Review: Nokia N8

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Nokia’s attempt to beat the iPhone in its own game of slim, touchscreen mobile devices continues with the latest incarnation of its attempt to stay relevant – the Nokia N8. With better features such as a 12 megapixel camera with flash, 3.5-inch screen and expandable memory, does it succeed in attempting to better the competition?

However, will Symbian make it fall flat on its knees compared to the iOS?

Find out, after the jump.

  • Score:

    8.0 / 10

  • The Good:

    Excellent 12MP camera; expandable memory; solid design

  • The Bad:

    Internal battery; phone sometimes lags; home screen feels cluttered

  • Bottom Line:

    Best featured-packed smartphone only let down by the OS

Design

The phone is one of Nokia’s first slim candybar phones, and it shows that Nokia is starting to take style seriously – as HTC and Apple have managed to make their phones on Android and the iOS platforms seem sleek. Nokia has previously dabbled in style before, but usually their phones are big and clunky, though they can still fit in your pocket.

The Nokia N8 is the reverse – its slim and thin. Could be because of the removal of having an external battery (which we seriously mark as a low point, as it means that you can’t simply get a new battery if this one happens to die out). Because of the internal battery, it means that the SIM card is now on the left side of the device, and it does provide easy access to swap in and out SIM cards, especially when travelling overseas.

It has a metal casing, and the phone feels sturdy. The camera makes the phone slant a bit when placing it on its back as it extrudes, but it does act of like a pseudo-stand, except it on a slight angle. The phone also features a mechanical screen lock, so your butt doesn’t accidentally touch the screen and do something weird, and has the traditional volume rocker. The phone does take some elements of the iPhone by having a home button, but the “home button” isn’t on the center, but is on the left-bottom corner of the front. It does get a bit annoying as you assume that the button is on the center, but isn’t a detriment.

The placement of the recharger port at the bottom is a huge plus, as it means that you can still use the phone without having the cable on the side and making it feel awkward to use when on a call. It also features a miniUSB port (which is uncovered) and a HDMI port at the side and top respectively.

Hardware and Features

Nokia seems to pack a lot in its phones, and the N8 is no exception. Nokia has been generous with this phone, giving it 16GB of on board storage, plus giving you the option to add your own microSD card (up to 32GB) in order to expand on that. That effectively means that it can hold 48GB of storage. Can the iPhone hold that? No. The phone also features a FM radio and transmitter.

The camera is brilliant at capturing memories, both still and video. It can record up to 720p HD video, and with a Carl Zeiss optic lens, it takes stunning 12 megapixel photos. Of course, the photos would be large, but they look like something taken from a DSLR. Digital zoom is brilliant, despite the fact that I usually hate it for its jittery photos (and the phone doesn’t jitter), and can take pictures at low light really well. If I was to point out a downside, colours seems natural, but that can be fixed if you are seeking vibrant and bright colours with a photo editor – one is included on the device. It also has a front-facing camera, which takes alright pictures when compared to the 12 megapixel camera.

The phone features a large 3.5-inch widescreen display which looks absolutely brilliant. Colours stand out, especially when watching videos and viewing photos. Audio-wise, the sound is excellent, especially from the speakers. The phone has Dolby Digital Plus Surround Sound, one in a few phones that happen to use the technology. The audio quality from the speakers sounds better than what comes out of my iPod touch. Shame about the fact that it doesn’t have a kickstand, because it would be perfect to watch movies and television shows on the go and share them with your friends.

Multimedia playback isn’t limited either. It can play H.264, WMV, MPEG-4, Real Video and Flash Video – even those encoded under DivX or Xvid. Audio files that can be played include MP3, AAC and WMA – including its DRM variants.

It has also been given an HDMI port so you can share your multimedia files on your phone to your HD-capable television, meaning that any HD recorded videos can be played directly from the device, rather than connecting it to your computer then using your laptop to play it out to the TV. And trust me, it does look stunning.

Symbian^3

However, while companies tend to focus on the software rather than hardware, Nokia seems to be on a different playing field – it focus on the hardware than the software. The operating system, Symbian^3, makes the phone a bit unbearable to use. It feels that the operating system was rushed to development in order to match the features of the iOS and Android with little consideration to the user interface. The OS sometimes lags, and we are guessing the phone is running a processor with less than 1GHz as we have noticed that in phones that use such a processor. (And the fact that Nokia doesn’t describe their processing speeds makes it hard to differentiate between hardware and software).

Another issue is that of the damn keyboard. In order to get the QWERTY keyboard, you have to flip the screen to landscape, or you will be using the traditional keypad you see on phones. Despite the fact that Apple can manage to fit a QWERTY keyboard on portrait, there is no option to do so. As well, in order to type something, you are taken to a new screen.

As well, the user interface seems to be cluttered and hard to use, especially with someone who is tech-literate, despite the fact appears simple with three buttons. Some of the buttons are meaningless – like the one with three bars. That represents other options, but it took a while to get to that point. The fact that you cannot have the applications in the first menu you see is a bit annoying, especially when using the iPhone or an Android phone, and instead have to look in the Applications folder.

The home screen also feels cluttered, with some of the space dedicated to carrier applications. With our phone, which is running on Optus, we see that the screens are cluttered with Web TV application windows. As well, you are defined to six blocks per page – and only three pages. Compared to Android, where you have some sort of freedom to place your applications, and iOS’ simpliscity – this is not a really good home screen. However, that being said, it is at least better than Nokia Series 60’s home screen where changing the home screen was a pain.

The phone’s social networking applications require Ovi, also an annoyance. This means that you will have to go onto your desktop to create an application (well, for me anyway, I couldn’t register on the mobile) before you can actually add an account. As well, you are only limited to Twitter and Facebook – though, many others do that. The interface is a bit clean, but the text is small.

Overall

Our testing (which simply just calling people in real life, and asking them the quality of the phone call) shows that the call quality of the phone is excellent. It is clear and has no interference. However, since we were on the Optus network when testing this, network performance may influence quality and may have an impact.

The phone is a feature-rich phone, with a brilliant camera, excellent screen and powerful speakers – a perfect phone for those on the go. However, the phone is let down by the operating system, Symbian^3, as the OS makes the phone lag and even in some instances unusable. Nokia’s balance of hardware rather than software requires some work in order to find a perfect harmony for the phone. Desirably, the phone would be excellent if it was on Android, but we know that will never happen.

Nokia N8 is available on Optus and Telstra, and will soon be on (as the time of writing) Vodafone and 3.