I remember one of the first mobile phones I ever used being a Nokia 5110i. It was among Nokia’s earliest of devices that packed an easy to use and straightforward interface in a supremely well-built package. Since we didn’t have as many phone launches each month back then as there are stars in the sky, the 5110i served me very well for more than 3 years without showing any signs of aging. That was in the mid to late 90’s.

Fast forward to the end of this decade and we see Nokia’s current flagship, the N8-00, continuing to hold on to the Nokia tradition of building what are arguably some of the best constructed mobile devices on the market. In fact in many ways, with the Nokia N8-00 (referred to as the N8 from here on) it seems as though Nokia has let its hardware and industrial design teams have a field day; this phone feels almost over engineered when held in your hands. While the current flagship demonstrates Nokia’s engineering prowess quite well, previous models seemed to epitomize what I felt was the company’s philosophy; build the software around the hardware. This worked just perfectly for as long as mobile phones were just that, devices used to make and receive calls and/or texts.

Sometime in the last decade, Apple, Google, Palm and Microsoft redefined mobile experiences, and as a result old flaws have slowly become gaping holes in the Finnish device manufacturer’s proverbial armor. 

The devil is in the details…

The N8’s symmetric design is attractive in a very understated manner. It won’t immediately grab your attention in any way if you look at it. The 3.5” 640 x 360 AMOLED screen commands the majority of the real estate on the front with tapering edges on all 4 corners. The menu/home button at the bottom left corner is the only detail on the face of the phone which narrowly saves the N8 design from being branded bland. 

While the button did seem a bit oddly placed when I first saw it, the overall profile and weight distribution of the phone didn’t lead to any issues in actual use (although left-handed users may disagree). 

Upon closer inspection, you will find the front facing VGA camera, the ambient light sensor and the proximity sensor sitting behind the (Gorilla) glass on the top right corner. The left side houses a well-constructed but tad finicky and plastic “suicide” door of sorts to cover the microSD and SIM card slots. There’s also a multifunction micro-USB port (more on this later) and a charging light indicator. The right side seems a bit busy with the volume controls, a spring loaded screen lock button and a 2-stage camera shutter button. This is the only part of the phone that I have issues with, when it comes to design. The volume controls have a lot of play and don’t give good feedback when pressed. The spring loaded screen lock button, while a good idea in itself, is not well placed. On multiple occasions, I kept hitting the volume button while attempting to lock the phone. 

The left and right sides of the Nokia N8. Notice how it cannot lay flat on its back.

The top of the phone plays host to a 3.5mm jack (that can also serve as an AV-output if used with the appropriate connector), and a mini-HDMI port hidden behind a plastic flap and the power/profile selection button. At the bottom you will find a lone connector for your charger, although it could easily pass off as a microphone because of its placement and size, along with a lanyard or strap port. 

The top and bottom of the N8

The rear of the phone prominently shows the N-series branding and houses the crowning jewel of the N8; its 12MP Xenon-flash assisted autofocus camera. Because of the complexity of the camera module and the associated optics used in the N8, the camera itself (along with the loudspeaker) is housed in a bulge, and as a result the phone cannot lay flat on any surface. While that in and of itself isn’t an issue, what concerns me is the possibility of excessive visible wear appearing on the lower part of this bulge as it is the only part of the phone that comes in contact with any surface when the phone is made to rest on its back. 

The back of the Nokia N8 (left); What makes up the “bulge” (right)

Also, something I did notice was the fact that just within a week of use, dust started accumulating in the crevice between the top of the bulge and the back of the phone.

While the design may get mixed feedback, what will garner unanimous praise is the build quality and overall construction of the device. The unibody N8 is constructed of anodized aluminum and has a smooth, matte-like finish to it. It is available in Orange, Green, Blue, White and Gray – which as you can tell was the color of our review unit. While not as grippy as the soft touch rubber finish that some devices come with, it is light years ahead of the cheap, glossy black plastic that clads a lot of phones these days. Also, by design, the aluminum back of the N8 acts as a heat dissipation surface. So with prolonged use, it does get a bit warm…but nothing toasty. Another reason why the phone feels so well put together is because Nokia has taken a leaf out of Apple’s design book and gone ahead with a non-user replaceable battery, and hence eliminated the need for a battery opening in the N8 chassis. But reports seem to suggest that the battery isn’t all that hard to get to and replace, should the need arise. So those exposed torx screws aren’t just for show…

The N8's Camera - 12 MP of Awesome
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  • sumeetm90 - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    I have been using N8 for a month now and have discovered following pesky issues:

    1) You cant mark multiple messages in your inbox. If you want to delete say 10 messages in a go you need to individually delete them. (Dont understand how can nokia make such a blunder)

    2) Cannot utilize full screen to view pdf documents in Adobe reader provided by nokia. This is really ridiculous. You are forced to use 75% of the available screen to read pdfs.

    3) I was surprised to find that there was no stopwatch feature included with the new phone. Yes you can download an app but when I pay Indian rupees 23600 (approx $500) for a smartphone, I expect nokia to put a stopwatch/countdown timer in phone.

