Nokia N8

6th Apr 2011 | 22:43

Nokia N8

Nokia's new flagship phone arrives with an arsenal of media features

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

The best phone Nokia has ever produced with some class-leading functionality, but let down on the user experience and internet experience

Like:

Great camera; Superb battery life; Clear and crisp screen; Decent audio output; Stylish aluminium casing; HDMI-out port

Dislike:

Average virtual keyboards; Unintuitive UI; Unimpressive internet experience; Confusing connection management; Poor social network integration;

Nokia N8: Overview, design and feel

Nokia's reputation as a leader in the smartphone market has been under increasing pressure in recent years, as a string of 'high end' handsets have failed to capture the minds and wallets of the phone-buying public.

So to fix that, Nokia's gone back to the drawing board to bring out the Nokia N8, featuring a new OS and a huge amount of high end tech packed under the hood.

If you're in the market for a new smartphone, you can check out our quick video guide to what to look out for:

Having announced the phone back in April, Nokia has been holding off on release to make sure the user experience is as good as possible.

Nokia n8 review

But it needs to be very good indeed seeing as most other brands announce a phone then release it within weeks – we've been waiting nearly half a year for this one.

Nokia n8 review

The underlying software has been improved and Symbian^3 builds on the previous iterations of the OS seen on the likes of the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and Nokia X6, but adds in multiple home screens, widgets and an improved UI.

Hardware-wise, Nokia has pushed the boat out too with the new N8, offering a full metal chassis with anodised scratch-proof paint to give the phone a really high end feel.

It really is scratch-proof - rubbing keys on it produced no ill-effects, although the slider switch on the side can get its paint rubbed off over time.

Nokia n8 review

However, with a 12MP camera with Xenon flash bolted on the back, it's not a super-slim device - it fits in the hand well enough but the dimensions 113.5 x 59 x 12.9 mm aren't going to rival the likes of the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S, especially when being forced into more tightly fitting trousers.

Nokia n8 review

The Nokia N8 also doesn't have a removable battery either - the full metal chassis is completely enclosed so unless you've got a very particular screwdriver, you're not getting in to replace any innards.

Nokia n8 review

To that end, Nokia has put two hinged gates on the side of the N8, giving access to the microSD card slot and the SIM card port - both are quite hard to pull open (which isn't a bad thing as you're probably not going to be opening them very often) and clicking cards in can be tricky too without long fingernails.

Nokia n8 review

The rest of the Nokia N8 continues the higher-end feel: the 3.5-inch capacitive OLED screen really pops with colour (although doesn't quite match the impressive sharpness of Samsung's Super AMOLED) and the minimalistic design sees only one rather functional-looking button on the front, eschewing the extra soft keys Nokia has implemented for so many years.

Nokia n8 review

The right-hand side of the phone houses the camera key, which has staggered press levels to allow you to only push it down partway for autofocus. There's also a volume key with raised buttons, although these are fairly far away from each other, so can be hard to hit when you're not looking and trying to work out which one you're pressing.

Nokia n8 review

There's also the slider switch on this side of the Nokia N8 - if you're a fan of physical unlocking, then this is a good example of that, although we prefer the on-screen offering, where a short tap unlocks the phone and works far more easily and effectively in our opinion.

The left-hand side of the Nokia N8 is a little more sleek, with only the aforementioned gates for microSD and SIM, as well as the uncovered microUSB slot, which may perturb some who are used to their Nokia phones having a gate on top to prevent dust creeping in. But has anyone really ever had a dust-destroyed port in the past?

Nokia n8 review

The top of the N8 is where it mostly happens though - there's a mini HD port, the 3.5mm headphone jack and the power switch, which is also used to quickly change profiles when buzzing through the N8's interface.

The bottom houses the charger port - and it's a standard 2mm 'new Nokia charger' port, which initially seems like an odd choice when you can also charge through the microUSB port too, like all other phones, even when connected to a PC.

We can only assume that Nokia has done this so that when you're streaming over USB on the go (more on that later) you can keep charging the phone too.

Nokia n8 review

But as we said before, the Nokia N8 sits in the hand well enough and allows you to access all the functions pretty easily and you don't need to jiggle it around in your palm too much.

In the box

Nokia has thrown a large range of toys in the box with the N8 - an adaptor to convert HDMI to mini HDMI, decent earbuds with an inline remote, a slim line Nokia pin charger and a USB lead with adaptor too to attach hard drives on the go..

This is all packaged in an eco-friendly slim box, and certainly looks premium and worth the money you'll need to be forking out.

Nokia N8: Interface part one

As we mentioned earlier, the Nokia N8 is using a new operating system, Symbian^3. Symbian has been used by the Finns for umpteen years, and hasn't gone through a huge amount of development in that time.

The new iteration is designed to help bring Nokia's touchscreen phones in line with those from Apple and Google - and while it certainly fixes the foibles from older iterations of the UI it doesn't quite pack the pizzazz of other smartphone interfaces on the market.

Firstly, the new home screen system - you only get three displays to scroll through, and you can only populate these with identically-sized widgets.

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We get the reasoning behind this, as the Nokia N8 displays the widgets nicely in both landscape and portrait modes (and flips pretty quickly too between landscape and portrait). However, if you want to add a few specific applications to the front screen, you have to open a 'shortcuts' widget and then put up to four icons on there.

Nokia n8 review

It takes a lot longer than the simple Android system of opening the menu, holding an icon down and then seeing it jump to the front screen, but is more intuitive than the endless lines of iPhone icons.

