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Nokia N8 – First Impressions and a few months use

Nokia N8

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Nokia N8

I was one of the lucky few who managed to get an early look at the latest and greatest smartphone from Nokia, dubbed the N8.  Given that I have now been using it for a few months, I thought it was time to write about my experiences.

After a bit of a rigmarole trying to buy the hansdet, being offered in limited quantities at the Nokia online store, 2 weeks before the official release date, I managed to purchase the “Limited Edition” Orange version of the phone and it was duly delivered to me on October the 22nd, the day before I set off on 3 weeks of honeymoon (more of that later).

First impressions after delivery were that the box was very small and nicely packaged, containing the usual array of handset, headphones, mains charger and USB lead, however I was pleasantly surprised to see the addition of 2 extra ‘fly leads’ for connecting a full size HDMI cable and external USB storage.  With regard to the charger, although it has a very clever UK 3 pin plug design making it very small, I was less pleased to see that Nokia are still sticking to the tiny charge jack where the rest of the world (Apple aside) seem to be going with micro USB.  I found later by accident that the micro USB port on the phones side casing can also be used for charging so this will not present an issue when away from the mains and charging from a laptop or car charger.

So to the phone…

Firstly, I must comment on the look and feel and the construction of the phone.  Surrounded in a brushed aluminum casing and with a ‘Gorilla’ glass screen the N8 feels unbreakable, some might not like the way the camera sticks out, but you soon get used to it and the trade off is a 12mp belter (again, later!).  External ports for SIM and memory cards are a nice touch, but then the unit is sealed with no user replaceable battery, so this is to be expected.  As far as other ports on the phone go, there is a micro USB for the aforementioned fly leads (and charging) and a mini HDMI port on the top of the case for connecting the handset to a TV or AV receiver for video playback.  The screen is excellent, both in its clarity/brightness and also its incredible resistance to scratches.  I have had the N8 for a while now and with no protective cover there is not a single mark on the screen.

I was skeptical at first knowing that Nokia are still using the Symbian OS, albeit the latest V3 software, and not the now seemingly ubiquitous Android however I was pleasantly surprised again on starting up the phone and seeing a good array of apps and widgets allowing me to quickly set up contacts, mail accounts and my favorite social networks.  For the latter, the Nokia comes with an app called ‘Social Networks’ which provides a single interface for Facebook and Twitter.  Whilst not as clean as the separate apps on Android or iOS it is perfectly usable looks pretty good.  Many other apps are available from the Nokia Ovi store including the much loved Angry Birds, but I can’t help feeling that most are not as clean or good looking at their iOS or Android counterparts.  This may be in part due to the much higher penetration of the other 2 systems, but on the whole there is a good range of applications for pretty much everything you need.  The next iteration of the Symbian OS, or the forthcoming new release of Meego (if ported to the N8) should put any of these issues to bed and with more and more developers creating apps for the platform, it can only get better.

As a phone, which after all is what it is supposed to be, the N8 is excellent.  I have found it holds onto a signal very well even in bad areas, calls are not dropped with the frequency I have seen on other handsets in this bracket and both headset and hands free use are up there with the best I have used.  Using the phone with my Parrot and Sony Ericsson bluetooth car kits has also been faultless.

As mentioned, there are 2 ways of charging the phone.  With the supplied mains charger or through USB, using the micro USB port on the side.  Both charge the phone relatively quickly and battery life on the whole is certainly better than my HTC Desire or iPhone 3GS, easily getting a full day of use with pretty much everything on, email push and making a few hours of calls.

My only real complaint with day to day use of the phone is the speed of the mail client when using IMAP mail connected to my gMail account.  Mail is delivered quickly and multiple mail accounts work well, but the phone seems very tardy when loading a mail after tapping it form the inbox list.  This is not a major issue but certainly not as usable as the equivalent iPhone or Android clients.  That said the keyboard is good and the option of having either a full QWERTY (in landscape mode) or old fashioned multi tap interface (in portrait mode) is a nice touch.

The Honeymoon

One of the main reasons people will consider this phone is for its outstanding multimedia capabilities and here is where the phone really shines. The 12mp camera is an absolute joy to use and makes the phone feel like a real compact camera. Complete with 720p video recording (with stereo audio recording), a Carl Ziess lens and a wealth of settings and features, the camera is certainly the best I have used on any phone.

As I mentioned the handset arrived the day before I set off for a 3 week honeymoon, culminating in a trip to the AbuDhabi GrandPrix where I took many shots and video clips which really show the performance of the camera in both modes. The attached pics and videos hopefully show what I mean.

In addition to the camera, the Nokia also sports a very capable FM radio, video player and music player, the latter supporting several formats, playlists and podcasts making it a viable alternative to the ubiquitous iPod.  The Nokia however has one more trick up its feature packed sleeve.  It has an FM transmitter, allowing you to broadcast your music library on the frequency of your choice.  This means no cables to connect it to your car or home stereo and this feature works really well with no noticeable external interference, a gripe that usually manifests itself on this type of device.

Pros

  • Great 12mp camera
  • Sturdy
  • FM transmitter
  • Battery life
  • Sturdy build

Cons

  • Speed of the mail client

Verdict

If you are looking for a business device and coming from a Blackberry, iPhone or Android then this may not be the first choice of device for you.  The main reason for this in my opinion is the latency in the mail client.

This said however it is not by any means unusable and the shortfalls are soon got used to, helped by the very reasonable battery life in comparison to other devices.

If however you are looking for a sturdy, feature packed smartphone that has a superb compliment of multimedia capabilities not least of all a 12mp camera with a xenon flash and Carl Zeiss optics then the N8 is certainly worth serious consideration.


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