The Media Guru
Nov 23, 2010



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After having used the N8 for nearly a month, it's time for me to complete the hardest job left - review it. In the first post of this (massive) review series, I'll be taking a look at the N8's hardware.

 

This post is Part 1 of Nokia N8 Review series. The remaining posts are here:

 

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The N8's internals are housed inside an anodised aluminium body, which is... absolutely gorgeous. From the photos, the aluminium may not look as attractive as say stainless steel, but its allure lies in the touch. Once you hold the N8, you get the feeling of indestructibility. The build quality is near perfect.
At 113.5mm x 56mm x 12.9mm, the N8 fits in snugly in your hand & the 135g doesn't feel heavy at all. It's easily pocketable.

The slightly off-coloured top & bottom parts of the N8 are made from plastic. Due to aluminium shielding electromagnetic waves, these plastic parts contain the network, Wifi, Bluetooth & GPS antennas. During everyday use, you hardly feel the difference between plastic & aluminium.

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Sadly though, the N8 may be hardy, but it isn't indestructible due to the glass touchscreen. While Gorilla glass is scratch-proof & shatter-proof, a carefully aimed side blow can still smash it.
That said, the N8 has no need for any kind of protection, screen cover or case. You can safely leave the N8 in your pocket without worrying about anything scratching it. Or you can drop it to the ground a few dozen times without any damage.

Here's a video of the N8 being tortured. I did try a few tests of my own using a pocket knife, coin & dividers. :P
The anodised aluminium can handle light scratches as well - just wipe it off.

 

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The N8 has a single button at the front, which opens the menu/home screen & pops up the app switcher on a long press. The menu button also serves as a notification light (with breathing if you enable it).
What's annoying is the position of the button. At the far left, it's great for right-hand use, but a nightmare for left-handers. It's so awkward to try press the menu button while in the left hand that the N8 can even escape your grasp! Why didn't Nokia put it in the centre like everyone else!?!

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At the top, there's the proximity sensor, ambient light sensor & front VGA camera.

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On the right side of the N8, there's the volume keys & the camera shutter key, both recessed inside the aluminium with some incredibly polished edges. There's also the sliding screenlock switch.

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At the bottom, there's a 2 mm charging port. This N8 was made in Finland, but there are some that are made in China. Although there shouldn't be any difference in quality, Nokia have acknowledged that some devices are DOA & not turning on. Indeed, there have been reports that some batches of N8 made in China have a missing battery spacer...

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On the left side, we have the microSD card slot & the SIM card slot. Next to the uncovered MicroUSB port, there's a charging LED light which lights up when the N8 is being charged via USB or the 2mm port.
Note that while MicroUSB isn't a proprietary connector, I couldn't use any other microUSB cable with it... (Hint: USB-On-The-Go)

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At the top, we have the power button, 3.5mm audio port & the mini-HDMI (Type C) port.

 

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At the back, we finally find the mythical 12MP camera with Xenon flash. Due to the size of the camera module, Nokia had to accommodate a rather large bump for it, which also contains the mono speaker (one of the loudest I’ve ever heard) & rear microphone. The downside is that the N8 isn't flat when laid on its back. Should we worry about the camera getting scratched? No, because it's made of Gorilla glass. Nevertheless, it will need a wipe now & then to clear the dust & smudges.
What I particularly don't like is the rear speaker. Play anything & you will need to cup your hands around the back to actually hear it. Lay the N8 on its back & you hear nothing. It seems only the N97 got it right with the stereo speakers at each edge.

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Just below the camera bump, we have this embossed Nseries logo & ... no back panel! That's because the battery is not removable. The camera was so big that the only way they could construct it was with an internal battery.

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The battery is internal, but easily replaceable. To do that, you have to unscrew these Torx screws & remove the bottom plastic part (voiding your warranty in the process?).
In case you need to disconnect the battery, Nokia have added a reset mechanism  – hold the power key for 8s.

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Courtesy of iFixit, what's inside is a BL-4D battery rated at 1200mAh. For a flagship device as the N8 (with Xenon flash!), I would have expected at least the 1500mAh BP-4L. Oh well...

 

AMOLED screen

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A 3.5" (3.46") 24-bit RGB AMOLED display at 640x360 (nHD) pixels. That's 210ppi. Very far from the competition... What I hate is not the resolution but the aspect ratio. 16:9 is great for watching videos. For everything else, it just falls short. I'll illustrate this in forthcoming reviews.

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Unlike LCD screens, AMOLED needs no backlight as each individual pixel is powered on its own. Overall brightness is lower (yay!), as the pixels switch off when displaying black colour. The result is much better contrast ratio & less eye strain.

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& this screensaver, where only some of the pixels are powered.

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I should also point out these AMOLED screens have no viewing angle... because they can be viewed at all angles!

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If you haven't noticed it by now, AMOLED has higher vibrancy, shows more vivid & over-saturated colours. That's not exactly a feature, because AMOLED being organic degrades over time, particularly the blue OLED. Hence the manufacturers shift the colour balance to compensate for this deterioration.

