In the current era of iPhones, Desires and BlackBerrys it can be hard to remember that Nokia is still a dominant brand in the mobile phone market. Its latest, the N8, is a very determined effort by the Finnish company to product a flagship handset that can rival the mindshare of the likes of HTC and Apple. Sadly, the N8 falls short of these lofty goals.
Out of the box, the N8 impresses instantly. The all-aluminium casing feels sturdy and well made, with the tapering ends offering a rather unusual design aesthetic that works well. The lack of the nigh-ubiquitious piano black finish means the phone won’t instantly become covered in fingerprints the moment you pick it up.
The screen is a bright 3.5in OLED panel with 360 x 640 resolution that looks truly great, even in bright light. The big drawcard – at least according to Nokia – is the 12-megapixel camera, complete with Xenon flash and image stabilisation.
Images taken with the N8 look incredibly crisp and colourful, leaving many competitors for dead. The flash does an excellent job too, avoiding the overbright white-out that some Xenon flashes can produce. The camera function is also quick to activate, thanks to the dedicated camera button on the side, making it easy to snap “shots of opportunity” as they arise.
As an added bonus, the handset will happily record video at 720p, and with an HDMI output you can be watching those home movies in no time at all. Still, we can’t help but feel that 12-megapixels is in the realm of overkill. It’s more than the average happy-snapper requires and it’ll be a long time before you can convince a photographer to only take a phone out with them.
While it may look great on a spec sheet, we’re not convinced it’s a genuine sales point for a phone.The N8 comes with an impressive 16GB of memory, plus micro SD support, an FM tuner for the radio buffs, Nokia’s own turn-by-turn navigation apps Ovi Maps, and the model we tested also came pre-loaded with Telstra’s usual suite of Sensis apps along with BigPond Movies, White and Yellow Pages and much more.
Battery and speed
Credit where credit is due, the battery life is easily the best we’ve seen for a long time, with over 60% of life still available after our usual 24-hour testing regimen. Considering many of the smartphones on the market struggle to last a day, this is nothing to be sneezed at.
Call quality was excellent and, once we’d located the button for bringing up the dial pad, locating and choosing contacts to call is a cinch. Additionally, the boot-up time is remarkable when compared to other phones, with under 10 seconds elapsing from hitting the on button to being able to make a call.
Nokia has loaded the N8 with the latest version of Symbian – the unweildily entitled Symbian^3 – and sadly this is where the handset starts to fall down. In terms of responsiveness, the N8 is quite zippy to navigate and browser managed an impressive load time of 15 seconds for the test site, despite only scoring 33 out of 100 in the Acid3 standards test.
Ease of use, however, is not one of the high points, with very little about Symbian feeling natural or intuitive. The home screens seem cramped, with apps and widgets almost arbitrarily placed and no clear way to change them. Attempting to locate settings or even applications feels more like a treasure hunt and veers quickly into frustration.
This is exacerbated by the strange decision to include only one face button on the N8 (on the bottom left), relying on an ever-changing array of soft buttons for navigation, often with no clear way of heading back a step without having to return to the homepage and begin over from the beginning. For people familiar with Android or iOS, Symbian may seem absolutely impenetrable.
Sadly, it’s this experience that completely lets down what is otherwise a truly impressive piece of hardware. Add in the underpopulated Ovi app store and the N8 is hard to recommend.