Posted by: jjarmasz | February 9, 2011

Two weeks with the Nokia N8 [updated AGAIN]

For the past two weeks I had the privilege to trial a Nokia N8 smartphone, courtesy of the kind folks at WOMWorld/Nokia. Today I had to pack it up to send it back to London. What a sad day!

Nokia N8

Trial Nokia N8 from WOMWorld

It’s been nice to pretend to be in the tech industry for a couple of weeks 🙂 I won’t spend time on a full review here, partly because there are so many already on the web (see this multipart review, or this shorter one), and partly because I wanted to write something quickly before spending some more time on some more serious musings.

So for now I will only make some quick points, starting with some disclosures:

  • My main smartphone for the past 10 months has been a Nokia N97, and before that a Nokia E61, so I am quite familiar with the Symbian mobile OS.
  • I also have been dabbling with Android (LG Optimus One, running 2.2), which I quite like; I have also spent some “quality time” with an iPhone 3GS, and use a BlackBerry at work, so I am familiar with other mobile OSes
  • I have a definite preferences for hardware keyboards, and for devices that have a “widgetized” homescreen system, like Android or Symbian.

All this to say that I am quite comfortable with Symbian, but I am also well aware of its limitations, especially in its S60 5th ed. guise, and am not insensitive to the lures of other OSes. I have been dying to try the new Symbian^3 Nokia devices, but when the N8 came out I was concerned it would just be a camera strapped to a phone, as opposed to a strong smartphone able to also take some stunning pictures. Plus I did not know how I would take to the lack of a hardware keyboard. I generally dislike virtual keyboards, and no amount of time with the iPhone or touch-only Android devices has changed that. So in addition to wanting to try the N8, because love to take quality pictures with my phone, I have been eyeing up Nokia’s E7 with great interest, as well as the handful of Android devices with physical keyboards, most of which are NOT available in the mobile wasteland that is Canada…

Well, I have to say that much to my surprise, within minutes of turning on the device, I knew I REEEALLLY liked it. And this despite the fact that WOMWorld had sent me what I consider to be the ugliest of the N8s, the silver one! (Yes, I had my heart set on the lime green or orange one 🙂 But even that grew on me.

Of course I was blown away by the 12MP, xenon-flash equipped camera, that goes without saying (it took all the pictures I have posted so far on this blog except for the one of the N8 above). And the device just felt amazing in my hands, with its aluminum unibody build and its solid Gorilla glass AMOLED screen. But above all I discovered that I really like the “new” Symbian, and that it is a strong, very usable and sleek mobile operating system that doesn’t deserve (much of) the flak that it’s getting in most of the mobile press. I feel Symbian is more flexible and adaptable than people give it credit for, and that it could still have many more years of competitive life in it, if only Nokia could turn its smartphone strategy around (all the rumours to switches to other OSes not withstanding.) Yes, this is a device that made me seriously think that I could live without a physical keyboard! That’s how much I liked it.

Here are just a few highlights of my 2 weeks with the N8:

  • Despite claims to the contrary, the device is quite fast (when it slows down, it always has to do with the browser, or the web run-time applications which run on it; but that is an issue that has been done to death in the press). At some point I was playing Angry Birds while listening to a podcast – a device that can do that is NOT slow.
  • A bunch of things that I had always hoped would just work (like various apps, email, etc.) but didn’t on my old N97 JUST WORKED on the N8.
  • I loved the fact that it could take almost any video in any format I could throw at it, and it would play them back no problem.
  • It’s great to be able to do the full Nokia multitasking thing with no memory worries!
  • Despite the scorn poured on the N8’s virtual landscape QWERTY keyboard, I quite liked it. I enjoyed the haptic feedback and the cursor arrows for moving the cursor in the text entry box, something I haven’t seen on any other virtual device. So much better than stabbing the screen and hoping the cursor goes where you want it.
  • It was a joy to be able to finally try a bunch of the Qt-based apps I could never try on my Nokia N97 because I didn’t have enough free memory to install Qt.
  • The new Bubbles screen unlock app I downloaded from Nokia Beta Labs a few days before having to send it back was a great addition to the UI.
  • By the way, did I mention I loved the camera?

