Nokia N8

Nokia has built a superb phone in the N8, with a class-leading camera and excellent connectivity, but has spoiled the whole package with its half-baked Symbian^3 software.


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Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon


More than meets the eye

The design profile for the N8 is a new direction for Nokia — in fact, it's quite a unique look for smartphones in general. The handset's tapered ends are attractive without adding any obvious usability, and the aluminium casing feels solid. Though there's something about the N8 that strongly reminds us of a Transformer, perhaps due to its two-tone metal chassis.

Turning this phone in our hands, the N8 is littered with external knobs and sockets. The right-hand side features a screen-lock switch and camera key, the left houses a micro-USB port and slots for your SIM and microSD cards. But the real showstopper is on the top: a mini-HDMI port for connecting the N8 directly into a monitor or flat panel TV.

The phone's navigation is handled mostly by the 3.5-inch AMOLED display, though there is a single "Home" button below the screen. The screen is gorgeous, with deep, rich blacks and vibrant colours, and is excellent for playing back video files or playing games. On the back of the phone is the much-discussed 12-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, matched with a bright Xenon flash.

Symbian^3

The 12-megapixel camera isn't the only first for Nokia in this handset; the N8 is also the first to make use of the new Symbian^3 operating system, and it suffers greatly because of this. Symbian^3 is the evolution of Nokia's tried and true Series 60 system (last seen on the N97 mini), a system that is in dire need of a usability overhaul. Well, if you were to liken Series 60 to an unmade bed, then Symbian^3 is the equivalent of pull the doona up over the untucked sheets. There are a number of enhancements to give the impression of change, but overall it is the same struggling system we've seen from Nokia over the last couple of years.

Firstly, some good news. There are definitely parts of this system that show improvement, of which the music player is an excellent example. Album art now takes centre stage in this app, with a slick CoverFlow-inspired design and zippy searching through extensive lists of artists and tracks. The image gallery shares this step-up in speed, with excellent finger-swiping control over your latest images.

But these improvements are vastly outnumbered by areas of the phone that operate below par. The phone will often become unresponsive in simple, everyday apps — the SMS client being a favourite to stall when replying to messages from friends. The keyboard is poorly implemented in a number of ways: there is only landscape orientation in one direction; the predictive text doesn't account for misplaced keystrokes (as you can expect in the iPhone and Android phones); and whenever you need to type into a dialogue box in the web browser you are taken into a separate screen, requiring you to add several extra keystrokes to navigate back to the page you were looking at.

There are also numerous inconsistencies in how you browse menus and lists, and adjusting settings on the phone involves diving into a labyrinth of menu trees. When you're in an SMS conversation you'll use kinetic scrolling to move down the page (swiping from bottom to top to "drag" the page up), but if you're viewing a text file kinetic scrolling is surprisingly absent.

Last, but not least, the home-screen design is appalling. Nokia offers users six predefined blocks to apply rigidly spaced widgets, most of which can't possibly offer any useful functionality in the space provided. The email widget, for example, shows the two latest messages and you can't scroll through this list on the home screen, and the calendar barely has the space to show your next appointment.

Cracking camera and connectivity

The shame about the poorly polished Symbian software is that it spoils the usability of some truly great hardware features. The N8's 12-megapixel camera is probably the best camera phone we've ever used, taking photos extremely quickly and featuring the best digital zoom we've come across. The photos it takes tend towards a colder, more natural palette, but you can spice this up with a vibrant colour mode, or after the fact in the N8's built in Photo Editor.

A proud beast showing off the low-light performance of this camera.
(Credit: CBSi)

It also shoots HD video at 25 frames per second, which is slower than you might be used to seeing for each frame per second, but this doesn't affect the overall high quality of the video we've taken. Like the iPhone, the N8 can edit video in the phone, allowing you to trim your favourite clips before uploading them to YouTube. The media player also supports a wide range of video files including DivX, XviD, WMV and H.264.

If you feel like a more personal screening of your mini-movies, Nokia has included what is a first for smartphones. At the top of the N8 you'll find an HDMI socket, and in the box is a cable adapter. The phone connects straight into a TV and displays whatever is on-screen. This means you can play video files in full HD, but you can also use this feature for presentations you might make, or for giving your mobile games the big-screen TV treatment. We tested this out playing Angry Birds on a 50-inch Sony Bravia and the results were stunning.

Performance

As you might have gathered from our Symbian^3 rant that we experienced below par performance from the N8. That is to say, we experienced inconsistent performance, with some areas of the phone zipping along sweetly, while others would get bogged down in number-crunching. One of the culprits in this sluggish performance is the full multitasking in Symbian^3. Every time you exit an app using the "Home" button you leave it open in the background and it doesn't take long before your system memory is clogged up with unused apps and your user experience will suffer. While we applaud the use of multitasking, Nokia needs either to manage the memory on behalf of the user or give its phones significantly more powerful components.

The N8 features a non-user accessible 1200mAh battery, which Nokia suggests should deliver a standard five and a half hours of talk time on a 3G network. This equates to about two days of use between charges, though this includes significantly less web browsing than we tend to do during tests.

Overall

Nokia has built a superb phone in the N8, with a class-leading camera and excellent connectivity, but has spoiled the whole package with its half-baked Symbian^3 software. This phone is only recommended to people looking for a basic phone experience matched with an outstanding camera. Anyone looking for a smartphone would be wise to avoid it.

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PaulG4 Facebook
8
Rating
 

"great phone, best camera"

PaulG4 posted a review   

The Good:camera

The Bad:some menu's longer than 5800

great phone, very happy with it, great camera. browser is a little slow compared to similar age phones. best camera phone yet to this day ;-)

jharmon Facebook
1
Rating
 

"N8 poor performer"

jharmon posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Not much I can think of.

