An overview of the N8 & the final verdict.
The ultimate part in the Nokia N8 Review series. The remaining posts are here:
- Part 1 - The Hardware
- Part 2 - The OS
- Part 3 - Native Apps
- Part 4 - 3rd Party Apps
- Part 5 - Gaming
- Part 6 - The Camera
There's one thing I didn't mention in any of the reviews. The actual name of the N8 is the N8-00. So in the future there'll be a N8-01, N8-02, N8-03... - with a Qwerty keyboard thrown in, more/less memory, better camera, etc.
I don't know about you, but I hate this new naming scheme. I'm buying a phone! Not a CPU for goodness’ sake!
Don’t let me start on the C6-01, C7-00, E7-00. Don’t be fooled into thinking they are cheaper versions of the N8. They all have one huge liability – inferior EDOF cameras! Call it a marketing ploy, but apart from the N8, there really is no current Symbian^3 device with a decent AF camera. So if you want to buy a Symbian smartphone, you don’t really have any choice…
N8, the Camera
- 12MP 1/1.83" sensor.
- 28mm wide-angle Carl Zeiss lens protected by Gorilla Glass.
- Large aperture f/2.8.
- Xenon flash.
- Fast AF & low shutter lag.
- Small focus area.
- Decent control options (EV compensation, White Balance, ISO, Timer, Sharpness, Colour, etc).
- 720p video recording with stereo audio. Has optical-like zoom.
Cons- Some photos lack vibrancy.
- Camera UI. Changing scene modes requires 5 taps.
- Doesn't remember last modified settings. Have to use User Defined Mode.
- No variable aperture. ND filter doesn't handle light sources well.
- Photos taken with flash have wrong white balance.
- No low jpeg compression high quality photos option.
- No advanced manual controls (shutter speed, ISO) & metering options.
- No touch to focus.
- No burst mode.
- Red-eye reduction mode doesn’t work for greater than 1.5m.
- No continuous auto-focus for video. Active hyper focal distance system doesn't allow less than 60cm focus.
- Video recorded at 25fps.
- Practice required to master smooth capture & zoom.
Imagine if the N8 had a camera UI like this…
Can it replace my Nikon L20? No. Despite all its obvious advantages over the L20, its deficiencies can’t be overlooked. The L20 has less settings to tweak with, but the scene modes make up for it.
That said, there are only two features that I regret isn't available on my L20 - wide-angle lens & large aperture! I didn't realise what I was missing until I used the N8. Wide-angle brings in a new perspective on composition! The other feature is the large aperture. F/2.8 is awesome for bokehs!
If I had a DSLR & if the Canon S95 didn't exist, I would definitely buy the N8 as a secondary camera.
N8, the smartphone
The great features.
- 12MP wide-angle camera with Xenon flash.
- Anodised aluminium body + Gorilla glass = legendary build quality! (at least for the ones made in Finland)
- 720p video playback over HDMI with 5.1 audio. Still the multimedia king until those dual-core 1080p monsters hit the market. Nokia Big Screen app literally turns the N8 into a mini-HTPC.
- USB-On-The-Go. Incredibly useful. One of the key features I believe should be standard in every smartphone. Removable drives, card readers, hard drives, digital cameras, other phones, mouse, keyboard - feels like a dream.
- AMOLED screen - better contrast & greater viewing angles.
- Pentaband 3G.
- Bluetooth 3.0 with multiple devices support.
- Great battery life for 1200mAh - 2 days on average.
- 2mm charging port + USB charging port.
- Power saving mode.
- Xvid/DivX & flv video support.
- Subtitles support – srt & sub. Just pushed in an update.
- New photo & video editor.
The good enough points that could have been better...
- 16GB memory. Should have been 32GB, but there's a microSD slot anyway.
- Internal battery. If you're going to use a non-removable battery, it would be best to have one at maximum capacity. Imagine 1500mAh...
- Mono speaker found at the back.
- AMOLED screen isn’t polarized Clear Black Display. Reflective.
- 3 Home screens, but widgets keep their same small size.
- Improved notification area.
- Single tap UI model. Much improved from Symbian^1. Double tap still present in Camera.
- Multi-touch support, but still very limited.
- Gpu-accelerated UI. Still not that fluid, like when rotating the screen.
- New visual task manager. Shows less apps than before.
- Limited mkv x264 support. I've been able to play only 720p Top Gear releases.
- New Ovi Store app, but navigation still quite unintuitive.
- Ovi Maps inaccurate for some countries like Mauritius.
- Destinations? Access points? Still quite confusing to configure network permissions.
- Decent gaming titles available, none taking full advantage of the GPU. Angry Birds, NFS Shift, Hero of Sparta & Galaxy on Fire are among the best games.
- Email app is decent, but nowhere near what competing OSes offer.
The things that suck.
- The UI - inconsistent UI (buttons placement, single tap, double tap, long press, menus) even among native apps.
- Crap browser.
- 640x360 - limited resolution good for almost nothing.
- Lack of social networking integration. Included Social app is a nightmare.
- Basic landscape non-multi-touch keyboard & no Qwerty portrait keyboard. Largely outdated T9 keypad used instead.
- No split-screen text entry system.
- Photos app shows VIDEOS!
- Missing apps – Converter, Podcaster, Internet Radio, Home Media (DLNA), Share Online...
