Nokia’s time in the doldrums has been well-documented, but with a revised UI and a boatload of top-end tech, it’s hoping the new N8 will catapult it back to the sharp end of the smartphone game.
With the N8, Nokia has seemingly thrown all the tech it can think of at the new handset in a bid to rival the likes of Android and the iPhone – a 12MP camera with ‘proper’ Xenon flash, XVID and DIVX support, HD video capture, Dolby Mobile sound and an HDMI-out port are just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s also got the stylish anodised metal shell and an OLED screen, along with a dedicated graphics processor, so from the outset Nokia is clearly looking to rival the big boys when comparing spec sheets.
The new Symbian^3 offers up a newer user experience, albeit one that many previous Nokia users will be familiar with.
There are now three home screens to play with, with a large number of widgets to on offer as well. However, you can’t litter the icons across the screen willy-nilly, instead being forced to put them into specific icon-based widgets.
While Symbian^3 is designed to be a more ‘next-gen’ smartphone platform, right from the outset it’s clear that it’s more of a re-tooled and re-badged version of Symbian S60 rather than a new OS.
Things like swiping across home screens and having to wait for the phone to catch up, rather than it moving under your touch, as well as having to drill through so many menus to get to some applications and options show that Symbian still has a long, long way to go to catch up with Android or iOS.
Nokia N8: Screen and camera
However, the hardware provides a number of positives – the capacitive OLED screen really shows of colours nicely, and although the 640x360 screen isn’t as impressive as its higher-res rivals, the contrast ratios are still excellent and web pages and video look crisp enough.
The display also shows up fairly well in bright light – it’s not jaw-dropping, but certainly performs better than the HTC Desire, which might as well be transparent on sunnier days. We’re also excited by the camera. If you’re a photography buff you’ll obviously prefer a dedicated DSLR or dedicated compact, but for a quick snap here and there, the combo of a 12MP sensor, Carl Zeiss optics and Xenon flash really offer up some crisp shots.
There are a number of options to alter your photos, including contrast and exposure correction and a variety of scene modes to improve picture quality.
Nokia has included a dedicated camera button on the N8 too, which has a staggered press to allow you to activate autofocus. Hitting this button when not in photography mode will start up the camera, but it does take a while to boot up – best hope it’s not a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot.
The 720p video mode is similarly good – not only does the noise reduction really help with elements like windy scenes, but the HD video is clear and crisp, especially when you output it to a larger TV. However, it doesn’t have the same wow factor as the iPhone 4’s HD recording, despite packing nearly identical specs.
Music is also well catered for on the N8, with a dedicated music widget and easy to user interface. When used in landscape mode, album coverflow whips along particularly well, and the on-screen music control buttons are similarly easy to hit.
The inline headphone remote included in the box is good quality too, and with 16GB of internal memory it’s easy to think this could be your dedicated MP3 player.
We had initial issues playing back an m4v file, but since the update (see note below) we had success with a huge range of files, although some will play in 4:3 rather than widescreen as the pixel count is too high to stretch – despite managing to do so easily on the like of the Samsung Galaxy S or the Apple iPhone 4.
Nokia N8: internet
The browser on the N8 is supposed to have been given the Symbian^3 treatment to help take it to the next smartphone level, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
On paper it seems like it will be one of the best: pinch to zoom and Flash video support (via Flash Lite 4) promise a decent experience. But it’s a touch slower than the other mobile browsers out there (although on a par with the BlackBerry Torch) and the pinch and zoom is very laggy indeed. Plus when you zoom in the text doesn’t reform to fit the screen, so you have to scroll left and right to see the words at the right size.
Menu options are hidden two button presses away, so reloading a page is a real pain – although the Flash video generally works well, despite being a little choppy, especially on the heavier sites.
Battery is a plus point on the Nokia N8 – given it’s only got a 1200mAh battery we were a bit worried, but the low-powered 680MHz processor clearly helps push things a bit further. We easily managed a couple of days’ use with the N8, although it wouldn’t get very far into a third day; we found that the lack of internet use (due to the poorer performance) helped conserve battery pretty well, so that might change other users’ experiences.
Nokia N8: keyboard
One major downside of the Nokia N8 is the text input. For starters, using the N8 in portrait mode means you can only use the multi-tap method – no mini QWERTY here, despite having the size to do it. In landscape mode you only get a QWERTY option, with an ill thought-out layout (and no auto-capitalisation on the ‘i’) it takes some real effort to achieve any kind of accuracy.
The main saving grace of the Nokia N8 was supposed to be the cost – but now it’s finally landed on the official Nokia website, it’s not that impressive either.
True, it’s only £429 for a 16GB smartphone, which is £20 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S and nearly £70 cheaper than the same priced iPhone, but given the compromises needed to use the Nokia N8 it feels expensive.
In a straight battle, it’s hard to see who (other than devout and die-hard Nokia fans) would take a look at the Nokia N8 when the HTC Desire, iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S and arguably the new BlackBerry Torch all offer a more complete and easy to use experience.
Nokia fans will love the N8, Symbian V3 is an improvement and Nokia has certainly got the hardware right in terms of specs. But Symbian has been overtaken by other operating systems. What we'd really like to see is the N8 on Meego. Over to you Nokia...
The Nokia N8 is out in October, find out more from Nokia
Nokia provided us with a fully reviewable sample of the N8 and were happy for us to post our review. Since posting, we've seen a version of the N8 with slightly newer software. This has made a slight difference to the performance. The UI is quicker and when played back on the browser, Flash videos are clearer and less choppy. And although we tested the N8 with several video codecs and had an issue with one, we had success with an impressively wide range of codecs.