The widget offering is also pretty limited, although more will be available to download as time goes on from the Ovi Store.

Another problem - Nokia has still got a long way to go in terms of perfecting the home screen interface. When you want to move between home screens you have to make a sideways swiping gesture... then wait for the screen to catch up.

It's a simple thing and while it does move fairly quickly and accurately, if you've filled the screen with widgets you can find that you may press one accidentally, or the screen won't respond at all meaning multiple attempts at times.

The good thing about the new Nokia N8 is there are a range of separate areas where it's significantly upgraded over previous models - for instance, there's a 680MHz ARM 11 processor on board, and while that sounds low it belies its specs in performance.

Previous Symbian devices have paused, lagged or even crashed regularly in the past, and Nokia has ironed this out to create stability on Symbian^3 and its UI, which is a major plus - hopefully those lessons can be seen in MeeGo devices combined with a more powerful UI.

Nokia n8 review

Multi-tasking is included on the Nokia N8 too, as part of the Nokia heritage the company has been so keen to remind people of - simply long-press the menu key and a central window pops up with large thumbnails of open programs.

There's a large X in the corner of each thumbnail to shut down the respective program, and then the rest all shift up to fill the screen.

However, if you're trying to shut down a number of programs at once, the Nokia N8 does take a short while to react so when a thumbnail shifts left it can land in a new position - meaning rather than shutting down a program, you'll accidentally hit the picture and open it if shutting down many apps at a time.

When opening up the main menu (using the single button on the front of the phone) the Nokia N8 responds quickly and then when scrolling through the icons, the phone reacts exactly to your touch – which makes it all the more curious why the same system wasn't integrated into the home screens.

Another cool feature is hitting the battery icon - it will display any found Wi-Fi networks, USB connections and others and a larger clock which you can use to enter the alarm clock - again, with a decent reaction under the finger.

But the decent reaction aside, there are still a few too many throwbacks to the old Symbian UI from years gone by for our liking: when moving between apps the screen will sometimes jumble the icons up for a split second, which doesn't really affect the operation but does look slightly buggy.

Nokia n8 review

Things like having to drill down through multiple menus to get to simple options at times and the clunkiness of the home screen widgets make it feel very archaic when compared to the slickness of other mobile operating systems.

The widget manipulation is a great example: you have to press down for quite a while (almost twice as long as most other mobile operating systems) to begin editing the elements on the screen, and then you can only add or remove the widgets or move them up or down.

Nokia n8 review

You can't move a widget from one home screen to another, meaning if you want to rearrange all three home screens at once you'll be spending a long time deleting and re-adding widgets all over the place.

What's more annoying is the opportunity here for Nokia - if the home screen experience was stunning rather than just functional and simplistic it might entice a lot of users in that rate user interface as one of the most important things about their phone, especially if they're fed up with the camera on the iPhone 3G and are now considering this as an upgrade.

It just pales in comparison to the Live Wallpapers and up to nine home screens of Android - and that's before we even get into the excellent overlays such as Sense UI.

True, you can skin Symbian as well - but we reckon the majority of prospective users aren't going to bother surfing for custom overlays.

Nokia's menu-based system might be familiar to some, but the time is now right to change things - the old fans need to move into the next generation of smartphone operation, rather than Nokia catering for them now almost exclusively.

Nokia n8 review

Things like when downloading a WebTV app from the Ovi Store and finding it's not in the Web TV folder when completed; and when editing a list (emails, for instance) to delete multiple items you need to press menu, mark, select the items, press menu, then delete and confirm (although you can go into settings, message display and change the last step).

Compare that to the iPhone's system: edit, select items, delete. Done.

Or re-ordering your icons: open the menu, click organise, then move the icon through the grid. If you need to go 'up' a level, then you have to throw the icon into the relevant slot. If you need to move it to another folder, you can't just drag it and drop it onto that folder, and you'll need to go through the tree structure to find it. It's not overly difficult, but just feels like it adds more steps where others don't.

Nokia n8 review

Spend some time customising the interface and you'll get to where you want - for instance, we eventually moved the applications folder to the front screen, removed a lot of the apps in there we didn't want or couldn't delete to another folder we created then placed, and suddenly newly downloaded apps from the Ovi Store were a lot more accessible.

But it's unlikely the average user will go down this road, and could end up with a lot of apps they don't use or understand (like the User Guide, which is in the menu of every screen, or the software updater) cluttering up their applications folder, much like it used to on older Nokia phones.

What makes it all the more disappointing is that Maemo 5 on the Nokia N900 is a really good OS - it was a little laggy on that phone but the widgets, extended home screens, simpler connection management and overall feel was new and improved, and the level Nokia should have been hitting with the high-end (and now more expensive) N8.

For lower-end phones, Symbian^3 might be OK - but the Nokia N8 feels like the phone the X6 or 5800 XpressMusic should have been, but with better hardware. Regular or long-term users of Symbian will be attracted to its simplicity, but there's a danger that luring non-Nokia customers expecting a flashier user interface might be put off by the more functional UI on the N8.

Nokia N8: Calling and contacts

Nokia's heritage in using a mobile phone as a phone is on show here, and we're very glad it is; we simply couldn't stand another 'Antenna-gate' like we saw with the iPhone 4.

Contacts

We've criticised Nokia in the past for offering too many options when adding in a contact, but that's thankfully been rectified with the Nokia N8.

The multitude of options (like Assistant's name - we love that one) is still there, but they're at least hidden below a multitude of menus, rather than all given the same importance.

