The N8 has a beautiful 360 x 640 AMOLED multi-touch display. Video is gorgeous playing on the device and the mini HDMI slot easily lets you hook the phone straight into an HDTV. Even better, a full-size HDMI adapter is included in the box.
Finding content to play on this powerful phone is more difficult. There is a YouTube app, and the radio works well enough, but Nokia’s Ovi Store has a limited selection of videos and podcasts to download. The phone comes with Web TV, but its selection is also painfully limited. Our device came loaded with CNN, E! Online, National Geographic, and Paramount movie trailers. On the Ovi Store, you can download a few more channels like Al Jazeera, Bollywood, and India Today. Clips in available channels are low resolution, and choppy. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out in the coming months.
Since the Ovi Music Store is not yet open, we connected the phone via USB to Windows 7, which recognized the phone instantly and allowed us to load songs with the Windows Media Player – a nice touch, though not everything transferred with correct album info or art, which could be a Windows or Nokia problem, perhaps both. Sound quality from the one speaker on the back of the N8 is pretty standard. Few phones offer great external sound, but Nokia didn’t skimp.
Call quality is solid with earphones and without. We had no trouble adjusting the volume of calls or hearing others, who all reported that voices came in quite clearly on T-Mobile’s network.
The bottom of the home screen has a dedicated call bumper button. On the calling page, the number pad is smaller than many phones, which is odd since about a third of the screen up top is unused black space, but it works well enough. Texting is not so fun. The vertical keyboard is not QWERTY like most phones of this type. Instead, it has a telephone keypad, meaning that you’ll be back texting much like you did on your flip phone some years back. The horizontal keyboard is QWERTY, luckily, though the buttons are on the small side. Recent calls and contacts have their own apps and can be found on the default home screen. They are also buried somewhere in the apps menu, should you care to hunt them down.
With Symbian comes Symbian’s web browser. Not only is it difficult and inconsistent to use, it doesn’t load pages well, either. Many Websites with mobile-optimized versions (like Digital Trends) did not load correctly in the N8 browser. Other sites would not load at all, or stopped midway through the process. Typing URLs using a vertical telephone keypad was also a tedious exercise. If you have the N8, we recommend downloading Opera Mobile from the Ovi App Store. It is a night and day improvement over the built-in browser. Opera also includes its own vertical QWERTY keyboard. Problems solved.
Web-based widgets were also sluggish to update their stats. Sometimes, we would have to enter a widget to get it to display fresh tweets or stories. This is likely an OS issue, not a Web issue, but it is annoying.
The N8 comes equipped with some fancy camera technology. At 12 megapixels, it’s a step above the 5-to-8-megapixels that most current smartphones offer, but that’s not all it has cooking. The phone has a second, front-facing VGA camera, auto-focus, a xenon flash, and Carl Zeiss optics. Carl Zeiss AG is a German optical company that is mostly associated with high-end optical lenses. Nokia signed a deal with the optics company in 2005.
The camera handles most lighting conditions well, and takes crisp, clear photos. The flash is also one of, if not the best, flashes on a mobile phone, meaning that it actually does its job. (Using the flash does tend to wash out the image a bit, but not badly.) Without the flash, the camera does a great job reducing graininess in poorly lit areas. Outdoors, it works wonderfully. The only trouble we had was with two different kinds of light sources in the same room, but multiple light sources still pose a problem for the best cameras. Sometimes the little things count, too: Nokia’s camera “snap” sound is, by far, our favorite of any handset manufacturer.
Video quality is equally good for a smartphone. The phone can record at 720p and videos look good displaying at 720p. No complaints.
The N8 has average battery life. Call time on a single charge is a little over five hours and standby time is supposedly up to 17 days. With moderate use, you’ll have to charge the phone every night, but it shouldn’t drain before the day is up. Our device did seem to discharge faster than expected on standby. Without interruption, it died after about a week, though it wasn’t quite at full charge when we left it.
We often root for the underdog, and hoped Nokia was ready to re-enter the big leagues, but the N8 isn’t the device that will help the Finnish handset maker stand up to the Android invasion or Apple’s persistent threat from the iPhone. Four years ago, the N8 would have been a game changer. Today, even though features like its camera are amazing, it’s still a relic of the past. At $500, it’s an expensive relic at that.
- Vivid 3.5 inch AMOLED touchscreen
- 720p video capture with HDMI output
- 12-megapixel camera is fantastic
- 16GB internal memory
- $500 price tag
- No battery access
- Slow processor lags sometimes
- Symbian v3 OS can’t compete with Android or iOS
- Poor built-in Web browser
- No vertical QWERTY keyboard