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 top and bottom of the N8

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. 

 
The back of the Nokia N8 (left); What makes up the “bulge” (right)

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…

The N8's Camera - 12 MP of Awesome
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  • chick0n - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    do u know how much it cost for the "outdated" Apple 3gS without contract? lmao.

    Have you ever use a N8 yourself? I know I have one. ohhhhh now u gonna say im just a fanboy & trying to defend my purchase. mind u N8 is not the only phone I have, I got both Desire HD, & Nexus S. but I rather use N8 as my primary phone. sure it has its own weakness, but its not as bad as the review saids.

    I can get N900 for much less than 429. I don't know what have you been looking but you do sound like a moron.
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    yeah I can aquire one on ebay for about $100. Off contract sale of this phone through AT&T doesn't exist (at least not in the US). And I'm the moron... What the hell does the average person need 3 phones for? Well most ppl don't have that much money to WASTE on phones (and the provider contracts to boot) I pulled the $429 off the same place as voldunuit got for the N8- Newegg. Apparently Amazon is better @ 350. But if you are shopping around why not look for NEW hardware to spend your money on?

    But still my point stands... A NEW (that's right, N-E-W) flagship phone should sport NEW hardware, better battery life, better browser, etc. no one can debate this, as this is a trend ALL TECHNOLOGY should follow. No matter what you think of me my point is still valid.
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    one last thing... why buy ANY phone now with dual-core phones on the cusp of release? Maybe, maybe I am missing something. Maybe this is a test run from a design sense before Nokia releases an updated (from a hardware sense) version of this phone sporting a dual core cpu. Reply
  • Alexstarfire - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    If by screen res you mean the physical size of the display.... perhaps. A lot of people think 4+ inches is too big for a phone. If you mean by the actual resolution of the screen itself then it's got pretty much the exact same DPI as a 4 inch 840x480 screen. Why put in a likely far more expensive screen just to up the DPI? Doesn't seem very cost effective since the current screen in phones like the Galaxy S look fantastic as is. (No I don't care if you don't like how the SuperAMOLED screen looks).

    I'd agree the WiFi does looks pretty abysmal in throughput, but then again I don't think even the best phone on that list is doing a very good job considering the specs of 802.11g/n. I also don't think it's as big a deal as it looks like. 4.5 Mbps is certainly fast enough for any web page on a mobile device. The biggest and best reasons to use Wifi are power consumption and lower latencies. Don't know about it's power consumption since it's not in this review and I'd assume the latencies are just fine since nothing was mentioned. The browser might make it worse, but IDK. I don't have this phone and I don't use Opera.

    The 3G talk time could end up being a problem but I wonder if they can make an app that just uses 2G for talking and 3G for data. IDK if they even have a program like that for Android, but it'd certainly be nice since 3G for voice is largely useless.

    CPU is only an issue if there are lag problems. Again, don't know if there are any since I don't use the phone. My guess is that there shouldn't be any since most everything is GPU accelerated.

    The battery is certainly something they skimped on. Couldn't say why, but it seems to be an issue no matter how you look at it. Why put such a small battery in a high-end phone? It just doesn't make sense.
    Reply
  • bitflung - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    wow - seriously, you're jaded.

    you want a faster processor, i get it. i want a better camera, apple doesn't want to give me one. see, different opinions, but i won't go calling the iphone a turd just because of that.

    you're not a nokia hater, you owned a bunch of nokias in the past, as recently as 3 years ago? yay for you. you're still a hater.

    let's talk facts, not opinions:
    - the CPU is adequate. not stellar, not blow your socks off, but adequate. the N8's selling point is not the cpu, so they didn't invest heavily on that component. of course, the CPU isn't the bottleneck for the eyecandy everyone loves to compare with. that's the GPU, and the N8 doesn't skimp there, "The conclusion is surprising, the Nokia N8 dominates, by far " (source: http://www.thenokian8.info/comparison-of-graphics-... )

    - price: $600 is a common starting price. if it was woefully under spec'd, then it would seem a bit much. that's your real argument, after all, that it is woefully under spec'd; iOS and Android devices are only cheaper when subsidized (personally i cant stand the carrier lock-in that comes from subsidies, so i never buy in that fashion - i'd rather pay retail and remain free to leave a bad carrier. and they are ALL bad in their own ways).

