Nokia N8 (N8-00) Symbian^3 Review (Phones)

Posted by – October 22, 2010

Nokia N8 Screen Saver
The Nokia N8, aka the N8-00 – from Tesco Direct (currently the cheapest place to buy the phone without a contract) – is one of the latest smart phones from Nokia – running a new version of Symbian’s multi tasking operating system called Symbian^3, it also features one of the best cameras on any mobile phone, with a 12 megapixel sensor, and Xenon flash.

Main Features / Specifications:

  • 12 megapixel camera, with Carl Zeiss lens and Xenon flash
  • HD Video recording – 720p – image stabilisation available (digital)
  • 3.5″ 16:9 nHD (640 x 360 pixels) AMOLED Capacitive touch screen
  • Symbian^3 with over 250 new features, Java MIDP 2.1
  • Web Runtime 7.2, Flash Lite 4.0, HTML 4.1, Qt 4.6.2
  • 50 hours MP3 playback (when in offline mode)
  • Free sat-nav navigation with Ovi Maps
  • 3 live home screens with widgets
  • On-demand Web TV
  • HDMI / HDTV out
  • Dolby Digital Plus technology*
  • USB on the go – plug in USB things like pendrives, keyboards, digital cameras etc
  • Anodized aluminium casing, available in: Silver white, Dark grey, Orange, Blue, Green
  • Dedicated graphics processor with OpenGL 2.0 enables 3D graphics, Accelerometer
  • BL-4D 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery (internal, but can be removed using torx screws)
  • Internal memory: 16 GB, MicroSD memory card slot, hot swappable, up to 32 GB
  • Capability to serve as data modem (ie “Tethering”) assuming you’re not crippled by your phone network.
  • FM Radio, FM Transmitter
  • Optional accesories: Nokia SU-36 Capacitive Stylus £10 (If yours doesn’t include it)

Previously, I’d questioned or rather suggested improvements I’d like to see implemented in the new Nokia N8 / Symbian^3 phone operating system update. Just as a very quick answer to see whether they have resolved my concerns I’ll look at each point (although you can probably see the answers from the screens shown below):

Nokia N8 Home Screens - Widgets, Shortcuts, RSS

Nokia N8 Home Screens - Widgets, Shortcuts, RSS - Click to enlarge - here I've setup the first screen to show the interactive widgets, and favourite contacts (photos taken from twitter, phone, and facebook), the second screen I've filled with the search widget and shortcuts (making it look like an iphone or an android phone), and the third screen I've filled with RSS feeds - including an RSS feed from twitter.

RSS feeds on the home screen: Yes. By default you can get specific widgets such as the BBC News RSS Feed widget, and CNN News RSS Feed widget, these are built in to the phone as standard. If you subscribe to an RSS feed in the built in web browser, it will then appear as an option to put it on the home screens as an RSS widget.

Improved UI Design / Icons: Compared to Symbian S60 v3 or v5 (Touch), and the N97 / N97 Mini the interface is much nicer to use, graphically more pleasing, and much more responsive. The general look of the icons when in the main menu is still rather plain and not drastically different, but is more pleasing overall due to the blue buttons (they have tidied up the icons making them a little prettier, but they still have the same general look). There do seem to be some UI (User Interface) design quirks in that the exit button will move position when in landscape mode (such as the camera mode – this was not the case with the N97 Mini!).

Improved Web Browser: This is questionable. The browser is a slightly newer version (N8 is v7.2.7.2, N97 is v7.1.4), and deals with BBC iPlayer slightly differently, but is still very similar to the old browser. Overload it and instead of being able to view videos from iplayer or youtube, you’ll still get the “broken flash” icon. Apparently the first firmware update will include an improved browser. The new browser now supports Multi-touch and pinch zooming.

Improved sharing features: Photo send options are via message, mail or bluetooth. Where are the send to flickr, facebook, twitter, etc options? Update: – once you sign into Social (by Nokia) you then get the option to upload photos and videos to facebook and twitter straight after taking them! It’s a bit basic, but works well – yay!

