Nokia 5800 XpressMusic: Hands-on With Nokia’s First S60 Touch Phone

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic: Hands-on With Nokia’s First S60 Touch Phone

The 5800 XpressMusic (aka Tube) is the first touchscreen Symbian S60 phone from Nokia–a surprising fact considering how prominent touchscreens have quickly become over the last few years. And instead of rolling out the new touch-specific S60 Fifth Edition on a flagship N-series phone, Nokia has decided to position the 5800 as a music phone for the kiddies, packaging it with their all-you-can-eat (and keep) Comes With Music service. This choice is probably a brilliant one, because after our quick demo, this thing needs a bit more time in the oven before it can stand with the big guys for a touchscreen-only device.

For a mid-range music phone with touch, though, the 5800 is pretty well equipped: 640×360 touchscreen with haptic response, Wi-Fi, A-GPS, 3G on the 850/1900 MHz band (works with AT&T here in the States), 3.2MP camera with Zeiss lens, and an 8GB microSD card for music in the box. But while the touchscreen is sharp and bright, it’s resistive rather than capacitive, which means instead of accurately picking up the light zap of electricity from your fingertips, it registers where two thin layers of the screen get pushed together under your finger.

On the prototype we played with briefly, it’s much harder to get touches to register, and far less accurate than the iPhone’s capacitive screens. The 5800 packs a built-in stylus for this reason–you’ll be using it a lot. Text entry can be done with a full-screen QWERTY, a mini-QWERTY for the stylus, T9 on a touch dialpad, or using handwriting recognition w/ stylus. It’s almost exactly like what’s found on Nokia’s touchscreen internet tablets like the N810, which makes sense, since Nokia recently folded the tablet group in with the smartphone folks to help develop touch features for S60 v5.

Other touch-specific additions are a new Contacts bar similar to T-Mobile’s myfaves that can replace application shortcuts–giving quick access to calling or texting your four favourite folks, as well as the option to add an RSS feed of that person’s blog or Twitter updates. Application menus also appear on a nice translucent overlay in most applications instead of Symbian’s usual pop-up lists, making the camera much easier to operate while switching options, for instance. And a dedicated button on the upper right brings up the Media Bar, which gives quick touch access to the music player, camera, contacts, and web browser at any time. If you’re used to Symbian’s browser, you’ll fit right at home with the touch version. Basically touching replaces the scrolling cursor for zooming and scrolling a page. It’s a pretty solid experience, although pages still tend to load their mobile versions by default like in S60 v4.

For music the device looks capable–there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack thank God, and 8GB of space on the included 8GB microSD. In the States, the 5800’s price (which is not yet set, but the Euro version is €279/$US389) will include a year of Comes With Music downloads, which can then be kept. Going beyond Nokia’s proprietary sync software (for iTunes, etc) will be like in any other Symbian phone–not super convenient. Comes With Music allows you to sync albums grabbed on the web to your device over 3G, though, which is nice.

The 5800 seems like a solid mid-level touch phone for music–especially if Comes With Music pans out as a cool service. But don’t plan on using this thing for heavy emailing or texting–you’ll probably be using T9 text entry with the touch dialpad or the stylus for most of your text entry unless you have the patience of a monk, which kind of defeats the point for an all-touch device these days. Look for it hitting before the end of the year for an as-yet-undisclosed price.