The Nokia N8

February 8, 2011 · 11 comments

The kind Nokia people at WOMWorld sent me a Nokia N8 to trial for 3 weeks and use it to enter the #N8 Producers competition to win a zero-gravity experience and flights to Florida. Unfortunately I didn’t get to keep the phone (boo) but I certainly enjoyed playing with it for a bit, coming from a Nokia 5800 and many other Nokias before, I got familiar quickly. Anyway, before I get too deep into the review, here is the video I submitted to the competition, it is of where I’m living in Japan at the moment.

As you can see, it is quite a capable phone and by far the headline feature is the 12MP camera. It records in 720p HD video and even has a HDMI output to directly connect it to your HDTV. Clever stuff. I tested that feature and it worked great.

Another feature I found (the manual is non-existent so I couldn’t actually see all the features to start with and am probably missing a few) was FM transmitter. I actually though WTF? when I saw this and thought it was a mistake, transmit means to send out a signal rather than receive after all. But it was actually true. You can set the N8 to send out the music it’s playing on a certain (adjustable) frequency, and all radios close by can receive the signal and play the music from your phone through it! It doesn’t even require you to plug in an antenna/ear phones to do this too. I tested it out with my Nokia 5800 (on the left) on radio mode and managed to pick up the signal.

Nokia N8 radio transmit facility

N8 sending out radio signal

Nokia N8 menu

Nokia N8 Menu

As I previously mentioned I’m coming from a Nokia 5800, which is a different class of phone. The N8 is competing with the iPhone 4 and current Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S and HTC Desire HD which I can’t compare to in a fair fashion as I’ve not used them, so I’ll mention the differences between it and the 5800 I have.

Firstly the capacitive touch screen. This means it works via pressure and heat. It is supposed to be more sensitive and an improvement over previous generation touch screens which are just pressure powered (and can be used when wearing gloves). The N8 you can not use with gloves and I found it slow and unresponsive at times. I also struggled to use it in low temperatures (living up a mountain has that!) while the iPhone 4 has the same technology (so no gloves allowed) a friend of mine was using his in minus temperatures and it was still responding well. As was my Nokia 5800. Unfortunately the N8 fails here, cold hands = it doesn’t work. Even in low (not minus) temperatures I had to warm my fingers up before it started to respond in some cases. Overall the touch screen was quite poor too. It just didn’t have the sensitivity required and I had to scroll and make gestures several times before it worked. Not what you expect from a phone retailing at £600 (not to mention how they don’t hold their value like their Apple competitor).

Another note is it picked up finger prints horribly and spoiled the good look of the phone.

The menu (seen to the above left here) is pretty much exactly the same as the 5800. It was faster and smoother, but more powerful hardware will do that anyway. The operating system is the new version of Nokia’s own Symbian (Symbian^3 – not actually pronounceable I think). Which pretty much looks and performs like Symbian^2. At least it is easy to use. Although some things seem unnecessarily long to use (web browsing needs to be completely redesigned in my opinion – it takes too long to get to a page and change to a different site).

Nokia N8 home page

N8 Home Page

The music player is decent and easy to use. But again, it’s probably 1 menu too long in navigation to get playing your favourite tracks.

The home page (to the left here) is nice and customise-able. An improvement over the 5800, also you can swipe or press the central button at the bottom to change home pages and have up to 3 homepages. Handy for a clean look, or icon happy page if you desire.

Battery life seemed to be good. Other smart phones seem to only last a day. The N8 lasted 4-5 on standby for me, and 2 with active use (MP3 player, and making that damn video above).

Speaking of which. The video editing software leaves a lot to be desired. You have to make your video in order, so if you want to go back and edit something in the middle of the video… good luck. It’s a massive pain. Although I believe that other smart phones don’t even offer video editing at all (unless you pay out to download). So I guess its better than nothing.

The free GPS I never used. But from what I heard its pretty good.

Another thing of note. The alarm. I REALLY liked the alarm. It gently woke me up and seemed to play a really nice tune, almost designed to bring you out of a dream without pissing you off like most alarms. Much better than any other alarm I’ve used.

The menu/home button was to the side and had a backlight surrounding it – this is very neat looking and I liked the style of it. In fact the whole phone was athetically pleasing. Even the bulge on the back to accomodate the camera lens was fine. You can get the N8 in multiple colours, but I quite like the grey/black they sent mine in. It was nicely weighted and a good size to hold too.