Built in Twitter / Facebook client and home screen widget: Yes, twitter and facebook client / widget built in, called Nokia Social. This also integrates with the Contacts on the phone, and you can pull twitter / facebook friends profile picture into your contacts, and view their shared contact details on facebook.

Improved battery life or sleep mode: Too soon to say, but the screen saver looks low power (other screen saver options are: music player, which will display the track you’re playing even when the phones locks, slideshow, Big Clock, Animation or None). Wifi, and other internet connections *seem* to go to sleep when not in use, and the phone also copes well with having many apps running in the background, even overnight, without much battery life problems. With the N97 Mini, running programs overnight normally meant waking up to a flat battery, not so with the N8. The battery is the same 1200mah battery as used in the Nokia N97 Mini (BL-4D). So far the battery lasts longer than the N97 Mini, and in everyday use, the N8 battery lasts 15 hours (I will add more results later), although the battery life will be highly dependant on what features you use and how often you use them. Another new feature added to the phone, is that it now shows you how much the phone is charged in percentage, even when the phone is off.

PC software needs fixing – why are there separate apps for Nokia Maps loader, Nokia Ovi Suite, Nokia Software Updater, etc, why can’t these all be combined into one? This appears to be being resolved, with the majority of tools being put inside Nokia Ovi Suite, however there still appears to be development of Nokia Software Updater as a separate program. Nokia Ovi Suite is available on the phone to install, when you connect the phone in Mass Storage mode.

Nokia N8 Homescreen

Nokia N8 – one of the customisable home screens nearly full of widgets – click to enlarge.

Have a screen that works outside even when battery is low: Too soon to say, however, the screen clarity and brightness looks like a significant improvement over the Nokia N97 Mini and the N8 features an AMOLED screen, although this wasn’t a good thing when the Nokia N86 8mp featured an AMOLED screen, as it was very difficult to see it in bright sunlight.

Lots of memory (RAM) for multi-tasking: Despite the N8 only having 256mb internally for the C: drive, compared to the Nokia N97 Mini’s 512mb, the N8 seems to be able to run WAY more apps simultaneously when compared to the N97 Mini – I have not yet seen any memory error messages despite running applications that cause problems on the N97 Mini. Running 11+ applications is not a problem, as Symbian^3 now has virtual memory support.

Photoshop for Symbian anyone? Already, since the release of the Nokia N8, Nokia have released a new photography app, Nokia Panoramic. There are other photo apps currently under development… see Nokia Make My App, in particular: Mobile Photoshop 🙂 and Auto HDR Photography.

High Quality Audio / MP3 Playback: The Nokia N8 is already at a disadvantage compared to the Nokia N97 and N97 Mini, as the N8 only has one speaker for playback. However, it improves over the N97 Mini by including an FM transmitter. For stereo sound you will need to plug in some earphones / headphones. The music player on the N8 is greatly improved over the player on previous Nokia phones, and provides smooth scrolling through album art.

Nokia N8 music playback screen

Volume is very high – much higher than the N97 Mini, and clarity (particularly treble) is exceptional, without distortion at 100% volume. The N8 is very capable of driving large headphones, at potentially dangerous volume levels, and the volume can be changed with the side volume control even when the phone is locked (this was not possible with the N97 Mini, which is nice). Gapless playback of MP3s? Nope, it almost seems like it’s trying though, with a one or two second gap.

Music features:

  • Flick scroll to browse the albums in your music collection
  • Ovi Music Unlimited service on selected markets
  • Nokia Ovi Player
  • Ovi Music store
  • Music codecs: .MP3, WMA, AAC, eAAC, eAAC+, AMR-NB, AMR-WB
  • Bit rate up tp 320 kbps
  • DRM support WM DRM, OMA DRM 2.0
  • FM transmitter
  • Stereo FM radio (87.5-108 MHz/76-90 MHz)

Nokia N8 Camera
Nokia N8 Camera – Carl Zeiss Tessar Lens, f2.8, 28mm equivalent (wide-angle), Auto focus. Xenon flash at the top. Speaker hole at the bottom.