The Bad:Part way through a conversation it drops out and puts me offline. Although to be fair, I am not sure whether that is the phone or my provider.

I got my N8 from Optus about a year ago and it performs poorly. Part way through a conversation with someone it just drops out. Can't determine whether it is Optus or the phone. Would definitely not recommend it to anyone.

alfaromeo25
10
Rating
 

"all good"

alfaromeo25 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:fm trnsmeter,freedom from itunes,camera.HD movie.quick touch screen.

The Bad:slow internet

im using yhis from 5 months,made plenty of HD movies/picturs.good thing is just conect it to pc and copy and past your stuff from phone to ur pc.or even if u have external mini sd card just remove it and copy all in to ur pc in seconds.no need a shity i tunes programes like apple i4.all mp 3 just copy and past from ur pc into ur phone memory.and play them.
fm transmeter ,listen all ur songs from ur phone into ur car fm stereo or even any hi fi system at home .

gypsysnail
2
Rating
 

"N8 not good!"

gypsysnail posted a review   
Australia

The Good:None except the 2 weekly option for calendar reminders and good camera quality!

The Bad:Everything! Read review below

Everything Indigo and Hanns have said below! Screen becomes unresponsive quite often, is very slow! Especially when on facebook, even simple applications like sms have issues with typing on the touch keyboard onscreen. Querty keyboard can only be flipped in one direction that makes the bulky big phone harder to hold! Other issues include internet connection dropping TOO often and reception not being picked up properly despite the bars for reception being at full number! Alarm doesnt work, and the calendar reminders don't show in screen saver with the clock like the message received does! So I have to actually unlock my ph from sleep mode to see if there are any calendar reminders. Oh and Symbian 3 sucks big time!!! The browser never remembers your hotmail log in address or password so u have to type the bloody thing all over again each time you want to log into hotmail! And the mazes of going through steps in an application to get to a point is a pain in the backside! and the copy paste highlighting is a real pain to do as it takes many tries to highlight something to be copied n pasted!!! Sorry to disappoint, but Nokia needs to PULL up their socks and do a lot better!

Zedsdead Facebook
8
Rating
 

"Big step forward from Nokia with features others don't have"

Zedsdead posted a review   
Australia

The Good:With the Opera Mobile browser and Swype installed (both from Ovi store), plus the latest firmware update, and a few setting tweaks, this thing flies most of the time. Awesome free GPS with street names announced. Multi-tasking with copy/paste. 3D gaming. Free car charger. HDMI out & ability to connect mouse/keyboard so can operate on TVs/projectors/monitors. Use as alternative to DVD player. Nice screen. Premium photography / HD video camera. Ovi store has heaps of games & apps, many free. A small AC charger. Upgradable memory. Bluetooth to/from anything. Not locked into one portal (like iTunes). Very loud speaker. Tough construction. Good looking. Easily transfer data between other USB devices like memory sticks, other phones, computers. FM transmitter allows you to play music in cars & portable radios where bluetooth doesn't exist.

The Bad:Occasional glitch or slowdown. Inconsistent user operation. Entering text/numbers into some screens requires additional taps. No video light. Loudspeaker gets very quiet by resting phone on bed or bunch of papers. Needs a bigger battery - all the stuff you can do with it means 1 to 1.5 days battery life - still, that's twice as long as HTC Desire HD!

Had for almost 2 weeks and spent heaps of time coming to terms with all the N8's benefits and disadvantages. Overall, it is one of those things that when you learn how to use properly, makes life easier, and more entertaining. Was tossing up between iPhone's huge app support, Samsung Galaxy S, HTC Desire HD and Windows 7 phones.
I crunched all the important things to me in a spreadsheet to help choose the best and the N8 came out trumps. Forget the initial poor reviews and reviews from those not interested in learning it, this is one awesome device.

 

"Sad attempt at improvement"

Dzeme posted a comment   
Australia

The Good:Solid

The Bad:Slow response even with latest update

Should have not got excited with Nokia n8 release and stuck to my iPhone even with more features too many steps to get there.

 

bali posted a comment   

The Good:its good

The Bad: its bad

Hi everyone,wanted to buy n8 but changed mind now. Will go to another mobile. thanks for guideline.

Ro
1
Rating
 

Ro posted a review   

The Good:Nice colour, has email, phonebook

The Bad:Phone calls - can't call people on the phone

Phone doesnt work properly - keeps going on hold in the middle of a call. Vodaphone refuses to send it to Nokia to get fixed!!

Max
10
Rating
 

Max posted a review   

10/10

Indigo
5
Rating
 

Indigo posted a review   

The Good:camera

The Bad:screen lags and freezes, have to flip sideways to get qwerty keyboard

After one week the phone started freezing and turning itself on and off whilst using apps. Symbian system is annoying and frustrating. Trying to write anything on the qwerty keyboard which only appears while the phone is flipped longways is not really a great ergonomic feature.

I used to only buy Nokia phones but Nokia has gone downhill of late and will not be purchasing anymore!

A pretty average smartphone, don't be lured in by the camera cos it's about the only thing it's got going for it.


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User Reviews / Comments  Nokia N8

  • PaulG4

    PaulG4

    Rating8

    "great phone, very happy with it, great camera. browser is a little slow compared to similar age phones. best camera phone yet to this day ;-)"

  • jharmon

    jharmon

    Rating1

    "I got my N8 from Optus about a year ago and it performs poorly. Part way through a conversation with someone it just drops out. Can't determine whether it is Optus or the phone. Would definitel..."

  • alfaromeo25

    alfaromeo25

    Rating10

    "im using yhis from 5 months,made plenty of HD movies/picturs.good thing is just conect it to pc and copy and past your stuff from phone to ur pc.or even if u have external mini sd card just remove ..."

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