However, the contacts screen is another area where the Nokia N8 is still a bit simplistic in our book, although it's a lot better than on previous versions of Symbian.

Nokia n8 review

Having synchronised the SIM contacts with your phone (you can use Mail for Exchange to add in your Google contacts via Sync, but with only one Exchange account permitted on the N8 you'll probably want to use that for work email accounts) you'll then be able to add in more detail to each contact.

At the top of that is 'social networks' which, when you click it, requires you to sign into Facebook or Twitter the first time you use it, wait for the Ovi Social Networks app to load, search for the person's name if it's not the same as in the phone book and then click to add.

Even after that it's still only an option to be viewed once the social networks tab on the contact profile has been hit – you can then send a message from there or view the profile of that person.

Nokia n8 review

Set up can be long if you press the 'Back' button at the end of every person, as the Social Network app has to boot every time, and will often spend a few seconds lingering on the sign in screen before realising that you are in fact signed in.

Plus the contact picture it pulls from Facebook or Twitter doesn't always match up to the right size of the space on offer, which detracts from the sheen of the social networking linking aspect - you're sometimes better off taking one or using one from your album (although if you have Twitter and Facebook accounts for that person you can choose which picture to use - another may fit better).

Given the excellence of the HTC Sense UI on the new HTC Desire HD, with more information than you'll ever need on a person offered from their contact profile, there's more Nokia could have done with this here, rather than asking you to go into a seperate application to see what's happening with social networks.

Calling

Calling is good on the Nokia N8 – although there's no noise cancelling on offer, despite the noise reduction tool being used in the HD video capture.

All the callers we had conversations with reported being able to hear us easily, and the ear speaker was nice and loud – with a good range of volume offered by playing about with the rocker switch.

We also liked the presence of the smart dialling pad: either start typing a number to see it spring up, or use the number pad as a T9 predictive text-style operation and the names will come up that way too – nice touch.

Nokia n8 review

Video calling – which, as we all know, was invented by Apple this year (although hang on, wasn't it around in 2002...*COMMENT DELETED BY APPLE'S NET PATROL*) is present on the Nokia N8, and it's... well, it's video calling. Yes, useful if you have to see someone at VGA resolution, but that's very rare and ultimately we're still yet to see a groundswell of users utilising it on phones.

Nokia n8 review

At least Nokia has implemented it well here – it's very smooth and easy to use, especially over Wi-Fi.

Another plus is the speaker on the rear phone – while it's a tiny bit tinny, it's certainly very loud and clear, so make sure you only use it for easier conference calling, and not annoying people on the bus with your rather terrible grime-step tunes.

Nokia N8: Messaging

Nokia is all about connecting people, and that's why it has traditionally been so strong in messaging.

In fact, it's drawn so heavily on the past it's decided that despite having a 3.5-inch screen, it should be a 12-key multi-tap option in portrait mode on the Nokia N8.

Yes, you get predictive text to make typing a bit faster, but we saw that on the Nokia 3210... and that was back in 1999.

Nokia n8 review

It's 2010 now, and we're living in a world where large touchscreens have replaced a one-inch monochrome screen – so come on Nokia, let's have a mini-QWERTY offering with word correction.

Word is that Swype may be offered in the future as it's currently in beta in Nokia labs - but as it's not on the phone at launch we can't review it as there's no guarantee it will ever land officially.

Obviously there's a full-screen QWERTY keyboard when turning the phone on its side to move into landscape mode, but it can be hard to be accurate at speed meaning a lot of frustrated backspacing until you get used to the system/slow down your typing, especially for the larger-fingered of us.

Word correction is present - you need to activate it through the menu on the landscape keyboard, then hit up the Input Options to activate prediction. In the same menu, you can tweak the settings to to autocomplete words in grey so you don't have to bother tapping out the full set of letters.

However, there are two issues here: one, the suggested alternative word doesn't automatically fill in when you mis-type. If we want to write 'predictive' and fumble in the word 'prwdoctive' then it's clear we want the former, and having to tap the alternative word slows the flow.

Two, when the word autocompletes pressing space does not confirm it, you have to hit the right arrow, which again disrupts flow. Other touch keyboards are much more intuitive, and we doubt many would use predictive text in this form regularly.

Nokia n8 review

Messaging options are plentiful though: you've got every kind of webmail under the sun, from Google to Yahoo to Hotmail, as well as Exchange support too (although as mentioned, only one Exchange account, so Google Sync is out of the window if you intend to use the Nokia N8 as your corporate device as well.)

Obviously text, MMS and conversations are included from the outset - however make sure you've copied over your contacts to the Nokia N8's memory before you start messaging, as the default Conversations mode will only show numbers and not names until you do - meaning the petrifying possibility of an inappropriate conversation with your Nan as she has a similar-looking number to your girlfriend.

There are a few helpful features in here - namely things like being able to find numbers in the text - although you'll need to activate the 'Automatic Find' mode before this works.

Nokia n8 review

We would like to have seen an overhaul of the messaging UI though - it's the same as the previous iteration of Symbian, and hitting the correct areas to enter names, number or the message are a little hard to do.

Email set up is nice and easy though: you simply need to enter your address and password, and if it's a popular webmail account the Nokia N8 will pop off and find all the settings for it.

Nokia n8 review

If it's Exchange you're after, you'll need to add in a few more settings, but it's still more painless than on other phones.

Social networking

The only options on the phone for social networking are Twitter and Facebook, which is fine as these are the only ones most people use anyway.

