The N8 (or Nate as I’m growing used to call it) is here. It’s been released, it’s shipping, and people all around the world are receiving their units. Finally, after too long a wait, I have an N8 in my hands, for a proper test and review. Following my “The N8 is Perfect, There, I said it” assertion, there really is very little I can say to top it up. Or can I?
The N8 landed in my hands 2 days ago, and while I still maintain that it IS the perfect handset for the photography and multimedia buffs, I had mentioned that it doesn’t target me, and I’m not particularly thrown towards buying one. So, over the last 48 hours, I’ve gone from awe to oh to ouch and back to awe several times with the N8 in my hands. Here is the compiled initial list of N8 wins and fails, in my book.
- The hardware keeps puzzling me. It’s the best hardware on any phone I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. Just beautiful.
- Somehow it feels smaller when held in landscape, compared to portrait, which is good because I use it mostly in landscape.
- The silver version, while the least of my favorite colors on press release images, is nice. I just got the dark gray one too, and I have to say I like the silver one more. It pops. The dark gray version is stale and more manly.
- As soon as you fire it, the N8 asks you to set up your Nokia Account. After signing in, both Ovi Maps and the Ovi Store are set, so you don’t have to do it again. I have to check for other services.
- The capacitive AMOLED screen is really cool. It’s sensitive enough without being too much, which trumps my iPod Touch that reacts to anything and everything. The colors and visibility outdoors are perfect.
- Ovi Store v2 is MILES better. I had seen screenshots of it, but having it in your hand gives you a true feel of it. Faster, better search, simultaneous downloads, it’s finally what Ovi Store v1 should have been.
- Social lets you connect into Twitter and Facebook. It’s better than I imagined it would be and good enough for the casual user. Me? I’ll just go download Gravity. Thankyouverymuch.
- Nokia Messaging looks and works beautifully. Just leaps beyond the mess that it is on S60 5th Edition. At least it doesn’t bug with a half screen when rotating it to landscape.
- The contact homescreen plugin lets you add much more than 4 contacts as favorites, like the 5800 XpressMusic or the X6. This wasn’t implemented on widget-based devices before like the N97 or N97 Mini. You flick to go through them all.
- While organizing the menu, I noticed that you can finally move folders into and out of parent folders. You can also long click on an item to specify a folder you want to move it to, instead of changing to a parent folder, then moving back into another.
- iSync on the Mac works really well with the N8. Contacts & Calendar sync’ed in a breeze.
- Dear goodness me, thank god those silly 3 buttons from S60 5th Edition have been mostly removed. They used to take half the screen in landscape with Options & Exit. They won’t be missed.
- Copy music to the N8, put a .jpg image inside the album folder, and it will recognize it as Album Art. About friggin time! All my music is tagged in iTunes, which never played well with any Symbian music player. The N8 is the first where I can finally see my music albums in all their glory. My iPod Touch has been giddy in its pouch since I got the N8. That’s all I’ll say.
- It plays DIVX movies natively. I threw at it some .avi tv shows and movies and it played them without a hitch.
- The portrait keyboard, with the numerical pad is a hell to get used to. They moved the arrows and OK to the bottom which is counter-intuitive & makes for tons of mistakes if you’re used to keyboards on the N97, 5800 XpressMusic…
- There was a bug with the predictive T9 input where it was throwing crazy letters at me. Type 4 and I was getting T. I changed a few settings, changed the language from English to Arabic, then back to English and it worked again. Will keep my eye on this bug.
- The landscape QWERTY is a huge PIA as well. It’s better than any landscape qwerty on S60 5th Edition, mind you, but it’s still terrible. No multitouch means if you type a bit fast, you’ll end up with lots of missed letters. Small spacebar means it gets missed half the time and you find words stuck together with no space in between. Also, I have yet to type one full sentence without some sort of letter mis-typed. Using the keyboard is like burning through hell for complicated passwords.
- Many times, you’ll find yourself with a pop-up text box asking you to type something, then you have to tap again in it to get to the keyboard. Double taps are just uggghhh.
- I passionately HATE the UI for app switching. Yes the cards and live view look good, but as soon as you have more than 4 apps open at the same time, it’s a hell to go through and inefficient at best. You’ll find yourself clicking, scrolling, missing, scrolling back, wondering what you were doing… I’ve suggested they make a Settings option to go back to the regular switcher or a text list of open apps.
- The out-of-the-box menu organization is a huge mess. I had to spend 5 minutes trying to make some sense out of how icons are arranged.
- Nokia Messaging doesn’t let you go offline. There’s no way you can disconnect it if you want to save some battery life or bandwidth. Unless you change the retrieval times for emails, I guess.
- The loudspeaker on the back of the phone is loud enough when lying on flat solid surfaces because the device is angled enough to let the sound pass. But put it on a bed or a mushy surface, and it all goes down to almost nothing, volume-wise.
- Comparing the N8 screen to the Retina Display on my iPod Touch 4, the N8 has more vibrant colors, but the iPod trumps it heavily in terms of resolution. Sample images coming soon in a separate post.
- While I can and have set Opera Mobile as my default browser, instead of the S60 browser, no app so far opens links in it. Not from email, not from Gravity, not from SMS. Every link still opens in the default browser. What about that?!
- Battery life is definitely not a winner. I woke up at 7am, I did a bit of WiFi surfing in the morning, then reverted to Gravity & Nokia Messaging mostly. I had to recharge at 3pm.
- Automatic screen rotation annoys me because of two things. One, there’s no easy way to disable automatic screen rotation. Try reading on the N8 while lying in bed and you’ll be in for a big tango dance with the screen orientation. Two, the screen rotation is slow’ish. It could do with being a bit faster or some fade-in transition.
- There’s no built-in torch function like on the newer E7 and C7. And there is no way for you to download any torch because the N8 doesn’t have an LED flash. I had totally forgotten about this small thing, but I have grown used to using the E5 and N97 Mini as my carry torch for the frequent electricity cuts here.
- And the funniest Fail of all? The T9 English predictive dictionary has iPhone but not Ovi (thanks to @gorgonesh and @jamaalism for letting me discover both).
Well that’s fourteen on both sides. I obviously left the most important aspect. I did NOT talk about the camera, because there’s no need to talk about it. It speaks for itself. I will, however, mention that we finally have a quick access to switch between video & stills mode, a welcome improvement.
There’s still so much to discover about the N8. I will specifically try to see how I get on with the keyboard which so far is my biggest gripe, maybe activating predictive text (which I’m usually against because I use transliterated Arabic sometimes), or maybe installing Swype.
I get to keep this unit for a while, so I will see how it blends into my everyday usage over time, not only as a short-time review unit. Honestly, at this point today, I look at my N97 Mini and feel ashamed of Symbian^1, everything seems retarded on it. The usability has gone leaps ahead on Symbian^3, no doubt about that. It’s not a revolution, but it’s what Symbian^1 should have been since the start: responsive, adapted to touchscreens, good looking. So my final impression is this:
All is not yet lost for Symbian & Nokia.