Rarely there has been so much buzz around the release of a Nokia phone. Yet the Nokia N8 had that fate. Currently Nokia is in a very tough position.
The Finnish phone giant recently saw new entrants like Apple and HTC reaching the same, or an even higher level in terms of usability and innovation. Time for a saviour; time for a device like the N8.
At first glance Nokia promises much-needed changes which the brand as well as the shareholders desire. The specifications are solid, excellent even! The design is modern, attractive and even a bit daring. The result is a phone that, without exaggeration, can be called beautiful. The operation system, that at first glance underwent fewer changes, was according to Nokia thoroughly addressed. Indeed so much, that we were only able to judge it after we worked with it. Even Nokia's 'marketing machine' contributed to the hype around the N8 so much that it is still noticeable these days. There has been an official press release sent with photographs of the first shipment of N8 phones. But, of course, the ultimate key question here is, is it all enough? Is the N8 a good device? Time to find out.
In any case, the Nokia N8 has difficulties to overcome. Because of the presence of a promising 12-megapixel camera it's obvious to compare the N8 with phones like the Sony Ericsson Satio and the Samsung Pixon12. However, both devices date from 2009. In telecom-world that means ‘out of date'. We aim higher and believe that the N8 should compete with the Apple iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S and the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10. How does the N8 relate to the usability of iOS and the excellent integration of Android; in other words, how does the N8 relate to everything that Symbian is not?
The delivered box is as we described earlier, typically Nokia. We recognize it from previous Nokia-phones: a simple relatively small box without any fuss, from nearly one piece of cardboard. So simple but it is thoroughly thought through. Since 2006 Nokia packages have been very compact and consist only of one type of material. Nokia says it saved no less than 60% of paper between 2006 and 2008! The cardboard that Nokia uses does exist out of 95% recycled material. And even the box itself is fully recyclable.
Besides the N8 itself is in the box a AC-15E travel charger, a HDMI-adapter-cable, a headset and two microUSB-data-cables. One female and one male. The first one is to use the USB On-The-Go function. This allows you to connect a USB-memory-stick directly to your device. The male variant connects your phone to a computer. Finally, we find a printed manual accompanied with a €25,- coupon for the OVI Music Store.
Of course it's not about the box for us, it's about the content: de N8 itself. In our case in the colour of dark gray. Besides this version there is also a Silver White, a Lime Green, Blue and Orange N8 available.
We can be brief about the looks, the N8 is truly a beautifully designed device! Nokia has clearly broken with previous designs. For example, the N8 is very thin and - in a more ergonomical way - the battery is (in contrast to previous devices) non-replaceable. Therefore in first glance it all looks a bit un-Nokia. It is true that Nokia used matt plastic, but it looks and feels like real aluminium. The N8 contains no creaking parts at all. Everything is very solid and built with an eye for detail. Next to an iPhone the N8 is much more exciting, detailed and better designed. Hopefully in Finland they realize that we'll only expect such beautiful products in future. From now on we're spoiled and would like to stay spoiled, thank you.
The N8 is designed as a ‘full touch' monoblock phone, so it lacks a keyboard. The touchscreen covers the entire front of N8. More about the touchscreen later on. There's a small edge around the touchscreen that makes it just more exciting. Furthermore on the front we find a control key that is constantly lighting. We saw this at previous Nokia devices as well, and unfortunately it's not possible to turn it of.
The right side has room for a physical camera button, a lock button and two volume buttons. De lock button works with a spring mechanism and points to the top standard. On the left side we find an unprotected microUSB connection and two valves with under them the memory and SIM-card hidden. You can't open the SIM-card valve without opening the memorycard valve first. It seems logical for us, cause you won't be mistaken. Moreover, on both sides we notice a deviating silver screw. Which means that it's possible to open the N8 yourself, with the right tools of course. It's presence in our opinion is also aesthetically justifiable cause of the industrial look the screws creates. In addition, we encourage the fact that all controls are on the right side, while the left side is reserved for all connections.
The backside is perhaps the most boring of all sides. What strikes is the camera section. The 12 megapixel camera needs lots of space and protrudes a bit. However, in your pants pocket you'll hardly notice. It even provides additional support for your finger when you hold the N8. And if you lay the phone on a desk it lays very stable. Plus, the speaker is also attached to the protruding element.
The most striking about the N8 are the top and bottom of the phone. They are both tapered and have a flat surface. On the bottom are several legal texts and there is a connection for the charger. The topside has more functions: there is a 3.5 mm audio jack connection, an on / off-button and after a little valve we find a miniHDMI-connection. For people with an HDTV a welcome feature of which more later on. Unfortunately the little valve for it is not as solid as we expected. It's hard to put it ‘back in position'.