Nokia N8

The Nokia N8 front and back

A phone is very important tool to me. I barely use mine for calling and texting, I think of my phones as more my pocket gadget. I use the calendar, alarm function and mp3 player the most. But I refuse to carry something like an iPod touch along with a phone, I expect a gadget to do it all these days.

Another thing I carry travelling is my dSLR camera. There are times however where this is just ridiculous and I feel stupid with it (like in a pub). A compact camera rules here. My humble and loyal 6 year old Panasonic camera broke on my flight to Japan (it was on its way out anyway), and I figured phones must be good enough these days to replace a compact camera. Indeed the Nokia N8 steps up to the plate here, and better than all other current smart phones. Not just the 12Mp camera sensor, but the lens is quality (my 5800 is actually terrible even though it has one of the ‘Carl Zeiss’ lens on it) and also the Xenon (not a crappy LED) flash makes a huge difference to photo output. It is good enough to rely on. Although I wish it had some sort of cover to protect it from scratches, something a lot of smart phones lack at the moment, probably for aesthetic reasons.

I think Nokia make some of the best phones hardware wise and this solid feeling one has got to be one of the best, although I’d like to see what it’s like after a year on the road. My 5800 has had it’s touch screen replaced and the case is currently falling apart and its struggling to read the SIM card and turns itself off so I’m not convinced on it and it’s plastic case. But the aluminum case is different. I’m definitely in need of a new phone. I even asked Nokia if I could buy this one off them, but they said no as it’s their trial phone :-)

Just to wrap this up. Would I recommend the N8? Yes. It does everything a modern phone should and well. The only thing is lacks is the massive app store like Android and Apple phones offer. I think I’d prefer future Nokia’s to run on Android but with a Nokia face/menu over them. That way they aren’t losing out on the massive app market that is oh so attractive and making me want something alternative to Nokia’s best.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sophie February 10, 2011 at 9:24 PM

I agree!
I went to the phone shop, intending to buy an iPhone but was persuaded to buy an N8 instead. I really like it, so easy and fun to use.
Sophie´s latest blogpost – Magic of Cities- Daydreaming Dubai

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AdventureRob February 11, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Yeah, nice choice. Nokia have just announced they are going to work with microsoft in the future for their software though, so hopefully they can attract consumers again.

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Dean February 11, 2011 at 3:34 PM

Haha that was the exact same comment I was going to make, looks like you got there first Rob!

Nice review! Pretty much agree with it all! Its main selling feature is the Camera, its great to have a quality camera in your pocket all the time!

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xmangerm February 12, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Yes, the main selling feature is the Camera but the other features like HDMI, Penta band, Maps for life (the data required), USB on the go are also very good also. With that written, Imho the N8 is the most overall complete and affordable smartphone on the market today.

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AdventureRob February 13, 2011 at 1:27 AM

I’m sorry but in 2011 I expect a phone to also have a massive back catalogue of software developers supporting it too. Nokia have been sitting back a bit where Apple and Google have come from nowhere to dominate the smartphone market. Hardware wise, it is complete, Symbian^3 works ok, but it just doesn’t have that major selling attraction point. So I disagree that is it the most complete smartphone on the market now.

I do however wish they’d do better. Maybe because they are European and can bring a different perspective to the table in comparison to the big American companies (likewise I wish the Japanese will translate their phones and sell them abroad – most of the predicted upcoming features on the next generation of Android phones and iPhone are already out and have been for years in Japan).

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AdventureRob February 13, 2011 at 1:22 AM

Yep the hardware is impressive. I wish they went with Android instead of windows mobile though for their future smart phones. Microsoft isn’t bringing much to the market at the moment and I feel they are getting more out of this deal than Nokia.

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Marius February 12, 2011 at 10:14 AM

equilibrate and comprehensive review.
txs (more photos with N8 on my website)

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Schenna August 12, 2011 at 11:59 PM

Hi.I come across this blog while google-ing. I am from Malaysia and plan to visit Japan in near future.I am using N8 bought from my country.I have been reminded that Japan use wcdma2100,not GSM.thus is N8 can be used in Japan? With the international sim card from http://www.gosim.com and do u know whether Nokia E52 can be used also? Thank u.

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