    4) You need to download a scientific calculator. The default calculator is pretty lame and embarrassing. If you search the ovi store you will realise it is not so easy to download a scientific calculator.

    I gotta agree with Mithun about the issues with browser, mail application and ovi store. I have been a vivid Nokia fan and thats why I bought N8. But clearly nokia has lot of issuses to address. I cant recommend this phone to my friends. Lets hope nokia is listening and comes up with a descent update soon.
  • Johnmcl7 - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    Nokia have a licensing agreement to stick the Zeiss name on their phones, that's all there is to it as the lenses most certainly are not a Zeiss design by any stretch of the imagination despite the laughable 'Tessar' branding on some of them.
  • Voldenuit - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    That doesn't mean that Zeiss does not have a say on which lenses their branding goes on and provide input on lens designs etc.

    This is very similar to the arrangement Panasonic have with Leica - Panasonic design and manufacture the lenses themselves, but Leica has the final say on whether or not the lens is good enough to receive their branding. In fact, while my Leica R4 had genuine Leica lenses, the body itself was a copy of a Minolta SLR, so Leica branding has been a 2-way street.

    Similarly, the Sony Alpha Zeiss and compact camera lenses are designed and built by Sony. And my Pentax SMC Takumar (ca. 1970) was manufactured by Asahi Optical Company. This is not news, it's been the modus operandi of the camera/lens industry for decades, and very similar to the ODM/OEM relationship in electronics.
  • afwjam - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Actually Carl Zeiss designs the entire camera module. There is an interesting youtube video with one of their engineers explaining the resolving capabilities of the lens. Apparently its far superior to most SLR kit lenses.
  • afwjam - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

  • Lavkesh - Monday, January 17, 2011 - link

    The new firmware is coming in Feb with improved browser, portrait qwerty keyboard with split screens. You can see the Beta version of the firmware running on Nokia N8 here

  • fneuf - Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - link

    Hello Mithun,

    I'm a little surprised by the anemic result of the Nokia N8 WiFi performance.

    Both Droid X and N8 use the same chip, the TI WL1271A (from Texas Instruments) that handles WLAN, Bluetooth and FM connectivities.

    Considering the Droid X result is 4 times higher than the N8 one despite being built on the same hardware I really wonder where does lay the N8 fault. Anyone have an idea ?
  • bitflung - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    i just looked up nokia+gpu and hit this article:

    they claim that all of the following had dedicated GPUs:
    Nokia N93, N95, N82 and E90 - all having their 'golden days' back in 2007

    i know for sure my old N95 had a GPU - that was back in 2007. i recall running some 3D accelerated apps that performed very well:

    in fact, it uses a similar core as the iphone still uses today:

    that article states that the n95 of 2007 used the powervr MBX core (also used in original iphone), while the iphone 4 (and ipad, ipod touch etc) use the powervr sgx core.

    the N8 is surely not the first nokia to ship with a GPU. where did this misinformation come from?
  • naco - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    I truly cannot understand (or withstand) blind ignorance. Comments like: “wifi pathetic”, “screen res below what I would call the current industry standard”, “99 cent ARM 11 chip” are simply a clear proof that the longest time spent with an N8 was in front of a demo booth at BestBuy ... or who knows what other retailer.
    I have been using N8 for almost 3 months now (after using a N95 for 3 years, an Android phone for almost 2 months (HTC Desire) and a Blackberry Torch for another 2 months) and I find it to be well rounded, very responsive, fast (except for the web browser), reliable and versatile – in short, if you can live with the few current nudges, Nokia N8 is a respectable smart phone and definitely a good choice – but, hey, show me the perfect phone and I’ll buy YOU one right now. Furthermore, those few nudges, being software related can potentially (hopefully) find solutions either in a future firmware update or in adopting/installing 3rd party solutions.

    - The battery, although at “only” 1200mAh lasts throughout the whole day even when used extensively,
    - Fast and responsive even when pushed to the limits despite featuring “only” a 680MHz ARM processor (due to the new Qt O.S. NOT as resource hungry as Android or iOS)
    - the screen is one of the best for both outdoors and indoors and for most users the resolution would never be a problem (or even noticed to be lower),
    - the Ovi Maps is getting better and better and is becoming a solid, reliable (OFF LINE) navigation tool, at NO extra cost (bundled with any newer Nokia phone)
    - the camera is by far one of the best out there, easily at par with most point-and-shoot standalone cameras.
    - Exceptional media handling (large photos & HD videos)
    - Local sync support (MS Outlook) as well as on the cloud (Google)
    - Folder & sub folder support (after so much bashing, Android wants to implement it!!)
    - The new OS, Qt is the bridge between Symbian and MeeGo – which means both, backward and forward compatibility.

    - Slow web browser, no reflow and not really adapted to touch screens (yet, Opera 10.1 is an excellent alternative, virtually resolving all native browser’s issues)
    - Music player features, strangely downgraded from Nokia’s S60 5th edition.
    - Calendar – no agenda view
    - The speaker placement in the back of the phone is quite a nuisance (as the slot gets covered the sound is considerably attenuated)

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