Preliminary thoughts about the Nokia N8

Green Nokia N8 Front.bmpYou probably noticed a rush of preview posts about the Nokia N8. This was largely because a group of bloggers and journalists had some time with Nokia SA’s Patrick Henchie and Tania Steenkamp last week and, of course, a Nokia N8 pre-release model.

There are a number of things I really like about the N8 and a couple things I don’t. I haven’t spent a lot of time with the N8 and will hopefully receive a review unit when they launch here in SA in the next few months. One of the N8’s weaknesses is its software. The N8 runs the fairly new Symbian^3 operating system which is pretty robust and, unlike Simon Dingle’s experience, the device ran pretty smoothly when I played around with it. While the processor is a Texas Instruments ARM Cortex A8 (subject to correction here) 680 MHz processor but this doesn’t automatically mean the phone is underpowered. You really need to consider the processor and OS as a whole when evaluating relative performance of a device compared to others. My HTC Desire sports a Snapdragon 1GHz but the N8 didn’t perform any slower than my Desire based on a cursory observation. I didn’t see any sluggish performance during video playback or even when flipping through albums using the N8’s music player’s iTunes-like album view.

So why do I describe the N8’s software as a weakness? Well, there are a couple reasons. For starters critics are going to point to the almost retro looking Symbian UI and talk about how dated it is compared to iOS and Android. It does look a bit dated if you see the iOS and Android UIs as being the current state of the art and what UI designers should be emulating. I’m not sure I agree. I am prefer my Android/HTC Sense UI on my phone but I understand the rationale for not making drastic changes to the Symbian UI even as the underlying OS has been overhauled in Symbian^3. This phone was probably designed with Nokia faithful in mind. Moving to the N8 or any other Nokia smartphone is likely intended to be as frictionless as possible and users should be able to pick up the N8 and do all the things they are accustomed to doing on their older devices without having to learn a new UI. That said, the UI has been optimised to reduce the number of clicks to get to functions and so on.

Another reason why I see the software as a weakness is that developers don’t seem to see Symbian in its various incarnations as a compelling platform. By “developers” I am talking about an unscientifically selected group of developers who develop some of the popular apps available on iOS and Android devices. I don’t, for example, see Evernote, Dropbox, Kindle or other popular apps being developed for Symbian. Where there are popular apps available, like Google Maps and Gmail, the apps often lack the functionality other versions enjoy. If developers are not drawn to Symbian as a development platform, they just won’t develop the apps and people who want those apps won’t buy the devices. Another issue which frustrates me is the apparent fragmentation of the platform. Nokia devices run various versions of S60, Symbian^3, Maemo and MeeGo. Next year devices will also support Symbian^4. It all seems a little too unfocussed. True, cross-platform development tools like Qt make it easier to develop for the various platforms Nokia supports but that hasn’t exactly lead to a stampede for the development toolkits.

Consistency is also an issue. No sooner had the N8 been announced as a flagship Symbian^3 device but news began to spread that higher-end Nseries devices will run MeeGo (the Linux based Maemo successor) rather than Symbian^3. I was told that, going forward, high-end Nseries devices will run MeeGo and that other phones in the Nokia catalogue will ultimately run Symbian^3/4. This strategy apparently has to do with hardware support for the OS versions but it can’t be terribly appealing to developers who have to support multiple OS versions, with or without Qt.

Nokia_N8_All the colours.jpg

That said, there is a lot to like about the N8. The big appeal for me is the 12 megapixel camera (Carl Zeiss lenses, of course) which does 720p HD video capture. Just as a portable camera, this is awesome! I wish my HTC Desire had half the camera the N8 has. The N8 is not going to replace your SLR but as the camera you have with you when stuff happens, this is awesome!

I love the Cover Flow-like UI in the music player. It is very slick and looks a lot like an iOS device. The N8 comes with what will be called Ovi Music (the version the N8 ships with will be what is currently called Comes with Music) for 6 months so that is 6 months of DRM’d but unlimited music on the device. If you don’t mind the DRM you can also renew your Ovi Music subscription (other devices will also have this option) or you can opt for the pay per track/album but DRM-free, 320kbps Ovi Music option (launches on 9 September and I am pretty excited about this).

Another handy feature which I like is the ability to use your N8 with its 16GB of built in memory (expandable with a microSD card) as an external drive (in your face iPhone!). The N8 also comes with a bucketload of adaptors, a car kit and other bits and pieces in the box. The box might even be a bucket … to carry all that stuff.

Oh, there is also all that free Ovi Maps for life stuff too!

The device itself feels both pretty light and solid at the same time. Nokia generally builds their devices really well although I managed to drop the demo model I was handling in the first few minutes (on to a couch, thank goodness). The metal case feels a little slippery to me but Henchie said he hadn’t dropped it once in all the time he had been using it. Maybe its just me. Daily battery life is apparently close to 2 days with moderate use and that is a welcome change from the roughly 1 day battery life in most modern smartphones.

I am sure I will have a lot more to say once I have had more time with the device but just as a multimedia device, Nokia fans should give this phone a serious look. If you are not bothered by the UI and like using Nokia devices, this device could seriously float your boat.

Paul

Enthusiast, writer, strategist, web developer, and photographer. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad.

  1. I’m thinking about my upgrade in Jan and so far the BB9800 hasn’t floated my boat so well, however I need to keep a BB for the messenger. I’m thinking of going the 2 phone route and getting another phone and just using the BB for chat. This device appeals to me because of the portable HD feature but I think with dual core androids coming nex year that this might not survive very long.

  2. Maybe … the dual core phones next year may add more power but I am yet to see a phone that has the quality camera Nokia smartphones often have. The extra processing power may be required by the software the phones are running too and the battery life could suffer too.

    Then again, with dual core processors coming out in phones next year, might be worth waiting … You could always get a good quality compact camera for the imaging and video stuff.

What do you think?

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