Initial Impressions Of The Nokia N8: Raw Potential

Nokia has a lot riding on the N8, not only is its market share in jeopardy but perhaps more importantly its down in the mindshare and brand perception department. The idea that Nokia can no longer make a decent high-end smartphone, fuelled by the media is causing serious damage to its reputation. While this is not the case in countries like India, the fact that they were late to the dual SIM party has not helped things. Nokia hopes that the N8 will mark the start of that turn around, and in this post I examine if that is a relevant possibility.

Initial Impressions Of The Nokia N8

First things first, my initial impressions are based on a proto N8 running the pre PR 1.0 v11.004 firmware so things might change (hopefully for the better) by the time it hits stores. As soon as you pickup the N8, you get a feel of premium. The build quality is nothing short of excellent and the whole metal finish really stands out. All the different N8 colours pop out and each has the power to attract a hoard of fans. As I saw for myself, the anodized aluminum construction is also highly scratch resistant, you can take a pen and scratch it without there being even a simple mark caused and if you like taking care of your phone, this is very heartening to see.

Initial Impressions Of The Nokia N8

Our preview had started off with a demo of the Nokia N8 playing a 720P action clip, broadcast via HDMI with Dolby surround sound. Needless to say, its an incredible experience and you cannot help but marvel at how such a tiny thing could be powering such great entertainment. How often you use this functionality in real life is up for debate, but the day you do the N8 will feel worth it.

I was also very keen on seeing the N8’s USB on-the-go performance as this is something I have craved for a long time and it did not disappoint. Once connected, the flash drive/external hard drive/another phone behaves as if the data were residing inside the N8 and you can copy, send, playback everything without any fuss. Infact, our N8 video demo clip was probably being played off a USB stick which was connected to the Nokia N8.

Initial Impressions Of The Nokia N8

Moving onto the N8’s OLED capacitive display. It is by far the best screen that Nokia’s shipped and coupled with the fact that it just need a finger touch for navigation, the whole Symbian ^3 experience becomes much better. Sunlight visibility is not a huge problem and you should be able to get along fine if you pump up the brightness.

Initial Impressions Of The Nokia N8

Since the N8 also uses a faster processor and a dedicated GPU, application opening and performance is also much better than current Nokia devices and this is indeed very welcome. I wouldn’t say that everything was flying but it was much faster. (Please keep in mind that these impressions are based of a play with a proto, so things will probably get even better by the time the N8 ships).

Another thing that helps the N8 experience is the contextual menus that pop-up on a long press. This eliminates the need to go through menus and makes get navigation around the UI much faster and pleasing. The phone also features a new Nokia Messaging client which is a marked improvement over the current version. The N8 also packs a new social network client simply called ‘Social’ and it integrates both Facebook and Twitter, there is a homescreen widget too. The Ovi Store app has also been worked upon and ensures a much better experience.

The one thing that disappointed on the Nokia N8 was its Web Browser, it is 2010 and you still cannot open a new window manually. In this time and age, that’s just not on. The browser UI has been worked a little to allow for better utilisation of space but at the end of the day, even with work arounds it doesn’t match up to the competition; although it has its strengths in support for flash content and pinch to zoom. I was told that the Nokia N8 browser would be getting an upgrade later this year and I hope it brings the new Qt browser that Nokia is rumoured to be working upon rather than just more tweaks to the current version.

Coming to the N8’s mainstay, its 12 Megapixel Camera. The camera UI is new and the time from pressing the camera button to the N8 taking the shot is under 5 seconds. The time between shots is also barely a couple of seconds and this makes the camera experience very pleasing. You have already seen a bunch of Nokia N8 camera samples and it does not disappoint at all. The video capture is carried out at 25 frames a second and anything further than about 60 cm remains in focus using the N8’s new  hyper-focal distance system that Nokia has implemented. The feedback from the N8’s camera button is wonderful, it is perhaps the best physical button I have come across. I have no doubt that the N8 will be the best camera phone in the market by a wide margin once it goes on sale.

