The Nokia N8 is the first Symbian^3 smartphone released globally and big emphasis is placed on its imaging capabilities. With 12 megapixel sensor, Carl Zeiss optics, and Xenon flash, the N8 takes amazing photos. However, we’re talking about a phone here. Is the Nokia N8 with the latest Symbian OS good enough to be your daily device? Read on for The Nokia Blog review.
You can view the unboxing video here. The sales package includes:
- Nokia N8 mobile computer
- Nokia Connectivity Cable CA-179
- Nokia Stereo Headset WH-701
- Nokia Compact Travel Charger AC-15
- Nokia Adapter Cable for HDMI CA-156
- Nokia Adapter Cable for USB OTG CA-157
- Nokia Stylus SU-36 (selected markets only)
- Quick start guide
The Nokia N8 feels great in your hand. It’s mostly made from anodized aluminum which comes in vibrant colors. The chrome accents around the camera lens, camera button, and volume controls get the thumbs up too. There are no wiggly parts and the buttons all feel solid. As expected, the hardware design is top-notch. The build quality is excellent, too. The screen is made of gorilla glass which is damage and scratch resistant. I tried scratching the display with my keys using a lot of force and did not notice any effect.
The Nokia N8 isn’t the thinnest phone in the world, but it sits comfortably in the pocket. It measures 113.5 x 59 x 12.9 mm and weighs 135g. Here’s a quick comparison with a few other devices.
I have 2 complaints with the hardware. I wish the menu button was placed in the middle instead of the left corner. It requires more effort than it should to reach that button single-handedly. Another problem I had is the microUSB port stopped working after a couple of weeks. I haven’t found anyone else online with this problem, so I don’t think it’s a widespread problem
Internals. Inside the Nokia N8 is an ARM 11 microprocessor clocked at 680 MHz with 256MB RAM. All the latest Symbian^3 devices such as the C7, E7, and C6-01 have the same CPU and RAM. This is an increase from previous Nokia devices, but not as high as the numbers featured in the latest devices from other manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung, or Motorola. Some would argue that Symbian has better memory and CPU management compared to other smartphone OS out there and I have to agree. I haven’t seen any memory full messages, but I wouldn’t exactly say the Nokia N8 as a speedy device. It zips through menus, photos, and apps, but the app that’s not very fast is an important one: the web browser. Large websites like Engadget take so much longer to load on the Nokia N8 than the iPhone or Android devices I’ve played with such as the T-mobile G2 and Nexus One.
Connectors. The Nokia N8 features an HDMI connection so you can easily show off your images, videos and music on compatible televisions and projectors. The USB-on-the-Go adapter is cool as well. You can connect your USB flash drives and access those files directly from the Nokia N8. I’m not clear on what works and what doesn’t, but my 1TB external drive and compactflash reader are unreadable by the Nokia N8. USB thumb drives work fine.
Display. The Nokia N8 has a 3.5 inch display with 640×360 resolution. That’s a pixel density of 209.8 according to this PPI calculator. Let’s compare it to other devices using the same calculator:
These numbers tell us that the Nokia N8′s display isn’t as sharp as the competition. The more pixels you have in an inch, the more information they can represent, and so the clearer and sharper the picture. The difference in sharpness between the Nokia N8 and the iPhone 4 is huge. You really have to see it in person to understand. The difference between the other devices aren’t that noticeable. On a positive note, the AMOLED display on the Nokia N8 performs really well outdoors even in bright sunlight. It also consumes less power and shows more vibrant colors than the LCD displays used in previous Nokia devices.
Speakers. Call quality is loud and clear on all the calls I’ve placed and received. Listening to music, the speakers are reasonably loud and have nothing to complain about. The location of the loudspeaker is at the back of the phone. That seems to be the favorite spot for new devices even from other manufacturers.