    - screen res: not a retina display? good, so iphone 4 has a leg-up on screen res. yay for them. N8 has gorilla glass, yay for n8. iphone has better multitouch, yay for apple. n8 has better outdoor readability, yay for n8. on and on and on. you can't cherry pick the best of iphone and compare just those features to state categorically that everything else sucks. doing that, the ONLY thing you'll compare favorably against is another iphone. btw, iphone 4 and 3GS have the EXACT SAME GPU, as well as the iPad. so take another gander at the benchmarks for opengl performance i linked to above and reconsider you statement that, "Yeah it stays cool at the lousy res since anything higher will stress the 'great GPU'" - you know, since the broadcom chip on the n8 outperforms the powervr core apple licensed for the A4 SoC.

    - wifi performance: really? people have complained about this? my wife's N8 works great on wifi. i don't know what goes wrong for other users, maybe performance varies based on the SNR in the area? i've only tested at home, where there is no real source of noise nearby, and her N8 slurps data over wifi just as fast as my laptop does when wired into our router (~16Mbps).

    - battery life: this just confounds me. my wife's n8 lasts for 2 days solid, 3 if she's lucky. she talks on it about as much as any typical 20-30 year old woman i've seen. my boss has an iphone 4 and has a similar usage pattern, and he complains about the battery barely lasting 1 day, and NEVER lasting a full 2 days. i haven't had the opportunity to directly test them side by side, but for months i keep hearing my wife, getting into bed, saying "oh, i forgot to plug my phone in - i'll just do it tomorrow"; and my boss worrying during lunch meetings, "can we use your phone for this call, i don't think my iphone will last".

    - web browser, data speeds: yes, iphone's browser is 'better'. less complete, but far better at doing what it does do. N8's browser is very poorly executed, but more complete. don't let the browser's performance fool you though, data speeds between the devices are exactly the opposite. nokia integrated the pentaband 3G hardware exceptinally well and, as usual, side by side with the iphone (3GS and 4) the N8 holds a 3G signal better than either device, and pulls more bandwidth then either device. running a speed test (speedtest.net website on the n8, native apps on the iphones) the N8 pulled down ~3Mbps consistently in my office, while the two iphones barely eeked out 1Mbps each (~1.18 for one, the ~1.4 - both average across 3 tests). we're talking about all three devices within 1 foot of each other and running the speed tests simultaneously. i would have run the EXACT same tests, but the iphone's cant render the flash based speed test website, and obviously the native iphone apps won't run on a (non-iphone) n8.

    -regarding this statement: "Sure it's got a great camera. Which is why nokia went out of their way to say it over and over so everyone would overlook everything else." ::: you've got it ALL WRONG HERE. that's like me saying, "sure the iphone has a great screen, that's why apple said it over and over so everyone would overlook the crappy camera and lack of bluetooth profiles, and poorly integrated antennae, and miserable data bandwidth comapred to similar devices, and poor battery life, and...and...and...(listed these so you don't discount my use of 'everything else' were i to have said it)". no. apple focused on the 'gorgeous' retina (actually, ALMOST a retina) display because, well, it IS ONE OF THE REASONS TO BUY THE DAMN THING. nokia focused on the camera because IT IS ONE OF THE REASONS TO BUY THE DAMN THING. there is no other mobile phone in the world that can compete with the iphone's screen resolution. there is no other mobile phone in the world that can compete with the N8's camera (sensor size, resolution, optics, flash, everything about it). that's why nokia focuses on the camera in marketing, because nokia ALREADY FOCUSED ON THE CAMERA IN ENGINEERING too.

    and you honestly think you're not a nokia hater? that's like listening to some jackass say, "i'm not racist, i just don't feel comfortable around black ppl". you don't like nokia. fine. know thyself. i like nokia. i also like apple. i hate walled-gardens. i hate vendor lock-in. if not for the intent of walled gardens and vendor lock-in, i'd probably own an iphone by now. would i like it more than my n900 (i dont have the n8, that's my wife's)? i don't know, i'd probably hate the lousy network performance, but love the apps. i'd probably hate the camera but love the screen. i'd probably be contradicted within myself when attempting to say which was better; because they are both great and the both suck in their own ways.

