It's 2010, and Nokia comes out with the N8. The Finns have had years to learn from Apple and its hugely successful iPhone, not to mention Google and the Android.
They've been able to note how Microsoft, RIM and Palm have spun their wheels without gaining Apple's traction in the smartphone arena.
What's Nokia's answer to the iPhone and Android like then? On paper, the N8 looks impressive. The feature list is long, and very complete. It does 3G in five bands, 850, 900, 1700, 1900 and 2100MHz, so this is a phone that should work fine on the three networks in New Zealand. GSM is supported in all the above bands too, bar 2100MHz. In terms of speed, the 3G on the N8 is rated at 10.2Mbit/s HSDPA downloads and 2Mbit/s HSUPA. If you can afford the mobile data, your internet connectivity should fly.
There's Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) too, GPS with A-GPS, proximity sensor, accelerometer, digital compass and more.
However, the big drawcard is undoubtedly the 12Mpixel camera with Carl Zeiss f/2.8 Planar lens. I was looking at the specs for the camera, and the 3G, thinking "this could be an ideal journo phone" so let's look at that bit of the phone first.
Clearly, fitting the 1/1.83" sensor and 5.9mm focal length lens (equivalent to a 28mm wide-angle in 35mm film cameras) wasn't easy for Nokia. The whole assembly, including the Xenon flash and stereo microphone, juts out about 2mm from the body. This looks inelegant, and has me at least worried about the durability of the lens and camera.
Adding an optical zoom would've made the lens assembly even bigger, so Zeiss didn't. You get a 3X digital zoom, which works adequately fast and doesn't seem to degrade image quality much.
Video can be played back in 720p resolution at 30 frames per second. However, the N8 only records in 25fps. There's an HDMI connector on top of the phone as well, and 16GB of storage in the phone that's expandable with micro-SD cards. Plenty of room for hi-def video and mega-pixel pics in other words.
And, you get great results. Overall the camera on the N8 is the best one I've tried - on a mobile phone. I like the Xenon flash and with a bit of practice, great images are possible even in low-light conditions. The pictures didn't always come out as sharp as I'd like them, however. The fixed-aperture f/2.8 lens means the camera has to use shutter speed and variable ISO sensitivity to adjust exposure, meaning you never quite know what the image will end up as.
Rather than subject you to my mundane photography efforts with the N8, here's a picture from Nokia UK of Pamela Anderson who was apparently roped in for the launch of the Commuter film, shot entirely on Nokia's new camera:
Hope you won't get nightmares. Actually, that picture doesn't seem to be taken with an N8 and I can't find one from Nokia that was taken with the phone, so how's this?
The N8 comes with sample pics that look like HDR ones. I can't find a setting on the N8 to take HDR pictures though.
If you know how to handle a camera, like UK animation specialists Aardman do, you can get some fantastic moving pictures out of the N8 as well.
The camera is very much the best part of the N8. It's definitely reason alone to check out the phone.
Nokia also makes very good phones, as in voice devices. Call quality is excellent. Perhaps thanks to the 680MHz processor that runs at relatively leisurely clock speed, battery life is great too. Two days between charges is possible, with normal use (ie. not constant video playback and shooting with the Xenon flash).
As a smartphone that'll take on the likes of Apple iPhone 4 and the high-end Androids however, the N8 just can't hack it. Its 3.5" AMOLED capacitive touch screen is bright and sharp, but 640 by 360 pixel resolution. In other words, you get a hi-res camera on the N8, with a lo-res screen to check out images and videos on. This when the iPhone 4 uses a 960 by 640 pixel screen.
It's not the hardware that ultimately lets down the N8, it's Symbian^3. For instance, QWERTY keyboard entry only works in landscape mode. In portrait mode, which is how you'll hold the phone most of the time, you get a multi-press alphanumeric key pad instead.
Everything seems to take many more key presses or dialogs on the N8 than compared to the competition.
For example: to enter a URL in the web browser, you have to press an arrow icon to bring up the Options button.
Then you press the Options button to bring up the system menu and select Go To.
This gives you a nested submenu, so pick e.g. the New Web Page option.
In the new dialog that pops up, enter the URL with the QWERTY keyboard or slowly via the alphanumeric keypad.
Press the tick mark button.
The URL is now inserted into the dialog,
Next, press Go To, to load web page.
Update: Richard Bloor of Allaboutsymbian.com points out that you can use a shortcut button that appears once you click on the Arrow icon in the browser window, and be taken to the URL entry. This saves some of the initial steps mentioned above, but it's still clumsy.
Adding insult to injury, the built-in Symbian^3 browser is pretty rubbish too (try using it with Gmail for instance). You have to get something better, like Opera Mini 10.
If you want to mark/tag multiple email messages for instance, you press Options and select Mark. This puts the email app interface into err, Mark mode so that you can mark the messages. Then you select an operation to perform on the marked messages, such as Delete.
What usability sadist dreamt up such a cumbersome way of doing something people will perform many times a day? It's so awkward that it makes you scream, and what's more, hard for beginners to figure out as features are hidden in nested menus.
This convoluted design can be found in the hardware too: the N8 has two buttons to wake up the screen, one on right-hand side that slides downwards, and one at the bottom left-hand side that also provides access to the system menu, and pressed again, to the applications menu.
Why make it so hard Nokia, when other makers get away with a single button? Why does the phone, which can charge via USB, need a separate charging port as well?
Social media is possible with the N8, but again, the bundled software is terrible. I hear that Gravity is a very good Twitter client for Symbian but it costs money. On iOS and Android, I get free and excellent Twitter clients like Tweetdeck.
Speaking of applications, Nokia has its own marketplace called Ovi. This means door in Finnish, and I guess the idea was that it should be a portal to a world of great stuff.
However, the first few times I tried to activate it, the Ovi was slammed shut in my face and wouldn't let me in via the N8. This even though I was able to log in to Ovi from my PC. The fix is to create a new account, as APC Mag notes.
New Zealand doesn't feature in Ovi, so you have to pick Australia to access the music and apps in the store. That's a little inconvenient when it comes to currency rates, but if you can get unlimited music downloads, it's no biggie. You can't find the price for the unlimited download anywhere on the website (the Ovi Suite for Windows won't let you access the music store, sigh), so you download the Nokia Music Player as directed and restart the computer. The Music Player knows you're in New Zealand which is cool, but dammit.
There's nothing wrong with my Internet connection. In fact, the Music Player is able to connect to the Internet to download artwork for existing music it found on my computer.
For the money - the N8 retails for $900 to $1,000 in New Zealand - this just isn't good enough. I had high hopes for the N8, thinking it would mean I don't have to lug both a data-capable phone and a good quality camera with me, but no. The N8 isn't the one.
Update Nokia's communications manager for Australia and NZ, Tracy Postill, emailed me after the post with the following comments:
Was reading your piece on Geekzone on the N8. Everyone has a right to their opinion but the sales of N8 are going gangbusters since launching in Australia a few weeks back so clearly there are many that love the phone. One thing I will say is that the Ovi Store is available to kiwi customers and in fact we've just launched the Air NZ grabaseat app, which again is doing really well - and we've just launched.
If you have issued downloading, let me know and i'll get one of our product guys to walk you through it. Be grateful if you could change this or update your article.
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