Don’t get me wrong, there are things I wasn’t so impressed with, and many of those have been discussed in depth elsewhere too. I will just mention a few here:

  • I didn’t find the much-vaunted battery to be that great. I often had to to a top-up charge once in the day, even with nightly charging. I suspect it was due to a particular app I was running (I’m looking at you Accuweather widget), and given that it was a review device that had been used (and charged) by many before, I can’t be sure that the battery wasn’t already suffering from wear-and-tear.
  • The proximity sensor doesn’t always kick in when you have the phone on your left ear during a call, unless you mash it against your face.
  • Accessing Gmail through the built-in email worked fine for me (though I do just use it as an regular IMAP account), but in replying to large emails the client often took an unexpectedly long time to open the reply editing screen.
  • Well yes as everyone knows the stock Nokia browser is just sad and needs fixing; I used Opera Mobile most of the time.
  • Some features I was used to on my older devices, like custom EQ in the music player, or the ActiveNotes app, were oddly missing.

That said, I really loved the N8 and sending it back is a hard thing to do! Would I buy it for myself? If my bank account allowed it, I would in a heartbeat, though I have to say I am still lusting after an E7… mmm, keyboards… Like many others, I would have preferred the E7 with the N8’s camera, but you can’t have it all! Granted, I am quite familiar with, and like, Symbian, so I am admittedly biased. But that’s not for lack of familiarity with the other platforms.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes, definitely, though as usual that depends on what your needs are. If you can’t live without all your Google cloud services, Android is definitely the way to go and no one should tell you otherwise. If your idea of a good time with a smartphone is connecting to iTunes and gazing at all your app icons, then get an iPhone 🙂 (I kid, iPhones are great devices too…) It all depends on your use case. And the N8 definitely fits the bill for a variety of smartphone use cases, not just Symbian-heads. It’s a great device for people who like to mix-and-match services rather than rely on a single ecosystem, people who like a phone with great media playback that can still fit in your pocket and be comfortable as a phone, and of course everyone who loves to photoblog on the move.

In a later post, I will try to give a more detailed account of the N8’s pros and cons, and where I think it has some “hidden strengths” relative to the other mobile platforms.

In closing, here is a cropped portion of a picture I took with the N8 of some of the classical-style details on a downtown Toronto office building, one of the few left here with such intricate stylings. The picture still has a lot of detail, which you can really see by clicking on it and zooming in.

Thanks again to WOMWorld for making this happen!

Architectural details

Architectural details on a building at the NE corner of King & Yonge Streets, Toronto. Taken with the N8.

UPDATE [11 Feb 2011]: Boy am I glad I am not an actual mobile blogger. After today’s announcement of the Nokia-Microsoft “strategic alliance,” I am not sure how I feel about finishing this post the way I said I would above. I am not sure how I feel about commenting publicly about Nokia, or any mobile devices anymore. It’s not that I dislike Windows Phone 7 — I don’t really know anything about it, I haven’t ever tried it out — but I like Symbian a lot and I think its effective killing by Nokia today is a disgrace and an act of corporate bean-counting cowardice. At the same time, I am embarrassed to even admit that I even care about this at all. To misquote something Steve Jobs was supposed to have said to a customer, “they are just phones, folks!” But still. I dunno, maybe I’ll decide to write a post about the folly of caring about mobile phone brands at all — the manufacturers and telecos are just OUT TO GET OUR MONEY after all. We’ll see…

UPDATE PART II [14 Feb 2011]: Now that the hubbub about the Nokia-Microsoft deal had died down… a bit, I’ve decided that in the end, regardless what happens with Nokia in the future, the N8 as a device stands on its own merits. With Symbian essentially on “life support” for the next 2 years, the current generation of Symbian devices, N8 included, will likely see some ongoing support for some time yet. So, my initial appraisal stands — I would still use this device if I had it (gladly so), and would still recommend it to others if it suited their use case. I will, eventually, get around to writing an actual review of the device as promised above. As for the “NokMsft” deal, well, it’s kind of wait-and-see for me, though I might just commit some thoughts to the interwebs about this too.

If you own and enjoy an N8 now — keep doing so!

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Responses

  1. […] focus on highlights with the Nokis N8 over the two weeks he had it. Don’t worry though, jjarmasz promises a more extensive follow up post which he […]

  2. Hi,
    I share same good experience with my N8. For more pictures with I kindly invite you to visit MOBILE ART blog and fb page, places where all pictures are made exclusively with mobile phones.
    Regards.
    Marius

  3. Thanks for the link Marius!


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