    you think the N8 is a turd. you proclaim it to be truth while saying you're not a hater because you owned some nokia devices 3+ years ago. yay you. and i'm not racist because i had black friends 3 years ago. doesn't that make me sound, well, like an ass? yup. so you go on now, you non-hater; go ahead and proclaim your lack of bias while asserting the truth in knee-jerk disgust of any feature that can be seen as less than iphone worthy. go ahead. in the meantime i'll happily take nokia's unlocked pentaband beauty on my travels, pop in local sim cards and use voice and data services without paying disgusting rates for leaving the walled garden of my primary carrier. i'll play the same high quality games and even hook my phone up to a big screen TV. i'll even take some pictures down by the lake late at night after the party quiets down, so my iphone toting friends can share the memories of when we all got together without the blurry-cam effect ruining everything.
    Reply
  • melgross - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Please don't make too much of this camera. I've seen photo's from it, and it's nowhere as good as an S95 class camera. Not close. The lens is ok, but not really that good. There's no real zoom as compacts have. The pics are very noisy compared to the S95.

    The rest isn't worth commenting on directly, as this seems to be a phone stuck in a time warp. Great for Nokia, Meh for anyone else. Interesting that for Nokia junkies, this has been their best selling smartphone yet, and that may be a problem. If Nokia actually thinks that this model hit the spot, they're in even bigger trouble then they know.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    The S95 suffers from softness wide open and noticeable chromatic and purple fringing.

    Whereas the N8's lens is crisp even at the pixel level. It may be that Nokia is running a CA-removal algorithm like Panasonic and Nikon does on their system cameras, but the end result is a much crisper image.

    There are advantages to a prime lens, and not just in size. Many people (myself included) prefer to shoot with primes. The Ricoh GR-D was one of the most popular street shooting compacts, and had a 28mm lens. So does the Sigma DP1. The Leica X1 also has a fixed lens (35mm eq.). While a prime may not suit everybody, neither does a zoom, and I would rather be able to fit my phone in my pocket than have a physical zoom which I will rarely use.

    Yes, the N8 is noisier. Not by much, and they have stated that this was a conscious decision to retain detail and give more options to the user in post. As I have mentioned somewhere, the on-phone editing software has a NR filter. Having been dismayed by too many compacts with heavy handed NR resulting in watercolor pics, I am actually happy about this.

    In fact, the N8 camera requits itself very well:
    http://thehandheldblog.com/2010/10/04/shootout-nok...

    Yes, the 550D is let down by a poor kit lens, but that the N8 is in contention at all is pretty amazing. The 100% crops are especially impressive. Other cameraphones just don't compare.
    Reply
  • raulr - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Just a quick note on the CPU. ARM11 is was Apple used on the original iPhone 2G and iPhone 3G, so more than 1.5 year old tech (when did the 2G come out, 2007?). The iPhone 3GS uses an ARM Cortex A8. And a number of Android phones were launched with Cortex A9 Dual Core based CPU's at CES last week.

    ARM11 is something you would only see in the low end Android phones and it really is quite shocking that Nokia would that into their "Flagship" phone.
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    I completely agree. My point was this-
    The iPhone 4 improved the 3GS (the former 'flagship') by:
    Improving the scree res
    Improving battery life
    Improving the camera (and adding a front facing camera)
    Improving cpu/gpu
    Hence the 3GS is now "outdated".
    Lets use another example:
    The Droid X improved on the original Droid by:
    Improving the cpu/gpu
    Improving the camera
    Improving battery life
    And so on, and so on and now the Droid is "outdated"
    Funny how an "idiot" would have to simplify this for the benefit of those calling others "idiots"- now that's irony.
    All fanboys are the same. So should Nokia get a free pass while Apple does not (in regards to the MBP keeping core 2 for so long)?
    Neither do in my book.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    You make a good point, though it's not really fair to compare mobile platforms to something like a laptop.

    Mobile devices are service-enabling platforms, not software-execution platforms.

    If a 680MHz ARM 11 is enough to allow the N8 to provide the services it enables it's not really an issue.

    Once you get into the realm of desktop software underlying hardware and OS matters a whole lot more, sadly.
    Reply

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