Nokia N8 Review – The King Of Cameraphones

A lot has been already said about this device. And a lot of people have almost always repeated a lot of stuff in their respective reviews. In such a scenario, keeping my review a bit different is a tough ask. Nevertheless, I think I’d rather not repeat the same things again and instead keep it simple and to the point. And for a change, I’m experimenting a new style. Not new really. But it’s a change from style in which I’d reviewed other devices.

This one will be a One-part review, and will be accompanied by another supplementary part, mainly concentrating on what I personally recommend for this device.

Oh well, you’ll enjoy it for sure. And of course, I’ll take care not to confuse you much.

Here are the quick specs, just in case you don’t know all of them yet.

  • Symbian^3 (currently on PR1.2)
  • Quad band GSM, Penta band 3G support (meaning you can use this device almost with ANY network in the world)
  • Anodized aluminium body
  • 12 Mega pixel Auto Focus camera, large 1/1.83″ sensor (the biggest on a camera phone, yet); VGA front camera
  • HD video recording
  • 3.5″ Amoled capacitive touchscreen; Resolution: 16:9 nHD (640 x 360 pixels)
  • Size: 113.5 x 59 x 12.9 mm; Weight (with battery): 135 g
  • Battery: 1200 mAh (non user-removable)
  • Talk time – GSM – 9 hours, CDMA – 5 hours 50 mins
  • Accelerometer, GPS, aGPS, Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n

 

Starting off with the Hardware

You may have possibly been through the first post where I posted the unboxing pics and the accessories. If not, here’s the Flickr gallery for you.

The N8 certainly looks good. With it’s unibody aluminium casing, it also feels as sturdy as a tank. You cannot remove the battery, and that has been done to achieve greater sturdiness. While it is not as thin as other devices, it certainly feels very good in hands. It feels solid and to first time touchscreen-only users, it’s a safe device to start with.

The 3.5″ Amoled display is certainly one of the better screens I’ve seen on a device. Of course, the CBD Amoled screens and the S-Amoled+ screens are better, but the one on the N8 can hold itself against the competition. Get the awesome Sleeping Screen and it gets only better. The resolution is not something to write home about, though. The nHD (640×360 pixels) resolution is just good enough for ‘most’ of the users out there, though. But when you compare it with the iPhone 4’s, it’s about One Third of it. Ouch!

The screen is surrounded by a steel bezel, adding to the over all looks of the device and maintaining the glass in place at the same time. The front panel houses a nice 3.5″ Amoled touchscreen. Above it lie the VGA calling camera and the light sensor. Just top of the bezel lies the ear piece. Coming down, there’s the mouth piece just below the steel bezel. Then there’s the Homescreen button to the lower left of the front panel. It also acts as the notification indicator – whenever you have a new message or a mail or a missed call. You can set the amount of time for which the light blinks by going in to the Settings. As an advice, I’d say keep it down to 5 minutes. The more the time it blinks, the more the battery drains. And the battery in the N8 is just of 1200 mAh capacity. So yeah, it’s a good idea to save up how much ever it’s possible.

On the right side, there are three important buttons – the volume rocker, the lock button and the camera button.

The volume rocker is just about perfect – neither too soft, nor too hard. In fact, this is how a perfect volume rocker should be. Just below the volume rocker, there’s the lock button. Pulling it down locks the screen and vice versa. Even this button is made of metal. But as time passes, the paint wears off. And it rather starts looking ugly. But just like the volume rocker, even this hits the sweet spot in terms of ease of use.

Then there’s the camera button. It’s a two step press. At the first step, the Sensor focusses and the second step, the image gets clicked. It may be annoying to many, but that’s just how ‘most’ of the phones having an AF camera work. Dedicated cameras included. It could get very, very annoying if you do not know how to use it, but once you get the hang of it, you can click really beautiful images.

