Nokia N8 review: Director of photography
All round connectivity
Excellent all-around connectivity is the norm with even mid-range smartphones these days so Nokia N8 would have no excuses if it failed to provide in this department. Fortunately, this is not the case as the Finnish flagship offers every data transfer option you would need and then some more.
For starters, all kinds of network connectivity options are at your disposal - GPRS, EDGE and 3G with HSPA (10.2 Mbps HSDPA and 2.0 Mbps HSUPA). The GSM/EDGE networking comes in quad-band flavor and the 3G covers all the five bands available worldwide – 850/900/1700/1900/2100 MHz. We don’t think we’ve reviewed a penta-band phone before.
The USB is version 2.0, with the standard microUSB port capable of charging the phones besides transferring data. We already covered the USB on-the-go functionality, but just for the record, we had almost 100% success of attaching USB flash drives and other Nokia phones as slave storages, but that’s about it. The Nokia N8 didn’t connect to card readers and phones by other brands.
Bluetooth connectivity is version 3.0 and naturally there’s A2DP stereo Bluetooth support.
The Wi-Fi antenna has support for WirelessN.
Then there’s the microSD card slot which can be used for transferring data to and from your N8. However both the memory card and the internal memory are accessible when you connect the handset to a computer in Mass storage mode and we managed to get speeds north of 10 MB/s when transferring data this way. That means you’d hardly ever need to use an external card reader .
Finally, there’s the microHDMI port that can output up to 720p video with multi-channel audio (as long as the video source has that). There’s even the right type of cable adapter supplied in the retail package.
All you need is a regular HDMI cable that plugs in the adapter on one side and in the HDTV on the other side.
Your handset will immediately start streaming a copy of its display to your TV. You do the controlling from the N8 itself, except for the volume, which is now for the TV to manage.
If you plan on showing your friends some of those 12 megapixel photos you took with the N8 camera on the HDTV, you should know that zooming in isn’t possible straight from the gallery.
You can still zoom in as much as you want, but you will have to go to the image editor (by clicking options and then edit) and use the zooming controls there. We can't quite see the logic behind that though - zooming in from the gallery itself would have been a much more comfortable solution.
Web browser is rather disappointing
Unfortunately, Symbian^3 didn’t deliver the browser overhaul that the platform needs desperately. Despite the added multi-touch and FlashLite 4.0 support the N8 can just watch helplessly as the Android Froyo speeds away.
Update, 24.08.2011: We updated the phone to Symbian Anna - check out our impressions of the new browser on Page 10.
Starting with the good things, the Nokia N8 browser has a good rendering algorithm and offers some nice functionality such as different font sizes (5 options), auto fill-in of web forms and a password manager.
The Flash Lite 4.0 support is even enough for playing flash videos, but it’s not quite as impressive a performer as the desktop-grade Adobe Flash 10.1 for Android Froyo. You can also choose to switch Flash off to cut down on loading times and save some data traffic.
The Find on page feature allows you search for keywords. The visual history is a nice bonus that can help you find a page you've visited more easily. There's also a popup blocker.
The web browser supports tabs but there is no other way of opening a new tab but to click on a pop-up link. We'd have really preferred to see an option to open links in new window.
Double tapping any text zooms it in on screen, but again, the text doesn't auto fit to the smaller viewport and you still need to scroll sideways.
One of the worst parts of the N8 web browser is entering a web address, which can take up to four steps, while most competing platforms do it with one – hell, some even do it with voice commands.
So, generally speaking, the Symbian^3 browser is hardly a better copy of its S60 predecessor and that should certainly cost the N8 some points. Internet browsing has never been more popular and until Nokia did something about the usability of their browser, their smartphones will be getting quite a lot of stick for it.
If we could give you an advice here, we’d say get the latest Opera Mobile up and running on you N8 and use the default browser only when you need to access Flash content. The hassle of using two apps for the same purpose is still better than having to deal with the S^3 web browser shortcomings.