However, their use is poor and implementation confusing on the Nokia N8. For instance, to get to both you'll need to enter the social networks application, which boots up and then gives you a plain UI to play with.

You need to sign into your Ovi account to use the service, and if you turn off the application in the background you'll have to wait as it reloads time and again, although the home screen widget, which can display one tweet or status update at a time, will stay active (although clicking on one to see more will only take you through to the full list, rather than to the specific Tweet/update.

Also, there's no option to post a photo to Facebook or Twitter from the camera, so it's harder to use the service as quickly as you'd like.

Once into the dedicated applications, it's pretty powerful, allowing you to manage events and post them to your calendar for instance, but this can be laggy and hard to use as the Nokia N8 sometimes struggles to keep up with all the new information being downloaded.

There are some good third party applications, but for the first time smartphone user it's probably going to be a slightly confusing experience if they're not used to regularly using Facebook on a mobile phone.

Nokia N8: Internet

The Nokia N8 has to offer up a decent internet experience if it's to beat the current crop of internet tablet/phones.

The Google Gang and iPhone iN-crowd both have excellent implementations of a Webkit-browser, and while the Nokia N8 definitely has a better web experience, it's not going to be seen as a better option than those phones.

For instance, it seems like it will be a winner: pinch to zoom and Flash compatibility seem to offer up a decent experience, and give a lot of cause for hope.

Nokia n8 review

But then you begin to use the internet, and you'll see it's not as slick as the competitors. For instance, the pinch-zooming is nowhere near as accurate, juddering along at times and making it harder to get close to the text - plus not letting you get anywhere near as close as other handsets.

Similarly, you only get two options when zooming in on text - double tap to see the text a bit closer, or double tap again to zoom out. You can go a bit closer, but like the iPhone, the text won't reform to fit the screen.

Nokia n8 review

It's a trick that HTC has perfected on its Android phones, such as the Desire HD, and now other Android handsets are catching up with - the Motorola Milestone 2 manages it for instance, although it's not automatic.

Nokia n8 review

Flash is also a bit of a mixed bag too - the Nokia N8 actually uses Flash Lite 4 to interpret Flash 10 videos, which is a handy plus (and if we need to add: something the iPhone 4 will likely never do).

Nokia n8 review

It's good for many videos - we'd say on a par with the HTC Desire for many. However, with more Flash-heavy videos, like those shown on the BBC website, the Nokia N8 struggles a lot and the resulting pixellated mess isn't up to much initially - stick with it and the phone will eventually play smooth audio and video, but we had to rewind a couple of times to get a full flash video playing from start to finish.

In fairness, only Flash 10.1 enabled mobile phones running hardcore processors manage to play Flash properly on a mobile phone, although it would have been nice to see an option to turn off Flash video on the Nokia N8 to see faster web page loading times.

It also doesn't seem to like the new YouTube HTML5 site for mobiles - we've been impressed with that on the iPhone 4 and Android handsets, and yet we're forced to look at an oddly-shaped video screen on the Nokia N8.

Nokia n8 review

The interface for the web browser on the Nokia N8 hasn't really changed either – we're STILL forced to go through a bagillion screen presses to just reload the page.

Nokia's got this little trick of opening up the screen to show as much of the web page as possible, and then you hit a double-ended arrow to see the options. From there, you have to hit the menu icon, and get a new grid of other icons to mess about with.

Only here can you reload, which is a little convoluted when some phones have it as a button alongside the URL or from the menu.

Nokia n8 review

But one nice touch: you can automatically subscribe to an RSS feed from this icon pane, and that feed will be available as a home screen widget. It's this kind of intuition that we wish Nokia would use more often throughout the N8, and to make it more accessible too.

Google search is also included (and Bing if you prefer that option) and it's nice to be able to search for an item no matter where you are.

Nokia n8 review

History is also cool – each website is shown as a separate thumbnail to scroll through, which makes it much easier to find the page you were on, as the titles can sometimes be a little cryptic.

The speed at which you can whizz through them is again testament to the excellent implementation of the GPU and CPU working in tandem.

Nokia n8 review

The web browser is decent enough – the screens render well enough and relatively quickly (especially over Wi-Fi) and the accuracy is pretty good.

It just really, really lacks the wow factor of other mobile web browsers out there, with a slight delay on link clicking at times and choppy Flash, as well as a being a little slower on a number of tests than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S, HTC Desire and iPhone 4 in our tests.

Nokia N8: Camera

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If there's any area that the Nokia N8 is going to excel at, it's on the camera, and thankfully, it does just that, and with aplomb.

Forget the fact you can create coffee-table books with the 12MP sensor and Carl Zeiss optics (as well as 'proper' Xenon flash) it's in the day to day picture taking we're impressed with the Nokia N8.

There are a multitude of options to play with: for instance, raising the contrast up and down, or messing with the sharpness of an image. You can also fiddle with exposure or white balance, and there are a number of scenes to play with as well, should you require an improvement in performance.

That said, we've only once ever managed to use the 'Fireworks' mode on any camera, and even then we sort of missed the main explosion. Still nice to have it there though.

Face detection is included too – it's pretty good, although when we tested it on a group of 12 people it only ever managed to find 11 at most, and that's with a lot of manipulation.

That said, it's not critical to have every face recognised, as you only need to set the focus levels accurately, and the Nokia N8 does that with veritable aplomb with pretty much any mode (although Macro mode was a bit erratic at times when trying to take an EXTREME CLOSE UP).

