Looking at the Nokia N8’s spec sheets, you wouldn’t wonder why the phone can tout itself as the venerable Swiss Army knife of mobile phones, which is why we’re excited that WoMWorld Nokia sent us one to put through its paces. As a big N82 user, I was one of the fans of the large camera module + Xenon flash on this phone and was personally excited to test it for myself. And after using it for a few days so far, I’m ready to share some of my first impressions of the Nokia N8 Symbian^3 smartphone. Read on.
If you’ve watched our unboxing, you’ll know that we got the sleek and subdued black colored version. Upon picking it out of its box, you’ll notice the very rugged, very tough looking exterior of this phone. It’s got a unique, missile-like design with tapered top and bottom – with the lines being more angular than curved. The buttons and ports also seem relatively rugged, with chrome accents and a metallic feel all around, especially the lock slider. Of course, one can’t talk about the N8 without mentioning the large camera module on the back, and its hard to miss indeed. It gives the back some interest, though it does leave the phone on the table at an odd angle. The screen is also said to be made of Gorilla Glass, which adds to the indestructible feel of the phone. Overall, the construction quality seems to offer a much more confident amount of ruggedness that very few phones have. We found ourselves a lot less worried about scratching the anodized aluminum casing, or the Gorilla Glass display – and instead were able to concentrate on using the phone itself. And as for the style the case evokes – some will love it, some will hate it. We gather that if you ever think you want more shock value on the visuals department, you can pick one of the other 4 available bright colored N8 versions.
The N8 runs on a Symbian platform, the Symbian^3 version to be exact. Since we have the N82 and Ovi Suite installed, we could easily transfer your contacts via phone-to-phone Bluetooth connections or the Ovi Suite contact sync. We chose the latter. It was a relatively easy process and it wasn’t long before our Contacts list was up and running. One thing to note about the contacts for the N8 is that it doesn’t seem to automatically sync our contacts’ Facebook or Twitter images into the phone – you’ll have to do it yourself.
Once we had our contacts up, we began to poke around the Symbian interface a bit more. This version of Symbian looks similar to previous versions and for the most part, you won’t find yourself lost if you’re used to it. We noticed a good haptic feedback design when scrolling and tapping menus, and it felt intuitive. One could argue that the menus itself look a little dated, and we could agree. The three homescreens and it’s widgets are fixed in a 1×4 size grid type layout. You can arrange them any way you wish as long as it snaps into a box as part of the 1×4 grid boxes. This makes it friendlier for landscape use even on the homescreens, but since this phone doesn’t have a QWERTY slider keyboard, it does seem a little out of place. Swiping between homescreens will crossfade the background into the next and slide the widgets in the direction of your swipe until the next screen widgets slide in. We’re familiar with this concept, but in terms of visual flourishes there’s not much else. Hitting the options button will darken the background and pop-up a context menu. While hitting the menu button will show the main menu and it will give a quick scrolling animation. Choosing apps or menu items will highlight it so you know it was selected and hitting the end of scrollbars will give you a rubber-band effect on the icons. It all works well and there’s no real reason for the need of extra flourish, but it doesn’t hurt.
After our quick interface rundown, we had the phone connect to our WiFi N router and started setting up the Ovi Store, Ovi Maps and Ovi Social Networks. You will notice that Ovi Store isn’t pre-installed in the phone, this seems like a weird choice, but overall it wouldn’t be much trouble. We logged into our Ovi account and set up our e-mail accounts too without much problems – though we did notice that the Mail widget is a little too small to effectively show you enough information about your messages.
One thing we did notice was that the Ovi Store and Social Networks apps does take a couple extra seconds to start running. It’s not a big nuisance, but you do have to get used to it if you plan on using them a lot. Social Networks support Twitter and Facebook fine, though we did have an issue about images only partly loading which you can see in our image above. This app also doesn’t sync in the background so you do have to do it manually. Finally, both these apps, for being very core and native apps for this phone, seem to need an extra layer of polish. On a rudimentary level they work perfectly fine, but it does seem a little rough in spots where it should have been a bit more smoothened out.
We should mention that the keyboard on portrait mode is of the T9 style variety common in Nokia’s touch phones. While some people may prefer the keyboard to be full QWERTY on a touch-screen phone like this, one can’t argue about the accuracy of typing on the larger buttons and advantage of no-look typing that T9 offers. Even if it seems a little dated, we think choosing QWERTY or T9 is purely just a personal preference. A QWERTY keyboard does show up in landscape mode if you prefer typing that way as well.
After setting everything up, we’re almost ready to take the phone outside for a spin. But we could never forget one of the more popular features of Nokia phones lately – the Ovi Maps free navigation software. We launched the app and had it download a full map of the Philippines so we wouldn’t get lost on the way. We also chose a voice to navigate for us and synced our Favorite map points onto the phone so we can easily pick them out as destinations. So where did we head out on a fine day with a new phone to try out? Well, we had our Ovi Maps point us to our favorite caffé nearby – and checked into it using the Symbian Foursquare app while we were at it.
Our last task for the day was to give the camera a quick test, but having no particular subjects to take pictures of, we snapped some pictures of the coffee instead. We were already expecting great images, but we were still surprised by the high quality pictures that the camera produces – even with such a mundane subject as a cup of coffee. Have a look at it below. (Click the picture to get the whole unedited picture.)
Magnified to about 7.5x
There’s a certain level of detail and color reproduction that only a large camera module can provide, and the N8’s sensor can definitely bring it. That image is so crisp you could almost taste that coffee! Very impressive indeed. Impressive enough that we were compelled to share the images straight away. Thankfully, the gallery app has a share button – which will upload to your Social Networks accounts. However, it does seem a little buggy and there was no way to add descriptions to the images uploaded – nor was there a progress bar to keep track of the uploads. Still, we did find the pictures showing up on our profiles soon after – and people were already commenting on how amazing the pictures turned out to be.
Overall, the first impressions on the Nokia N8 were quite positive. However, we did notice a few spots that the experience wasn’t as smooth as we wished. Given that we still have some time to thoroughly test the phone, we’ll reserve final judgment until then. For now, this is as far as our First Impressions article can go. You’ll be able to read more soon, when our Review article comes up. So stay tuned!