The Symbian^3 flagship Nokia N8 has been no stranger to “hands on impressions”. In fact the first exhaustive impressions of a leaked prototype device came as early as April 2010, when Eldar Murtazin ran an article for Mobile Review. From there onwards, we have seen a constant stream of both official and unofficial bits of information flowing down revealing more and more details about the device. And the general opinion being tossed around seems to be that the Nokia N8 is not an iPhone 4 competitor.
While the above statement is pretty much true, we should also keep in mind that the Nokia N8 isn’t even trying to be the iPhone 4 competitor. In fact I’d say that it isn’t even targeting an HTC device like Evo, Desire or Desire HD, nor something like the Samsung Galaxy S. These all are high-end devices, and while the N8 happens to be the Nseries and Symbian^3 flagship, its target price point in most markets is almost half that of all the previous mentioned devices.
Still the Nokia N8 isn’t the one to be easily humbled. The device has a beautiful aluminum case which comes in five vibrant colors, with a unique round and tapered design at the top and bottom. The 3.5 inch AMOLED screen was also quite stunning even if it was pushing 360×640 pixels, but it was protected by a Gorilla Glass screen meaning you can basically scratch it with roughest material you can find without damaging it. The 12 mega pixel shooter on the back is capable of taking some stellar photos (which are far better than iPhone 4’s) and can capture 720p video at a remarkable quality.
Apart from the CPU, the Nokia N8 looks good on the specification sheets as well. Its powered by a 680MHz ARMv6 based chip with an OpenGL ES 2.0 capable GPU and 256MB of SDRAM. Other notable features include Wi-Fi 802.11n, HDMI 1.3 output, 16GB of internal memory with support of up to 32GB of MicroSDHC card, and USB on the Go – meaning that the phone can act as a host to any USB storage device you connect. I tested a devices varying from USB flash drives to portable hard drives and even other cellphones and it worked flawlessly.
When it comes to the software side, Symbian^3 has really improved a great deal compared to Symbian^1 which had a number of issues on devices like the Nokia 5800, Nokia N97, and even the Nokia X6 even though it had a much improved version. Major improvements to the operating system include support for multiple homescreens with six widgets on each screen, inertial scrolling, single tap to select and open, multitouch in browser and gallery, an improved browser with Flash, and more modern apps thanks to the pre-bundled Nokia Qt framework.
There are new versions of apps like the Ovi Store and Ovi Chat which are a lot more functional and useful compared to the past. Ovi Social also hooks you up with your social networks like Facebook and Twitter, plus you know have an official app for Foursquare which works quite well. Most new apps are ditching the softkey based approach for a more iOS style toolbar – which is a good thing in my opinion. The Messages app finally has a threaded conversation view as well as the old school inbox for those who prefer to look at messages individually.
There are various other enhancements to the operating system as well, like the new visual task manager for example. Still there are a few gripes that are left unresolved – like no portrait QWERTY keyboard even though the landscape version is a lot more improved now. Of course I would only be able to give full details of the operating system when I publish my full review of the device.
On the Media front, the N8 has a lot of potential. If the 12 mega pixel shooter on the back wasn’t enough to convince you, then perhaps you should listen to its excellent stereo loudspeakers. Or take it on a 2 day music spree which Nokia claims can be achieved with just a single charge. The Music Player app has also been redesigned with a coverflow-esqe view of albums when you flip the phone in landscape mode. I was really surprised by the performance of the hardware when rendering the album art while still managing to maintain a smooth scrolling.
As for pictures, the new Gallery supports pinch-to-zoom and the hardware seems to handle it pretty well. You can flick through individual images or zoom out to get a single filmstrip view, which seems like a nice touch to me at least. As for gaming, I tried the free version of Angry Birds and it ran pretty smooth. Rovio have done an amazing job of porting the game to the platform. I’ll do a more in-depth coverage of gaming on the Nokia N8 in my full review.
One final thing I would like to point out is the video playback performance of the device. I was able to through on a 720p MKV with 5.1 channel audio (an episode of Dexter if you’re wondering) and it played back flawlessly. This has to be the first mobile device I’ve seen to pull that off.
From my first encounters with the device, I can see that the N8 has the potential to do well. Nokia certainly played the hardware cards right with an excellent build quality albeit a dated processor. And the Symbian^3 interface seems to be more than capable of getting the job done for the average user. And that is the market Nokia is aiming for – the average Joe who is probably on a budget for a good smartphone, not a power user looking to spend north of $600 for a device.
Of course I would reserve my final judgment of the device until I complete my full review, which should be out in about a week or two.