While we love having a dedicated camera button on the side of the phone, we were a little annoyed about how long our unit took to open the camera application up - at one time it managed to take nearly ten seconds and by that point our subject had gone.

This was due to running a couple of games in the background, and actually crashed the phone - but we doubt many people would be pushing the CPU this hard.

We would like to see the settings menu in the camera a little more compact - there are essentially two as you can mess with things like scene modes and colour from the camera mode, but you have to hit 'Options' the 'Settings' to change things like resolution and location info.

Nokia n8 review

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NORMAL MODE: The N8 in automatic mode

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LANDSCAPE VIEW: Not a lot of detail is added by switching the scenes, suggesting the general mode is good enough

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CLOUDY WHITE: The white balance is set to cloudy - again, not showing a lot of difference

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HIGH EXPOSURE: When dialling up the exposure, so much more detail is shown in the foreground. Nokia's decision not to add touch-focus, where you can tap on the portion of the screen you want in focus, is obvious here as this may be the shot you'd prefer

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INDOOR: The natural mode captures images sharply despite a relative lack of light, and shots are easy to frame

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9MP MODE: Using the 9MP mode allows you to take wider shots; the macro mode used here captures detail pretty well

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HIGH CONTRAST: Upping the contrast adds a nice sheen to photos, but isn't suitable for every situation

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XENON FLASH: Working as quickly as a compact camera, the xenon flash takes decent pictures and captures the colour of the subject well

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GREAT ZOOM: Despite being a digital zoom, the clarity when magnifying the shot is awesome, a feature that's reproduced on the HD video recording too

In terms of comparison, it's hard to say that the Nokia N8 is leagues ahead of the likes of the Sony Ericsson Satio or the Samsung Pixon 12, although the overall ease of use is better with this phone than those from last year.

Nokia N8 review: Video

Video is in the same league as the camera on the Nokia N8 - we're talking HD video recording and a decent smattering of features designed to give you the best video possible.

The settings on offer aren't as extensive as on the camera mode, but that's to be expected.

White balance and colour manipulation are on offer, which are among the most important for setting the scene.

What is impressive is the sound recording - while the HD video looks a little choppy at times, the sound recorded thanks to front and back cameras is full and accurate, far better than the likes of the Samsung Wave and Galaxy S.

The night mode is odd; it's still really clear and bright, but the lack of frame rate leads to very strange footage, so it's a shame a dedicated video light wasn't included by Nokia.

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It's more about the power of the image capture on the Nokia N8 – check out the world's smallest stop-motion animation filmed using a high-power lens and the N8 to show what's possible with this camera.

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However, don't go thinking it's the world's best HD camcorder on a mobile phone – the iPhone 4 is easily its equal, although we'd imagine the superior optics on the Nokia N8 would give it a slight edge to the highly-tuned eye.

But either way, the Nokia N8 has a fantastic camera performance, which we'd hope it would do, given the Finns has been boasting about the HD powers of the N8 for nearly half a year now.

Nokia N8: Media

The Nokia N8 is designed to be a media player with some power, and that certainly seems to be the case. Be it music, video or simply viewing photos, it seems pretty good at most.

Nokia n8 review

Music

The Nokia N8's music player might not have been upgraded massively for a long time, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, given that sometimes all you want a handset to do is play the files you ask and do so in an easy to use manner.

Nokia n8 review

The icons on the music player screen are large and easy to use, and there's also the option to see more detailed information about the song playing, as well as the album art (which scrolls ridiculously fluidly thanks to the hardware acceleration, even if it is the same as every other phone manufacturer these days in aping Apple's Cover Flow).

Nokia n8 review

The options to mess about with the music player aren't that extensive unfortunately, although an equaliser is on offer.

Nokia n8 review

While the Nokia N8 has a pretty good audio output, testing it on the audiophile-friendly Sennheiser HD-650 headphones shows it to be a bit high-end heavy in comparison to other mobiles we've tested using the same kit.

Nokia n8 review

We found the best way to balance it out was to employ the 'Bass Booster' equaliser setting, although this really masked, more than fixed, the problem.

Nokia n8 review

It should be noted that the Nokia N8 can really kick out the bass though, so it's not all bad. It was a decent experience overall, just not quite beating the competition into the number one spot for music playback (we're still in love with the sound emitted from the Samsung Galaxy S).

However, we do like the music manipulation offerings, such as the simple music widget for the home screen and the inline remote controls supplied on the decent in-box headphones, which have some good noise-isolating buds on them.

Nokia n8 review

Another big plus is the FM transmitter, which very few phones still offer, despite it being such a handy tool. Any song will have an FM transmitter option in the settings, and you can simply set the frequency to whatever you like and the FM radio can pick it up - it even sends the song information if RDS is enabled on the receiver.

Video

Video files on the Nokia N8 also play back well, which makes sense given so many are supported. We tested out as many files as we could get our hands on, and nearly all worked.

Nokia n8 review

However, we did encounter one small problem: the placement of the 3.5mm headphone jack meant it was hard to comfortably watch films when holding the Nokia N8 in one hand, as it was positioned just a little too close to the side, and also made typing and listening to music very hard.

Nokia n8 review

One option is to use a pair of Bluetooth cans, and in our tests with a set of Jabra Halos the audio quality was strong and signal didn't drop, which we put down to the advanced Bluetooth 3.0 in use on the Nokia N8.

