A Weekend With The N8

This past weekend (20-21 November 2010) gave me the opportunity to fully test drive the N8 in real world situations. The first couple of days were more like a warm up lap, getting used to the device, trying out games and tweaking a few things here and there. If you remember my early impressions were positive but other than with the messaging and the call functions which can not be ignored, I have generally been exploring each feature of the N8 in isolation, and getting to grips with new application, and for me novel input methods.While a full list of features is great, real world usage is far more important to the end user. If the system is buggy and it lags, if apps freeze incessantly, then the best camera in the world or an awesome music player will be next to useless.

Passing the time

I started the weekend by downloading a few items from the Ovi Store, Angry Birds Lite, the DStv Mobile app, Swype (more on this later when I’ve fully wrapped my head around it), Nokia Panorama, Music Explorer, and SPB Mobile Shell. Ovi Store now allows for simultaneous downloads which is convenient when downloading apps approaching 10Mb or more like Angry Birds and SPB Mobile Shell. It speeds up the process up the process of getting content to the devices. While I sometimes to like to just browse through the store to see if anything of interest will come up, I’ll usually have two or three apps I want to try and I like to get in out of the store as quickly as possible (it’s also how I like to approach shopping in a non virtual world).

I spent much of the morning fiddling with the DStv mobile app and playing Angry Birds, which is probably the most addictive game I’ve played in a long time. The N8 didn’t complain much. I was receiving SMSs while all of this was going and switching between the message editor and other applications was breezy. The only time I noticed a lag was when the email client was syncing and when I decided to read my mail. It takes what seems like an age to open which is at odds rest of the N8 user interface, and messages seem to take an inordinately long time to load. I’ll look at emailing in more detail later on in the review.

At one point I needed to go to the bank to collect a new card so playing was put on hold for a bit. And here a feature of the N8 that I really like is that it handles network connectivity realy well. I’ve been staying at my in laws house and I use their wifi network. When I step out like I did then, the N8 will switch to 3G and when I’m back in the house switch to the home wifi. This sounds trivial but on the foot soldier, if any app was open when I lost the wifi connection, it wouldn’t happily reconnect to 3G. Instead I would have to close the app, relaunch, then approve a request to allow a network connection. An unnecessary slog. Thankfully that is proving to be a thing of the past now. I’ve had situation where the wifi has gone down while busy using the browser for example and in such situation, the N8 just simply switched to 3G.

What’s that song called again?

The N8 comes with a 6 month subscription to Nokia’s Ovi Music Unlimited. I had set up this up when i first got the phone and have been happily using my laptop to download some stuff missing from my connection. Music downloads can also be handled on the N8 as well, using the Ovi Music application. I had a golden opportunity to test this out this weekend. My wife, her mother and her aunt were busy trying to figure out the name of a song. The older folk had been on abit of a road trip, and had presumably driven past Alice when driving through the Eastern Cape, and they thought there was a song called ‘Living in a town called Alice’.  My wife, being rather knowledgeable when it comes to music, let them know that there was no such song and that they had simply mashed together The Jam’s ‘Town called Malice’ and Smokie’s ‘Living Next Door To Alice’. So out popped the N8. Ovi Music loaded quickly and while the debate raged I quickly searched for Town called Malice, found the appropriate download and used the home Wifi to download the song to the phone. Barely two minutes later the download finished, and I was informed that the song had been added to my music library. I let the the bickering ladies know and played the song for them using the N8’s loud speaker which even outdoors was crisp and loud. And just to confirm the error of their ways, ‘Living Next  Door To Alice’ was downloaded from the store, cue the hilarious scene of the the two tipsy women singing along with the N8 to the Smokie, which was what they were thinking of all along.

Just be warned about the location of the loudspeaker, below the N8 camera at the back of the phone, if pumping music out of your handset is your thing. On a flat hard surface it’s fine, but I’ve had the N8 down on a note pad and the sound was muffled. If it’s on a soft surface like the bed or a couch it is virtually inaudible.

