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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  • tipoo - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Yeah, apart from the camera I don't see much good here. Battery life below middle of the road, browser performance at the bottom of the pack, inferior OS, app store lags behind iOS and Android, etc. An equivalent camera on an Android phone or the iPhone 5 would be nice. Reply
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    With no optical zoom, I'm not even sure I need a 12MP camera. It's nice, but digital zoom is worthless.

    To me, the best part about the phone is the xenon flash.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Isn't that a bit counter-intuitive?

    With digital zoom you'd ideally want more pixels to avoid losing to much detail when you use it.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Saturday, January 15, 2011 - link

    You'd want more MP, but it's pointless, because even when it tries to interpolate the pixels, there is still distortion, even when you scale it down. Some sort of optical zoom is def more ideal. Reply
  • GSJ - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    What could have been if it ran Android......... Reply
  • warisz00r - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Optimus One performace for Galaxy S price? Reply
  • xype - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    "And with one such update promised for the N8 sometime in Q1 2011, it may be the device to recommend, after the update."

    Oh, _please_. That's almost Android-level optimism, here. It might get an update at some point, the update might be good, it might make everything right and better.

    Have a look at how many Android phones are running 2.3, how many 2.1 phones got 2.2 updates, how many people applied those and combine with how long it took Google to actually get halfway where iOS is with its ecosystem and you'll get an idea about what Nokia can _eventually_ accomplish if they get _everything_ right.

    In short: no, it won't be the device to recommend.
    Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    You're comparing Nokia to Google. The difference in phone software experience is over two decades apart.

    Nokia updates and supports their products exceptionally well, probably better than any other phone manufacture.
    Reply
  • warisz00r - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    lolno they dont.

    Suffering E72 user here.
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    Suffering how? I had an E73 Mode for a few months before I plucked down $400 for the N8-00, and the only pain with it was getting outbound emails to work correctly for my business email...gmail and hotmail worked flawlessly. After tweaking everything, the phone worked flawlessly and I was satisfied enough to buy another Nokia.

    If you have an E72 with AT&T, that might explain many of your problems because they really screwed up the OS. T-mobile is traditionally "hands-off" with core system software and most ATT people on the forums talk about just unlocking a factory E71 or E73 from T-mobile to use on ATT. They work a lot better.
    Reply

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