Review: Nokia 5800

Andy Betts

The 5800 XpressMusic is Nokia’s first touch screen Symbian phone, and while could have been seen as simply a forerunner for devices yet to follow, has proven to be a big hit in its own right

The 5800 XpressMusic is Nokia’s first touch screen Symbian phone, and while could have been seen as simply a forerunner for devices yet to follow, has proven to be a big hit in its own right.

Although there are undoubtedly iPhone-esque hints in the overall design and UI, it should also be remembered that Nokia had a full-screen touch smartphone in the 7710, launched four years ago, in 2004, when the iPhone wasn’t even a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye.

Specs & info

Price: £250
Operating system: Symbian OS 9.4
Memory: 128MB RAM, 256MB ROM
Dimensions: 111 x 51.7 x 15.5 mm
Weight: 109g
Display size: 3.2”
Display resolution: 640 by 360 pixels
Expansion slot: microSD

The Series 90-based 7710 was axed in the end because Nokia decided that S60 should become its ‘standard’ to focus on. The 5800 XpressMusic will fare a lot better, in that it is helping to define the new standard. Running S60 5th Edition, there are a wealth of under-the-hood tweaks from S60 3rd Edition, with which it is backwards compatible, but the obvious standout one is the finger-driven touch layer on top of what is still mostly recognisable as S60.

The hardware is impressive, considering the price point, with solid build quality, a surprisingly responsive resistive touchscreen that doesn’t fare as badly in sunlight as recent HTC designs, and a decent 3 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens and dual LED flash. In addition to taking acceptable still photos, video is also pleasant, with a wide-screen capture option for playback using the full width of the 640 by 360 pixel screen.

There’s a stylus too, a cheap plastic affair, but in normal use, we didn’t need to get it out at all. Text input in any application is via one of four methods: handwriting or mini-qwerty (neither of which is very practical), an emulated numeric keypad (for predictive phone-style input) and, best of all, a full screen qwerty keyboard. Although this requires working in landscape mode (and thus might need you to rotate the device accordingly) and although you’re left to work with just a small entry field, it works surprisingly well in real life, typing with both thumbs. The only downside is that, at the time of writing, Nokia hadn’t fitted it with any writing aids, iPhone-style. So any keying errors are left in – doubtless this area will be filled by Nokia in a firmware update (now possible over-the-air) or by third parties.

In terms of applications, it’s familiar S60 at almost every turn – which is a good thing. So all the PIM, document viewers, utilities, Nokia Maps, Share Online, and so on, are all present and correct. And you very quickly forget you ever had a d-pad. Some apps have had major facelifts, of course. Gallery supports iPhone-like swipes from side to side, in order to flick through snaps and photo editing is a lot more intuitive with touch-screen control.

With the iPhone setting the standard in terms of a fast and responsive web browser, Web on S60 5th Edition has a lot to live up to – and falls short. Even though it has full Flash support (an iPhone deficiency), page rendering is slower and the interface clumsier with control icons that should really be hidden until needed, in order to give more browsing real estate.
New for the 5800 are a set of alternative standby screens, including a contact-based version (although anyone used to S60 will want to opt for something more familiar), plus a pop-up media launcher bar that doesn’t really add anything – when will Nokia stop experimenting with unnecessary media-focussed UI additions?

Compatibility with existing S60 applications is mixed. Most will install and run, but you’ll have to wait for touch-optimised versions if you want to get the most from them – and that will take a while.

As you’d expect from Nokia, for a 2009-spec phone, there’s also 3.5G, Wi-Fi, TV-out, GPS, A2DP and so on – this is a lot of smartphone at a very accessible price. The 5800 XpressMusic may not match the iPhone for sheer beauty and elegance, but it outguns it in several areas and is a lot cheaper to buy.

Essential Verdict

Performance: 8/10
Surprisingly quick, will get quicker too with firmware updates over the air

Design: 9/10
Fabulous industrial design, only the unnecessary plastic stylus and the fact that’s not an iPhone lose it a point

Features: 8/10
At the end of the day, it’s still S60 in a high-spec phone. But we’re not complaining

Value for Money: 8/10
Cheaper than the iPhone and, with Wi-Fi and the large screen, good value.

Overall score: 8/10

Review originally published in Smartphone & PDA Essentials magazine. Words by Steve Litchfield.

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