The best quality seemed to come from WMV files, which seemed to offer superior audio performance, and it's interesting to note that should you be transferring the video files over on Windows 7, the Nokia N8 will ask for them to be re-encoded to WMV, no matter what file type.

We managed to view Xvid, DivX, MP4 and AVI files with no issue on the Nokia N8, although m4v simply wouldn't even copy across and OGG files wouldn't play back either.

However, Flash video files were initially not accepted, but once on the phone and accessed through the file manager, would play back with the sparse-but-functional Flash video player.

You've also got the option to download video from the BBC iPlayer - the interface might be a little fiddly but it's very usable and downloading programmes onto your phone is simple as anything - once saved, simply open up the file to activate the license and see your video in crystal clear quality.

Nokia n8 review

Image quality is good enough on the Nokia N8, although we weren't blown away. The OLED screen should offer some decent contrast ratios, but we couldn't help but feel that the lower-res of the nHD screen (640x 380 pixels) didn't impress as much as the plethora of WVGA devices on the market at the moment.

We weren't saddened by the video quality by any stretch of the imagination, and users looking for a video-playing handset could do a lot worse than the Nokia N8, but in our tests on non-smartphone loves most went for other media big hitters, such as the Samsung Galaxy S.

Of course, the extra trick of sending video out over the HDMI port is a nice idea, and does help to make your media that little bit more accessible to others - it's also a nice way of showing off photos and playing music directly from the handset.

True to its word, the Nokia N8 can play full Dolby 5.1 surround, which is impressive from a handset, especially one that 'only' has a 680MHz processor. Video files with 5.1 encoded within are still at a premium at the moment - until Nokia comes out with a dedicated movie download service with 5.1 channel included, this feature feels a little redundant unless you want to spend hours encoding DVD rips with 5.1 support.

It does future-proof the device though, and if 5.1 channel support takes off on mobiles Nokia can say it did it first - if that happens. To see what Dolby itself had to say about the feature, check out when our chums at Home Cinema Choice visited Dolby's Labs.

Nokia n8 review

The video performance of captured content isn't superb on the big screen - it looks a lot better on the smaller screen - but it's still better than a lot we've seen out there.

And of course, DLNA is on its way, and in a big way too. The Samsung Galaxy S and Wave feature AllShare to send media all around, the HTC Desire HD and Desire Z offer easy DLNA playback and even Motorola is in on the act, so only being able to connect up via a lead isn't as cool as it used to be (but it's still a really excellent option to have).

What's all the more annoying is the best implementation of DLNA we've seen on a mobile phone is from Nokia - on the N900. It simply detects a network and looks at what's shared, so we're gutted the same thing hasn't made it onto Symbian^3.

FM radio

And speaking of the FM transmitter earlier, we hoped for a similarly good experience on the FM radio as well.

Sadly, this isn't the case, as the radio is as basic as it always has been on Nokia phones over the years. Signal was poor in most situations with any pair of wired headphones connected, and the Nokia N8 refused to find RDS details on any of the stations we found.

Nokia n8 review

The scanning was quick and to be fair the signal issues are found on 90% of mobile phones with an inbuilt radio, but it still wasn't an impressive experience and having to go through and name all our favourite stations was really rather irritating indeed.

External hard drives

Another rather useful feature on the Nokia N8 is the ability to connect up an external hard drive via USB and use the files contained within.

Using the USB-to-microUSB converter, users simply connect up the dongle and then the hard drive, allowing you to copy across files or even play right from the USB stick or drive.

However in practice streaming from an external device was juddery and slow - especially when it comes to video. It's not problem though, as it makes much more sense to simply copy the file from the drive to the ginormous 16GB onboard memory.

Using this feature also makes it easier to get information from a microSD card to a PC if you don't have the relevant connector: copy the file and paste it onto the connected drive and all's good.

Nokia has also included remote mapping of a drive on the N8 too - meaning if you have an online portal you can connect up and deposit files that way, although in practice this will probably be beyond the technical capabilities (and desires) of the average consumer.

Nokia N8: Battery life and connectivity

Looking at the specs for the Nokia N8 it's easy to get worried about the battery life when you consider it's only 1200mAh, which is a lot less than its competitors, most of which opt for a 1500mAh power cell.

However, the good news is the Nokia N8 belies this spec and actually will outlast a lot of its peers in terms of battery prowess.

Nokia n8 review

We managed to easily knock out two days' use with the phone, although it wouldn't have managed to get far into the third day.

This is with push email turned on, the Wi-Fi scanner in full force and a fair smattering of internet and music too - in short, it's just fantastic and way ahead of nearly all the smartphone competition and shows off one of the plus points of Symbian^3.

Nokia n8 review

However, it should be noted that we found ourselves hitting the internet a lot less frequently than on other devices we've had on test, simply because it's a poorer experience so idly flicking through web pages while Neighbours is on becomes less of an attraction.

It should be noted that the power management of the Nokia N8 is likely down to the decent performance of the CPU - Nokia's decision to put a 680MHz power core in the N8 shows that it's not looking to rev the phone as fast as other devices, but we rarely saw many examples of slowdown in the OS to show this relatively low-power processor.

We can't help but wonder why Nokia has gone with the 1200mAh battery - sure, it has optimised it really well, meaning you won't need to charge regularly, but think of how long the Nokia N8 could have lasted with a battery that was 25% bigger?

It would have probably pushed the phone into three or maybe even four days' use, and that's ridiculous by today's smartphone standards.

Nokia n8 review

We also tested the phone thoroughly offline - the battery performance held up, despite hammering the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with data transfers to assess performance, and using it for long stints as a music player.