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Is AMOLED more battery efficient? Unfortunately no. While pixels switch off when black, pixels tend to use the most energy to display white colour. Say if you're browsing the Web where most websites have a white background, energy consumption will be greater for an AMOLED screen than an LCD. Overall energy consumption is still the same or higher.

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Another area where AMOLED fails is sunlight. It's extremely hard to use the screen under sunlight. Unlike the C6-01 & E7-00, the N8 has no polarized screen (ClearBlack Display as they call it). The touchscreen glass layer on top of the AMOLED screen makes it extremely reflective! & guess what colour is the most reflective? Yes, black... the same colour you'd be using as theme because it saves energy. It's definitely no easy task taking photos on a sunny day...

 

The Internals

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256MB of RAM, 512MB of internal memory, 16GB of on-board storage.
Nokia have learnt their lesson with the N97 & have provided ample RAM on the N8. On start-up, between 120-150MB of free RAM is available to apps, which is more than enough for heavy multitasking.
16GB is a step-down from the N97's 32GB, but it's much faster, with write speeds of 8-10 MB/s. In addition, you have the microSD slot which supports up to 32GB & secure SD cards (as used by WP7).
Regarding the CPU, the N8 has a 680Mhz ARM11. Symbian being a frugal OS doesn't need 1Ghz processors. However this reduces the likelihood of seeing MeeGo or Android dual-boot hacks...
By far, the most important addition to the N8's hardware is the Broadcom BCM2727 graphics chipset. Not only this allows iPhone-level 3D gaming (32M polygons/s), but also 720p video capture & playback, H.264 encoding/decoding & of course taking 12MP photos. :)

 

The New Features
Pentaband

The Nokia N8 is the world's first pentaband 3G phone (supporting 5 3G network frequencies - HSDPA 850/900/1700/1900/2100). Which means it'll work anywhere in the world.

 

HDMI

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The N8 supports 720p playback with multi-channel audio (Dolby Digital Plus/Enhanced AC3) over HDMI. What it actually means is that the N8 can be a portable media centre!

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I haven't had a chance to test the HDMI connection. But here's a video of how it works. Using the HDMI connector, you just need to connect the N8 to your TV & it turns the TV into a 2nd display. The UI is still nHD enlarged to 720p. It's only when you play a 720p video that the N8 renders it in native resolution with Dolby Digital audio. :)
What's more, with the 3.5 mm AV analog connector (not included), the N8 can output to another display at the same time! Isn't that awesome?

 

Bluetooth 3.0

So what's so special about Bluetooth 3.0, other than its (future) use of Wifi N for transfers. Well, for starters the N8 supports multiple Bluetooth devices, so no more max active connection errors. The more interesting feature is the built-in support for Bluetooth mouse & keyboards...

 

USB-On-The-Go

USB OTG or limited USB host capabilities, is one of the most useful features I've ever used on a device. It actually turns the N8 into a laptop!
USB OTG provides support for USB devices ranging from removable drives, hard drives, card readers, mouse, keyboards, cameras & other phones. There are a few limitations - only FAT32 support, no NTFS or other file systems. & it doesn't work with older, power-hungry devices.

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Removable drive or "pen drive" support has been a life-saver for me more than once. Instead of waiting for a day (to get back home & copy to computer), I could transfer documents, files, programs, movies, videos & photos instantly with my friends!

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I could take photos on my camera, connect it to a card reader, hook it to the N8, edit it & upload it on Flickr! (My camera doesn't identify itself as a USB storage, otherwise I could connect it directly to the N8.)

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Just don’t forget to remove the device after use. :P
After extensive testing, here's what I've found out on the N8's awesome USB. Transfer speed is 5 MB/s. Almost every removable drive worked, except my 256MB (2004) removable drive & my optical mouse (it uses a PS/2 to USB connector).

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Then I thought, why not try my wireless keyboard & mouse? I have the Microsoft Wireless Media Desktop 1000 (courtesy of MS), which uses custom Bluetooth frequencies with a USB trans-receiver so that it doesn't require any driver & can be used at boot-up.

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Connected the trans-receiver to the N8, a cursor appeared. Opened Messaging, started typing &… the text appeared! Effing awesome!

Here's a video I did to test the mouse. Sorry for the shaky recoding, I didn't use a tripod... :)

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& I even tried out my USB LED fan! It works... for 30s, until the N8 realises it's no removable drive. :)

 

Battery life

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It's average. Around 30h with moderate to heavy usage. That includes watching a 3h of video (Top Gear), 1h of music, 5h of wifi browsing & downloading, 1h of gaming, 50 photos & 20 with flash.
The real-life test came on the day of the tweet-up, where the N8 was man-handled by various tweeps (including extensive gaming), took around 200 photos, 5 mins of HD video & around 30 photos in absolute darkness (with red-eye enabled). I was stranded in a place with almost no network connection, constantly refreshing live football scores. Result - the N8 died only when I got back home. :)
If you had been using any other OS, your device would have fried itself...

 

Aluminium

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One of the basic properties of aluminium is that it's an extremely good conductor of heat. Which means, yes, the N8 gets hot, a lot, very quickly. Put it for a few minutes under the sun, & it reacts exactly like every other metal. & because it's black, it traps the heat even longer.