Organizer all set
Symbian^1 used to have a pretty decent organizer already so all Nokia needed to do is tune it up a bit and slightly polish the touch experience. And that’s exactly what they did – by taking the same streamlined approach as with the rest of the interface.
The calendar has four different view modes - monthly, weekly, daily and a to-do list, which allows you to check all your To-Do entries regardless of their date. There are three types of events available for setting up - Meeting, Anniversary and To-do. Each event has some specific fields of its own, and some of them allow an alarm to be activated at a preset time to act as a reminder.
The Nokia N8 also allows you to browser office documents thanks to the preinstalled Quickoffice application. The Adobe PDF reader is also here to take care of those .PDF files, while the ZIP manager allows you to deal with digital archives on the go.
Unfortunately the Quickoffice version preinstalled doesn’t support editing, but we doubt much of the N8 target audience will need it anyway. Still if you insist, you can purchase the paid update and enable edit mode.
The calculator application is very familiar but it lacks the functionality of some of its competitors. The square root is the most complicated function it handles and this is no longer considered an achievement. If all you do with it is split the bill at the bar though, you're free to disregard that last sentence.
The organizer package also includes a dictionary, voice recorder, as well as the Notes application. The good unit converter we’ve come to know from Symbian^1 is strangely gone but you can grab one yourselves from the Ovi store.
The alarm application allows you to set up as many alarms as you want, each with its own name, trigger day and repeat pattern. As we already mentioned, thanks to the built-in accelerometer you can also snooze the alarm by simply flipping your phone.
Ovi Maps 3.04 gives you free lifetime navigation
The Nokia N8 comes with a built-in GPS receiver, which managed to get a satellite lock from a cold start in just over two minutes (A-GPS turned off). Keeping the lock from then on was not an issue for the N8 even in a relatively dense urban environment.
As you probably know since the start of the year Nokia made their Ovi Maps navigation free for all their smartphones, which naturally includes the N8 flagship. The voice guidance is currently available in over 70 countries and over 40 different languages, with even traffic information for more than 10 of those.
In addition, Nokia did a pretty decent job with Ovi Maps application itself, blessing it with a cool, touch-friendly interface, as well as nice features such as the Lonely planet city guide, HRS hotels and the Michelin restaurant guide. There's also an events guide that lists all events happening within a 3km range of your position and provides you with details on each one.
With Ovi Maps 3.04 you get three different view modes including satellite and terrain maps. Those however do need an internet connection. The more regular 2D and 3D view modes are also at hand and can be used with preloaded maps.
Update, 24.08.2011: We updated the phone to Symbian Anna, which comes with Maps 3.06. Check out our impressions on Page 10.
The route planning algorithm is also rather easy to customize to best suit your preferences. Toll roads and motorways can be avoided and so can tunnels and ferries. Route selection can be set to either fastest or shortest.
Ovi Maps is also usable for pedestrian navigation or you can switch the GPS receiver off and use the phone as a hand-held map.
Ovi Store got an UI refresh
Symbian is still the best selling smartphone OS worldwide, but you won’t be able to tell that just by browsing the application repositories for the different platforms. The Ovi store is way behind the Android Market, let alone the market-leading App Store.
Yet there are signs recently that Nokia has finally realized how important apps are to a modern smartphone user. The company has refreshed their Ovi store interface to make it more user-friendly and it is finally making some serious effort to attract more developers. With a user-base as big as its we are more than certain that it will have success with these efforts.
There are already a few thousand apps there and chances are that the most important apps will be there soon enough. Catching up with the best won’t be easy even if their growth slowed down and currently, there are no signs of a similar trend.
You can browse the apps available in the Ovi Store by categories – Applications, Games, Audio and Video content, Personalization; or by collections – Go Green, Tools for Professionals, Homescreen Apps, Highly Addictive Games and Web TV.
Your account profile keeps record of all the apps you have installed under My stuff. You can now also select where games and apps should be installed and where audio and video should go. That’s nice – we wish Android had that right from the start.