Nokia N8 Review – High End Mobile Phone from Nokia

Rating : 82
Price: 580 USD ~ Rs 26,259

Summary

The Nokia N8 is a Symbian^3 smartphone with a 12MP camera and HDMI support.

Pros:

  • Best Phone Camera in the Market
  • AMOLED Display
  • DivX/XviD & Dolby 5.1 Surround Support
  • Wi-Fi, 3G & GPS
  • Powerful Battery

Cons:

  • OS & UI Still Feel Dated
  • Virtual QWERTY Keyboard Lacks Accuracy
  • Default Browser Lacks Functionality

 

 

Introduction

A one page introduction to a review might not exactly suggest light reading but the Nokia N8 is not just another smartphone. It’s an important device that marks the next step in the most popular mobile OS in the world and something that marks the direction in which the world’s biggest phone manufacturer is going to head in the near future.

The Nokia N8 marks a pivotal moment in the Finnish phone manufacturer’s story. While Nokia undoubtedly dominates over the low-end phones segment in most Asian markets, it has lost ground in markets where high-end smartphones and premium phones hold sway. At one time, Nokia’s N-series of phones were the last word when it came to high-end phones but things have changed since the days of the N95. There has been the emergence of touchscreen phones that sport extremely usable user-interfaces, the emergence of the Android mobile OS on devices small and large and of course the emergence of the Apple iPhone.

Nokia first persisted with non-touchscreen devices as we saw with phones such as the N79, the N85 and the hugely disappointing N96. When they finally realized that touch was the way to go for mobile interfaces, we got the 5800 XpressMusic first, and then later the N97 and the X6, all phones that ran the Symbian^1 OS with the Series 60 UI. While, the S60 devices grew in popularity and Nokia sold plenty of them, it was clear that the combination of the UI and the OS was miles behind what other phone manufacturers had achieved with other operating systems and UIs. However, till very recently Nokia has been content taking cautious steps forward, tweaking and testing rather than making revolutionary changes as can be seen in the X6 smartphone that was launched this year. While the X6 was released with the latest version of the S60 UI and was the first touchscreen device from Nokia with a capacitive display, there wasn’t all that new that the X6 brought to the table.


The homescreen that welcomes you to the new Symbian^3 OS.

This brings me to the Nokia N8. In all the markets in which Nokia matters, the pre-release hype that has surrounded the N8 has been deafening (of which we are also guilty). However, the crazy amount of anticipation that has surrounded the N8 has made it sure that more often than not, people will feel disappointed by what all the N8 can’t do than feel exhilarated by what all it can. And quite honestly, over the couple of days that I have used the N8 as my primary phone, I have shared that feeling. Yes, the Symbian^3 OS feels a lot more usable than Symbian^1 and the 12MP camera puts all other phone cameras to shame.
The Nokia N8’s 12MP camera uses a Carl Zeiss lens and is complemented by a Xenon flash.

Overall, I felt there was still a gulf between the N8 and other high-end devices like the Samsung Galaxy S, the HTC Desire and the Apple iPhone 4.

But in the time period between when I first laid my hands on the Nokia N8 and when I wrote the final words of this review, the Nokia amazed me and frustrated me in parts and like any other review, this review is a testament to that.

 

Symbian^3: Three Steps Forward?

Nokia’s first wave of touchscreen smartphones weren’t beset by low-end hardware but instead their OS and UI were the ones that came under constant fire from critics. Although Symbian^1 with the S60 UI had plenty of features, they were hidden under a mess of menus, buttons and of course, inconsistencies within the touch input needed.

With Symbian^3, Nokia has taken care of a lot of those issues. The very first thing that pops up in the N8 is that all its menus and buttons require a solitary touch to access or execute. There is also an underlying level of haptic feedback that doesn’t just vibrate the phone but does it in a way that feels like you are actually pressing down on a button which pushes the phone usability up by a notch. The N8 also feels faster than the Symbian^1 phones but you still need to wait an extra moment when flipping between menus or when an app executes.
The look of the Nokia N8’s UI is still very reminiscent of the S60 UI and although that might actually be a big positive for some users, I felt disappointed that Nokia didn’t take more liberties in terms of design to make the UI look more attractive and more usable. Also, the Nokia N8 allows you three homescreens to place widgets, shortcuts etc. The fact that Nokia settled on the number three seems strange considering that most Android phones out there allow have even 12 homescreens. An issue I noticed while placing widgets and shortcuts on the homescreens was that although theoretically you can add any app shortcut on any of the three homescreens, the fact that you can’t place the shortcut just about anywhere on the homescreen and instead have to put it specifically within a shortcuts widget, feels very restrictive.