Initial Impressions Of The Nokia N8

Coming to the N8’s loudspeaker. It’s a mono speaker located under the Xenon flash on the back and thus liable to be muffled when the phone is kept on its back. As far as its ‘loud’ quotient goes, it just about manages to come close to say the Nokia N900 or N97 but doesn’t quite match up to the 5800 Xpress Music. But since I was testing it in a noisy environment, I will reserve final judgment till I play with the final version.

I see a lot of good things in the N8, Divx playback, capacitive display, multitouch, the freshness of Symbian ^3, USB on-the-go, HDMI out, Dolby 5.1 and of course the camera. The N8 even with proto software seemed stable enough and if Nokia can release it with a rock stable firmware I can see the N8 flying of the shelves.

The number one reason people are doubting their N8 purchase is because they are not sure if it will get Symbian ^4, my personal belief is that it won’t. However, if Nokia can make a public announcement promising an update to the browser and pledging to support the OS, it will greatly help the market sentiment. The perception that Symbian ^3 is a transitory and will become irrelevant, must go.

The Nokia N8 is well and truly shaping up to be a long awaited success for Nokia, time and again they have resisted from calling it a high-end flagship and if they can stick to the price that it was announced at, we might truly have a winner in our hands. At the current stage I will have to give the N8 a 8/10 but if the browser gets updated and we get Swype for text entry, that score will easily rise to 9.5/10 for me.

If you are looking for more N8 coverage, we have already brought you unboxing pictures, a large gallery of the different colours of the Nokia N8 along with comparison shots with different devices. There are two 10 minute videos of a hands on play with the N8 as well, part one and part two.

Have any questions, please let me know in the comments section below.

12 thoughts on “Initial Impressions Of The Nokia N8: Raw Potential”

  1. It is very important to know if the N8 will upgradable to Symbian 4. Why Nokia is not clarifying this issue considering the question being asked in many forums on-line? Could you help in clarifying this issue?

  2. Thanks for the preview! Nicely presented and Nokia N8 looks very promising. As for the matter of N8 getting an upgrade to Symbian^4, just like Vaibhav, I doubt it will get that as we’ve seen from previous N900 fiasco. Upgrading to S^4 doesn’t matter as long as Nokia provide prompt updates to S^3 regarding any future bugs. To be honest, Android and iOS have spoiled everyone with their OS upgrades etc. Nokia doesn’t play like that, maybe thats one of its downside but for me as long as the provided OS functions well to whatever it is intended to, I see no point in upgrading to another OS unless ofcourse it offers a wide range of new functionalities which would also require HIGH-END SPECS and thats where we can all agree N8 does not belong!

    To make it short, quite bit*hin’ about S^4 upgrade enjoy this beauty when it comes out and I hope NOKIA supports it with any needed updates to S^3.

    Again nice preview Vaibhav, much appreciated!

  3. Zak, exactly. Thanks.

    Alberto, One reason why Android and the iOS keep getting updates is that they lacked the ability to do basic things from the start. No copy paste, no tethering and so on and each time such a feature was implemented along with a few others there was a so called ‘OS’ update.

    Symbian doesn’t have those draw backs and you have to hand it to Nokia for rolling out firmware update after firmware update even for pretty old devices.

  4. Vaibhav, great read. Regarding the upgrade to S^4 I agree with you…and not.

    I agree with you that Android and iOS are upgrading their OSs in a year basic in order to add features that originally lack (and in most cases that Symbian has since long ago). Also agree with you that if Nokia add core features (like the browser) via updates the S^4 is less important.

    BUT, I disagree with you that not only is a matter of Android/iOS, webOS, WinMo, BB all have the chance to update their OSs, at the end of the day is a value added to the device and its TCO. Nokia excuse during a long time was the fee and royalties associated to Symbian, but since S^3 it is open source, so this excuse is not more valid.

