Hands-on with the Nokia N8, a smartphone Symbian fans will love

Summary:The highly anticipated Nokia N8 is now shipping to customers who pre-ordered them and if you are a Nokia or Symbian user you will appreciate the device. Can it bring in outsiders too?

A couple of days ago, the Nokia N8 started shipping and evaluation units were part of that initial rollout. The Nokia USA team sent me a blue Nokia N8 to try out for a couple of weeks, which is perfect timing as I wait for my own pre-ordered dark gray unit to ship, hopefully sometime this week. I have had the N8 for a couple of days and wanted to give you all some of my first impressions and take you on a walk around the device. You can check out my image gallery, video, and thoughts below.

To give you a sense of my take on the device and what you can expect below, let me state that the N8 is clearly the best Nokia Nseries device ever made and is the Nseries device that Nokia and Symbian users both deserve and will appreciate. I honestly doubt that many iPhone or Android owners will be switching to the N8 because the Symbian^3 OS is not familiar to them and is not as intuitive as either of these new flashier operating systems. MeeGo may serve the role as the new OS to take these one, but the N8 should keep all of the existing Symbian owners satisfied and the hardware is so good that others may actually give the device a chance.


Image Gallery: Check out photos of the blue Nokia N8 Symbian^3 device.
Image Gallery: Camera on the N8
Image Gallery: Nokia N8 in hand

In the box and first impressions

Nokia's Nseries packaging over the last couple of years has been some of the best of any smartphone and it keeps getting slimmer and more stylish. The N8 comes in a blue box that is just over an inch thick and about 7 inches by 7 inches. There is a N8 outlined in blue glossy finish (matches actual size) on the front. Opening the first flap reveals another embossed N8, this time showing the back, and then opening that flap reveals the Nokia N8 itself in a plastic fitted compartment. There is a small card with the N8 that shows the doors for the SIM card and microSD card. Under this plastic tray is where Nokia places all the other goodies to get you hooked up out of the box.

You will find an A/C adapter, USB to microUSB cable, wired stereo headset, USB-to-Go adapter cable (about 6 inches long), HDMI adapter cable (about 6 inches), and some pamphlets for the device.

No matter what you think about the Symbian^3 OS or software, no one can argue that the Nokia N8 is one fantastic piece of hardware. Most of the device is wrapped in cool aluminum (available in 5 colors of silver, dark gray, green, blue, and orange) with end pieces of plastic to match. The controls on the right side feel great and around the buttons and switches you can see a shiny finish adding some styling. The weight feels just about perfect in your hand with a width that makes it feel like a phone and a beautiful 3.5 inch display. Compared to many other Nseries devices I have tried, the N8 stands out as the best.

Specifications

Specifications for the Nokia N8 include the following:
  • Symbian^3 operating system
  • 680MHz ARM 11 processor along with a 3D Graphics HW Accelerator with OpenGL-ES 2.0 support
  • 256MB SDRAM and 512MB of NAND memory
  • Quad-band GSM and penta-band 3G (850/900/1700/1900/2100 MHz)
  • 3.5 inch (640x360 pixels) capacitive AMOLED touch display with support for 16.7 million colors
  • Integrated 16GB flash memory and microSD card
  • 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and Xenon flash
  • Dual microphone
  • VGA front facing camera
  • Proximity sensor, light sensor, accelerometer and digital compass
  • Integrated GPS
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • FM radio and FM transmitter
  • 1200 mAh integrated battery
  • 2mm Nokia charging port
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • Dimensions: 4.47 x 2.32 x 0.51 inches and 4.76 ounces

The Nokia N8 has a couple specifications that stand out from the pack, including the 12 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera with Xenon flash and penta-band WCDMA radio. The camera has the largest sensor ever seen in a camera phone and should allow me to leave the point-and-shoot at home while recording 720p video. The penta-band WCDMA radio is a feat that no other manufacturer has yet been able to make happen and smartphone enthusiasts like me appreciate the ability to pop any SIM card in that we want and get connected via 3G data speeds.