The Nokia N8 is a photographer’s dream phone. The images it produces are awesome and it’s really quick to share what you capture. The cameras on Nokia Nseries devices have always been ahead of the competition, but the Nokia N8 really shines. Nokia combined the largest sensor ever put into a mobile for incredible detail with Carl Zeiss optics and a hands-off attitude with imaging software to produce really natural photos.
Take a look at these two sample photos I uploaded seconds after capturing them.
Now look at the 100% crops (you can see these for yourself by clicking on the Flickr photos above, then view original size). “Holy Sh#t!” was exactly what I said after seeing the close-up shots.
Since we’re talking about zoom and crops, I’ll mention that the digital zoom on the Nokia N8 is actually usable. I usually stay away from digital zoom, but I was surprised with the results. Here’s a photo of Sprint CEO Dan Hesse with zoom on the Nokia N8 set to the max. (Click on the photo to view larger size).
Another great addition to the Nokia N8′s camera is the Nokia Panorama app available from the Ovi Store. I was in San Francisco when this app came out. I downloaded it in the morning, tried it on the Golden Gate Bridge, shared it online within seconds, and found out later that night it got Explored front page on Flickr! As of publishing this review, the photo has been viewed over 6,700 times.
If you’re not convinced by now, the Nokia N8 also has Xenon flash for those photos at night or low light situations. Cameraphone fans who held on to the Nokia N82 because of the xenon flash finally have something to update to. Goodbye blurry night photos! Here’s a sample portrait with the xenon flash firing on the Nokia N8. Thanks to Jeb Brilliant for showing us how the humongous 5-inch Dell Streak looks next to his head when making calls.
Video. The Nokia N8 captures HD video at 720p and 25FPS. It uses a system called Active Hyper-focal Distance which means anything from 2 feet to infinity appear in focus. This is great for moving objects and in low light without focus hunting. Digital zoom also works great thanks to the large sensor. For optimal results, don’t pan or move the camera too fast while recording. Here are a couple of samples. They’re viewable on Youtube at 720p.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen these photos and videos already because I like to share what I capture right away. I upload the photos to Twitpic and Flickr, then videos to Facebook and Twitvid directly from the Nokia N8. This is possible thanks to the awesome Pixelpipe app that is free and available at the Ovi Store.
The Nokia N8 runs Symbian^3. It’s the same OS on the new devices announced at Nokia World: the C7, E7, and C6-01. If you’re coming from a Symbian^1 device, this latest version introduces advances such as multiple homescreens, visual multitasking, music cover flow, and multitouch pinch-to-zoom. Menu structures are more streamlined and the UI moves at 60 frames per second. You can see lists scroll quickly and fluidly on the music player, contacts, messaging, conversation, etc. The dedicated Broadcom graphics processor is responsible for this. It’s certainly the best version of Symbian yet, but it’s far from perfect.
Keyboard. Typing on our devices is very important, but it seems Nokia did not spend enough resources on this aspect of Symbian^3. One massive letdown is a missing portrait keyboard. Instead, we’re looking at an on-screen numeric keypad. If you’ve been using Symbian your whole life, it’s probably not a big deal, but if you’ve used an iPhone or Android device, it’s a shocker! You have to turn the Nokia N8 sideways to type with the QWERTY keyboard. This input takes some time to get used to and I strongly feel that Nokia’s designers could have done better by simply moving some of the buttons around. One thing that bothered me is that the backspace button is all the way at the bottom and the return key is to the left of it. Every keyboard I’ve used always had the return key below the backspace. You might think I’m crazy, but it felt like I had to relearn typing with the Nokia N8′s keyboard layout. It took many days for me to finally get used to it. If you’re willing to wait, word on the net is Swype will be releasing for the Nokia N8 soon with portrait QWERTY.
Here’s a photo of the keyboard layout compared to others.
Here’s a photoshopped layout of how I’d move the buttons around.
