Nokia N8 – a great smartphone for consumers, even if the smartphone geeks disagree?

Nokia N8 - a great smartphone for consumers, even if the smartphone geeks disagree?



The new Nokia N8. The APC editor reckons it’s an excellent phone with rich consumer-friendly home screens and great camera but you wouldn’t know it from most of the first reviews in Australia.

OPINION 1: Consumers will love the Nokia N8

By Tony Sarno editor of APC.

At APC I always base my assessment of products on one basic principle: do they meet the requirements of their target market? Which is why I’m intrigued by the coverage received by Nokia’s newest flagship phone the N8. In general the reviews are not about the phone itself and whether its intended customers would like some of the cool things on it (like the amazing 12 megapixel camera and 720p HD videocamera) but about how its Symbient 3 OS doesn’t measure up against the slickness of iOS Android and Windows Phone 7 and whether Nokia has a clear long-term OS strategy.
 
The questions are legitimate but does an ordinary user who wants an advanced phone really give a damn whether Symbian 3 menus work as fluidly as the menus in iOS or whether Symbian 3 is the last in the line before a fork that leads either to Maemo or Meego or Windows Mobile 7?
 
Do most consumers even think about this stuff? What about the phone itself? As a test I gave the N8 to a non-Geek friend who’s had a long line of phones – from Nokias and LGs to Blackberry Pearls. She’s a late Generation Xer likes gadgets and is in marketing/sales. To my surprise it didn’t take her long to say she loved the N8 and said it would definitely be her next phone.

 
Why? For a start our amateur tester just liked “the feel of it†she said. The Nokia didn’t feel like a little rectangular apps platform but more like a phone its slighty tapered ends making it feel narrower and longer than an iPhone. This was interesting because the N8 is virtually identical in size to an iPhone both in overall dimensions and screen size so that’s clever industrial design by Nokia at work. The tester liked the way the N8’s home screens (three of them)  display widgets that show constantly updated information from the phones apps. At a glance on the home and side screens you can see whether you’ve got notifications from Facebook and Twitter the last two  emails in your inbox the next couple of appointments and todos headlines newest apps in the Ovi store and more.
 
The widgets look like live tiles. Hang on haven’t we seen live tiles before? That’s the claim to fame of Windows Phone 7 which geekdom now believes is setting the standard for mobile phone OSes. The N8’s tiles aren’t as integrated into the OS but to a consumer they work the same and are as effective.


More conventional icons in the applications section. Angry Birds is also on the Nokia as well as the obligatory fart apps.

The menus and screens on the N8 are less consistent than those on other smartphones nor flow as smoothly and occasionally fail to respond  – definitely a sign of Nokia’s more hodge podge expansion of Symbian into a smartphone OS. But once you figure out their peculiarities they’re not showstoppers and are a massive improvement on those in previous versions of Symbian which did seem like relics from a previous age.


The native GPS app on the Nokia N8 is one of the best we’ve seen on a
phone.

Our non-technical tester loves to take photos as many smartphone users do since the iPhone is now easily the most popular camera on Flickr. If she buys an iPhone she’d have a 5 megapixel camera to work with which is less than half the resolution of today’s average compact camera. On the Nokia N8 she gets a 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and a Xenon flash so in effect the N8 is a phone and the equivalent of a standard compact camera.

And let’s not forget the video side of things. One of the iPhone’s claims to fame is that it was the first with 720p resolution video. The Nokia N8 has that too but also allows you to connect the phone directly to a HDTV via a HDMI port and play your 720p videos directly to your TV (the only downside is that the cable is extra). If you want to do the same on the iPhone you’ll need a special component AV cable which won’t pass on the high HD quality achievable through HDMI.
 
While taking several photos with the N8 (and loving the way the tapered ends and the camera button on the top right of the phone make it so easy to hold it for this purpose) our consumer tester never lapsed into a discussion about the merits of Symbian 3 vs iOS Android or Windows Phone 7. She was just enjoying the phone.


