

Symbian 3 mobile operating system

3.5 inch AMOLED type capacitive touchscreen

Gorilla glass touchscreen for scratch resistance

16GB built-in memory; expandable to 48GB

12MP camera with 720p video recording

HDMI out for TV connectivity

USB input for file transfer

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

3.5mm audio out for headphones

1200mAh battery

Pros:
– Solid build quality with the brushed aluminum finish- Excellent touchscreen- Great camera for a phone- Smooth 720p video playback

Cons:
– Symbian 3 is not good enough- Social networking fans may want to stay away- App variety on Ovi store still not as good as Android Market or Apple App Store- N8 finds a lot of better equipped rivals in this price range

 

(Due to certain reasons, beyond my control, this review may not be published in it’s entirety on a website not a million miles from here!!)

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About Vishal Mathur

Geek by day, heavy sleeper by night!

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