Moving to the left side, there’s the USB port and a microSD card slot and a SIM card slot. While the latter two are covered, the USB port has been left uncovered, allowing dust to trickle in. But, given the fact that the N8 supports USB OTG (USB On The Go), it seems Nokia’s engineers assumed that it’d be used a lot and hence people may end up breaking the cover. But anyways, it’s not an issue really.

The SIM card and microSD card covers are of plastic. You can hot swap the memory card, without having to shut the device down. N8 supports microSD cards of upto 32 GB, and coupled with the 16 GB Flash memory, you get total storage of upto a whopping 48 GB!

On the top, there’s the 3.5mm Audio jack, the HDMI port, and the power button. While the Audio jack is left uncovered, the HDMI port has been covered with a rather fragile cover. It’s made of plastic, but when you open it a couple of times, it feels that it may break any moment. Certainly not top class, unlike the rest of the body.

Next, the power button. You can use it to change profiles quickly by short pressing it. A long press would switch the device off. Same applies when you want to turn it on.

The bottom of the N8 houses only the charging jack. That is all.

The back panel houses the large 12 MP sensor, the flash, and the loudspeaker. All these three rest on the bulged out module. The sensor, unfortunately, isn’t protected. Though it may have added few more millimeters, I’d rather have the lens protected than leave it open to abuse. Moreover, due to the bulged out module, it attracts a lot of scratches when kept on a surface.

And again, due to the bulged out module, and the placement of the loudspeaker, it becomes almost impossible to hear the ringing tone when you keep the device on a soft surface. I feel they could have done it better. Placing it in the mid region, perhaps.

That is all about the Hardware. Feels really solid in hands, although because the entire body is of metal, it’s quite slippery. Maybe a textured back would have helped, but the grip is certainly better than many plastic-only devices and the C7.

Symbian^3 Calling

The N8 is the first device to run the revamped version of S60v5 or Symbian^1, the Symbian^3. The other Symbian^3 devices were announced later, each targeting a different audience. And even though it was announced first, the N8 still remains the jewel of the crown of Nokia at the moment. Mainly due to it’s camera.

Homescreens

You get to have three Homescreens. No more than that, but you can delete some if you don’t need them. And given the scarce number of widgets, it would not be that easy to fill all the three screens. Each Homescreen fits upto 5 panes. You can either go for a widget or a set of shortcuts. And you can fit in upto 4 shortcuts in each pane. Pretty okay. Again, it feels quite restrictive when you compare it with Android and iOS, but hell, it works. And the end users won’t even whine about it. The geeks will, though. Personally, it’s good this way for me. Not too cramped, not too empty.

You’ll probably notice some delay when you scroll around, but we’re said it’s intentional and not a bug. But it does not leave a good impression. You’ll find yourself waiting for the Homescreen to change, some times. But it’s almost immediate when you use those three dots to scroll, though.

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The same old, but friendly Menu System

The Menu system is the same however. There are very few, subtle changes, though. And you won’t notice them mostly. Unlike the flat bed system in iOS and Android, Nokia has still maintained the same old format of using folders. While I’ve grown used to it and prefer it over the flat bed system, I think it’d have been a good idea to let the users decide what structure they’d want. Also, it’d be nice if the apps and games and the likes would get auto arranged in alphabetical format. But unfortunately, none of the above two are allowed in the present version of Symbian^3. Not an issue, again, but giving users the option is always a great thing to do. We just hope Nokia is listening.

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Messaging

Next up, Messaging. There’s a new thing included in the Messaging this time around. You get to view the messages in Conversation style apart from the age-old normal one. It’s pretty good, not too fussy and cramped with features. Also, it helps a lot to keep track of multiple conversations. No longer sending the wrong message to the wrong person!

