- Great-looking hardware
- Redesigned Symbian OS
- Penta-band 3G
- Amazing 12 megapixel camera
- Poorly-designed on-screen keyboard
- Below average web browser
A good device, especially for fans of Nokia and the Symbian OS.
The Nokia N8 is the first device using the Symbian^3 operating system from Nokia (or anyone), Along with the new platform, this smartphone also features a 12 megapixel camera with HD video recording, HDMI output, and an enhanced AMOLED touchscreen which places it right in the mix of today’s hottest models.
In my time with the N8, I’ve looked at how much it measures up to its competitors, as well as how it compares to its predecessor, the Nokia N97 — this company’s previous attempt to keep its devices in the hands of the mobile elite. In some respects, it matches up well, in others, there’s still some work to be done.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Nokia N8 is one of the more attractive mobile devices that I’ve handled in some time. Depending on how you are holding it, the N8 goes from feeling like a rightly hefty piece of kit to something feeling more like a futuristic device — in landscape mode, the device kind of just blends into your hands.
Aside from some issues getting off the doors for the SIM and microSDHC card slots, this is nearly a flawlessly made device.
The 3.5-inch, 640 x 360 pixel, AMOLED screen is one of the main features of the N8. There is a bit more bezel/space at the top and bottom of the N8 when holding it in the portrait view, but overall, the screen is framed well.
As with many of the AMOLED screens seen on mobile devices, this Samsung-produced unit offers excellent color contrast and doesn’t get deterred by sunlight except in extreme instances. Next to my other mobile devices, the N8 offered superior colors and”pop.” Looking at images taken with its 12 megapixel camera were a treat – I’d almost like the screen to be several inches larger because of how well photos and videos looked.
The screen is also made of some very tough glass — Gorilla Glass to be more precise. It isn’t totally scratch proof, but holds up better than most other glass and hard plastic screen varieties. I noticed some scratches in areas that I commonly tap or from times that have put the N8 in my pocket with wallet/keys. But nothing to the degree where I could see them in daily use.
It isn’t a fingerprint magnet, but it does collect a bit of skin oils which can be easily wiped off using a cloth or sleeve.
The N8 is a candy-bar-type of smartphone and therefore all input is done via the screen with haptic feedback. There is a number-pad keyboard when holding the device in portrait, and a conventional QWERTY keyboard when holding it in a landscape orientation.
Because my normal devices are the N97 and X6, I was used to this arrangement, and spent most of my early time with the N8 getting used to the capacitive screen (it is as sensitive but more accurate than the X6). However, it wasn’t very accurate in landscape mode until I turned on the auto-correct and T9 prediction engines. After that point, I flew through most typing sessions as if I had a physical keyboard.
It might be the screen itself, but I found that if my taps weren’t direct — that is, if I slide slightly between letters — that it was less accurate. Thankfully, I could address that behavior by downloading the beta version of Swype for the N8, which improved things greatly.
Unfortunately, the N8 and Symbian^3 still carries on the tradition of taking up the entire screen for input. With the exception of the search widget on the homescreen, all input screens covered the area you were typing on to show the keyboard and a small text box. This is still disorienting to those coming from other device platforms who handle input differently.
Other Buttons and Controls
The front of the Nokia N8 has only one additional button, the menu/command button. Clicking this in any application sends you to the homescreen. If you click it on the homescreen, it will take you to the main application screen.
Holding the menu button for a few seconds will bring up the task manager and a list of all of your running applications. This is changed from Symbian^1 in that you don’t see the application icon, but a screenshot of the currently running item in that application with a close button at the top right corner to close the app if needed.
The top of the N8 has the 3.5-mm headset jack, HDMI-out port (covered by a door), and the power/profiles button. That power button is recessed and it takes some getting used to.
The left side of the N8 has the aforementioned microSDHC and SIM card slots — both covered by a door, and the Micro-USB port. The doors to to the microSDHC and SIM slots are very difficult to open if your nails are trimmed.
The Micro-USB port is very cool, as isn’t just able to take the conventional USB cable, but also allows the N8 to connect to other USB devices through its USB-On-the-Go functionality. Using the included cable, you can hook up and use nearly anything that works via USB. I tried my 32 GB USB keydrive and a USB-powered fan and these worked fine. The 1 TB drive I tried needed to have its own power supply to be seen, but that too worked nicely.
The bottom of the N8 has the microphone and the classic 2 mm charging port. I can honestly say that while I like that the 2 mm port is there, I’ve found no reason to use it. Nevertheless, its presence does mean that I don’t have to throw out all of my old Nokia chargers and battery packs.
The right side of the N8 has the volume up/down, device/screen lock, and camera shutter buttons. Holding the camera shutter button for a few seconds will activate the camera application.
The rear of the N8 has a hump for the Xenon flash and 12 megapixel camera. I’ve not seen any scratches or dust get into the camera unit, but I do worry that it could be an issue with the N8 down the line.
Overall, a very nice design. The exposed Torx screws, chrome accents, and aluminum body just speak towards a classy feel. Side by side with other Nokia devices, the N8 is clearly a step up. And outside of the iPhone 4, there’s probably not a mobile with as much attention paid to the hardware design.