Nokia N8 review
Does the N8 represent Nokia’s return to form in the smartphone market? FInd out in our full review.
Nokia has a mixed record when it comes to producing touch screen Symbian smartphones. There have been some good designs, and good hardware specs, but all the way they have struggled to overcome the limitations of the S60 5th UI that they sported.
The N8 sees the debut of Symbian^3, the latest version of the OS that promises a more refined user experience, and also packs in some of the most impressive hardware specs seen to date. Nokia has some catching up to do at the high-end of the smartphone world – is the N8 device that will see them do it?
Turning on the N8 does not immediately suggest a revolution has taken place. Symbian^3 looks for the most part just like S60 did. It’s a deliberate move so as not to alienate the massive number of existing Symbian users, but while they will feel immediately at home, those who never took to the platform will find themselves having to look harder for changes that will win them over.
In many cases those changes have merely rectified the problems that should not have existed in the first place, such as the curious arrangement in S60 where some menu items needed to be tapped once, and others twice. In S^3 everything is now very much a single tap affair. It’s not only more logical, but makes the entire UI feel more responsive, and this has a positive knock-on effect throughout almost every area of the phone.
Elsewhere there’s a new multi-tasking screen as well, which enables you to switch quickly between running apps – of which the N8 can support plenty – via attractive and informative live thumbnails. There are also three home screens onto which you can add a series of widgets for, say, music or email.
This is one area which shows how far Symbian still has to go in polishing its user experience, as the implementation falls a million miles short of that in Android. Widgets can’t simply be dropped onto the screen and dragged into place; and they’re all of a uniform size as well, regardless of how little or how much information being crammed into them. It creates a cluttered feel, and we opted for a more refined ‘main’ home screen instead.
As always Nokia has not skimped on the software. There’s a full suite of PIM apps, as well as Exchange support for business users, while the free Ovi Maps is a selling point in itself. A new web browser has been promised for Symbian^3 but there’s no sign of it here, instead there is the older version, which is functional but not the most enjoyable to use. The new browser will be available as a download in due course.
On the hardware front the N8 truly excels. Star of the show is the camera: 12 megapixels, Xenon flash and what Nokia says is the largest sensor seen in any phone. The company is pretty proud of what it has done with this camera, and rightly so – it’s phenomenal.
There’s no optical zoom, of course, and the quality does inevitably start to fall off in lower light conditions, but for average use it is the first smartphone camera good enough to replace – and at times, surpass – a dedicated consumer compact.
The camera is aided by the presence of a dedicated shutter button, one of the surprisingly few hardware buttons on the device. There’s no call/end keys, for instance, just a single home button on the front, while sides sport SIM and memory card slots, as well as ports including 3.5mm, microUSB, and HDMI out, so you can play HD videos recorded on the N8 directly on a TV.
The metallic casing is sealed, and while you can unscrew the compartment if you want to, you almost certainly won’t. Thankfully this proves to be a non-issue as Symbian is less power-hungry than some operating systems, so the device is able to last a day or more on one charge.
Other specs to note include the screen, which is very usable outdoors, but has a slightly lower resolution than other top end handsets at 640×360 pixels; 16GB of internal memory, and support for 3G bands the world over.
There’s plenty more as well – you get an awful lot of smartphone for your money in the N8. And yet it doesn’t feel quite as much like a must-have device as others we have seen this year. The N8 sees Nokia catch up to much of the competition, but not surpass it.
Symbian fans will love it, and cameraphone fans will admire it, but existing iPhone and Android users will not be feeling any need to switch just yet.
Price: £429 SIM-free
Value for Money: 8/10
Overall score: 8/10
Popularity: 1% [?]