HTPC in your pocket?

So while the GPU in the N8 is competent, the display it drives is quite up to the task itself. Nokia is making use of a 3.5” AMOLED panel, running a resolution of 640x360 pixels. While certainly not the highest in terms of pixel density, it is vibrant and crisp with good contrast. The AMOLED panel on the N8 is very good and surprisingly, it actually uses a regular RGB sub-pixel grid, unlike the Pentile configuration found in most other AMOLED displays. This makes the display, in general, sharper than other AMOLED’s, especially when viewing text. 

N8’s visibility outside is decent (left), but nothing great.

It has very good visibility indoors and decent visibility outdoors—especially for being an AMOLED display—but still isn’t quite as good as some regular LCD displays. Even though the N8 is Nokia’s current flagship device, it doesn’t have the outdoor-visibility enhancing ‘Clear Black Display’ technology (aka polarizing filter). The ambient light sensor does its job very well and adjusts the brightness within a second or two of change in the lighting conditions. It also does a good job of maxing-out the brightness when outdoors under sunlight, although it doesn’t seem to want to dip to the other end when in complete darkness.

Display Brightness Display Brightness

The N8 excels as a camera and as a phone. But another area where it does quite well for itself is multimedia. There is another first for the N8; it is the first mobile device to sport a complete implementation of the Dolby Digital Plus standard. What this means is that the N8 is capable of streaming out 5.1 audio without any issues. 

Video playback on the Nokia N8


The N8 also houses a v1.3a-spec mini HDMI connector (Dolby Digital Plus needs at least a v1.3 connection) up top that works just as it should. Connect the N8 to your TV using the included cable and you’re all set. And Nokia has paid a lot of attention to its implementation of HDMI-out on the N8. Instead of simply mirroring or cloning the N8’s display over the HDMI connection as most phones do, Nokia has implemented what it calls a “native” mode, wherein during media playback, the on-screen controls are the only thing that is displayed on the N8. The actual image/video stream is only visible on the HDTV and it is unobstructed by the playback controls. While it doesn’t really change how you would watch videos or images per se, it just goes to show the level of detail Nokia has gone into while implementing seemingly inconspicuous features.

The N8 also supports Matroska and DiVX playback out-of-the box without having to download, install or configure anything. I threw a couple of 720p DiVX trailers at it and it played them without issues. I did have some trouble with a couple of MKV’s encoded using “high-profile” (even though the specs say it supports it), and a few high-bit rate videos (I think around 10Mbit/sec is the usable limit) where I would only get the audio stream playing, as the N8 could not identify the video stream. But it was awesome to just drop stuff off onto the N8 and watch it go. If I found one issue with the video player on the N8, it has to be its inability to resume playback from where it left off; whether this means you explicitly press pause and close the video player or just directly switch over to another app, the N8 starts playing back the video from the very start every time.

The N8’s excellent media handling coupled with USB OTG make it a great basic ‘HTPC’

And speaking of go, the N8 is one of the few devices that supports the USB OTG (On-the-Go) standard which allows it to act as a USB host for certain devices. Once again, this works flawlessly. I copied a couple of ripped videos onto a USB drive, plugged it into the N8 (via the supplied USB to micro-USB dongle) and the N8 immediately picks up the drive as a mass-storage device and lets me browse its contents. Again, no need to install or configure anything. The only restriction here is that the drives must be FAT32 formatted, not NTFS. The N8 is capable of providing up to 200mA over its micro-USB port, but I could use externally powered devices (such as my 1TB external drive) without any issues. I tried using a bunch of devices such as USB flash drives, digital cameras and they all seem to work fine. But I had two portable drives that understandably didn’t work with the N8 because of power requirements; I could just hear them power up and down continuously.

Just out of curiosity, I tried connecting a Logitech EX100 wireless Keyboard+Mouse combo and it worked! I could use the mouse to navigate and interact with the menus without any fuss and in seconds I was typing out emails on the N8 through the keyboard. This really does make it a viable HTPC option. Nokia has also thrown in an FM radio (with the wired headset acting as an antenna) and the N8 can also act as an FM transmitter. While not entirely useful in this day and age where almost every vehicle comes with at least an AUX IN jack, it certainly is a nifty feature for those who don’t have any other means of streaming audio through their vehicles speaker setup. In my brief use of the N8 as an FM transmitter, it did quite well even in areas with multiple transmitting stations.

And Nokia has another bit of surprise here. The N8 comes with 16GB memory built-in that can be expanded using microSD cards, currently giving you a maximum storage capacity of 48GB. While a lot of phones currently available come with large amounts of storage memory, in my experience, I rarely ever end up using more than a couple of gigabytes simply because of the painfully slow transfer speeds. Not so with the N8. I have recorded sustained read speeds of 13MB/sec and write speeds of about 10MB/sec. This means I can transfer a 700MB video in a little over a minute. Have a look the numbers below for comparison.

Device Read (MB/s) Write (MB/s)
Nokia N8-00 16GB ~13 MB/s ~10 MB/s
Palm Pre Plus 16GB ~15 MB/s 1.5 MB/s
ADATA C802 4GB ~13 MB/s ~4 MB/s

I couldn’t get more specific information on the Toshiba THGBM1G7D4FBA13 MCP used part used in the Nokia N8, but it contains four 32Gbit Toshiba-Sandisk MLC NAND die along with a flash controller.

