Hands On With The Nokia N8 — Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

This week, like many Australian tech journalists, I scored a little bit of face time with the new Nokia N8 (and some Nokia marketing people as well). Their message was one of optimism, of confidence, of excitement with their new smartphone. But I'm sorry to say that after a short amount of time playing with the phone, that's not what I was feeling at all.

The N8 is the first handset to be released in Australia running the new "built-from-the-ground-up" Symbian^3 operating system. It's got a 12MP camera that sticks out on the back of the phone, has inbuilt GPS and comes with 16GB inbuilt memory, with MicroSD expandability. The capacitive touchscreen is pretty responsive, there's a mini-HDMI jack on the top of the phone and a micro-USB port and bundled adapter lets you connect any external USB powered storage to your device.

But here's the thing: This isn't a high end smartphone. Nokia themselves say that it will be the first (and last) N-series phone that runs on S^3, with their top-end phones from here on out running on the MeeGo platform.

Instead, this is a smartphone targeted at the every man. A phone for the mass market, if you will. When it launches in Australia in about three months time, it will be sold outright for $749.

Now compare that price to some other smartphones on the market. The iPhone 3GS 16GB costs $799, but is a year-old phone. The HTC Desire, currently Telstra's flagship smartphone, costs $768 outright and is much better specced (except for the camera). And by the time the N8 actually launches, those prices could drop.

Sure, I'll readily admit that the pictures from the 12MP camera looked fantastic. And that the touchscreen was fast and responsive, and there was a pleasant little haptic kick back when you scrolled past the end of the page and it sprung back to the end. I'll also happily confide that the pre-production demo phone was happily running a few apps simultaneously, although it did crash at one point when the Nokia guys launched one app too many. Not to mention the fact that Nokia's GPS software has come a long, long way since I last checked it out, and is now actually usable.

But the thing that struck me the most about my time with the N8 was the fact that even though Nokia completely recreated the Symbian OS from the ground up, they still kept the same boring font that was used on my original monochrome Nokia phone when I bought it in 1999. Apparently it was a conscious choice - Nokia didn't want to alienate its userbase too much with the new OS, and when they begin releasing Symbian^4 phones we might see a change.

But by then it could be too late. It may be because I've spent too much time staring at the design of iOS or Android, but all I saw when I looked at the shiny new and responsive N8 was a dated UI. Sure, it seemed new and responsive, but the font (and subsequently the entire design) seemed old and dated, and more a mark of past success than the leap into the future it needed to be.

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Comments

    How does 377 Euros (price quoted on a lot of other sites; pre tax, granted) translate into $759? That's over $200 more than the exchange rate!!!

      The price, like so many other devices, includes the Australian tax, the one that increases the price because we're all dumb enough to pay it.

    I think you need to look at this from the point of view of a normal phone user, not a current smartphone user. It will still be a step up for them without being too strange and difficult, and wow a 12MP camera! Personally yes I'd rather a smarter phone too :)

    I for one have never owned a Nokia (or used a symbian) and I see the point in regards to the font type but this phone is making me switch to Nokia and I look forward to using this on a daily basis, I do have a question, will they allow the MeeGo platform to be uploaded to replace the Symbian if the user chooses?

      Knowing Nokia, No.

      W Head - I'd like to commiserate you on your decision in advance, and also welcome you to the frustrating counter-intuitive world of Nokia smart phones. May your future droolings over Android phones you should have bought instead be pleasant ones.

    The design of this phone is interesting. To me it looks more like a point and shoot camera than a phone.

    I want this so bad so i can ditch my new X6. im a nokia fanboy but the x6 is terrible i find a new bug each day.

    Please, I won't be touching another Symbian device ever again. Mobile-Review had the best top to tail review on the device, and you might as well buy an N900 or wait for the N9 or next maemo/meego device.

      Wait for the N9!

      By the way, the HTC Desire is as low as $550 and your iPhone price is fairly accurate, but closer to $720.

    am I reading this right - regardless all the hardware/software improvements and all that is there to pick on is the 'Font'?

      The 'Nokia' font is actual quite pleasing to the eyes. I don't get what the author is frustrated about either.

      But the appearance of the N8 could definitely be better. Now it looks like a tacky razor in weird metallic colours.

    Dear Bobby: The "font" issue, is the same stupid thing that bloggers are writing in blogs. Instead of comment something about Symbian^3 itself, they compare it with Android or iOS. I´m a satisfied Symbian user, and it is not so complicated. Is there any change in the main menu? is there any change in configuration? man... is there any interesting information?

    get them from Hong Kong, they are made there and cost half of that, legit Nokia ones, i've bought my last 8 Nokia phones from there, usually a month or two before sad old Australia get it and by the time it comes out here I yawn loudly and am already over it.

    Strange review... It is really good, but the font is 'dated' so it is bad.

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