The browser was easy to use scrolled nicely and matched anything else we’ve seen on iPhone and Android devices.

In summary the N8 isn’t an out-and-out app platform like iPhone and Android devices. It’s first and foremost an entertainment phone that feels great to hold with a great camera excellent call and sound quality. All the key apps that you expect on any smartphone are within quick reach on the customisable home screens. And Nokia’s Ovi app store has more than enough apps and games since all those ones created for previous versions of Symbian work on Symbian 3 too.  

I would hazard that the screen isn’t like to break like an iPhone’s and it won’t have antenna issues. This is a great phone (and compact camera in one) and for the great majority of consumers the discussion on Symbian 3 and the future is utterly irrelevant.

AVAILABILITY
The Nokia N8 will be available from the 1
November from Telstra VHA and Optus and other retailers for $749
outright. Nokia spokesperson said at the launch that consumers would be
willing to pay the price and other smartphone competitors “can’t
parallel the imaging capacity”.
 
From 9 November Telstra will
have the N8 available from selected stores on Next G plans such as 79
cap plan. The 24 month plan includes $750 standard national calls
SMS/MMS on Australian networks 500MB data per month with a bonus 500MB
to use within Australia and a minimum contract spend of $1896.
 

OPINION 2: Great hardware let down by the firmware

by Jenna Pitcher technology journalist gamer and former digital artist

Nokia may say the N8 will get rid of the need
of the pocket camera and while it may do that because its onboard camera is exceptional I wouldn’t use the N8 as a smartphone device not with the Symbian 3 OS and the slow processor. If Nokia had a different OS on the device then the story may be different but I believe that sadly the great camera hardware is let down by the firmware. Although I
would be interested to see what else Hyper X (modder) has in store for the Nokia
N8.

I liked the feel of N8 in the hand it didn’t feel like a plastic toy
and the width was a good fit in my palm. With its tapered ends and the raised camera block on the back the Nokia N8 design is a step away from current popular smartphones. As with all design you’ll get differing opinions. Some commented the raised section on the back which houses part of the camera looks super glued on while others appreciated the left field of the industrial look in the design.
 
The handset weights 135 grams (with battery) but isn’t awkward to hold with the 113.5 x 59.12 x 12. 99 mm dimensions that encase the 3.5 inch AMOLED capacitive touch screen.

 
SPECIFICATIONS

The “imaging capabilities” on the Symbian 3 -based N8 is what Nokia has flogged in the marketing campaign. The 680 MHz processor device sports a 12 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens and Xenon flash camera. Video recording capabilities is HD 720p at 25 fps and has an application to edit videos on the handset.
 
The flash features three options: Automatic red eye on and off. There are a number of image capture settings: face detection grid self timer light sensitivity adjuster white balance exposure colour tone harpness contrast and scene mode. The post shot edit options include a range of filters masks drawing bubble text stamp animation frames tuning crop resize and clip art.
 
Network bands supported are WCDMA 850/900/1700/1900/2100 and GSM/EDGE850/900/1800/1900 with automatic switching between two bands.

There is one button below the screen that acts as the home button camera button on the lower edge of the device and Micro USB port for transfer and USB On-The-Go on the side of the device. The HDMI Port (HDMI cable is sold separately) the 3.5 mm earphones jack are along the top edge and power button.
 
The SD card slot is on the side of the device next to the SIM card slot and that can accommodate 32 GB card in addition the 16 GB of internal memory. The slots covers were difficult to pry open because of the small gap offered to the fingernail. .
 
PERFORMANCE

The Symbian 3 OS was felt generally slow and awkward the response times to open an application or menu could take seconds and the switch between the 3 home screens is slower than that of other operating systems.