N8 - GPU and SoC Symbian^3


View All Comments

  • alovell83 - 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."

    Unfortunately, after the update this phone will be what, 6+ months on the market? With no more flagship phones running on Symbian I'd never recommend this OS to a friend, even if they are familiar with Symbian.

    Meego should be able to help Nokia remain competitive, this phone, unfortunately for Nokia and it's fans, wont be of great use to a consumer outside of the cameraphone aficionados.
  • alovell83 - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Also, in case anyone wants to say how easy it is to cross-develop apps for Meego & Symbian, from what I read, that much is true. However, I wouldn't want my OS to be reliant on Meego's adoption rates and apps when Meego has no hardware release dates and is showing up to this party quite late. Reply
  • deputc26 - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Hmmm a little grandiloquent Reply
  • Antibios - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    A tad sesquipedalian Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    other reasons to not recommend: wifi pathetic, talk time sub par by today's standards horribly slow web browser (which is why you need more 3g battery life- the damn pages take forever to load!), screen res below what I would call the current industry standard (thanks to android devices), and lastly when you make an unlocked phone that you are trying to sell for ~$600US (typical for Nokia flagships) you DO NOT put in a 99 cent ARM 11 chip!! Can you say overpriced? And where the heck is the 1500 mAh battery found in almost every other nokia phone? I guess when you lose that much marketshare you can't afford to put quality components in your flagship. My guess is that Nokia already had this camera/sensor/flash prior to their imminent demise. Same with the 1200 mAh batteries now found on their phones. Sad really.

    A turd is a turd, even if it is well built.
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Firstly, it is not selling for $600. It can be found for $399 at a lot of places and newegg is selling it for $429. For an unlocked pentaband phone, that's not a bad deal, especially since it comes with a camera as good as found on $400 compacts (S95, LX5 are ~$400).

    Secondly, Mithun's 3G talk time results seem egregious to me. The GSM talk times are a lot longer (I've had hour long conversations on the phone that did not dent the battery gauge, sadly don't have the resources/money to test talk times like AT), and there's not much to gain from going 3G for talk anyway.

    The CPU is slow, yes, but it's not a handicap for the device in practical use. It's as snappy as a 3GS, and the GPU is great for gaming - played Angry Birds, NFS Shift and Galaxy on Fire with no slowdowns. It's also played 720p videos without a hitch - remarkably, the phone stayed cool to the touch even after a 1 hr+ video session with a 720p mkv for me.

    Slow webkit browser is slow, fortunately Opera Mobile is decent for general web use (as opposed to synthetic benchmarks). Definitely one area Nokia could improve on though.

    It may not be the Ferrari of phones, but it is a far cry from a turd.
  • mythun.chandra - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    I actually tested the 3G talk time twice and it was about the same. As I mentioned in the review, I could get away with using the N8 over a GSM-only network with moderate usage for almost 3 days. So yes, the GSM talk time is better. Reply
  • Voldenuit - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Thanks for clarifying, mithun.

    As an aside, you can force the phone to use GSM/Edge for calls by putting it in power saving mode (click on battery icon in top right hand corner, or push power button once and select from options).
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    <sigh> there's always a nokia fanboy that bought the phone and has to post to defend their purchase... Yeah newegg has it at $429 now but do you see the "was $549"? That would make it MSRP of $549 which last time I checked would make it "~$600" (just south of $600). My point is and still remains that if Nokia wants a NEW "flagship" phone it seriously falls short by today's standards (set by apple and android phones). And the 3GS is outdated. It came out in ~August of 2009. Is Nokia then trying to compete with 1.5 year old phone hardware?? No wonder they are losing that massive amount of their marketshare. If I want to play handheld games I will buy a DS or PSP due to large quantity of titles available for them. Let's face it, these days cell phones are for 2 main things.
    1: making phone calls. And I don't care about GSM talk time. I don't want to have to go through all of the menus to find the obscure option to switch to GSM every time I want to have a long phone call and then back again to get online.
    2: Quick web surfing, including posting tweets and facebook updates and the occasional youtube upload. And the numbers for Opera Mobile aren't that good either.
    I see you have no comment on screen res or wifi performance. Yeah it stays cool at the lousy res since anything higher will stress the "great GPU". It's the same as pc's- when you increase the res it's more demanding on the gpu. 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.
    Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Nokia "hater" as I have had numerous Nokia phones (most recently an E63). But I can remember the days that Nokia hardware across the board was innovative, not just feature packed. Using an outdated cpu, bad wifi, short battery life talk time (seemingly a nokia first), failing to get to 800x400... I basically already said these things. I expect better from Nokia (and so should you).
    The N900 is going for the same $429 right now. Why buy this phone? For the camera?
  • Exodite - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Pricing varies a lot between markets I presume.

    For the sake of comparison the Nokia N8 costs ~4000 SEK here while the Desire HD is ~5100 SEK (recently dropped from 5600 SEK) and the iPhone 4 16GB is ~7000 SEK (~8300 SEK for 32GB).

    I can't speak for the rest of the world but it offers high-end smartphone features at a price point significantly lower than the competition.

    Surely that's not a bad thing?

    At that price you really have to compare the N8 to mid-range smartphone, like the HTC Legend or Aria.

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