As said there's no possibility to replace or take out the battery, though, with the right tools you can. But, if for some reason the battery needs replacement, it's the best to do it through a Nokia Care Point in your area.
The battery of the N8 is not very large in terms of smartphone-batteries: 1200 mAh. But as befits a smartphone a ‘normal' N8 requires a daily charging session. However, in our case there was something special going on. The battery under no circumstances lasted longer than six hours. Even in flight modus or if the screen wasn't on at all it lasted not longer than six hours. Regularly, it happened to us that after a night with a modest seven hours sleep the battery was completely empty. Not very workable, and after all not intended. We suspect this to be another problem that is possibly fixable with a software-fix. With Nokia we're working to find out. As long as that takes our final judgement will not depend on the problem.
The system offers a number of options for a longer battery life:
- The energy saving mode (battery-icon > battery);
- Light sensor activation (settings > phone > display);
- Light time-out settings (settings > phone > display);
- WLAN energy saving mode or switch-off (settings > connectivity > WLAN > options > settings)
Besides there are several recommendations for unnecessary battery use:
- Switching off the screensaver (settings > themes > screensaver)
- Switching off communication light (settings > phone > report indications)
- Reduce e-mail synchronisationfrequention (settings > phone > e-mail)
- Switching off Bluetooth (settings > synchronisation > Bluetooth)
- Giving WLAN higher priority than mobile networks (settings > connectivity > settings > destinations > 'Internet')vSwitching packet data connection to ‘only when necessary' (settings > connectivity > manager settings > packet data)
- Switching off Location information (settings > application settings > camera > images & video)
- Switching widgets to offline modus (options)
- Switching off OVI-synchronisation (settings > applications > instruments > OVI-sync. > options > setting sync.)
It needs no explanation that Symbian's usability is not very high in terms of ‘settings'.
What Nokia phones are most known for is there excellent call quality, the N8 is no exception. Initially it feels a bit strange to hear yourself in the loudspeaker, it seems like the intercom/speaker is on. You'll have to get used to, but you will.
A call can be initiated by pressing the “call” button in the bottom right corner of the screen. A numeric keypad will appear. Looking for an already known person you have to open the contact-overview. However, when entering a name in a T9-like manner, all relevant names will appear on the screen. Entering an unknown number will change the “call-contact-button” to an “add-contact-button”. Useful!
During phone calls it's possible to put the call on hold, turn the microphone off, or call through the external speaker. Under the “options-button” there are more hidden features available. When you don't take a call a report will appear in the top right of the screen. Clicking on this will inform you about all missed calls, incoming messages etcetera, connections etcetera.
The N8 uses a very clear AMOLED display with a resolution of 640 x 360 pixels, also known as nHD resolution. Although the N8 doesn't provide Nokia's newest ClearBack Display technology, we're impressed by the screen's performances. A comparison with Samsung's Super-AMOLED technology seems self-evident. We already saw some comparisons in the news between both, and in practice it becomes also very clear: the screen of the Nokia N8 is by far the best we've ever seen. Even in comparison to the Samsung S Galaxy the N8 wins. This perhaps is the finest screen we've ever seen for a phone. The colours are vivid and realistic; the contrast is phenomenal and the viewing angle is very wide. The iPhone may have a higher resolution; we'd rather have the N8.
Also striking about the N8 is its touchscreen. This is Nokia's best touchscreen-phone ever. The device responds almost flawless when you touch it. Where other touchscreens sometimes feel stiff, this one scrolls in a fluid and smooth way. Wiping out fingerprints is less easy as with an iPhone (has an oleophobic coating), but that's no big issue.
The Nokia N8 has a motion detection system which provides automatic tilting. However, there's a slight delay in the system, but according to Nokia that's done to prevent accidental rotation.
What we were most looking forward to was Symbian^3. Symbian never disappointed us in the past, except when we found it in touchscreen-phones. The OS is simply not designed for touchscreen-phones, and development of integrating that element in the system began too late. Symbian has always been disappointing in this area. An example is the failure of the N97. The new Symbian^3 should be better, although at first glance it looks a lot like it's predecessor.
But we have to congratulate the Symbian-team with Symbian^3; it's a relief. The system responds quickly and we even don't have to press menu-buttons twice (as on its predecessor). Also the faltering of Symbian S60 (5th Edition) disappeared in ^3. All together this makes the N8 a responsive, rapidly reacting phone. And also people who were disappointed when Nokia announced a 680 MHz processor for the N8 don't have to worry; the N8 is one of the fastest smartphones of today.
Still, Symbian^3 looks much like his predecessors, and that's a pity. It all looks a bit out of date. Fortunately there are plenty of themes you can download to make things more exciting. There are also several animations in the menu's which provide a more modern look. One thing Nokia did very well is the multitasking-overview which you get if you press the control key.
