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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  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

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

    BOOM-Tish! Somebody give this man a dollar, he's hit the nail on the head!

    As mithun said in his review, if a faster processor does not enable more functionality, all it's doing is sucking more power.

    Yes, we all want the latest and greatest, but it seems nokia made the smart move by focusing on the GPU and coupling it with a CPU that's just fast enough for its needs.

    The 3GS was a marked improvement on the 3G in terms of speed and responsiveness, but the N8 is about as responsive as the 3GS using a much slower CPU because of its more compact/efficient OS and being smart about offloading to the GPU when needed. This is what fusion should be about.
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    I do see your point, however every other phone manufacturer is always updating to the "latest and greatest" while still keeping power usage under control. ...how do they do this? tech as it evolves gets smaller- and I shouldn't need to explain moore's law to anyone here. The phone software shoud be optimized to the latest and greatest to take advantage of BOTH the speed AND power usage of the device.

    Selling the nexus one with eclair and reselling it a year later with gingerbread without improving anything from a hardware perspective is what I see Nokia doing here. All they have done is re-optimize symbian to offload as much work as possible to the gpu. But I would almost guarantee a faster cpu would speed up the browser. And then they would have to reoptimize that and the juggling act nokia has done here starts all over.

    I wonder why the N900 isn't included with the benchmarks of this phone? Let's see... Sunspider benchmark... N900: 37816.... N8-00 (with opera 10- default browser is slower): 100029. So you can say "service-enabling platform" but if you're not optimizing the platform for commonly used tasks - AGAIN for a regularly executed function (web browsing, phone calls) than what are you optimizing it for? But Nokia decided that those thing weren't that important and while you get great battery life 3G browsing (wifi numbers will likely be similiar) - by sipping a slower cpu to save that battery life you get a HORRIBLE browsing experience.

    I called this phone a "turd" because I view it as a step backwards from the N900 (the former and maybe still flagship Nokia phone) redesigned symbian and all.
    'quote' but the N8 is about as responsive as the 3GS using a much slower CPU because of its more compact/efficient OS and being smart about offloading to the GPU when needed.

    So you're saying that it's not as fast as the 3GS. This is their NEW flagship phone! And it's "about as responsive as a 3GS"- again a phone that's 1.5 years old! I simply want BETTER from Nokia to restart the "off contract" or "unlocked" market and this phone FAILS at doing so. I truly believe the N900 is a great phone! There are simply faster, much more responsive, longer battery life, all in all better phones out than this one (N8-00) right now.

    Are they still planning on all but killing off symbian with meego (should it come out)? That would have to influence a purchase decision also.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    iPhone4 isn't faster than 3GS either. In fact, in some benchmarks, it's slower (because of the higher resolution display).

    3GS was significant because its speedup over the older models represented a milestone in device responsiveness and user expectations.

    A phone which is faster than the 3GS would probably go unnoticed among many users, but one which is significantly slower would not be accepted.

    The N8 is definitely snappy enough to fall into the first camp.

    While AT is a tech site and its phone reviews are understandably geared towards the technical details and specifications of the chips that go into the phones, hardware specs are not the be all and end all of a smartphone. For most smartphone tasks, the N8 is quite up to the job.

    Yes, the browser is in definite need of improvement, I'm using Opera Mobile on it right now and even that is not fantastic, but it's enough for my purposes as the other advantages of the N8 (GPS, pentaband 3G, camera) outweighed it over the current crop of Android and iOS devices for my specific needs.
    Reply
  • ojisama - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    I guess you didn't read the part about GPU. "Most of the heavy lifting in the N8 is done by the BCM2727". "Using an A8 Cortex-based 1Ghz+ part here to run Symbian^3 would have been overkill and power-inefficient." Reply
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    As snappy as the 3GS except the 3GS is almost TWO YEARS OLD. Reply
  • AssBall - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    Funny, since most contracts are for TWO YEARS.

    Not every idiot gets a new phone every 6 months. Nokia has always been especially good at call quality, above other stuff. You know, in case you actually use your phone to CALL PEOPLE instead of some kind of nerdwit multimedia toy.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    While is has its issues to be sure, the browser being one of them, it's actually an awesome device as soon as you consider the phone implications.

    Audio quality is excellent and reception better than any handset I've used. The camera really deserves even more praise as it's not just better than those offered by current high-end smartphones but entirely in a league of its own.

    Then there's the many convenient features like USB-on-the-go, BT keayboard and mouse connectivity, FM transmitter, 5.1 audio output, native DivX and MKV support etc.

    My better half has one and running 3G and Wi-Fi enabled 24/7, live Twitter feeds and gmail updates through widgets, as well as snapping shots with the Xenon flash and playing the odd games she still gets about 3 days worth of battery out of the device.

    It's awesome, as long as you want a phone with media functions and not the other way around.

    That's not to say it's perfect but all the issues are really related to software and we can only hope Nokia takes fixing them to heart. Indeed, the only hardware omission I find annoying is a LED lamp for video and use as a torch.

    Funny as it may sound I've actually come to rely on using my phone as a torch.

    I have to say that I expected a bit more from this review, RightMark Audio Analyser tests, reception and signal strength tests, a more detailed look into the camera and image quality options.

    That's not to say it's a bad review, only that the real strengths of this handset aren't immediately obvious to the same extent that its flaws are.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    "The camera really deserves even more praise as it's not just better than those offered by current high-end smartphones but entirely in a league of its own."

    Yes. It's 6 times bigger than the sensor on the iPhone4. SIX TIMES!!!

    Something to chew on for a while.

    Re: LED torch functionality, I can understand why it's missing (compared to previous nokias) because the Xenon flash is not designed for continuous output and the AF assist lamp is red (although I actually prefer the red setting on my 3rd party torch app to preserve nightvision in the dark).

    I also notice that signal attenuation tests are missing from this review - maybe that's due to technical issues in measuring gain from the antenna?

    Agreed that it's easier to point out the flaws than the strengths - the whole is better than the sum of its parts, because while all smartphones have their strengths, the N8 is very well balanced in its abilities. Some phones might do X or Y better, but the N8 excels at doing nearly everything consistently well (push email support aside, which is coming, and which has workarounds) and does some things (like Bluetooth 3, FM transmitter) that other phones don't even try to.
    Reply
  • melgross - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Awesome? Yeah, in mid 2009. Right now, the only thing that's awesome about this is that it's their top model, considering how backwards it it.

    All I can get from this review is that it's ok in most areas, not so hot in the others, and has a camera that's batter than in other phones but not so great when compared to dedicated compacts. That is, if you know something about photography.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Which is why I expected a more in-depth review in the first place.

    The N8 is priced like a mid-range smartphone but offer a lot of non-obvious advantages to the competition.

    In my personal experience:

    * Call/audio quality.
    * Reception.
    * Build quality/toughness.
    * Battery life.
    * Camera.
    * Features (USB OTG, BT mouse/keyboard, FM transmitter, DivX/MKV playback, free GPS navigation with no roaming fees etc.)
    * Design (like the two-stage dedicated camera button, hardware screen-lock snap-slider, lock-screen clock etc.)

    Granted, it's not a handset for everyone but what is?

    My ideal phone would be a Nokia design with Samsung electronics and HTC software and services but until that surfaces we have to make compromises. :)

    In the case of Nokia those compromises are software related, like the browser and inconsistent services.

    I could find equally serious issues with other high-end handsets, like the Desire HD and iPhone 4, but that doesn't mean that those devices don't deserve to be called 'awesome' as well.
    Reply

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