The Nokia N8 Camera: One of the greatly anticipated (and hyped) features of the Nokia N8 is the 12 megapixel camera with Xenon flash. Nokia have put in a 12 megapixel sensor (1/1.83-inch) that is the same size as you find in your typical compact digital camera from Canon, Panasonic etc, and whilst nowhere near as good as the large sensor you would find in a Digital SLR, it is an improvement over the tiny sensors found in every other camera phone. As proof to how serious Nokia are taking the camera abilities of the N8, they posted 34 questions and answers about JUST the camera on the phone.

25102010050 - Golden autumn leaves

Golden autumn leaves, 12mp, 2.56mb, ISO105, f2.8, 1/155, Click to enlarge.

Camera features:

  • 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics
  • Xenon flash
  • Face recognition software
  • Autofocus
  • Focal length: 5.9 mm, Wide-angle 28mm equivalent
  • F number/Aperture: F2.8
  • Still images file format: JPEG/EXIF
  • Zoom up to 2x (digital) for still images
  • Zoom up to 3x (digital) for video

22102010012 - Red leaves 23102010019 - Park Bench 24102010029 - Aphids Macro
Some photos above: click to enlarge, click again to view full size.

More on the Camera: The camera defaults to taking 9 megapixel 16:9 wide aspect ratio photos (4000 x 2248) – switching to 12 megapixel images gives the more usual 4:3 aspect ratio (4000 x 3000), and 12mp photos average between 3.2mb and 1mb, which means they are quite highly compressed. After taking over 50 photos, the ISO (when set to AUTO) has ranged from ISO100 to ISO229. Manual settings for ISO are available and can be set to Low (ISO100), Medium (ISO400), or High (ISO800).

Video features:

  • 12 megapixel with Carl Zeiss optics
  • HD quality 720p resolution
  • Shoot 16:9 videos in HD
  • Video capture in 720p 25 fps with codecs H.264, MPEG-4
  • Settings for scene, white balance, colour tone
  • 3x digital zoom available

The phone has a new video player, that supports DIVX, and XVID playback, including mkv files.

Example video above – watch on youtube if the embedded video doesn’t show up.

Plugging the phone into Windows 7 and you get some useful information, as Symbian^3 now supports Windows 7 properly:

Nokia N8 Connected in Windows 7

Charge, Photos, Memory (Here it’s showing 20+gb as I’ve put an 8gb Micro SD card in), Text messages, Missed calls etc,

Other improvements: There’s a new keyboard mode (not yet supported by most apps), that lets you view your program, and your keyboard at the same time, it also implements predictive text / words, which makes using the keyboard much quicker. Simply start typing the word, and suggestions will appear making it quicker to use than the old qwerty keyboard.

Nokia N8 - New Qwerty Keyboard (Landscape)

USB on the go: Plug in any USB device, such as a USB keyboard or mouse, and you can use them on the phone, why not use a full size PC / Mac USB keyboard for typing instead of the touch screen? Or use a bluetooth mouse as well and use the HDMI output to connect the phone up to a large screen and then it can be used as a desktop PC replacement. Alternatively you could connect up a digital camera and start uploading photos to the internet, the possibilities are pretty amazing. Supports USB pen drives, and I suspect USB memory card readers (although I haven’t tested this personally). Or you could connect up your previous Nokia, such as the N97 Mini in Mass Storage mode, and copy everything across without having to go through a PC.

Over 250 new features in Symbian^3: From the nokia blog, we can see that some of the main features added to Symbian are: Better graphics, Multi-touch, improved multimedia (new video player, HDMI support, Dolby*, new music player), better multitasking which includes better memory management to allow more apps to run, and an “Alt-Tab” (Windows) style task switcher, nicer networking, and Qt for developers.