The main screen counts 3 pages on which you can store widgets. On the N8 there are several widgets available, but in the OVI-store you can download much more of them if you want to. Widgets can be placed in a grid, and there is room for 6 per page. When you rotate your phone, automatically the screen will rotate also. This works in both menu's and main screen. Fortunately, the option buttons in the bottom right of the screen aren't displayed that big, but subtle.
In the menu it's possible to choose for a grid of icons or for a list.
The phonebook of the N8 is as we know from other Nokia's: It works excellent and the possibilities are extensive. Standard, the names appear as in ‘surname-last name', but vice versa is also possible. There is a possibility to attach images to contacts, which are then visible by default. Cause of the size of the images there's a maximum of 6 contacts that can be displayed. Scrolling is possible by just sweeping or with the scrollbar in the right of the screen. There may also be created contact groups. Convenient if you want to send a group message.
You can attach all sorts of information to your contacts, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, addresses, dates and company information. Selecting an already existing contact then it's possible to start a voice call, send a message, set up an e-mail, start a video call or looking for an address. Everything is compact, clear and very functional.
Nokia also tried to integrate Facebook and Twitter in the phonebook. In practice it doesn't really work because of the presence of a shortcut to an external application. This one works well, but you can't speak of real integration.
Of course it's also possible to send a message if you prefer not to call. Unfortunately we find many old Symbian elements that we'd rather not see. The messaging-menu is for example very extensive. Messages can appear both separate and in conversations. Only the conversation-mode would've been good enough for us. In addition, there are menu's for sent messages, concepts, outbox, delivery reports and ‘my maps', too many options in our opinion. The transparency hasn't improved at all.
In our view the conversation overview is the best. It provides an overview of all sent and received messages. In the messages emoticons are displayed as icons.
BUT, and that's pretty much our biggest criticism: If you want to type text e.g. for messaging then a full screen keyboard will appear. It seems more logic to project a keyboard layer over the existing screen. Why isn't there a projection of the keyboard as a second layer beyond the existing screen? Portrait-mode gives you a numeric keyboard which includes T9. Moreover it's possible to switch off T9. In landscape-mode there appears a full QWERTY-keyboard. We prefer the latter. It works very well cause of the grip that's created by the ergonomic design of the N8. There's also the presence of automatic text prediction. When you entered a wrong letter the N8 will automatically correct the word. In general we're very surprised by how well entering text works. Symbian is thus quite close to the iPhone and Android, perhaps just as well.
The Nokia N8 provides a separate e-mail application in which you can manage several e-mail accounts. Unfortunately there's no unified box in which there's an overview of all your mail. Setting up an e-mailaccount is a piece of cake. Most settings are already done by the device itself. There's also support for Exchange accounts, although there's a maximum of one account. E-mail can be displayed as HTML. Strangely enough, in the e-mail application there is practically nothing you can set up about the lay out. We can't change the font size for example. More useful is the widget in which you can see your (two) latest received mails (of one account).
The Nokia N8 has a lot of connectivity options, including Bluetooth, WiFi (with support for 802.11n), GPS and even a FM transmitter. Most of them are accessible via the icons in the right top of the main screen. All active connections appear within a submenu. There's also a button (the one with the two arrows) that directs you to the connectivity-menu. Everything works well: files are easily sent via Bluetooth and the N8 connects automatically to known WiFi-networks. Meanwhile Nokia iSync is ready for Mac-users. Unfortunately it doesn't work well to work with different agenda's in the program.
There's an incredible amount of things to set as it comes to connectivity. Excessive even! You can give priorities to different networks for example. While we can imagine situations in which it's useful; in practice hardly anybody will use it. With all the possible settings the N8 is not getting any more user-friendly. Our advice to Nokia would be; lose the overdose of settings and focus on a battery-friendly solution: Of course already known networks have priority over mobile networks, and network destinations don't have to be categorized in our view. Also “data use in home network” settings don't have to be that extensive. The majority of the N8 users won't need all this settings.
The quality of the included browser isn't very high, though it's better than it's predecessor. It's faster, pages are displayed properly and there's support for Flash. Nevertheless, we do prefer the Opera browser. You can choose between Opera Mini and the more extended Opera Mobile. Both are downloadable at the OVI-store (for free). Only disadvantage of Opera – in contrast to the native Symbian browser - is that there's no support for multitouch, which means you can't zoom.
Besides all the usual connections the N8 provides an HDMI-output. So you can connect your phone to your HD-TV directly. Of course we tried it ourselves and the result was excellent. Without any problems the N8 plays smooth images in high resolution with Dolby sound. An impressive sample of craftsmanship by Nokia, especially when you consider that the N8 doesn't heat up due to this trick.