The Ovi Music store itself is very good with decent selection and paired with Ovi Music Unlimited is awesome. I’ve found some old albums that I’ve needed to complete my collection, and even some of the weird obscure music I listen to is on there with some unsurprising omissions. I like that songs are added directly to the music library without having to manually refresh.The only criticism perhaps is that the Ovi Music icon is a glorified link to the store on the web, and the N8’s browser is not the strongest you will find on a smartphone. The design of the store however is such that it is not too bloated and loads very quickly over Wifi or 3G. For true audiophile the store can be paired with Nokia Music Explorer application, available from the Ovi Store. This application allows one have ‘watch’ genres and allows you to stay on the edge. It’s a bit buggy though and is prone to just not loading any data!

Trusty co-pilot

Much later in the day, we had to make a trip to OR International Airpot from Benoni en route to a seeing some friends in Germiston for what eventually turned into a braai. The trip to the airport is not complicated, though the road works didn’t help matters, but it was getting to Germiston from the airport that was a bit of tricky. As I was driving I passed the phone on to my mate Simon and gave him a crash course on using Ovi Maps. Ovi Maps is a great tool, and it has gotten a lot of use on my 6710 Navigator. The beauty of it compared to say Google Maps, is that maps are stored either on memory card or in the case of the N8 the mass memory, meaning that they are accessible offline, and the voice guided navigation is free, mahala! The N8 ships with Maps 3.4 but I have since installed Maps 3.6, which supports pinch zoom and has an improved search interface.

So Simon simply typed in the address of our destination and there were no issues as the Ovi Maps found it without having to review the search string. Once selected as the destination we were able to review the route by simply flicking the screen and sure enough we were headed to the correct location. We were undercover so GPS lock was slow but using wifi and cellular position at least it new we are around the vicinity of the airport. Once we left the airport the voice guide kicked in timeously and we were on our way. Any Joburger will know the dire situation on the highways with all the roadworks. Sure enough one of the exits we had to take was closed, but Ovi Maps was able to reroute quite quickly once we had passed the exit. The speed of route recalculation I must say was quite impressive, as I had already discovered on older versions.

Seeing as we are talking real world world usage here, with the greater amount of RAM available for the N8 I have not felt the need to monitor my multitasking like I usually do with the 6710 Navigator, where I got used to apps closing, and out of memory errors. While doing the above, i had left Opera Mobile, Ovi Music, the Music Player, Ovi Store, Mail and the Socail app open, and there was no noticeable lag. Usually when using Ovi Maps I had to ensure that it was the only app running otherwise there was a serious  performance shortfall resulting in voice instructions being a good 500 metres late at times.

Thanks for the memories

With the promise of good food, and plenty of drinks, many a photo opportunity arises. And with the great weather at this time of the year there are plenty of braais to attend. This weekend was no different with a double header on both the Saturday and the Sunday.  I like taking photos, but I’m not photography guru. So most of the pictures I take are usually taken in auto mode, and then hoping that the camera takes care of the rest. I’ve found that for the most part a decent camera phone can do alright on a nice day but if it’s gloomy and once the sun sets then you’ll be crying out for a digicam.

I already thought as much from fiddling with the N8s camera before, but after this weekend I know that this is the best camera phone I have ever seen, and armed with the N8 the average consumer would never need to invest in a compact camera ever again. You can see for yourselves with some of the photos taken below. The detail on the shots is just incredible, and more so is the colour reproduction. In good light, the colours are reproduced with incredible accuracy, though I did occasionally see that in the corners colours are duller than in reality. The flash on the N8 is actually usable meaning goodbye to nasty blurry night shots with a ridiculous amount of noise.

Need juice…

The one thing that did take a hit was the N8s battery. It was fully charged at about 3 PM on Friday. We left OR Tambo at about 4:15PM and not much later the low battery warnings hit. Unfortunately the car charger didn’t seem to fit the slot in the car, so it had to wait until we arrived in Germiston. The N8 saw a lot of action that evening as it put in a star performance, impressing a number people. It continued to take a lot of abuse on Sunday and by 4PM was back on the charge again. So roughly 24 hours then between charges. During the week I tend to use the phone a lot less as I’m often busy around the office so it will be interesting to see how many hours I can sneak out. Overall it’s no worse than the battery performance that many of my friends report on their phones and about the same as the foot soldier, so it’s usable but no more than an adequate pass on the battery front.

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