    I am a Nokia/Symbian fan, I admit it, but also I must admit that Nokia has a long term history fooling their customer (also the fans, like you and me), without looking to far take a look at today´s Beta Labs announcement closing Nokia Messaging for Social Networking (Social on N8), so N97/mini users, 5800 users, etc, after being trialing and helping to make “Social” good enough to the N8 will not have access to it unless they buy the N8. Or think about the C6 (N8 also), why me as a N97 mini user cannot have the new C6´s Nokia Messaging client?? Go further and think about Ovi Maps, now free, but not for all the devices…

    So my friend, S^4 upgrade is not the fact, the fact is this fooling history between Nokia and their customers, S^4 is only an insurance that what happened with 3rd, FP1, FP2 and S^3 will not happen again and you will end up having the same software features that S^4 users will have.

    Closing, I like the N8 a lot, really a lot, I have no problems with Symbian since I am a long term user and Symbian does what I need, but I don´t want to be fooled again (as with my Mini, E71, N95, etc), so without a clear update path to S^4 I will let go the N8 and move to the Galaxy S, may be until the N9 if Meego could change the game that Nokia is playing with us.

    Last, N8 does not support DivX, DivX support is expected to reach the N8 near the end of the year, but I don´t bet on it.

  5. Awesome site and great info on the upcoming N8. I hope this is a homerun for nokia. I cant wait to own it. In the US the phone costs 550 dollars which is a little bit more then nokias initial pricing at 500, but i realize that nokia had to spend an extra qtr year making improvements to the n8′s firmware. It looks great now so i will gladly pay an extra 50 bucks for a stable n8. Ive gone thru 2 n97 phones and they have been very very buggy even the new fw updates.

    I do have a question for the site owner though. When taking pics or video on the n8 is there a red led that stays on or is it just a camera click sound?? Thanks!

  6. I really think people can get confused by an OS upgrade versus a UI upgrade. Nokia has supported my 5800XM with 12 firmware updates, in which at least 1/3 of these upgrades brought either substantial performance improvements and/or UI enhancements (kinetic scrolling, free turn by turn voice navigation, etc.). During this period its OS has remained the same. It is my understanding that the N8 will not be upgradeable to Symbian^4. HOWEVER, the UI will likely see improvements back ported to the N8 and from future UI developments on Symbian^4 devices. Because the applications are developed from the very same QT and Webkit, the applications remain interchangeable and therefore the N8 will continue to partake of this growth irrespective of its market penetration. I also understand the new browser will come in 4Q10, so I would expect the first or second OTA update to the N8 including this mod. Lastly, Nokia is launching quite a few mid and top end phones with Symbian^3 and has publicly stated it expects sales with this OS to exceed 80 mio. devices. I for one would rather see Nokia launching the N8, C7, and E7 with Symbian^3 this year than wait until the middle of next year for an “N8″ Symbian^4, wouldn’t you?

  7. I second your thoughts, stoli89.
    Nokia will keep updating N8, and will bring as many S^4 features as possible, just like they did with 5800. Kinetic scroll, fusion music player etc were all part of S^2. So N8 will get features of s^4 but not overhaul. As another commentator mentioned earlier with iOS and android they implement features which should have been present from start (multitasking,photocall,themes etc) and call it new version, whereas symbian is complete doesnt lack major features hence future milestones can’t be backported fully to previous devices (it would require complete flashing of phone which is beyond average person!)

  8. Hi, in the browser, if you go to Options>Go to New Web Page, then it open a new web page and you can scrill back and forth between current and new webpage, can’t u? This is present in my Nokia 5800, so it should be in N8 too. Why do you say there is no option to open a new web page manually?

    You can then switch between pages, by Options>Goto>History

    ofcz,not the best way to display pages, but something is better than nothing.

  9. Nice preview but i wont be getting this no thanks to being ditched by nokia for my N900. But thanks to community i have it overclocked to 1Ghz and also dual booting to Android (NITDROID) version where i can play and use most droid apps and games. With big multitasking, open platformness nothing can beat N900 till forseeable future.

  10. Looks very good – and looks like they’ve taken their time to fix the firmware. Obviously a very exciting phone. That I would obviously like very much.

    Just on the Nokia Messaging Email fib on Beta Labs – I highly doubt that Nokia would through it’s entire S60 v3 & v5 customers in the dark regarding email — that would cost them more than it would the current customers. But if they decide to wage a fair charge, that would be fine.

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