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Contacts

Contacts have retained their good old structure. You can add unlimited number of contacts, with multiple numbers, and assigning image to each contact is simple too. But, it’s a big but, it’s still not as tightly integrated with Facebook and Twitter as, for example, HTC’s. It’s still not up there. You have to link contacts to their Facebook profile manually, and individually. While this is not difficult, it may get irritating when you have a large Phonebook. You can use Socially (not Nokia’s Social) to automate it, but that’s a third party app. The same old options are still there, but because of the ‘not-so-tight-integration’ with services, I’m let down. On a positive note, it’s not complex, unlike the ones on competing devices. That’s a relief.

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Then there is the smart dialer as well. Just fire up the dialing pad and start typing letters and see the Contacts showing up.

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Music Player

The Music player of the N8 is a lot better. There’s more eye candy than any other Symbian version. With a cover flow type interface, it sorta gets confusing for first timers, but once you start using it, you’ll be sweetly delighted. The rest of the features are still there too., making it the best Music Player on a Symbian, and if you compare across competition, I’d rate it next only to iPhone’s (iPod). Of course, I’m comparing only native apps here.

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There are Equalizer presets, with support for most of the popular formats. The app sorts the entire collection automatically on the basis of album, genre, artist etc. Every time you add to the library, make sure you refresh it. And then, it is advised to use Ovi Suite mode while transferring songs to the N8 as the Suite optimizes ’em.

Also, you can access the Music player from your Homescreen itself. Just tap for a while on the Homescreen to switch it to Edit mode, press on the ‘+’ icon you see and add the Music Player widget. You can control the songs as well as see which one is playing currently. Neat, but not eye candy.

Tip: Tap on the Music Player icon within the widget to go to the app.

Video Player

When was the last time you found a device that would support DivX and XviD stuff out of the box? I don’t remember. Also, you can playback all those nice HD videos that you may have recorded with the 12 MP Carl Zeiss camera of the N8. Buttery smooth.

It doesn’t end here just now. With the HDMI cable provided in the box, you can easily connect the N8 to your HDMI TV and see it on the big screen. What more, it becomes all the more easier with the Play To app from Nokia Betalabs. All you’ll need is a DLNA capable TV and you’re good to go.

Radio and FM Transmitter

All Nokia’s traditionally come with Radio support. The same goes for the Nokia N8 too. All you have to do is select your region when you fire it up for the first time, connect your 3.5mm headset and you’re good to go. You can do an auto scan and let the app configure all the available stations automatically.

There is an FM Transmitter as well. To use it, go to Apps-Tools-FM Transmit and turn it on. You can set the desired frequency and start transmitting the music. Tune the receiving device to the exact frequency you’ve set and listen to your own music wirelessly. No data costs nothing. It’s simple as well.

Browser

The Symbian^3 browser is certainly a lot better than the Symbian^1 and S60 browsers. It looks all but the same, though. You still cannot open multiple tabs (until unless you click on a link that is directed to open in a new tab). Yes, there’s multi touch support finally, but it lags behind the Android and Safari browsers. It is disappointing to see a 2010-11 device with a browser that feels like it is from 2004.

Email

Setting up your mailbox and configuring it is void of all the hassles – all you have to do is select the mail provider and enter your Email address and password. Accept the terms and conditions and you’re done. It is that easy. You can set up to 10 mailboxes. Also, you can set a widget for each mailbox on the Homescreen. I had 7 mailboxes set up and each of them was put on the Homescreen. While I’ve read a lot of (A LOT) people whining about Gmail not playing good with Nokia Messaging (the Email app), I never faced any issue(s). Overall, it worked flawlessly, much to my surprise initially, going by what I’ve heard.

Lesson: Don’t believe what people say unless you’ve tried it out yourself.

Office

The N8 beats a lot of it’s contemporaries in this department. It came bundled with Quickoffice (read only) version initially, but after the PR1.2 update, it got editing capabilities too. That is a first for Nseries. Only Eseries devices have come with Quickoffice (read and edit/write) version.