If you announce a phone with a 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens and xenonflash, then expectations are running high. And maybe it's cause of that, but we were a bit disappointed. Don't get us wrong, the quality is very good for a phone camera, but maybe we had some unrealistic expectations of it. So be warned, you can't throw away your SLR.
Yet you get a lot of possibilities to set the camera to your own advantage: image quality (12, 9, 3, 1.3 and 0.3 megapixel), geotagging, flash (auto, red-eye reduction, on and off) scene mode (auto, user defined, close-up, portrait, landscape, sports, night and night portrait), face recognition, grid, self timer, colour tone (normal, sepia, black & white or vivid), white balance (auto, sunny, cloudy, tungsten and fluorescent light), ISO sensivity (auto, low, normal and high), contrast and sharpness (hard, normal and soft). A whole series of settings, but thankfully in automatic mode the N8 makes pictures of decent quality as well.
In video-mode the possibilities are more limited, but still present: video quality (High Definition (MP4), TV quality (MP 4 with 4:3 ratio), and Quality for distribution (3GP)), geotagging, video stabilization, scene modes (auto, low light and night), white balance (auto, sunny, cloudy, incandescent and fluorescent light) and tone (normal, sepia, black & white and vivid). Make sure the video stabilization is turned on, it works really good to filter out unintended movements.
Shot photos and videos are of excellent quality and are easy to send by Bluetooth, a message or e-mail. Browsing through the photo browser is also very smooth and has been greatly improved. Besides the photo browser there's also a video and photo editor in which you can edit your shot images easily.
Funny fact: the lens cover opens when the camera is on.
Standard, we find the following list of applications on the N8: Agenda, Contacts, Media Player, Web, Messages, Photo's, Sore, Maps, Videos, Settings, Web TV, File Manager, Dictionary, Quickoffice, Zip, Calculator, Adobe PDF, Message reader, Recorder, Installation of telephone, Logbook, OVI-synchronisation, FM transmitter, My Nokia, E-mail, OVI-music, Notes, SW-update, Clock, User manual, Social Networks, Camera, Photo-editor, Video-editor, Here and Now, Radio, YouTube, Search and EasyMenu. You can use the OVI-store to download additional applications if this is still not enough for you. You need an OVI-account for this, but that's simple to create.
With Web TV it's possible to view video clips from among others CNN, National Geographic and E! Entertainment. At the OVI-store you can download more sources like India Today and Eros Bollywood. Unfortunately there's no Dutch content available yet.
The ‘Here and Now' application lists what to do in the neighborhood, as movies in the cinema, which restaurants are nearby and the local weather forecast.
Finally we'd like to pay some attention to the ‘Nokia Maps' application. It's a free application that navigates you (with voice) from A to B. If it is by car or on foot; it doesn't matter. The application is very professional and detailed, and because of that it's hard to belief that it's totally free. Even offline navigation is possible by downloading maps in advance. Handy if you want to cross the border, or if you don't have unlimited internet access.
There're no games on the N8 standard. However, it's possible to download several games from the OVI-store. Among them is the light version of the popular Angry Birds game. This game is also available on the iPhone and that invites us to compare the N8 with the iPhone. Then you see the quickness and the quality of the beautiful N8 screen.
On the end we've mixed feelings about the N8. When we ask ourselves if this is what should save Nokia, we can't give you a straight answer. The Nokia N8 is a very nice and good phone. In terms of functionality and appearance there's nothing to worry about. Also the specs are among the best on the market. But in terms of usability, Symbian needs (more) improvement. Sometimes it's really a quest to find some settings, particularly because there are so many.
For us, the N8 is therefore not better than an iPhone or a Galaxy S. Perhaps in some elements like multimedia, but not if you look at the big picture. There are too many things that need improvement to be as usable as an iPhone. Fortunately, Nokia took away a lot of frustrations of the N97. Symbian has become fast and now fits better on a touchscreen phone. Sadly, the way of entering text has not improved and reminds us of previous Symbian versions. This should be improved to compete with other modern smartphones. Also the N8 froze three times during our test period, which is three times too many. However, we have confidence in Symbian's further development. The only question is whether Nokia has.
If we only look at the phone, we have to compliment Nokia. The device is compact, sexy, sophisticated and has a nice design. Nokia has gone down a new path. One that we certainly appreciate. Besides shooting nice pictures, the N8 is an all-rounder with high-end specifications like a 12 megapixel camera, HDMI connection and WiFi-n. But as Nokia said itself: “It's not technology, it's what you do with it.” To complete that slogan Symbian needs some improvements, but Nokia is on the right track.