The long-awaited and frequently delayed Nokia N8 is finally here. Has it been worth the wait? Is this the comeback kid Nokia has been promising, or the shape of phones to come from the Finnish giant? We took the first Symbian^3 smartphone to town to see what it has to offer.
What we like
The Nokia N8 is one of the most solid-feeling phones we’ve seen. Its main body is housed in a carved aluminium block which exudes quality and craftsmanship. The curved edges of the side of the N8 make it easy to grip and hold, and the volume controls and the locking mechanism are positioned so that they can be easily activated when holding the phone in your left hand.
A 12-megapixel camera with a xenon flash takes pride of place on the back of the Nokia N8. As you’d expect, picture quality on the highest setting is nothing short of amazing. The xenon flash performed admirably in dark places, lighting up gloomy pub beer gardens at night with aplomb. You can change the resolution of pictures down to smaller sizes (like 3-megapixels) if you’re just taking fun snaps for Facebook and there’s a macro shot mode allowing you to take super-detailed close ups.
Not only does the Nokia N8’s camera come with some serious megapixel firepower, it also comes with a huge range of settings and features. You get standard effects like sepia and black and white and there’s a ‘vivid’ colour mode, which saturates the bright colours in an area, creating a high dynamic range style effect. There’s a huge range of photo editing tools to choose from including the really useful crop, rotate and resize tools and fun effects like posterise, solarise and dither.
The Nokia N8’s 3.5-inch OLED touchscreen is bright and responds easily to the touch. You can easily pinch to zoom in on pictures and web pages and scroll through the three homescreens either with a flick of the finger or by using the three dots button at the bottom of the screen which allows you to skip through each homescreen easily.
Widgets and shortcuts to apps and phone functions can be loaded on to the Nokia N8’s three homescreens. We really appreciate the degree of customisation that’s been given to users here. Little things like being able to change the background image to creating your own network of shortcuts is half the fun of having a smartphone - you get to design an interface that is best suited to what you want the phone to do.
Kudos has to be given to Nokia for not letting the music side of things down on the N8. The audio quality is really very good. It’s easy to move music to the N8 from your PC and creating playlists is a doddle. The supplied headphones come with a remote control unit and are the inner-ear type with interchangable gel earbuds. This ensures comfort and also helps to cut down on leakage. There’s a number of presets for sound on the N8 like Jazz, Bass Boost, Classical and the like. You can further enhance your listening experience with the stereo widening and loudness effects for added oomph. Combine all this with the 16GB on onboard memory and the microSD slot and you’ve got yourself a pretty decent standalone music player.
Thanks to the front-facing camera you can easily make video calls. In all honesty we’re not at all that fussed about video calls here at Recombu but for those of you that want to make them it’s worth noting that the Nokia N8 supports video calling over 3G as well as Wi-Fi - something which the iPhone 4 doesn’t.
Last but not least please bear with us as we wax lyrical about the HDMI-out capabilities of the Nokia N8. Much has been made of the fact that you can watch your high definition videos and pictures on an HD Ready TV screen. While you can indeed do this on the Nokia N8 what’s more awesome is the fact that you can play games - including Angry Birds Lite and Need For Speed Shift - on a big screen. They upscale wonderfully and it’s a real joy playing mobile games on the big screen. We spent a good part of our lunch hour getting three stars on each of the six levels on the Angry Birds demo.
Battery life is also something worth shouting about; we got a solid day’s worth of taking pictures, playing games on the TV and making calls on the Nokia N8 and only used up about half of the battery. On other smartphones with big touchscreens and battery-hungry processors we’re used to having to keep one eye on the meter whenever we do anything.
What we don’t like
Our single main beef with the Nokia N8 is that it’s not easy to get to grips with. The first few minutes of using the N8 felt like we were trying to solve a Rubik’s cube; and all we were trying to do was create a shortcut to the camera. You often get the feeling that Nokia has opted for three left turns when a single right one would have done. Unfortunately you get this feeling a lot when using the N8.
When you type out a text message and click the green tick for done, there’s no immediate option to send the message. When you’ve just taken a picture or shot a video there’s no immediate shortcut to the gallery to look at all your other pictures and videos. The Nokia N8 is not unusable by any means, but we think that a first time user would struggle here. It’s not a great first start for Symbian^3 as a world-beating smartphone platform.
We really liked the music player on the whole, but it came with a couple of snags; one minor and one major. While you get a choice of presets in the equalizer there’s no option to edit them or create your own. You could do this on Nokia phones as far back as the N96 so it’s surprising not to see this feature here.
Also, more unforgivably, we noticed that the loudness and stereo effects are momentarily disabled whenever you pause a track. So you could be blissed out listening to Akercocke, Tool or Garth Brooks in glorious floaty surround stereo, hit pause and you get about a seconds’ worth of music in inglorious non-stereo.
It’s like being stood outside a room with music playing loudly inside and somebody suddenly opens the door a fraction; your ears become attuned to a particular sound and then for a split second the sound shifts dramatically. We hope that this particular glitch gets ironed out in a future firmware update because it seriously ruins the music listening experience.
We weren't impressed with the default web browser. It supports pinch to zoom but it doesn’t resize text or images particularly well or even quickly. We found that when you zoomed in on a text-heavy page, sometimes hyperlinks in would appear bunched up next to the normal unlinked text, making things hard to read. Opera Mobile is also included but this doesn’t perform much better and doesn’t support pinch to zoom. Using either browser we found page load times to be slow, even over a Wi-Fi connection, so we really couldn’t recommend the Nokia N8 if you wanted a phone to surf the web on.
The Nokia N8 is a seriously powerful smartphone with some great features such as the 12-megapixel camera and the HDMI-out capabilities. However we feel there’s much room for improvement on the user interface side of things and the web browser could do with a serious overhaul. If navigating a multitude of menus isn’t a major headache for you then there’s a lot to like about the Nokia N8.