Customisation of the homescreens wasn’t as breezy as other handset OSes.  For example each home screen has six vertical bars which can hold up to four short cut icons or one widget. Press and hold and icon or widget to go into edit mode – the whole home screen is put into edit mode. From there the widget catalogue and wallpaper customisation option could be accessed through options menu or the blank widget can be touched to bring up widget catalogue.

In general use occasionally the screen had to be touched twice to get a response and wasn’t very accurate in terms of calibration. The home button is very responsive and can get to the home screen from any application within good time.
 
The handset has a check automatically for updates option. I checked manually and only found a theme available at the time the process from the update check to installation of update was faster than expected and only took a minute.
 
SMS message input was a pain in the derriere. Had to touch the display at the very start of the blank line to bring up the keypad which was alphanumeric when held portrait and QWERTY when held in landscape. The accelerometer sensor felt slow so when the phone was flipped to landscape the keyboard wouldn’t respond straight away so a second “nudge” would be performed which caused the phone to become confused.
 
Audio quality on phone calls was great the person on the other end was crystal clear and I had no difficulty hearing the other person. This is unlike some other smart phones where the audio is turned up in an attempt to hear better just makes the distortion worse.
 
It took less than two minutes to set up the mail client with my Gmail account – also supports Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes – except I found the interface ugly with no options to personalise. The set up of the twitter client was also quick. For a new tweet the Twitter client can upload a photo from gallery or camera and I could continue to look at tweets while the picture was uploaded. What irritated me was zero option to add a picture to a reply.


The SMH app for the Nokia.
 
There were a multitude of Australian applications available – Costal Watch SMH/Brisbane Times/The Age/WA Today Corkscore SkyNews.com.au and the Weather Channel – developed by Australians on Web Runtime. Some applications like the Sydney Morning Herald application displayed recent stories through the widget and the interface of the application was barebones but user friendly.
 
Internet browsing wasn’t a hassle and quite fast once a default search engine was set (Bing or Google) but it still took two presses from a shortcut on a homescreen to get to the search bar and internet address bar.
 
The multi-task menu was handy to jump to open applications which is accessed by the options menu on any application then show open application then choose or close applications. I found applications being closed through this method were downright unresponsive at times.
 
What surprised me was file sharing between the N8 and Windows 7 was fast and displayed summary information; storage picture synchronisation battery status missed calls and new text messages all without having to install Nokia Ovi software. I had a loaded gun nearby just to be sure.
 
The display was bright in direct sunlight and wasn’t horribly bad when compared side by side with a super AMOLED display. It should be noted the display particularly look like it was AMOLED.
 
Proposed talk time by Nokia is over 12 hours. The battery still had life at 5:30pm after a full day of use: up to an hour of talk time SMS Twitter Gmail brief Internet surf session and heavy camera use.
 
CAMERA

The tapered corners served to accommodate my hands when the device was held like a camera rather than a phone. I didn’t feel clumsy like I was going to drop the N8 while trying to take a shot.
 
I found it nifty that the camera could be brought up from any application by a one second press of the dedicated camera button. A process that is far easier than to exit a program and head into the camera application like the process is on some other devices. Very handy to capture a candid shot that requires speed of access to the camera.
 
I liked having a camera phone with a flash even if some of the camera phone flashes out on the market are useless and white wash photos. The N8’s flash was quality for a camera phone and didn’t wash out the shot although it worked best in environments that completely lacked in ambient light.
 
For instance when all settings were set to automatic a shot taken in a bedroom with the door shut captured great depth and colour. This was opposed to a shot of my friends in a bar where the shot was washed out and lacked depth.
 
Camera filters rendered fast and saving the image after making changes to it ranged from instant to up 2 minutes. There are options via the camera menu to share the photograph via email Bluetooth or MMS but not Twitter or any other applications which irked me.
 
It should be noted that modder HyperX has worked on a hack to enable 30 fps video recording higher quality image capture up to 11 MB per image and has been released to the public. Enable continuous autofocus is another hack by HyperX but it is yet to be released.
 
Overall love the hardware but the the firmware lets this phone down.