First Look: Nokia N8

Over in Singapore Nokia is getting busy announcing a whole host of new midrange handsets at its Connection event. So the Nokia bods thought it was only right that it gave ample airing to its flagship smartphone, the Nokia N8, over here in Britain.

We've seen the hardware before, when we showed it off in glorious lime green. Pocket-lint was on hand once again to give it a going over to determine whether or not Nokia's new star player has a chance of competing with Apple and Android in the heavily contested smartphone market.

The main selling point of the N8 is that it is the first Nokia handset to feature the Symbian^3 operating system. So what are you actually getting with the new OS?

First up, the messaging centre has been given a revamp. Texts can now appear in conversation view, much like the iPhone, and the email functionality has been vastly improved. Within the email app, you are now able to switch between multiple accounts and apply filters, such as dates, attachments, from and so on, much like you do with Outlook or Gmail.

The homescreen (or rather homescreens) have also undergone a facelift. You can now have three separate homescreens, each with their own app widgets and wallpapers. These homescreens are web connected and your Twitter, Facebook or RSS widgets will be automatically updated, provided you've got an active data connection. A predetermined set of apps will be loaded onto your N8 upon purchase, but you'll be able to add to these with direct links to apps from the Ovi Store.

Another nice touch with Symbian^3 is the visual multitasking panel that appears when you hold down the homescreen button. This feature allows you to see a decent sized snapshot of all the apps that you have open on your device. Browsing is nice, especially so because it handles Flash with no problems - are you listening Apple?

But enough about the software, it's time to talk about the hardware of the N8. The only place to start really is the camera. It has a whopping 12 megapixels, with Carl Zeiss lens, auto-focus and Xenon flash. It's also capable of shooting 25fps 720p video, encoded to H.264.

We had a little play around with the camera and it was easy enough to get to grips with - more or less the same as the cameras on previous Nokia devices. We were shown some pictures and videos taken by the camera on a big screen TV which the N8 hooks up to via HDMI. No doubt Nokia had had a play about with the images and the rendering, but we have to say it looked absolutely top notch. Of course, once we run the final version across our test bench we'll dispel any myths in a full review.

We were also given a demo of an HD movie trailer for the upcoming Tron remake on the TV via the N8 and the picture and 5.1 surround sound were stunning. Graphics processing is helped because the N8 has a dual chip setup. There's a 680MHz cellular processor for all of your regular smartphone features and also an undisclosed separate chip on board for all graphic and image rendering as well as 3D acceleration.

The N8 has a 3.5-inch, 640 x 360, capacitive touchscreen, is capable of 3G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, has 16GB on board storage which is expandable by microSD and also has a Micro-USB socket. The battery is a built-in lithium-ion one, so not user-changeable without a bit of a fiddle.

The phone comes in a choice of five different colours, which are anodised rather than painted to avoid scratch marks. We are particularly keen on the garish green option - the least likely to be stolen off a pub table.

Verdict

The N8 is definitely a step-up for Nokia in its quest to compete with Apple and the likes at the top of the smartphone market. The media features, especially the HD video functionality and the high-end camera are actually much better than you'll find on any Apple or Android device.

Where the N8 falls down though, is that Symbian^3 is hardly a revolution from previous instalments. Sure, there are some nice new touches but nothing that we haven't seen before on many other OSes.

On paper the N8 is going to be gunning for the best camera-phone on the market. There isn't another handset out there that has the hardware to compete, but big numbers don't always give you the best results. Throw in the brilliant HD features, Web TV and the Comes with Music functionality and you're looking at a beast of a media entertainment handset.

But, if you're looking for a slick, ultra responsive handset then you'll be disappointed. Sure, it's a massive improvement from the 5800 or the N900 (for common folk) but it's still nowhere near as quick or as easy to navigate as the iPhone or the Nexus One.

It will be interesting to see where Nokia targets this handset. If it wants to top the smartphone food chain then we're afraid it could end in tears. If however, it is looking to launch the top entertainment phone in the market, then the Finnish giant could well be onto a winner.

The N8 is out later this year (we suspect it could be around the end of August) and will be available on Vodafone.



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