The Nokia N8’s three homescreens.

The N8 offers two types of virtual keyboards, a QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode and an alpha-numeric keyboard in portrait mode. Unfortunately, the way the N8 handles the keyboard during messaging leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, you can only use the keyboard after entering a separate text input mode which adds an extra level and if you are typing out a message, that means you can’t send the message directly after typing it out, but instead have to step back a level first. Also, the QWERTY keyboard isn’t quite accurate while trying to type quickly and conversely, while the alpha-numeric keyboard affords accurate typing, it’s not as conducive to quick typing.

 

Looks & Design

The Nokia N8 is a carefully constructed phone with solid build quality and good looks. The N8 is so well-built that during the entire period of my testing, I didn’t feel one part shake or creak out of turn. The N8’s body is built out of anodized aluminum and it has no removable parts. That’s right, like in the iPhone, you can’t replace the battery and the SIM slot is right next to the microSD card slot.

The Nokia N8’s body is built using anodized aluminum.

I got a green colored version of the Nokia N8 for review which probably wouldn’t have been my color choice if I was buying the device. Thankfully, Nokia provides another four colors to choose from including orange, blue, silver and dark grey. The Nokia N8 sports a cool design with a tapering top and bottom, something I haven’t seen on any other phone. The N8 definitely looks like a premium device with its smooth anodized aluminum body and 3.5-inch glass screen.

As far as the screen goes, this is definitely the best screen that I’ve seen on a Nokia phone. Of course, that’s owed to the fact that it’s an AMOLED display and it has 16M color output. Also, unlike most other AMOLED displays, the N8’s screen actually manages to hold its own under direct sunlight. The screen is also made of “Gorilla Glass,” a type of glass that’s greatly resistive to scratches. Now, maybe it’s because of the Gorilla Glass, the Nokia N8’s screen seems less bright than other AMOLED displays I’ve seen. Yes, it’s still capable of displaying rich colors and deep blacks, but it just looks a little dull in comparison to AMOLED screens of other devices like the Samsung Wave and the HTC Legend.


The Nokia N8’s 3.5-inch glass screen is made of Gorilla Glass.

 

A Camera Like No Other

Yes, everything you’ve heard about the N8’s camera being the best ever camera on a phone is true. If I were to rate the N8 solely on its camera, it would be the closest the phone has gotten to getting a perfect score.

Since, the N8’s camera was not only competing against other phone cameras, but also amazingly against standalone compact digital cameras, Laldinfela, our resident camera reviewer helped me out with the tests on the N8’s imaging prowess.
The Nokia N8 has a 12MP camera that boasts of Carl Zeiss optics and is complemented by a Xenon flash and can also shoot 720p videos. The N8 camera performed very well during our tests and the big 1/1.83-inch CCD sensor performed admirably.  Getting ready to shoot using the side shortcut key took just 3 seconds. The N8’s shutter-lag stands at an impressively miniscule 0.2 seconds with pre-focus and at 0.3 seconds without which is as good a performance as you will get from a premium compact camera like the Canon IXUS 300HS. Shot-to-shot performance is also impressive with the N8 taking just 0.3 seconds between each shot with or without flash (the image preview feature was disabled for this test).


(From l-r) Images shot indoors with flash on and outdoors with the Nokia N8 (click on images to enlarge in new window).

The N8’s camera was quick to focus and we did not face any problem under different lighting conditions except in our macro shots. When we tried to shoot close-up images in macro mode of subjects closer than 9cm from the N8, the camera just couldn’t get the subject in focus and only managed to do so, when we pulled away further than 9cm.


An image shot outdoors in macro mode (click on image to enlarge in new window).

The Carl Zeiss lens captured good details. Images showed slight softness in the corners but the sharpness at the images’ centres was impressive. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringes) were well controlled and they were just slightly visible in the high contrast areas within images. There was no noticeable barrel distortion in our shots thanks to the N8’s 28mm wide angle lens.

When it came to color reproduction, we were more than satisfied with the Nokia N8’s performance. Our indoor test images and outdoor landscape shots came out vivid, rich and with good dynamic range. The colors were well saturated but like many compact cameras, the N8 also falls short of capturing high levels of detail from bright areas. This can be seen in our image samples where the details of the sky are washed out and overexposed.


This image shows the overexposure allowed into the image shot in a bright area (click on image to enlarge in new window).

Shadow details were retained well and noise presence till ISO 400 is very acceptable and on par with most compact cameras. When we compared the test image with images we took with cameras like the Panasonic TZ8, the Nokia N8 stood its ground, except for images shot in low light and in high contrast lighting.