You can create Documents, Workbooks and Presentations. Also, you can view and edit existing files. The latest version of Quickoffice also supports .doc and .docx documents. Wait, you can view PDF files as well. No editing capabilities here, though.

Ovi Maps

The N8 has GPS and aGPS built in, as mentioned above. And coupled with the awesome Ovi Maps, you won’t need any dedicated Navigation device. There’s turn by turn navigation, Satellite, Terrain and the normal Map view. Better yet, you get 3D view in Map and Terrain view, however that is just an option. You can also have all your landmarks show up on the maps.

In addition to all these goodies, you also get a mini catalogue of handpicked services like Lonely Planet, Burrp, Snapdeal, TripAdvisor and the likes. However, you can add only upto 6 services in the Menu, which is sort of annoying when you want more than these. Nonetheless, these all just work flawlessly.

Also, you can download the maps of your country/region (if available) and use Maps offline. No data connection required. The turn by turn navigation system also works flawlessly. This is definitely a winner, but do note that your battery will drain faster than you can think. More so when you’re using the turn by turn navigation system.

But honestly, this is what Maps on mobile should be like.

Camera

Perhaps the most important part of the review, because the N8 is considered as a camera smartphone with the main focus on the Camera. Featuring a large 1/1.83″ sensor, Carl Zeiss optics and 12 mega pixel goodness, all stuffed in a phone. Perhaps this is why the N8 has been very popular, unlike it’s other Symbian^3 partners. And due to this awesome camera, it can proudly stand up on it’s own in this day and age when manufacturers are in a mad, mad spec race.

Coming back to the camera, the large sensor ensures better performance in low light conditions. Then it has the Xenon flash, so you can expect good to very good images in extremely low light conditions as well, as you’ll see in the gallery below.

As for the interface, Nokia has adopted a minimalist approach. There are only three shortcuts that appear on the capture screen – Flash, Settings and Camcorder. You can zoom in and out using the volume rocker. There is Face detection too, apart from Geo tagging facility. Nothing out of the earth, because most of the smartphone cameras come with these options apart from many others.

Just between the ‘Options’ and ‘Exit’ buttons, you can see a Camera icon, which you can use to click the image, just in case you do not want to use the Hardware button (it’s a two step button). Using this ‘Soft’ button also proves a good option, as the Focus and click is automated. Just so you are not so good at using the Hard button, use this, it proves to be a better alternative for such people. No one wants to end up with blurry images, right. This is where EDoF comes into picture (personally, I prefer it over Auto Focus). But well, that’s another day’s topic.

This camera, no doubt, is a gem. And the one of the few reasons for the success of the N8. Take a bow, Nokia.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a camera on a phone than would let you ditch your dedicated camera, the N8 would be a blind choice. And in addition to excellent camera, the build quality is very good as well, barring for the HDMI cover on the top. And due to a number of reasons and product decisions, the N8 turns out to be the best Nokia device at the moment.

Neither of the current crop of Symbian^3 devices has a significant advantage over the N8. And after the rather very disappointing Symbian^1 devices that had resistive touchscreens and poor amounts of RAM and the likes, the N8 is a step forward. Sure it does not have the high specs of the high end Androids, it has an OS that simply works. Of course, there are no bells and whistles and glitz of Android and iOS, but it also is very mature. This when Android is evolving and building upon the functionality and features of Symbian. Stuff like a simple File Manager, a full blown Office Suite, multitasking, and power management are the winning points. If only Nokia could modernize it in time and market it properly, it would have not attained it’s current fate. Yes, it will be supported till 2016 officially, but I rather doubt it.

To conclude, this is the device that any Symbian lover or even a Nokia fanboy for that matter, should go for. No doubt it’s the best Nokia at the moment, but it also is a multimedia monster. Plus HDMI and USB OTG, sturdiness, it deserves it’s tag. That is all.

Much thanks to WOMWorld/Nokia 😉

PS: Want to know what are my favorite apps for the N8? Stay hooked!