Email. Nokia Messaging on the Nokia N8 and Symbian^3 has noticeably improved over previous versions. It’s faster to scroll through emails and faster to open emails. It’s also great to view them in HTML where you can pinch-to-zoom or double-tap like in the web browser. Pro tip: To open emails faster, go to settings – sync content – retrieve – Msgs and attachements.
If you’ve only used Symbian devices, this is the best messaging experience ever. Unfortunately, if you’ve been to the dark side, you’ll notice the email experience on Android or iPhone is a little better. There are two things I like better on the other popular platforms. One example is how they differentiate between old and new emails. The iPhone lets you know by placing a big visible circle next to a new email. The circle disappears after it is read. On Android, new emails are highlighted white with bold fonts. Read emails are highlighted in grey and the font becomes un-bolded. With Symbian^3, the subject and the sender have the same font size and you can only recognize a new email if there’s a really tiny asterisk next to the mail icon. All emails, old or new, have a mail icon that is open or closed. However, the icons are small and have a similar color that you can’t differentiate at a quick glance. Another example that Nokia Messaging is behind the competition is that it is missing threaded emails.
Browsing. Browsing isn’t that great on the Nokia N8. You’ll do fine if you open small pages, but prepare for headache when opening large websites like Engadget. I also don’t understand why the Nokia N8′s browser can’t render one of my favorite sites, Techmeme, correctly in portrait view. The right sidebar shows up below the left content, and almost half of the screen is whitespace. I’m shaking my head in disappointment right now, but there’s a rumor that a newer and better browser is coming.
Music. The new cover flow feature in the music player is pretty cool, but instead of collecting music albums or downloading music, I prefer to stream songs. The TuneWiki app from the Ovi Store is a must have! It has an internet radio where you can choose from a huge list of online stations. The app also tells you the number of listeners and the bitrate of the music (128 kbps sounds great). Want to sing along? Some songs will display the lyrics if you’re in the mood for personal karaoke. The headset included with the Nokia N8 is pretty good too. I listen to a lot of hip hop and love the bass that comes out of them. The audio controls with the headset works well with TuneWiki too.
Ovi Maps. I think the Nokia N8 came with Ovi Maps 3.04 preinstalled. There’s a newer, but beta version 3.06 that is so much better. Search has greatly improved and it visually appealing. There’s also a new public transport map layer for subways, trams, and trains in 80+ cities. Sharing a place’s address or location to friends by SMS or email was also added. Voice navigation works fine and is available to all free of charge. Ovi Maps 3.06 can be downloaded from Beta Labs.
Ovi Store. The Ovi Store currently boasts 2.7 million downloads per day and carrier billing makes it easier for you to buy content. My top 5 app recommendations are:
Games are starting to look good on the Nokia N8 and Symbian^3. Angry Birds in full version just came out and Gameloft released some cool HD games such as Avatar, GT Racing, and Guitar Rock Tour 2. If you’re not looking to spend any money, you might want to check out the cool free action games by Breakdesign. More content keeps showing up, so keep your eyes open.
The Nokia N8 includes a BL-4D 1200 mAh battery like the Nokia N97 mini, but it’s not easily accessible. You can replace the battery by using torx screwdriver if you really need to. The Nokia N8 can be charged via the microUSB port or the 2mm charging connector at the bottom. Surprisingly the battery life is good. The Nokia N8 typically lasts a little more than a day with my normal usage. Similar usage on a Nexus One kills it by late afternoon.
Is the Nokia N8 for you? The Nokia N8 is a solid and great-looking device that photographers are going to love. If you’re a Symbian veteran, you’ll definitely enjoy the Nokia N8. It runs the best version of Symbian yet, but the OS falls short to Android and iPhone with core apps such as the web browser and messaging. Nokia also needs to work on the onscreen keyboard. Fortunately, there are news of updates coming to Symbian that can resolve these issues hopefully sooner than later. The Nokia N8 is now available for $549 USD before subsidies and taxes.