- Camera UI.
Improvements needed in Symbian
- Change the resolution. 640x360 is too limited! 16:9 is great for watching movies, useless for everything else. Move to 800x480 (N900). Should give the UI team more freedom for improvements.
- Fix the UI. Stick to strict UI guidelines. More icons instead of decade-old pop-up menus.
- Stop using non-uniform icons.
- Remove the Cancel button. Allow to tap anywhere to cancel…
- The UI should get out of the way until you need it, having only essential functions on-screen, like WP7.
- More multitouch gestures - like swirl, diagonal slides, multiple fingers flick.
- More gpu-accelerated animations. If you can't make it smooth, at least give the illusion of smoothness. (Related Android thread here)
- Make use of area beyond the screens, like panoramic apps.
- Better taskbar/notifications area. Current one wastes too much height.
- Bigger widgets for Home screens.
- 3rd party notifications systems.
- Fix the Qwerty keyboards - use a non-grid layout. Add shortcuts.
- Give the option to Photos/Music/Videos app to point to one folder only, not populate it with content from all over the phone.
- Built-in pdf reader with pinch-to-zoom. Adobe Reader has been dormant since 5800.
I think I just described... Maemo! Well, it's true that if the N8 came with Maemo (I really mean Maemo, not MeeGo), I'd buy one straight away!
The hardware is near-perfect, it's only the OS that lacks some basic features - decent browser, Qwerty portrait keyboard, split screen text entry. These are the priority fixes... which are coming in the next firmware updates. From the little tidbits I’ve read, PR1.1 is going to be huge! At the end of 2011, we'll have a complete UI overhaul (based on Qt) that's supposed to bring Symbian aesthetically on par with other mobile OSes. If Nokia can pull this off, then certainly Symbian can't be written off.
That said, the Symbian core is still the best among all mobile OSes. It can handle heavy multitasking while having superior battery performance. Of all Symbian devices I’ve tested so far, I’ve found the N8 to be the most stable…
However, don't expect superphone-level performance from the N8. With an ARM-11 processor & only 256MB RAM, it's not future-proof. Much of the new ground-breaking features is due to the new Broadcom BCM2727 chip.
Oh, & there's the apps. As has been the case with Symbian, you have all the essential apps there, including a decent browser (Opera), great Twitter app (Gravity), Google Maps, Swype, etc. For all your everyday smartphone needs, you’ll be satisfied. But if you’re looking for more advanced headline-grabbing apps like those on iOS & Android, you’ll be disappointed. There isn’t much choice.
Seriously, I don't expect any improvements in this area until MeeGo is released. If it gains enough traction, Symbian will reap the fringe benefits. Otherwise, it's the Wild West of apps on Symbian - I doubt anyone will build apps with the same high standard as Gravity.
Reading the above, you'd think that the N8 is a hopeless case. It isn't. For two reasons. First, the N8 has been a massive success in all emerging markets it has been sold (around 4 million units). Total sell-out. Even in Mauritius, it's hard to find a model to try out because the N8 is being sold in weeks. What it means is that the more popular the device, the more likely it'll have long-term support by Nokia. Like with the 5800, which received yet another update a few days ago. Unlike other phones (SonyEricsson & Samsung), you're guaranteed to get updates until the built-in obsolescence kicks in.
The second reason why the N8 has a bright future - HyperX. Mobile enthusiasts will know how the HyperX team hack-transformed the Samsung Omnia HD i8910 into the most powerful Symbian phone (up until the N8 was released). Now they've changed devices & are now focusing on the N8. Whatever software features are missing on the N8, expect HyperX to add them in the future. They've already brought us low jpeg compression & 30fps video recording and are actively working on hacking the N8 to allow access to system files...
iOS & Android user? Stick to your platforms unless you want reliable hardware & a camera phone that's in another league. MeeGo is what you should be looking at, not Symbian. It’s still work in progress.
If you are a Nokia 5800 user (& the various similar models), the N8 is the perfect upgrade. It's better in every way. You’ll love Symbian^3.
At the local (Mauritius) price of Rs 20,000 ($670), it's a bit steep for a device that is neither a high-end superphone nor a mid-end cheap smartphone.
At Rs 15,000 ($500) or less, I'd definitely recommend the N8 if you can live with its flaws. You'll be buying it bearing in mind that over time the N8 will eventually improve. But deep down you know that if ever you own the N8, it'll be for only one reason. The camera.
Score – 7.5/10
Have any questions on the Nokia N8? Post it. I'll try my best to answer. Got any improvements you'd like in Symbian? Feel free to discuss them here. :)
AAS - Review: Nokia N8: part 1, overview and hardware
AAS - Review: Nokia N8: part 2 - camera and camcorder
AAS - Review: Nokia N8: part 3 - Multimedia and Gaming
AAS - Review: Nokia N8: part 4 - Messaging, Email, Web
AAS - Review: Nokia N8: part 5 - Real world, Performance, Application set, Homescreens
AAS - Review: Nokia N8: part 6 - Cutting edge technology (USB on the go, HDMI, Pentaband, etc.)
AnandTech - Nokia N8 Review: Nokia's New Flagship
GSMArena - Nokia N8 review: Director of photography
Engadget - Nokia N8 review
PhoneArena - Nokia N8 Review
Guardian - Nokia N8 Reviewed