Having unboxed the Nokia 5800 a little while ago, I have been spending some quality time with the 5800 over the last three weeks, using it as my primary phone, including travelling with it as my sole telephone/multimedia device. This in-depth review of the 5800 covers aspects such as the hardware, touch capabilities, multimedia, software and my overall conclusion.
When the Nokia 5800 was announced, it did got get me too excited. My experience with touch devices in the past (both WinMo and the iPhone) had always led me to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to use a device that lacked a physical keyboard. Secondly, the specifications on 5800 weren’t earth shattering and the 3.2 megapixel camera was a bit of a disappointment.
Having the used the 5800, today I can safely say that my prejudice was baseless and Nokia has done a great job bringing touch in, while keeping the familiarity of the S60 platform intact.
The 5800 comes in a monoblock form factor with the screen taking up most of the front. The right handside of the phone packs the camera button, volume/zoom keys and the supremely useful keypad/screen lock switch. The left hand side houses the SIM slot and the microSD slot. The top is relatively packed with the power button, the 3.5mm jack, the charger inlet and the microUSB slot that is protected from dust by a rubber cover. The back houses the stylus of the right hand side and the 3.2 MP AF camera with the dual-LED flash. Coming back to the front, the top right hand side contains the secondary camera for video calls and just below it is the touch sensitive multimedia menu switch. Just below the screen are present the three call, menu and end keys.
When I first came to know that the 5800 had the SIM slot on the side, I was happy for the simple reason that I could switch SIM cards easily without the hassle of removing the battery. However, I shortly found out that my joy was shortlived and removing the SIM still needed removing the battery and even the use of a stylus. Also, inserting a SIM while the phone is in the Offline mode and then switching to ‘General’ doesn’t help the phone detect the SIM either. Opportunity lost, Nokia. But, to their credit, the instructions relating to the SIM have been imprinted on the inside of the back cover so those new to the 5800 do not get confused.
The phone is completely made of plastic and one can easily make that out from all the gloss. That being said, the phone doesn’t look cheap and features almost stellar build quality. There are no creaks anywhere, the back cover fits snugly and none of the buttons is hard to press. The back is made of a rubberised material, like that on the N95 and that makes the phone feel better in the hand. The stylus is a little more than 3/4’s of the phone’s length and feels solid.
Since it is a touch based device, the use of a screen guard is mandatory as otherwise the stylus would scratch the surface in a matter of minutes, specially if you used an application such as Mobile Paint. I would have gladly given the 5800 10/10 in this department but for the fact that the first few batches of the device have problems with ear piece volume during calls, the Nokia service centers do offer to fix this, however it is quite disconcerting nevertheless. This problem should have been hopefully fixed by now for newer batches.
Like I’ve said earlier, I’m actually very pleased with the touch implementation on the 5800, that’s even more commendable considering the fact that this is Nokia’s first touch based S60 handset. Despite the presence of a stylus, the handset is optimised for a single handed finger based operation. Due to the nature of the touchscreen used, you will find the that you need to press the screen with a little more force than say on the iPhone. This is disconcerting at first, but you quickly get used to it. (That being said, I’d still like capacitive touchscreens on future Nokia’s). The single most useful feature that helps use touch is the generalised haptic feedback on the phone.
Since the feedback (in the form of a short vibration) is general, it won’t make you feel as if you have pressed a button but it still adds considerably to the experience. The phone offers three different levels of vibration, I’ve found 2 to be perfect. Additionally, you can also set the phone to play a tone along with the vibration for an even better on the move experience.
The one thing that is a major irritant is the fact that the menu is not accessible via touch and that diminishes the experience. This is specially true when using the stylus as you don’t really have a free hand to press the menu key. (Nokia, if nothing else please add the menu option to the multimedia bar or let users swap the bar with the menu). Another aspect that needs optimisation is the waste of two key spots between the softkeys while the phone is in the landscape mode. There is still room for optimisation but Nokia has clearly come out with a very usable first edition. Those of you familiar with S60 will take only a few days to get used to the device and start liking it. For others, the curve might be slightly longer.
One of the biggest reasons why I like the touch implementation is because it offers four different text entry modes. A full QWERTY, a mini QWERTY, handwriting recognition and a T9 capable alphanumeric keyboard – my favorite by far. Due to it, I never felt the handicap of a touch only device and didn’t even feel like using the full QWERTY option. Although, that might also be due to the fact that the QWERTY mode lacks predictive text/corrections.
The 5800 is part of the Xpress Music lineup of Nokia devices that are music centric. It features a 3.5mm jack, stereo loudspeakers and ships with a 8GB card – all the essentials for a killer music device, but it falls slightly short. The loudspeakers that the 5800 packs are easily the best ones even shipped by Nokia, they are LOUD, yet absolutely clear in the reproduction of the sound. I am yet to see a mobile device beat the 5800 in this department, leaving aside the Chinese phones that sometimes pack upto 4-6 loudspeakers.
The let down comes in the form of the output through the headphones, the volume is on the low side and the bass slightly weak. The 5800 doesn’t come close to the N91/N96 quality, it is more like the N95. Also, owing to the fact that it is a touch based device that lacks dedicated music keys, managing music on the go sometimes becomes a problem if you are not using the wired 3.5mm remote that ships with the device.
