Nokia N8 review -

4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati, 4/7/2011 10:21:18 AM

8out of 10
Performance
8 out of 5
Look and feel
6 out of 5
Ease of use
10 out of 5
Features
8 out of 5
Battery life
Pros:

The camera is the best we?ve ever come across on a mobile phone

Cons:

While no slow coach, the processing speed fails to live up to similarly billed handsets

By its very own high standards, it’s been a quite year for Nokia. The Finnish heavyweight has been churning out mid-range, rather than high-end handsets, an approach that had some questioning the manufacturer’s credibility. All of which has helped intensify the speculation surrounding the arrival of the Nokia N8, the first handset to feature the new is Symbian^3 operating system, as well as housing a 12-megapixel camera complete with Xenon flash and auto-focus.

Look and feel

But let’s get back to everything else that is great about the N8. The phone is made of anodised aluminum with a matt metallic sheen, and though it feels as though it could survive the odd knock, it feels far lighter in the hand than we expected. It's really pretty stylish, and despite the fact Nokia has kitted it out with a Xenon, and thus chunky flash, it remains on the right side of slim. That said, we would advise you take some due care when putting the phone down, as said Xenon flash does protrude and with no lens protector, we wouldn’t want you damaging the impressive Carl Zeiss optics.

As with the iPhone, the Nokia N8’s battery is integrated into the phone. For this reason, the SIM and microSD cards are positioned on the side of the phone. This also means you can swap SIMs and memory cards without having to switch the phone off, particularly useful if you like to hot swap your media content. Yet as good looking as the N8’s hardware is, it’s nothing compared to what greets you when you awaken the phone’s capacitive display. At 3.5-inches high, it’s the same length as the iPhone 4 and though it’s not quite as wide, it’s just as beautifully illuminated.

New Symbian OS

As touched upon, the Nokia N8 is the first device to sport the Symbian^3 OS. We’ve been critical of Symbian operating systems of late, feeling they were past their sell by date, particularly in light of more user friendly operating systems such as Android and Apple. So we were charmed to find Symbian^3 has had the revamp we’ve been craving for. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still very much Symbian, with the familiar menu system, complete with green hovering circle, to indicate what programs and tools are open. But whereas previous incarnations have proved fiddly and characterless, Symbian^3’s icons are crisp and sit on the accompanying wallpaper in such a way that they appear 3D. With three home screens available, you can customise each one with various shortcuts, social network feeds or any number of apps from the Ovi store.


That’s not all that Symbian^3 brings to the table. Text messages can now be read in a conversation-like feed, something both Apple and Android devices have been doing for some time it should be added, and a much improved virtual keyboard. Hold the phone vertically and you’ll be able to pull up an alphanumeric version, whereas turn the phone on its side and you’ll have access to a spacious QWERTY keyboard, our preferred typing method. The QWERTY keyboard in particular was impressively responsive and it led to one of the fastest and accurate messaging experiences we’ve encountered, though you do need to press the ‘1*’ key to access the numeric pad and punctuation keys, which may slow you down a tad depending on how grammatically correct you want to be.

Ovi Maps

The N8 supports multiple email accounts, and for the likes of Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail you’ll only need to input your address and password. Something else we thought was pretty cool was the fact that you can display your email in order of date, sender, subject, priority, unread and attachments, making it as close to a desktop experience as we’ve seen. You can also adjust the font size, should you be visually impaired.

Nokia announced this year that its excellent Ovi Maps would not only no longer cost a penny, but could also utilise your phone's navigation no matter where you are in the world. With the Nokia N8 this means users can enjoy detailed maps on the vibrant 3.5-inch display complete with voice guidance to their destination, stopping off at any number of points of interest, whether travelling by car or on foot. With an array of features, including the ability to record your own voice guidance instructions, as well as a host of Lonely Planet Guides preloaded, Ovi Maps latest trick, ‘Check In’, lets you post your GPS location with a message and/or picture to social networks including Facebook and Twitter.

Although the sat nav fix was impressive, the Nokia N8's 12-megapixel lens, complete with Xenon flash and auto-focus, is the phone's standout feature, combining great quality with relevant features (ISO, White Balance etc) that blow the competition away.  Expect to take photos that, with a bit of practice, could imitate a digital point and shoot. Probably not the best for low light situations or fast moving objects, though the Xenon flash can provide that extra light you might just need.

Processing speed

In terms of processing speeds, Nokia has kitted the N8 out with an ARM 11 680 MHz processor. While in comparison to most phones remains impressive, the likes of the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S both have more powerful 1GHz processors, and sadly the gulf in class shows with the N8. While it can cope with multiple apps being opened at one time, each addition slowed us down to thumb twiddling proportions. Even when just operating one application, it didn’t open as quickly as we would have liked. We’re not saying the N8 runs at a snail’s pace, but if it is to be considered high-end, it needs to be judged accordingly and against handsets of similar scope.

We also had problems maintaining a consistent Wi-Fi connection and when we tried to connect to another, it kept trying to reconnect to the original, despite us disconnecting. Wi-Fi issues apart, the N8 offers an impressive browsing experience. Again, this is largely down to the gorgeous AMOLED display, which presents the websites with a vibrancy and sharpness that beholds the eye. We also loved the fact that Nokia has incorporated the pinch and pull zooming method, as well as the ability to play Flash video. The latter inclusion means you’ll be able to watch video embedded on most websites as well as catch up on the latest BBC shows with BBC iPlayer.

Conclusion

The Nokia N8 is a reminder of what Nokia can do when they put their mind to it. Its hardware is sure to appeal to the fashion conscious, and there’s enough going on under the bonnet to keep the early adopters amused. Both the camera and mapping experiences are second to none, and Wi-Fi issues apart, the browsing experience was thoroughly enjoyable. However, the tardy processing speeds led to frustration and though the Symbian^3 operating system is a massive improvement on earlier versions, we’re still very much in the Android and Apple camps. Hopefully, the N8 is testament of things to come from a resurgent Nokia.

Danny Brogan