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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.