The only downside when it comes to battery life we could see is the fact it's sealed in the phone - we don't know why Nokia's chosen to do this, but it means you can't replace it easily should the power centre go wonky.

Connections

The Nokia N8 is full to the brim with high-end connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP, Wi-Fi up to 802.11n, assisted GPS, 10.2Mbps HSDPA, mini HDMI port, basically everything you could want.

Apart from the odd decision to put the older style of Nokia charger in the box, there's nothing we can fault here.

We were (sadly) quite excited to try out some high end Bluetooth 3.0 transfers, as it promises a jump from 3Mbps to 24Mbps data transfer speeds. We used a Galaxy S (also rocking Bluetooth 3.0) to try sending a song, and the results were a little disappointing: a 3.4MB file took 34 seconds to transfer.

Trying again, making sure all Wi-Fi devices were off and interference was at a minimum, which is far more than the average user will do when trying to send something over Bluetooth, we sent a 13MB video in just under two minutes.

Nokia n8 review

However, we tried it using the BlackBerry Torch (a Bluetooth 2.1 device) and we found that same song took 55 seconds to transfer, so at least the Nokia N8 is faster.

Plus with the Nokia N8 if you want to transfer a file you simply have to ask to send it, the phone asks to turn Bluetooth on, sends the file and then quietly turns off Bluetooth again - nice touch.

It's also handy for connecting to the PC without a wire - it basically opens up the bandwidth so you can transfer more files, or if you're using the Nokia N8 as a modem, chuck more data the way of your PC without a problem.

The other settings all worked well in the background, much as you'd expect them too. However, one of the claims in Symbian^3 is an much more effective management of Wi-Fi and 3G, as other Nokia phones have required the user to set which connection should be used at any one time, and manually prioritise the connections in a ranking list.

Well, that's sort of been done away with here, although at times the Nokia N8 will default to 3G for certain applications even though Wi-Fi is present, and still irritatingly ask you which connection you want to apply when opening some applications.

Nokia n8 review

It's not a big problem for some users, but for the noveau smartphone user it will be a little disconcerting - Nokia needs to avoid this kind of thing at all costs and use Wi-Fi when Wi-Fi is there, and go to 3G when not.

Nokia has made a song and dance about it being a smartphone after all, and today's devices are all about data chatter - if you don't want that on a phone you can either a) turn off 3G via the settings or b) buy a less comprehensive phone.

Basically, it's another area where the older version of Symbian comes screaming through, and Nokia needs to throw that rule book out the window and design a whole new OS to take on the bigger boys when it comes to little things like connectivity - which is hopefully what MeeGo will be.

If we want data, we want it over Wi-Fi or 3G - we don't want to see 'Connecting 3G' in the corner when we start an application then have to go into its settings and specify it uses the default internet connection.

PC connectivity

Nokia's attempts to sync your phone up with a PC have been patchy over the years, but with the current Ovi Suite it's doing a lot better; throw Windows 7 into the mix and you've got a fantastically fully featured connection suite for the Nokia N8.

We were ridiculously impressed that our PC recognised the phone so easily (by name and model number), and then offered a variety of options to perform without needing to actually open any programs.

If that's not your bag then you do get the option to open Nokia's Ovi Suite to do all kinds of phone manipulation, or you can hit the Ovi Player to download and copy your music.

Sadly, Ovi Music Unlimited (formerly Nokia's Comes with Music) isn't featured on this phone in the UK – man, we hope Nokia fixes that service soon as it would be awesome on a phone like this.

It's interesting that some operating systems will allow you to convert tracks and videos to a more efficient or palatable format before copying them to the Nokia N8 – it makes interacting with the phone so much easier.

Another plus is using your phone as a modem - you have to still use Ovi Suite for this one, but if you're out and about then simply connect up the phone to the Suite as before, select 'Connect to Internet' in the Tools menu, and you're away.

It's simple and easy, and providing you don't have a beef with your network provider, a nice way to use up any data you're not mobile surfing with.

Nokia N8: Apps and Maps

The Nokia N8 comes preloaded with some handy applications from the start: the Open Office allows you to browse through Word and Excel documents, and there's a little video editor on there to let you splice up your videos, add transitions, text and music.

It's a little simplistic and won't let you see a preview without saving (plus the controls are really small) but it's easily as good as iMovie on the iPhone - and that costs nearly £3.

Nokia n8 review

Also BBC iPlayer may only be a link to the relevant mobile site, but the ability to stream or download programmes is really cool.

Then there's the Ovi Store - Nokia's effort at bringing apps to the masses. It's been through a lot of development over the years, but it still lacks the slickness of other stores (although it doesn't hang as much as the Android App Market does on some devices).

It's still a long way off being as easy to use as the Android Market or the Apple App Store, and the range needs to be improved too. Heck, we'd even say the BlackBerry App World has a better UI – and that's a harsh thing to claim indeed.

It offers some great ways to improve things like Twitter use - Gravity, for example, will cost you £8 but it's worth it with a fantastically quick UI and a range of support for other things like Flickr and FourSquare.

However, you can download things like Need For Speed from the Ovi Store for free (whether it will stay free, we don't know) and that does properly show off the power of the Nokia N8 with excellent graphics.

It did judder a couple of times during use, like Galaxy On Fire, another high-graphics game we downloaded, so we're not sure if that's early unoptimised software or leaving too many things open on the multi-tasker.

