Tech Corner: Nokia N8 Review

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By Courtenay Escoffery

The wonderful people over at  Womworld.com sent us a unit and below are my thoughts.

The N8 is definitely a powerful device, and I was quite curious about what my experience with it would be like. So let’s get to it!

Hardware:

It’s a solid piece of hardware – that’s for sure. Once before, someone demoing the unit did a key-scratch test and it did nothing to the unit. Needless to say, I didn’t do that with my unit, but I have no problems believing that if it was accidentally scratched the phone would be ok. It’s fully encased in an aluminum shell. The shape is a bit odd to me, but I ended up liking it. It feels really nice in my hand and had a nice weight to it. Not unbelievably light, but not too heavy either. It really was just right. For its thickness, I wondered if they would have had problems adding a keyboard, but I guess that’s what the E7 is for. It had plenty of buttons and protrusions. Dedicated camera button, screen-lock slider, and volume rocker all on the right side. Power button and HDMI port  and 3.5 mm headphone jack on the top. Then there was the menu button on the bottom left and the 12 mp Camera with xenon flash, which was quite handy.

Software:

Symbian 3.  It’s been re-worked and I think it does well in many areas. For example, you have three home screens which is nice, and the ability to add widgets. They are quite useful like an RSS Feeder, or time and date, Instant Messaging clients, email clients, music, etc…. Transitions are quite smooth and you can find a lot of pertinent information at a glance. Your menu button takes you into the menu of whichever application you happen to be in which is nice, and the camera button allows you to quickly jump out of an application for a quick snap when the mood hits you. If you hold down the menu, a very well done task manager appears where you can manage your applications. It shows you a preview of any application that is still open and you can ‘x’ out of any one. I found this extremely helpful and will now be looking for something similar in my next device.  The OS was polished, but straightforward. Very simple.

What I Liked:

I liked the ability to customize to a level that many other devices don’t allow. Loved being able to customize my sound profiles and schedule them! Loved the email widget. I could get a quick snapshot of my last few emails and figure out if I wanted to get in and reply or check in another few hours. Quick access to my music with the music widget, and I could change the images that would appear once I locked the screen and how long that transition would take. I could have the ringer use the voice program to literally “say” the name of the person who was calling me if they were in my phone book which was awesome! My phone would suddenly say the name of the person calling – thought those were great geeky moments.

One of my favorite applications was the social app. You could link it to your Facebook or twitter account and get a stream of updates. It actually got me more involved in my twitter and Facebook life because I can’t stand a long process of logging on just to say a few comments and logging back off. This app provided quick updates. I could say what I had to say – upload a pic and be done.

Another nice feature was the clock. While your phone is sleeping, you can set it to display a clock. It’s very simple with no animation so it consumes very little battery life. While on the topic, the battery life was pretty good. I could get more than a day of full use. However, you’d have to use the phone gingerly the next day if you wanted the phone to last till you get home to charge. However, I found its battery consumption pretty impressive. You can obviously improve the performance by being diligent about your app management and display settings, but all in all, the phone generally has enough juice to do what it has to do. Symbian 3 also has a battery saving mode you can switch to which makes certain tweaks to display, data consumption, etc…which will tighten your phone’s belt so-to-speak. It worked well, but I found it too restrictive so I rarely engaged it, but it was nice to know that it was there just in case you were in a jam.

I also loved the tactile feed back. Seriously – its the best I’ve ever felt on any device before. It really feels like I’ve depressed a real button when typing a message.

What I Disliked:

This part of the review is inevitable and to be honest I had a few gripes with the phone in certain areas. I’m not sure if this was the phone’s fault, but I found myself dropping calls – a lot. A lot more than usual. It was noticeable to many people I spoke to and they would end saying “Something’s wrong with your phone” or something to that effect. Once I switched back to my old phone (HD2) it was normal again.

Another issue was that I would be pressing buttons with my cheek while on a call. I didn’t know why at first because there is a light sensor which automatically turns the screen off when the phone is against the face. I think what the issue was, was the fact that the phone isn’t that large and when placed against the ear, some light may get in, enough to confuse the sensor just enough to have the screen display for a moment and for me to press the mute icon or the hold icon. This was quite annoying.

The menu button was oddly placed in my opinion because of the slope design of the phone. On more than one occasion I almost dropped the phone because it was a stretch to press the button with my left thumb. Also, getting through the phone settings menu was a bit difficult as some things were pretty hard to find. It took me the longest time just to turn off the battery saver!
I didn’t like the fact that you can only put widgets of one size on the screen. I also didn’t like the fact that you couldn’t put shortcuts on the screen – only widgets. You could put a widget on the screen called shortcuts though, but I wanted a little bit more control here.

The keyboard was pretty nice, and as mentioned before, I really loved the tactile feed back. When horizontal, you get a full QWERTY keyboard which is great. They also give you a pretty good predictive text program. However, you really have to press to get your words out. Pretend that it’s a real button and things will go faster. However, my issue is that it’s not a real button and I don’t feel like I should have to press that hard or that long to get my letter to display. No QWERTY Keyboard while Vertical is unforgivable. Some people prefer texting with a dialer, but let us choose. Many of us no longer like typing with the number pad and decided to upgrade the phone. You can say, well they can always have the full keyboard in landscape mode. While this is true, it leads my to my last annoyance which is why is there always an extra step?

Web experience was decent, and quite fast, but nothing special. To be honest, I couldn’t really get into the web with this phone, so web surfing became a chore – mostly because of the keyboard and entry.

While using the phone, I always felt like there was an extra step to accomplish for everything. For typing a message, I had to navigate to the message app, then press it. Then press the empty field to activate the keyboard – which would lead to the text screen where I could then type. Why wasn’t the keyboard initiated once I got in the app? Why did I have to get to another screen just for the text? Same with email, and many of the other applications. I always felt like I was taking at least one more step than was necessary.

Wrap-Up:

Overall, I felt like the phone was a very nice device. I loved the looks it got from people who had never seen the N8 before. Great form-factor and it was quite functional. There were some slowdowns and dropped calls, errant button pressing, and redundancies but I still had a good feeling about the phone. It really does do a lot. Full HD to the TV! Flash support from the browser, customization. It’s all there.

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