Up front, the touchscreen is recessed into its frame more than usual, while the hardware keys' styling clearly repeats recent Nseries. The Nseries influence is even more distinct at the rear, but this time the cheap gloss is graciously traded for soft rubbery finish. The color accents on the sides - red or blue - are a nice touch.
The phone is a tad bulkier than we would have liked but still by no means a burden to carry or operate.
The front of the fully touch-operated Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is dominated by the 3.2" touchscreen. Above the display, it's a bit more crowded than usual. What you get there is the tiny cleft of the earpiece, the video-call camera a touch-sensitive Media key and a couple of sensors.
The Media key triggers a drop down menu of shortcuts to media and web. Other than that, an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor to turn the touchscreen off during calls are squeezed between the earpiece and the front-facing camera.
Below the display we find three slim keys - Call and End knobs, with the menu button in the middle. The call buttons are just a little stiff, with not the best press feedback. The menu key is definitely better in terms of response. A press-and-hold on it launches the task manager - in the long-standing Symbian tradition - to let you easily terminate or switch between running applications .
It's quite crowded at the top of Nokia 5800 XpressMusic as well. In the top right corner is the Power key, that also handles ringing profiles. On the opposite end is microUSB port, the charger plug and the 3.5mm standard audio jack in between.
The microUSB connector is hidden under a protective lid to prevent it from filling up with dust and dirt, while the 3.5mm audio jack is exposed. The possible explanation is the XpressMusic branding, which suggests frequent use of the audio jack.
Unfortunately, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic doesn't charge via the microUSB port.
The right side of Nokia 5800 hosts the volume rocker, the screen-lock switch and the camera key. The screen lock switch is an essential shortcut - the implementation in the 5800 is quite ergonomic and friendly. Locking/unlocking of the screen is marked by a short vibration.
The volume rocker - serving as a zoom lever too - is quite flat and stiff. The nicely projecting shutter key fares a bit better: it offers a distinct half-press but the overall feel is well short of the soft and responsive camera button of N95
The bottom of the handset features the microphone pinhole and a small groove to place a finger and lift the battery cover up.
The lanyard eyelet is all the way down on the left side of Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. On the same side you'll find the microSD card slot and the SIM compartment - both covered protective plastic covers. Yep - you got that right - the SIM card gets in and out on the side of the handset.
But don't get this wrong - it's not hot-swappable or anything. You still need to remove your rear cover and battery. Then you put the stylus in a little hole to push the SIM card out. In fact it's so unusual that they drew a manual on the inside of the battery cover about it.
The last thing to note here are the stereo speakers, marked by small clefts on either end of the phone's left hand side.
The back side of Nokia 5800 XpressMusic features the 3 megapixel autofocus camera, which comes with a dual-LED flash. The other thing of interest here is the stylus which slides smoothly into the back panel.
Removing the battery cover reveals the Nokia 1320 mAh Li-Ion BL-5J battery. Quoted at the impressive 406 hours of standby and 8 hours 45 minutes of talk time it is sure to keep your phone going for quite a while.
The commitment to 35 hours of music playback is something we're more inclined to believe than doubt. But these are of course the maximum values achievable.
Update, 03 Feb 2010: The real life performance is also quite impressive with the handset easily managing to go through three to four days of moderate usage (about 20 minutes of calls, 30 minutes of browsing through Wi-Fi and 20 minutes of fiddling with the other features a day).
The large screen and the power-hungry features like Wi-Fi and GPS can get tough enough on even the most powerful of batteries. In real life scenarios you can be looking at two days of regular use but should be prepared to charge daily if the screen is constantly on and you're hardly giving the handset a break.
The general build-quality of Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is good but the XpressMusic branding does make it hard to expect anything more than decent plastic. The fact of the matter is the first S60 touch handset doesn't get noticed for elaborate exterior. We guess when it's midrange, it's midrange all over. Though we wish the same held true on the high-end too (N96, anyone?).
Anyway, the exterior gives a nice sturdy impression, which however is ruined by the almost constant unwelcome creaks by the rear cover - the Nokia 5800 looks and feels more like a wobbly slider than a monolith block.
The 5800 dimensions are altogether friendly, and the consistent and identifiable styling will be appreciated by brand loyal users.
The Communicator series and the exotic 77xx tablets aside, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic 3.2" display is the largest in the Finnish family. The resolution of 360 x 640 pixels is also second to the E90 business monster only. In fact, outside the Windows Mobile realm there isn't any other device to match the display resolution (no - not even the omnipresent iPhone 3G).
So the large and pixel-dense screen, building on the Nokia expertise in displays, grants the 5800 XpressMusic a top spot in the company portfolio. The contrast and brightness are great, although - we have to admit - they are no match for the OLED technology in Nokia N85. But talking about displays, size does count above all.
Unfortunatelly the legibility of the display under direct sunlight is rather poor. It is at about the same level as the HTC Touch Diamond which means that it is rather hard (but not completely impossible) to find a proper angle for working with the phone on a bright sunny day. We guess the interface isn't the only place where Apple have blown the competition away.
As already mentioned, Nokia 5800 XpressMusic uses a resistive touchscreen as opposed to the capacitive displays in devices like LG Prada and Apple iPhone 3G. This means there's a need for a bit of extra pressure to the screen for a click to be registered. The resistive display technology has the dubious advantage of allowing the use of stylus (and fingers with gloves).
When using the stylus, the 5800 display is absolutely on par with any competing touchscreen. On the other hand, sensitivity to fingers is quite adequate but slightly short of the, say, HTC Touch Diamond, which uses the same touchscreen technology.
Haptic feedback is of course enabled. Vibration intensity is adjustable, with three different levels available.
You might have some trouble getting used to the screen sensitivity at first, but problems will be sorted in a short while of using the phone. Besides if you prefer the stylus (which we certainly don't), it gets even easier.
The plectrum is somewhat of a bogus alternative to the stylus - we mean an alternative would be anything that makes the whole thing more thumbable. The plectrum is just another thing to poke your screen with. Now, we are obviously not the kind to go Jimi Hendrix on our phone. Others might find it cool though.