Nokia N8 Review: Nokia's New Flagshipby Mithun Chandrasekhar on January 12, 2011 1:00 AM EST
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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 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.
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…
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Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkHehe, my bad then! ^_^
akse - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkI'm guessing MeeGo at first will be mobile computers. Something like N900 with better phone software and features.
Something very high end and special. But as things seems to evolve in direction where most smartphones are close to a mobile computer in coming years, Symbian3 will probably be adopted to all their phones that they call Smartphones and maybe cheaper mobile computers, while MeeGo being on the high end phones/mobile computers.
Nokia made the right decision to ditch Symbian^4 and decide to bring its updates as smaller updates to Symbian^3 devices.
I've been using N900 for a year now and it can do almost anything, but recently I've really been wanting to buy N8 because I want a phone, but with huge amount of other features. N900 is mostly a computer with phone :)
bigboxes - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkI don't know about you, but my smartphone is a mobile computer. It's a computer first and a phone second. No need to wait for the future.
Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkPS, the N900 was capable of video calling on Skype, hopefully, the N8 will receive similar functionality soon.
Exodite - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkDiscussion on the Skype forums promised an update to address S^3 compatibility issues before the end of last year (I don't know if that materialized or not) and a refresh bringing video calling support to S^3 devices later this year.
That's a month or two ago though and if there's been further developments I don't know.
Meaker10 - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkSensor size in fractions of an inch? Lense size in mm?
Why not just keep it all sane in mm?
Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkThat's how camera makers report their (compact) sensor sizes. Has to do with legacy TV tube conventions iirc.
at0m - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkgreat review, the n8 is not for everyone but it has it's fans ( me included ). it has plenty of apps, takes a great picture, has clean audio output and the bonus hdmi. not to mention ovimaps has turned into a great navigation tool. top that off with 3g on all carriers and it works for me. There are some updates right around the corner hopefully to help get the software more in line.. symbian isn't as flashy as android but it has quite a bit of maturity behind it with some more love to the UI it could be perfect.
on the GPU it actually marks a return to a discrete GPU as opposed to the first instance. the n82 and n95 both had dedicated GPU's and dual core CPUs :)
Lapoki - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkYou really cant take Nokia love out of an Indian no matter where he lives in the world....
just like cricket
mcjw - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - linkI'm sorry but coming from Anandtech's N900/Droid review, this review is quite a let down.
There is no technical information you cannot get from one or 2 press releases, and the entire article reads like a rehash of all the N8 customer reviews Amazon.com, scratching just the surface.
The only insight I might have gotten is where you mentioned the CPU. But there the language is vague, leaving me with even more questions: Samsung or TI processor? Your language make it sound like you are not sure.
So please, show a bit of expertise in your topic rather than writing out the obvious in running prose. Is this too much to expect from Anandtech?