When details of the N82 were first released we wondered if this could be the camera phone we had been waiting for. Finally, after watching our colleagues in Asia and the UK enjoying this phone, it's landed in Australia and we've had a chance to get our grubby little paws on it, smearing the reflective stainless steel surface in the process.
Unboxing the N82 is a tiny bit underwhelming. The stainless steel fascia immediately reminded us of Sony Ericsson's super-stylish and super-slim W890i, but the N82's chunky form factor ends the similarities. If the N82 had been released 12 or 18 months ago we'd have looked past the N82's thick frame, but in 2008 the N82 is one noticeably hefty handset, nearly identical in size to the much older N73.
Next we encountered the ridiculously tiny keys. Similarly unusable slivers left the mobile world shaking their heads when Sony Ericsson incorporated them on the W880i last year. To see the same lousy design element 12 months on had us rolling our eyes in disapproval. These keys are uncomfortable to use and owners of the N82 will complain about them until the day they thoughtfully recycle their N82 handsets.
Thick frames and stupidly-sized keys aside, the N82 is still quite a stylish looking phone. The front and sides of the handset are a pleasant mixture of reflective and matte-finished stainless steel, and the back is beige plastic with a subtle herringbone patterning; interrupted by the hulking big camera module. The N82 also comes in a piano-black finish, similar to the N81 and the N95 8GB, which we saw a few months back.
Nokia have side-stepped a few common design hurdles by placing the micro SD card slot on the side of the phone — for swift swapping of memory — and having included a 3.5mm headphone port at the top of the handset. Both of these features are desirable and necessary on a media-focused N-series device.
If you've been eagerly awaiting the release of the N82 it's probably for one reason: the 5-megapixel camera. It features a similar Carl Zeiss lens system as the ever-popular N95, but improves on it with the assistance of a Xenon flash. On the software side, the N82's camera features nearly as many settings and adjustments as we saw in LG's Viewty. Between scene modes (a combination of numerous camera settings), image size, white balance and flash settings you have more than enough control to take excellent snaps.
While the camera is superb, the N82 is far from a one trick pony, and the comparisons to the N95 don't stop at the Carl Zeiss shooter. We know that Nokia is ramping up its mobile content services this year and to take advantage of this, the N82 also features HSDPA data (3.6 Mbps) for over-the-air downloads, and Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g) connectivity for dodging mobile data charges at Wi-Fi hotspots. The built-in Nokia Web browser is Web 2.0 compatible and works well, even if page navigation with the five-way nav key is a bit tedious.
The N82 also features a GPS receiver, plus Nokia Maps v1.3 (although be aware that turn by turn voice guidance costs extra). Running on Nokia's S60 Symbian operating system means if you don't like Nokia Maps you can easily replace it with other mapping software of your choosing.
A not-so-common feature that enhances both Web browsing and Nokia Maps, plus just about every other application on the phone, is the built-in accelerometer — technology that switches the display from portrait mode to landscape when you tip the phone on its side. The 2.4-inch QVGA display is fantastic, especially when you maximise your screen real estate in landscape view.
Before we continue, a quick announcement: this is the best camera in a phone currently available. This fact may change by mid-year with everyone, including Nokia, releasing a slew of 5-megapixel camera phones, but for the moment the N82 takes the cake. The image processing is lightning fast, and the pictures we took were uniformly sharp and colourful.
Nokia is constantly improving the performance of their handsets running S60, and the N82 is no exception. Menu performance is fluid and lag-free; a marked improvement on S60 handsets from this time last year. Call quality and messaging is second to none. USB data transfers, particularly music, can be a little slow and tedious using Nokia's PC Suite, but overall the job is done well and the music sounds good, with the 3.5mm headphone jack offering the opportunity to use your favourite headphones with this handset.
Battery life is a bit concerning, being only marginally better than the power hungry N95. With light to moderate use during tests we saw between a day and a half and two days between charges. Add some GPS mapping and Wi-Fi use and you could expect to charge the phone at the end of each day, which is less than ideal.
The N82 is caught somewhere between being best-in-show and standard Nokia fare. Its excellent features and performance are offset by some thoughtless design and its lowly battery life. For people who want the very best camera in their phone then the decision should be simple, however, others who'd prefer more usable buttons and for the pockets not to bulge, may choose to wait for the next batch of Nokias when they arrive mid-year. There's no doubt that those who look passed the design flaws will enjoy a full featured handset.