Unlike newer S60 FP2 devices, the 5800 doesn’t have an Internet Radio application embedded into the radio. The RDS capable FM radio exists and it performs well. Listening to the radio in the loud speaker mode is also a pleasant experience.
If I were to pick faults with the 5800, the camera would be one. The quality is ordinary compared to a few of Nokia’s 5MP camera phones that are priced in the same region. That being said, it is a tad unfair to compare the 5800 to the likes of N95 and N82. The 5800 is not a camera phone, so despite the Carl Zeiss lens, do not expect to be blown away by the camera quality. The images during the day come out nice and crisp, but indoors or in bad light even the dual LED cannot prevent loads of noise from creeping into the photos. The dualLED’s are available for video capture, and this mode makes the 5800 into a handy flashlight. It is seriously useful. Video is shot in the widescreen 640×360 resolution and makes for great viewing on the phone’s screen or via TV out.
As far as camera performance on the 5800 goes, it is quite speedy. If the phone is in the unlocked mode, you can expect to be able to click a photo withing 5-6 seconds from a cold start and start recording video in even lesser time. All the camera’s controls are touch optimised and the entire screen is available as the viewfinder during both video recording and image capture. The front camera sadly cannot be used for anything but video calls, why did Nokia do that? I can’t understand, since this is not even a Eseries device!
All in all, the 5800 cannot be your only camera on holidays, but it will do well for the odd moment when you need one. In terms of quality it beats Nokia’s competition with ease.
The large screen on the 5800 is ideal for gaming, but the lack of physical controls is a huge handicap so I doubt whether hardcore gaming will ever take off on the 5800. Although the presence of an accelerometer has opened the door to motion games such as the inbuilt modified Global Racer that is controlled by tilting the phone to the sides or Marble Maze, pictured above, which is controlled in a similar manner.
There are a few touch based games available from the Nokia website – Touch Manuver and Touch Popper. The iconic game DOOM has also been ported over to S60 5th Edition and is capable of being fully controlled by touch. The gaming experience on the whole is fun for short bursts, nothing more.
The 5800 is a great web device for obvious reasons. Access point prioritisation, good battery life, WIFI, touch and the large screen come together to spell – winner. Check out the video embedded above for an overview of this feature.
Although theoretically S60 5th Edition is binary compatible with S60 v3, but owing to the complete different input mechanism of the 5800, only a few applications work properly. Thus, there has been a general lack of 3rd party applications that are optimised for the 5800. The 5800 lacks a ZIP client of the the box and the document (.DOC and .PDF) viewers are also missing. Although, to its credit, Nokia has tried to offer at least a few applications via the Download! client and through its regional websites – Nokia India and Nokia HK. (I’m not happy with the regionalisation though).
Quick Office viewers are available via the Download! client and the problem of not having a .Zip client is easily solved with either X-Plore or Y-Browser.
The good news is that this scenario is changing as more and more applications become compatible. S60 has also started a section on S60 5th Edition applications that they will update regularly. Popular essentials such as Y-Browser, SymTorrent and applications from companies such as Epocware have already become available. Basically, if you buy a 5800 now, you can rest assured that the 3rd party application catalogue will quickly fill up.
The java applications run well on the 5800 and with the full screen view in play, applications such as Gmail are a treat. The 5800 also offers a virtual Navi pad which you can use with applications that seem hard to use with touch. In most java applications, the use of a stylus greatly helps in enhancing usability.
I had the opportunity of taking the 5800 with me while I was travelling and I can safely tell you that the presence of a large wide screen really improves the experience as the user can get a better overview of the route. Both Google Maps and Nokia’s own solution run beautifully on the 5800 and if you are in the US, street view on the 5800 is simply wicked.
The 5800 houses a 1320 mAh battery to power its 3.2″ touchscreen and it does a good job of keeping the phone alive for long periods. I can easily get upto 2 days with moderate usage that includes listening to music via the loundspeakers, web browsing over EDGE/WIFI, calls, a few text messages and some miscellaneous usage. Along with this the phone is set to ping my Gmail inbox for new messages every 30 minutes. On an average, even with heavy usage that includes a lot of web browsing, the phone will live for about 24 hours.
My device came pre loaded with the version 11 firmware and I have got to say that it makes the 5800 one of the most stable devices at launch, ever. The UI is quick and snappy and even with transitions enabled the phone is fairly fast. This along with its web browsing capabilities, good battery, loudspeakers and large screen makes the 5800 a very likeable phone indeed. The one thing that is weak on the 5800 is email, there is Mail for Exchange support but apart from that you will need to rely on the inbuilt S60 email application. I personally am happy with that because I’ve never loved push email much. Having set the phone to ping my mailbox every 30 minutes, it retrieves the headers for me, infact that’s the exact setup I use on my other devices too.
There are still a few gaps that need to be filled in, but I personally love the device and that quotient increases almost everyday, it is the only device that has let me move away from my trusty E71 without heartburn.
The 5800 Xpress Music is a recommended BUY.