Nokia N8 Review

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The Nokia N8 represents Nokia’s current flagship smartphone and we heard it was pretty nice, so we thought we should take a look. The N8 is very powerful and includes the latest Symbian ^3 operating system, but you may have heard that Nokia has recently committed to launching its future high-end smartphones with Windows Phone 7. The N8 could very well be a collector’s item with it’s Symbian operating system and compelling feature set, but maybe there’s a reason Nokia has decided to go with Windows Phone 7 instead. Read on for our full review!

BOX CONTENTS





The N8 comes in a fairly large square blue box. There are reflective foil highlight outlines of the device embossed on the box cover and inner layer. Opening the flip-top reveals the gorgeous Nokia N8 smartphone, and beneath a plastic molded holder are a bunch of extras. You’ve got an AC Charger, nice headphones with hardware control buttons and microphone, MicroUSB cable, MicroUSB to female USB adapter, and Mini-HDMI to full HDMI adapter. That last one is really nice to include since most other phones with HDMI out require you to buy a separate adapter.

HARDWARE



The Nokia N8 hardware design is really spectacular. It just looks fantastic coming out of the box. It’s got an aluminum metal body with a 3.5-inch 640 x 360 pixel capacitive Gorilla Glass AMOLED screen, 0.3-megapixel front facing camera, microSD memory expansion slot, and 16GB internal storage. In terms of processor speed it’s nothing terribly impressive at 680MHz, with 256MB of RAM; however the 12-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens and Xenon flash really is something to marvel at.

You’ve also got an HDMI port on the phone, and even an FM transmitter for streaming audio to an FM radio. The device has a unique pentaband cellular radio chipset that supports UMTS 850/900/1700/1900/2100 so that it can achieve 3G connectivity on any GSM network including AT&T and T-Mobile USA. There’s also Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n, an FM radio, and a 1200 mAh battery that has surprisingly great stamina. The device dimensions are 59.12 x 113.5 x 12.9 millimeters, and it weighs only 135 grams.

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On the left side of the device we have two flaps that cover the slots for a microSD card and the SIM card. Then there’s a secondary microphone and a microUSB port as well as a Torx screw at the bottom in case you need to get inside the device.

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Here you can see a close-up of the opened slots for the microSD card and SIM card. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the SIM card out as one of my SIM cards seems to be slightly thicker and offers too much friction for the spring loaded release mechanism to release the card.

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On the right side of the device we have the camera button and volume rocker buttons as well as a locking slider and another Torx screw. The volume rocker buttons have a little beveled circle on each side so that you can easily feel for them with your fingers without having to look at the device. The camera button has a half-press level for focusing and a full-press for the shutter. It works extremely well and is very easy to press without having to squeeze too hard and risk shaking the device. Unfortunately, the camera button does not have Windows Phone 7’s awesome pocket-to-picture feature where you can easily go straight to the camera app just by holding the camera button. With the N8, you have to unlock the screen first, then press the camera button to switch to the camera app.

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On the top we have a power button, HDMI output slot, and 3.5 mm audio jack.

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The HDMI port is covered by a plastic flap. This is also where you can find the IMEI number.

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On the bottom is the charging port and a lanyard hole.

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The back shows the extruding 12-megapixel camera with Xenon flash and auto-focus illuminator along with a slot for external speaker.

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Here’s the N8 with the Blackberry Torch, Samsung Vibrant, and HTC HD7. The N8 is nice and small in a world of larger, heavier smartphones. It’s very refreshing for the pocket.

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Stacked up we’ve got the N8 on top, then the Samsung Vibrant, HTC HD7 and Blackberry Torch on the bottom. The N8 isn’t as thin as the Vibrant, especially with its protruding camera, but it’s still quite a nice size.

SOFTWARE



The Nokia N8 is of course running Nokia’s Symbian^3 operating system, and it’s the first device with the new OS. The home screen is similar to older Symbian operating systems with two softkeys in the lower corners, and signal strength/battery life in the upper corners. The difference appears in the three swipe-able home screens that can contain an arrangement of custom icons or widgets. This is, of course, similar to Spb Mobile Shell and Android UIs, however in this implementation the background photo can be changed independently on each screen and does not move with each swipe.

Text input is probably the biggest pain with the Symbian^3 OS. You have to tap a text field and go into a bigger input area that doesn’t show anything else besides the input field; if you’re in portrait mode, you ONLY get a numeric input pad with three letters on each number. You can turn on T9 predictive text input, but it’s not on by default and doesn’t seem to turn on globally. In order to get a QWERTY keyboard, you have to turn the device on its side. Even then, text input isn’t that great as there’s no easy editing like we’ve seen on other platforms. It is possible to replace the landscape keyboard with a nicer Swype keyboard from the Ovi marketplace, however it still doesn’t come close to the user-friendliness and ease-of-use of the Windows Phone 7 keyboard.