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Thanks to iFixit, we know that the heat generated by the chips is passed off to the aluminium. So while heavy gaming/wifi browsing, you may be surprised to find that along with the back, the touchscreen also heats up because the battery is right underneath it...

 

Round-up

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In essence, the N8 is the Toyota Hilux. If you've watched Top Gear, then you'd know that this car is damn near indestructible. The N8 with its AMOLED screen, 12MP camera, HDMI with 720p output, USB-On-The-Go, microSD & in an aluminium body is a hardware beast. Available in Mauritius at a launch price of Rs 20,000 including VAT (around $645), this is the best value for money device on the market. But does the software warrant such a purchase... I'll be investigating that in the forthcoming post.

 

This post was Part 1 of Nokia N8 Review series. The remaining posts are here:

 

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Nitish said...

Is is compatible to old sim cards? I've heard that u need more recent sim cards for the device to detect them.

Rwishi said...

@Nitish This doesnt really depend on compatibility. For the device to recognize a sim the sim itself has to be in good condition. Many old sims become un-recognizable with time so that may be it but there isnt any compatibility problems with nokia device and old sim's...

carrotmadman6 said...

@Nitish
No, there shouldn't be any problems with older SIM cards. I use a 2005 SIM, & it works perfectly. :)

Anonymous said...

I've got a N8. My experience :

- HDMI cover (often) cracks after 1st time use (luckily it's made of 2 layers, so the bottom layer stays intact). Compare it to the iPhone's hairline cracks. Other users experiencing this as well (just read nokia's discussion forum).

- speaker placement is indeed a pity .. i sometimes don't hear calls coming in. No show stopper though.

- my display placement in the aluminium housing is not exactly placed as it should be (above left and below right there is a gap). A bit annoying sometimes .. but no showstopper also. But it isn't perfect :)!

carrotmadman6 said...

@Anonymous
On my N8 (as seen in the pics above), there is a tiny gap at the top of the screen, just below the ear piece. Dust does get in there, but doesn't go under the screen, so it's ok. :)

Mk said...

Thanks for the review really useful, I’m about to get this phone here in México, I’m researching about what class memory would be the best for me to use (speed or capacity) and other stuff, I know this is not a perfect device but I think is pretty close regarding hardware and software (not top, not the latest but does the work), I’d rather the Streak device but it’s hard to get it here, anyway thanks for the review again.

Anonymous said...

Why would someones still such a phone with Symbian^3. Android 2.3 has much more features

Ashil said...

hello could you please tell me Where i can buy this Nokia N8. its out of stock in all Galaxy Showroom, an agent from Galaxy told me that, and i have visited 2 Courts Showroom yet, its unavailable there also. Could you please suggest me any Mauritian store where i can buy this Nokia N8,
Thanks

carrotmadman6 said...

@Ashil
Try HM Rawat.

Petri said...

thank you for the great effort and those 4 posts....but I have to say I am missing something....the camera !!

I am a photographer looking for a good camera phone and your review does not say one word about it... too bad...

where can I find a descent review about the N8 camera ?

carrotmadman6 said...

@Petri
Because I'm still writing the camera review. That was much much harder than I expected. Have to sort through thousands of photos! :S

Petri said...

ok I'll be patient then ;-)

good luck ! lol

lazy said...

Hi carrotmadman6,
thanks for your review. Well done. The wallpaper looks gorgeous, can you tell from where you downloaded it??
Thanks, lazy

carrotmadman6 said...

@lazy
The pixel graphics one? Google around for eBoy. :)

lazy said...

Hi carrotmadman,
the pixel graphics is great too, thanks for the hint with eboy.
Actually, I meant this one http://lh6.ggpht.com/_5lL1y9ELMFM/TOvI7utUF9I/AAAAAAAAMDM/LOLsvNjhsb4/s1600-h/DSCN8043_24.jpg :)

carrotmadman6 said...

@lazy
Ah, the galaxy one is from the default LG Optimus wallpapers. Download here.

lazy said...

Thanks, carrotmadman! Don´t like LG, but the galaxy wall! :)

alwaysrockinu said...

hi..HARSH here...
i jus wanted to buy d nokia n8,i'm jus mad abt tis phone, but heard many complaining abt it...
sm say it has a hanging problem..is it true?
n also heard tht its battery is not removable..so if d phone hangs n it doesnt switches off, how shud v restart it since v r not being abl to remove d battery n restart it again..
n pls explain me d difference abt pr1.1 n pr 2.0.
pls guide me...

carrotmadman6 said...

@alwaysrockinu
If N8 hangs, press power button for 8s to restart.

PR1.1 - minor updates. (Already released)
PR2.0 - new browser, portrait qwerty keyboard, bugs fixed & faster UI. (update will be available in March/April)

Anonymous said...

This is a fucking liar! After the first day without a protective film on the screen - scratched the screen on my N8! Only after several hours in my pocket ... I guess we were the keys of my car in the pocket!

Mustafa Zaidi said...

plz can u tell me the difference betwwen n8 manufactured in china anf  n8 made in finland

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