Some other cool new features are: (if you’re technically minded) 64-bit file server – the phone supports files larger than 2gb, and Symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) support for dual core processors such as the ARM A9. Probably the most important for Nokia users that are bored of seeing the “Out of Memory” message on the N97 or N97 Mini (etc), Symbian^3 now features Writable Data Paging (WDP) – much like the Windows Page File, once the built in physical RAM has run out, it will simply page it to the other “drives” in the phone. (see Nokia Library “What’s new in Symbian^3” for more info)

New Ovi Store: One of the listed selling points of the phone is “access to 1000s of apps in the new Ovi store” (paraphrased by me), although strangely the Ovi store isn’t actually installed on the phone, all the shortcuts are there, but when go to open it, you then need to install it. I suppose it means you are going to get the latest version of the Ovi store even if the phones been sitting on the shelf for a few months, but it seems a little strange. When the Ovi store is installed, it is a noticeable improvement over the old store, not that there was anything particularly bad about the old store, it’s just that the Ovi store on the N8 looks nicer and feels nicer to use.

Build quality: The front glass is made out of “Gorrilla Glass” – a product that is deemed by the internet as unbreakable (Video). The phone body is made out of Aluminium, and feels extremely solid and well built, and the top and bottom of the phone are plastic. The fit and finish of the phone feels and looks like a high quality product, with no flex in the plastic or screen or any other parts of the phone, and the few buttons that the phone has feel good, with an especially nice shutter release button and volume controls. The sliding lock button feels solid even though I think it’s made out of plastic. (You can also unlock the phone by pressing the menu key and pressing the screen, in case you’re not a fan of using the side unlock key)

More intuitive: The Nokia N8 / and Symbian^3 is improved over Symbian S60 v5 (used in the N97/Mini etc) in lots of little ways, making it a much more intuitive phone to use, for example: To change the clock on the home screen from analogue to digital, you press the clock, this takes you into the time / date / alarm screen, and then you simply press the clock again to switch between analogue and digital. On the N97 Mini, this wasn’t possible, instead you had to delve right into the phone settings to choose between analogue and digital clocks.

Better connectivity and networking: Apart from the phone finding wireless networks quicker than the N97 Mini, it also seems to find more networks, and seems to have better range from the router. There’s also a new “Settings” menu in the connectivity menu, it allows you to set options for switching to WLAN, Data use in home network (Auto, Always ask, WLAN only), Data use when roaming (Auto, Always ask, WLAN only) – these settings could be very useful if you have a horrible internet data tariff but excellent wireless access, and it’s also where the “Destinations” menu has moved. There also appears to be a new power saving setting in the WLAN settings. In the USB connection menu there’s a new option to “Connect PC to net” enabling you to use the phone as modem (this was possible through OVI Suite with previous phones but not built into the phones menus). Under the Data Transfer menu, there’s a new “Ovi Sync” in addition to “Sync”. Remote drives is now an option.

Better internet: Changes made in the built in browser are subtle but quite clever, increasing the ease of use of the browser, for example, the refresh button is now directly next to the options button, making it easier to refresh a page.

Even more features: (too many to go into detail, so I thought I’d start listing additional features)
– Data transfer / Phone switch tool (built into the N8 in Settings, Data Transfer, Phone Switch) – lets you transfer data from or to another Nokia onto the N8 via bluetooth, and installs the sync tool to the other phone from the N8, then lets you choose what you want to transfer over. It’s very clever, and easy to use.
– Nokia Ovi Suite comes on the phone as an installable program when connected in Mass Storage mode (copying the useful feature from the Sony Satio?)
– Pop-Up Connection Notifications – tell you when you’ve connected to the network
– Long press / hold items to bring up a pop-up menu
– The battery icon is now click-able (from the home screen), so you can view the battery status
– New Power Saving option in the Phone Management screen (Settings, Phone, Phone Management)#
– Better contact management – you can merge contacts so that you don’t have duplicates in your phone

Wish list? If I could improve or add anything to the phone, what would I like to see? Previously with the Nokia N Series, Nokia included a lens / screen cloth to keep the lens and screen clean – this should be included with such a camera centric model. The lens is very easy to get finger prints on, and it’s important to keep the lens clean in order to get the best photo quality possible. An improved web browser would be very nice – the included is a little slow, and a little buggy.

* Apparently I’m meant to remind people that Dolby is a registered trademark of Dolby Laboratories. Like you’d forget or something.

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