We have been reviewing Nokia’s flagship imaging device, Nokia N8 for the past several weeks and strangely enough we found ourselves reviewing two different devices within the same device. Nokia N8 performs very differently while being used for non-internet activities such as camera, multimedia & navigation than it does as an internet device. This completely different behaviour on & off the internet leads us to believe that Nokia N8 has split personality!
Performance as a Standalone device for Camera, Multimedia & Navigation
Nokia N8 offers superior user experience when used for camera, multimedia or gaming, in other words when its not used as an internet device. This can be attributed to its prowess on the hardware side.
Camera: If a 12 MP camera with 1/1.83” sensor and xenon flash does not excite you then no mobile camera ever will. The camera is arguably the best ever on a mobile phone & captures great videos too! 720p videos at 25 fps to be precise! If a good camera is all that you look for while buying a mobile, then just go and buy a Nokia N8 if you haven’t done so already.
Music: Audio quality is sublime and the new CoverFlow UI is good enough to make you wish that Nokia had unleashed its designer on the rest of the UI. The only shocking omission is the lack of manual EQ. The bundled FM Transmitter, which has become almost a Nokia exclusive feature, comes handy in beaming music to your home or car music system.
Videos: Watching videos is a pleasure on the widescreen display; and built-in support for multiple codecs including DivX means most videos will play without converting formats. There is HDMI & USB OTG support which allows you to play DivX videos on your USB drive on your large LCD TV with Dolby stereo sound!
Gaming: Nokia’s move away from resistive towards capacitative touchscreens and a dedicated GPU opens up a lot of potential for N8 on the gaming front and Gameloft has already responded by launching several HD games for it.
Navigation: Ovi Maps is pre-loaded on most of Nokia’s newer smartphones & N8 is no exception. Offline maps which eliminate the need to download data and free lifetime voice navigation makes it a very impressive navigation tool.
Performance as an Internet Device
When you start using Nokia N8 as an internet device, it starts performing very differently providing a less than acceptable level of user experience. For starters, Symbian^3 still struggles to define how various apps access the internet resulting in scenarios in which the phone is connected through Wi-Fi & GPRS simultaneously for different apps.
Browser: The web browser is one of the phone’s most significant weakness. An updated browser is expected shortly but in the meantime you can install alternate browsers such as Opera from Ovi Store. While there is an option to change your default browser, this setting does not really work.
Email : You can setup an email account as a push mail account or via direct POP/IMAP access though this option is hidden during setup. Setting up a push mail account can be tricky at times & once setup you may experience email delivery to be unreliable with instances of emails not receiving for several hours or even days, only to automatically resume later. The interface is not polished and there are no visual notifications for new emails!
Instant Messaging: There is no integrated IM similar to that found on Android & Maemo platforms. An IM app is expected to be made available shortly but is likely to be coded in WRT. You can install 3rd party apps such as Nimbuzz but the user experience will not match that provided by integrated chat.
Social Networking: Nokia’s idea of social integration is a “Social Networks” button in individual contacts to do a search on Facebook & Twitter and allow you to manually add Facebook profile images to your phone contacts one by one. Socially (not to be confused with Nokia’s Social) can be used to sync contacts’ photos & birthdays, but nothing more than that. Overall the Facebook experience is way short of that on Blackberry or Android. The twitter experience in Nokia Social isn’t good either with no option to even retweet. Fortunately, the twitter experience can be enhanced with Gravity which is an excellent app but will cost you $10. Compare this with other OSes which have a plethora of free quality apps for twitter.
RSS: RSS interface offered by the built-in browser is very basic besides not supporting Google Reader. Symbian lacks good third party apps for Google Reader unlike other OSes which have plenty of free high quality apps.
Media Sharing: While camera quality is excellent, when it comes to sharing media on the internet via Flickr, Picasa, Facebook or Youtube, there are not many options. The Share Online app has been strangely discontinued (which didn’t support many services in any case) so you are limited to using Pixelpipe for your sharing needs.
Is the Nokia N8 for you?
Nokia N8 excels on the hardware front with a brilliant camera, superior build quality and excellent battery life. On the software front, Symbian^3 has numerous improvements over Symbian^1 but the user interface hasn’t changed much. The lack of eye candy is compounded by the archaic fonts used in the menus. Portrait qwerty is sorely missed even on the narrow display as Swype would have allowed a little inaccuracy in typing thanks to its ability to auto correct.
There are various ways you may use a smartphone for. If you are more likely to use it for camera & multimedia and only for some casual internet usage, then Nokia N8 is for you. Its evident that Symbian has been designed from a multimedia perspective considering Nokia uses widescreen aspect ratio for its displays which are better suited for watching videos rather than browsing the web or reading emails.
If you are looking to use Nokia N8 as an internet device & plan to depend upon your phone for staying connected with friends through email, IM or social networking then don’t expect Nokia N8 to provide a good user experience. The sole exception is the wonderful user experience for twitter thanks to Gravity.
Nokia N8 is certainly the best camera-phone at the moment but its user experience as an internet device prevents it from being labeled as the best overall smartphone. Apps such as Gravity, Socially, Opera, Nimbuzz & Pixelpipe have helped to a large extent in providing some respectability to internet services on N8 but its still behind Android & iOS as far as overall user experience is concerned.
We thank Nokia India for providing us with a Nokia N8 for extended usage for our review.