Nokia's Ovi Store does pack the basics - FourSquare, Angry Birds, a variety of free themes - and the downloads are increasing daily, so we hope to see some more iPhone-matching options on there too as there's clearly a strong demand; hopefully Nokia can improve the UI to match.

Maps

Ovi Maps has been touted as a superior product to Google Maps on mobile phones for a long time, but we can't really see how that claim can be justified.

True, it offers some extra features, such as being able to post your location to Facebook, but for ease of use and overall attractiveness we can't help but favour Google's option.

Nokia n8 review

The best thing about Ovi Maps on the Nokia N8 (and all phones running the service) is the pre-cached maps, so there's no need to worry about data even when in foreign countries and you need a sat nav.

GPS lock was strong too, rarely dropping our location and with a sub-10 second cold fix at times which was pretty nifty.

But Google Maps offers multi-touch support, Streetview and a much more attractive user interface.

The Ovi Maps interface is a little ugly and functional too in our opinion - and with no pinch and zoom in sight, it's not the easiest interface to rattle through, and the 3D interface can look too cluttered at times.

If you're going to get a Nokia phone anyway, then Ovi Maps is a brilliant service, as things like being able to download maps for whole countries for free, which is a great thing to offer.

And the mapping service offers a lot of cool and easy to use features (such as Qype, Lonely Planet ratings and Michelin advice) – it's just not, as Nokia claims, the best on the market.

Nokia N8: Hands on gallery

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Nokia N8: Official gallery

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Nokia n8 review

Nokia N8: Verdict

Nokia n8 review

Nokia's N8 is the flagship model for the firm, and it's clear to see that it's tried to make it the most premium phone it can.

The main thing was supposed to be the price: the phone was initially announced with a price tag of €370, which would have been much, much cheaper than the comparable iPhone 4 (at £499) or the Samsung Galaxy S (at £449).

However, now Nokia is selling it for £429 direct and SIM free, which means one of its main USPs has now sailed out the window.

It's towards the budget end of the high end smartphone set though - like the Galaxy S and HTC Desire it costs just £30 for a two year contract with a free phone, whereas the ridiculously expensive iPhone 4 will set you back nearly double that each 30 days.

We liked

We enjoyed a lot of things about the Nokia N8 once we had become used to the foibles of the UI.

The media experience is cracking, if a bit simplistic at times, and the performance well above average.

The camera works very well in most conditions, and the video recording lives up to its word – it really is high definition and looks it.

Nokia n8 review

The range of video and audio codecs supported is dizzying, and even those it's not supposed to play back still work.

Widgets are a nice touch, and one we wish Apple would get involved with. Talking of which, being able to watch Flash video on the handset was brilliant too (when it worked).

The anodised aluminium shell is likely to win a fair few admirers, and the Nokia N8 is streets, towns, even counties ahead in terms of battery life compared to some phones, easily offering a two day use under normal conditions.

We disliked

Everything that we didn't like about this phone can be traced back to the user interface and Nokia's stubborn approach to updating its ageing platform and user interaction.

Basically, the Nokia N8 feels like a phone the old version of S60 with a spot of spit-and-shine and some new features on top – more home screens, added widgets and multi-touch do not suddenly make it a decent smartphone.

The menu systems are still too convoluted in our opinion, as is moving things around for personalisation.

Essentially, the Nokia N8 works in the same way as the Nokia N97 and the Nokia X6 should have worked when they were released, offering swift operation and a bevy of cooler features, instead of the bug-filled handsets we were given.

The internet browser still feels like a throwback to phones of yesteryear, and the lack of QWERTY keyboard option in portrait mode is really annoying, as is the lack of auto correct for the full QWERTY in landscape.

Verdict

The Nokia N8 is a tricky one to judge: it's a phone that will do very well with the Nokia fans, as it's easily the best Symbian device ever made, and those that have bought similar handsets will be delighted that nearly all of the foibles from the older S60 are gone.

But for the smartphone user that's coming to the end of their first Android or iPhone and thinking of a change, it may be less of a joyful experience. The lag on the home screen jars and if you're running too many things in the background the Nokia N8 can struggle to open menus or shut down apps.

There's no doubting this is an industry-leading camera experience, although manufacturers are concentrating less on megapixels these days and more on making good enough sensors more functional.

The hefty-looking shape may put some people off as well, with the ridge at the back adding depth to an otherwise fairly slim device.

The Nokia N8 is a good smartphone, a very good smartphone - but it feels like a well-optimised touchscreen version of older handsets rather than the superphone reboot Nokia needs.

Nokia n8 review

The headline tech specs are wildly impressive: a 12MP camera with Xenon flash, HD video recording with superior sounds, USB on the go, HDMI output with 5.1 support as well as a glossy OLED screen are all really worth taking a look at as they all do what they say on the tin.

But we'd bet a majority of users won't use most of these functions to their fullest on a regular basis, and would rather have a user experience than delights rather than one that's just reliable and functional.

In short, if you're a Symbian fan who loves the look of the high end specs on offer here and really feels like they could get the full use out of Symbian^3 and its excellent set of drivers and supported functions, and aren't that bothered with the speed of the UI, you'll love the Nokia N8 like it was your first born child, as it's the best Nokia device by a street at the moment.

But if you prioritise things like a speedy home screen UI, simple photo uploads to Facebook and Twitter and a top-notch internet experience over high power games and a top-end camera (as many smartphone users do these days) then make sure you have a good play with the Nokia N8 before locking yourself in for two years.

Nokia N8 Symbian^3 smartphone cameraphone
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