The aluminum body and cool colors are also quite attractive and give the device a look and feel of quality.

Walk around the hardware

The front of the N8 is dominated by the 3.5 inch display. Even though the resolution is 640x360 pixels, it still looks quite good with clear text and beautiful colors on the OLED display. Above the display you will find the front facing VGA camera and proximity sensor. The front microphone is below the display on the right and the single hardware button for the N8 is found on the lower left. There is a light around the button that serves as the notification light that pulses.

The 3.5mm headset jack, HDMI port, and power button are found on the top. The 2mm charging opening is on the bottom with a lanyard opening towards the right.

If you look to the right you will see volume button, lock switch, camera button, and Torx screw. Ports for the microSD card and SIM card are found on the upper left with the charging indicator light, microUSB port, and second Torx screw.

The back is dominated by the 12 megapixel camera protrusion that includes the Xenon flash, camera lens, second microphone, and mono speaker. The camera lens has no physical shutter, but the glass face is inset a bit with a shiny bezel around the opening. The words Nokia Nseries are attached to the back of the N8 in brushed silver finish that adds a bit of classiness to the device.

Walk through the software

As you start up the device you are asked to enter in your Ovi account information or setup a new account. I entered my account settings and discovered that this sign takes care of your connection to Ovi Maps, Ovi Store, and Ovi Sync. I do not actually use Ovi Sync so did not try out this capability.

You will then be taken to the home screen where you will find default widgets loaded up in some of the six openings on each of the three home screen panels. You have the ability to customize the background image on each of the three home screens as well as the 18 total widget areas. I have an Android device with seven home screens and only live in two of them so having three is just fine with me. The home screen is very similar in appearance to the S60 5th Edition screen, but there are some nice improvements. One in particular that stands out to me is the contact widget that lets you add several contacts and then slide the widget side to side so you can have more than the four limited on S60 5th Edition.

Pressing the menu button once takes you the menu screen that is all to familiar to S60 users with the same icons and ability to customize folders and placement of the shortcuts. While many unfamiliar with S60 may find the menu screen confusing and not understand that it can be fully customized, existing S60 owners will likely appreciate the familiarity.

While there are hundreds of improvements in Symbian^3 over the S60 5th Edition operating system a couple of the most apparent improvements can be found in the music application and task manager. When you rotate the N8 into landscape orientation and launch the Music application you will see an amazing display of cover art with 60 frame per second animations allowing you to fly through your music collection.

The task manager is activated by pressing and holding on the menu button. You will see a window pop-up with live thumbnails of your running apps appearing in a visual history/coverflow type of view. You can slide your finger right and left to switch between apps and tap on the X in the upper right corner to close down the selected application. I admit I was a bit worried about the N8 ability to run several high powered apps at once after seeing some warnings appear on prototype devices, but I was able to experience running Gravity, camera app, web browser with full ZDNet site loading, Angry Birds, Galaxy on Fire, Ovi Store, music player, email app, phone dialer, Ovi Maps, and calendar all at once without pause. On the E73 and N97 I could run just a couple and then if I started the camera or web browser the low memory error would appear so this is rather a breath of fresh air.

Pricing and availability

The Nokia N8 is available for ordering on the Nokia USA site now for $549 in dark grey. The colored ones should be available for pre-order starting on 9 October. $549 is a good price for a completely SIM-unlocked smartphone with no carrier bloatware. Don't forget you also get a full voice navigation suite with support for offline navigation around the world too.

Final first thoughts

As I stated earlier, I think Nokia and Symbian owners will love the Nokia N8, but I don't think it will really bring in many new people to the Symbian product line. You still have to dive down quite a ways into menus and the OS is something that takes time to learn. There is a TON more that I will be testing out on the Nokia N8, but I will be posting that over on my Nokia Experts site. I plan to cover the camera, USB-to-Go, HDMI output, and much more as I build up a resource there for new Nokia N8 owners.

I look forward to seeing Symbian^4 in 2011 and MeeGo later this year too. Do you have any questions about the N8? Do you think it will win over any iOS or Android owners?

Topics: Nokia, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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