Image shot indoors at ISO 400 (click on image to enlarge in new window).

The Nokia can record 720p videos at 24fps and it can record them really well. There was virtually no noise to speak of and the background sound was kept in check.

All in all, the Nokia N8 definitely sets a new benchmark for all cellphone cameras out there.

 

Music & Video Playback

Well, when Nokia said during the N8 launch in Bangalore, that the device was meant to be a multimedia powerhouse, they sure meant it. The N8’s music playback quality is excellent and the music output is loud and clear, provided you ditch the bundled earphones and pick up a decent pair of earphones like the Creative Aurvana In-Ear2. Nokia has updated the default Symbian media player and it looks really good especially when cover art flow kicks in landscape mode.

The Media Player’s cover art flow in action.

The Nokia N8 allows plenty of sound customization options including equalizer presets. Unfortunately, you can’t create and apply your own customized EQ. The FM radio works well and scanning stations is fast. Like I mentioned earlier the bundled earphones are average but they do have volume and playback buttons attached to the cord. The external speaker is really loud and clear although I was expecting a pair of stereo speakers. Another great feature is the FM transmitter that allows you to transmit a song that you are playing over a short distance using unused FM radio waves.

After noticing the fact that the N8 supports DivX and XviD formats, you would likely suggest that it would be great for watching videos on, and you would be correct. The 3.5-inch screen might be a little small to watch entire movies on, but videos look excellent on the N8. The audio both from the external speaker and through headphone, sounds excellent, but then again it’s not every smartphone out there that boasts of 5.1 Dolby Surround support. Apart from the aforementioned formats, the N8 also supports MP4, WMV, H.263 and H.264.


The Nokia N8 playing an XviD video clip.

 

Browser; Other Bits & Pieces; Bottomline

The default Symbian browser has never been cutting edge in terms of usability and features and most Symbian users prefer to download Opera Mobile and use that as their primary browser. Unfortunately, Nokia hasn’t done too much to change that and the default browser still feels archaic in terms of usability. There just seem to be too many extra levels for even simple actions such as browsing the bookmarks list. I also noticed something weird during my tests when the browser began arbitrarily switching between my GPRS connection and Wi-Fi network to access Web pages. Maybe, it was a unique problem on my side but it seemed worth noting.

Thankfully, like I mentioned earlier, Opera Mobile 10 was all ready to be downloaded and I was only too ready to oblige.

Other Bits & Pieces

Like any other modern smartphone, the Nokia N8 comes prepared to the battle with Wi-Fi, GPS (with free Ovi Maps and Navigation) and 3G support. However, it does bring more to the table with HDMI output that lets you output HD videos to any display that supports HDMI directly.


The Nokia N8’s mini HDMI port.

Another unique feature is the USB-to-Go feature that lets you plug in a USB pen drive and access the files through the phone’s file manager. We tried plugging in a couple of portable hard drives but the N8 didn’t recognize any of them.

The N8 has a pretty powerful 1200 mAh battery that let me use the phone, play around with apps, watch some videos and shoot pictures for close to two days. The Nokia N8 also allows you to download apps from Nokia’s Ovi Store which has a significant number of free and paid apps but still has some way to go before it can match the Android Market or the Apple App Store.

Bottom Line

The Nokia N8 is a phone that can surely polarize opinion and with a price-tag of Rs. 26,259, that’s neither obscene nor affordable, it brings more confusion to the table. However, let me make it easy for you. If you are only deciding whether or not to upgrade from your current Symbian phone to the N8, and you don’t see yourself using a non-Symbian (or non Nokia phone), then the N8 is the perfect device to upgrade to as you will be getting a better designed UI and excellent multimedia features. On the other hand, if you weren’t comfortable using Symbian^1 and would prefer the usability that comes along with phones like the iPhone 3GS and the Samsung Galaxy S, then maybe the N8 shouldn’t be your primary choice. If the camera is your primary requirement on your next phone, then the N8 won’t disappoint you.

Taking everything into consideration, at that price I would still say that the Samsung Galaxy S holds a clear lead over the Nokia N8 thanks to its Android 2.1 OS, excellent UI, multimedia playback features and great 4-inch AMOLED screen. If you would prefer a hardware keyboard with a high usability factor, the Motorola Milestone is a great option.

 

Thanks to PCW

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  1. Great info, do you mind if I reference back to it? I’m blogging about this too, thanks for sharing it.

      • Om
      • February 6th, 2011

      No problem mate !!

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