The N8 does come with some powerful applications. You get a video editor to manipulate the 720p HD video that it can record, as well as a photo editor for those spectacular 12-megapixel photos it can take. There’s a “Social” app that aggregates Facebook and Twitter account feeds, and individual Twitter and Facebook apps as well. You’ve also got a few neat news and video apps that are included and a full-featured free Ovi Maps GPS navigation program (which has been significantly updated since the video above was recorded with added pinch-to-zoom and check-in features).

Another advantage of the N8’s software is its Exchange support. Sure, you can only sync with one server just like the legacy Windows Mobile devices, but unlike most other “modern” smartphones, the Symbian OS still syncs tasks with Exchange server. It even works with Exchange 2003 SP2. For your office document viewing needs, the N8 comes with QuickOffice and the Adobe PDF viewer.

CAMERA

The N8’s 12-megapixel camera is really incredible. Here are a few photo samples (click for full resolution):

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Outdoor photos are usually pretty easy for camera phones, but this is practically perfect.

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Close-up photos look fantastic, too.

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Even in low-light with no flash we’re still getting very usable 12-megapixel photos.



Usually camera phone flashes make for uneven, discolored, or washed out photos. Not the N8! The above was taken in a pitch black room using only the N8 camera’s flash for lighting.

The 720p HD video recording is equally impressive. Combine that with the built-in video editing software, and you’ve got something pretty special. Unfortunately the Xenon flash is not capable of functioning as a video-recording light, so low-light video recording is going to suffer a bit. Another annoyance is that the Facebook share button in the video recorder is limited to uploading videos under 10MB.





See the above video sample for a test of both outdoor and indoor HD video recording quality.

BATTERY LIFE

Battery life on the Nokia N8 is surprisingly great. I’ve seen the meter go down just one bar in a day. It seems to go down faster after that though. Still, I don’t have to worry about having an extra battery in my pocket when going out for a night like I would with many other smartphones. On the other hand, the N8 recently recieved an update and the battery meter goes down faster now. Perhaps the previous build was not reporting battery life as accurately as it should have.

BUGS AND WISHES

The biggest annoyance with the N8 is the T9 numeric on-screen keyboard that always appears in portrait mode, and the fact that you have to rotate the device to landscape mode in order to get a qwerty keyboard. Hopefully it’s possible for some 3rd party to release a portrait keyboard replacement that works better. Perhaps something with a “Sure Type” style compact qwerty layout.

There are a few occasional minor bugs with the browser as well, but you can also download Opera in the Ovi Store for something different. The email software has a very annoying bug with the IMAP accounts. Even though there’s an option to Sync mail read status to the server, a send and receive will always mark all new messages as read on the server. Furthermore, it doesn’t actually sync with an IMAP server, it just downloads the new messages. So say you’ve used another email client to move some messages into a different folder, the N8 will never reflect those changes as long as the email message had already been downloaded no matter how many times you press the Synchronize command. I also miss the IMAP IDLE push support that Symbian once had in the days when I was using the N95.

While emails load to fit to the screen width, they generally load in a very small text font. It can be very tough to read. You can use multi-touch to pinch-zoom, but then the text does not re-rag and you’ve got to pan left and right to read each line.

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

In the U.S., the Nokia N8 is not available on contract from any carrier, so you’ll have to pay the full price for one. Fortunately it does support both AT&T and T-Mobile US 3G bands, so if you’ve already got a SIM card all you have to do is pop it in. Unfortunately that means the price is going to be kind of high. You can get it from the Nokia Store for $449 and it comes in a variety of colors to choose from.

PROS

+ Extraordinary 12 MP Carl Zeiss Camera with Xenon flash

+ New touch-friendly Symbian ^3 OS

+ Incredibly high quality hardware design

+ HD video recording and in-device editing software

+ HDMI out, including adapter wire

+ Free Ovi Maps GPS Navigation software

+ FM receiver and transmitter

+ Radios support all 5 UMTS bands for full global 3G on any GSM carrier

CONS

– Symbian ^3 lacks polish and design aesthetics found in Windows Phone 7 and iOS

– Text input can be difficult and frustrating

– Many apps don’t save passwords after a reboot

– Non-removable battery

CONCLUSION

It’s been a while since I’ve used a Nokia device. A few years ago I had the Nokia N95 and it was a great device in many ways. Today I have been extremely impressed with the Nokia N8. The camera is great at both still photos and HD video and the software features are very powerful. Unfortunately, the software tends to be a bit buggy, slow and difficult to use. The frustration with entering text cannot be ignored. It all feels very unpolished and clumsy.

On the other hand, the hardware design and capabilities are incredible and gorgeous. Every time I pick up the N8 I think to myself how amazing it would be if the beautifully-designed Windows Phone 7 was running on this beautifully-designed Nokia hardware. Maybe someday we’ll see.

I give the Nokia N8 a 4/5.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!