There’s no doubt the Nokia N8 marks the beginning of a sea change for Espoo. Nokia is slowly, surely, starting to gather up all the mojo it’s slopped all over the floor in the years since the Nokia N95, and that fightback begins with the combination of Symbian 3 and the Nokia N8, the company’s highest spec smartphone yet. How does it handle? We’ve been putting it through its paces and have the answers for you, here in our Nokia N8 review.
If the iPhone is the ultimate smartphone pushed through by the driving force of one man, the Nokia N8 feels very much like it was made by committee – all sorts of great features have been thrown in, but ultimately they don’t gel together to make something quite so compelling and usable.
We can’t say the Nokia N8 is as much of a looker as the iPhone 4 or HTC Legend, but it is beautiful, in a utilitarian sort of way. It’s not too thick (113.5x59x12.9mm), firm, and between its metal casing and Gorilla Glass screen, doesn’t feel like it’ll shatter at all easily. We’re actually starting to like Nokia’s move to put the SIM card slot on the side, rather than inside, of the phone, and the power button and 3.5mm audio slot on the top are intuitively placed. It’s unfortunate that the home button just below the screen is on an incline, and sunk low into the surface, making it tricky to press at first, but you soon get used to this. We also can’t complain about the option to bolster 16GB of storage with a microSD card of your own, easily inserted on the side.
The 12 megapixel camera gives the Nokia N8 a raised band around the middle, which is definitely the weakpoint. It drags, on tables, and given there’s no lens shutter, this can feel a bit alarming. But given the superb quality of the camera, we suspect many will be more than willing to accept this added bulk.
The screen on the Nokia is reasonable – as with the panel on the Nokia N97, it’s a 3.5-inch, 640×360 resolution screen. On paper, that puts it behind the curve compared to most modern 800×480 screens on smartphones today, but the Nokia N8′s ace in the hole is that it’s an AMOLED panel, offering deep, rich colour – and unless you’re Samsung (who makes them), most manufacturers are struggling to source them right now, so kudos to Nokia on that front.
Would we prefer it to have been sharper? Yes, but the rich colour makes up for it for the most part. Videos still look great, and it’s only when surfing the web that you really notice the difference. It’s also capacitive, rather than resistive, so pinch to zoom multitouch gestures work fine, and you won’t have to use the edge of your fingernails to activate anything as with so many frustrating Nokia touchscreen phones.
The Nokia N8 comes with a couple of handy extra hardware features worthy of not.e The ability to accept USB storage as well as act on it is neat, but we can’t realistically see ourselves using it that much. What we do like however, is the HDMI slot on the Nokia N8.
Nokia isn’t the first to introduce this (We’ve seen several Android phones with the feature), but we think the Nokia N8 is the phone that’s going to set a trend with it. Where others have tripped up by forgetting to include a mini HDMI cable, Nokia actually includes an adapter in the box. Screen output isn’t restricted to the gallery app (Cough Dell Streak cough), but simply a mirror image of the Nokia N8′s screen. While BBC iPlayer is too low res to be enjoyable on an HDTV, locally stored clips and the ones you’ve filmed yourself look phenomenal, and playing Angry Birds on a flatscreen telly is the most fun we’ve had in a long time. We can honestly see us making use of the feature, especially once the Nokia N8 gets a good UPnP app.
The camera on the Nokia N8 is nothing short of sensational. It’s true that it gives the handset an unwelcome width around the sensor, but that twelve megapixel sensor not only shoots at a resolution high enough to crank off large prints, but for possibly the first time with a phone, they’re good enough that you’ll want to. Low light shots came out impressively noise resistant, the xenon flash doesn’t blow out subjects and there are plenty of settings to get your teeth into. Make no mistake, the Nokia N8 is the best cameraphone. Ever.
Just as good is the Nokia N8′s 720p video recording. As you can see in the clip above, while it doesn’t autofocus well like the iPhone 4 or HTC HD7, we’ve seen little as sharp and smooth filmed on a phone before.
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There is an elephant in the room however – or whatever large animal that hails from Finland. Symbian.
For the uninitiated, Symbian is the leading smartphone operating system in the world by phones shipped, but in the form used on Nokia’s touchscreen phones, Symbian S60 5th edition, it also happens to be a joke. Ugly UI, janky screens, dull apps on the Ovi Store – it just didn’t deserve attention in a world where iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 and even webOS exist.
Enter Symbian 3, the new version Nokia is hoping will get it back in the software game. It’s faster, yes, it’s cleaner yes, but delve too far and you’ll still stumble over the skeletons of the S60 UI. For one, the keyboard still takes up far too much of the screen in both portrait and landscape, so you can only see a few lines of text at a time. Secondly, those horrible white screens you got at random when launching an app or tilting the screen? Yeah, they’re still there, and they’re more jarring than ever. We also suffered some major outages from time to time when launching the browser. We’re also puzzled by Nokia’s decision to make screen swipes through the three homescreens activate after you finish the gesture – it just makes Symbian look laggy, when it’s not.
It’s incredibly irritating because, Symbian is at its core immensely powerful. The Angry Birds demo that comes installed runs absolutely flawlessly with perfect pinch to zoom gestures, and 3D games look stunning.
We’re pleased to say however that one of the best traits of Symbian remains: its power consumption, or lack thereof. The Nokia N8 beats every other flagship phone for battery life, including the BlackBerry Torch, by a country mile. We consistently got two or three days heavy use out of it before needing to recharge, rather than the less than one day we’ve had to grow use to with Android.
The Nokia N8 is a wonderfully built, functional smartphone with a killer camera, and Nokia loyalists will lap up its extra features and sheer durability. We would advise you check out what apps are on offer over at the Ovi Store website before slapping down: the shelves are by no means sparse, but they’re not spillling into the aisles either, so look to see if your essentials are there.
But compared to the iPhone and growing number of super charged Android phones on the scene, the software still isn’t enough to attract converts. We can’t help feel that Symbian 3 is still letting the side down a tad, and that this superb hardware would be better off mixed with MeeGo instead. One thing’s for sure: we can’t wait to see the Nokia E7 and rumoured N9.
The Nokia N8 has topped our Best Nokia phone Top 5 list, which is why we’ve given it our Recommended rosette. Check out more Top 5s here and find out more about how they work with our Top 5 guarantee.