What is it they say about making first impressions count? If there is one word that describes the N8 at first glance, it’s premium. The front of the phone is as minimal as could be, with but the solitary home button in the bottom left corner of the phone. Most of the front is taken up by the 3.5″ AMOLED screen, with the only other visible elements being the front facing video call camera and the ambient light sensor. The N8 is great to hold. It is made almost entirely of anodized aluminium, save for the black plastic at the top and bottom ends of the phone, and of course the glass face. This results in a satisfyingly sleek metallic feel, that adds to the ‘premiumness’ of the phone. It is a big phone, at least for me bigger than anything I have used before, but not as large as I expected. It feels solid but not overwhelmingly heavy. Laying the phone down on a flat surface, the top is raised off the surface and this is due to the huge bulge at the back as a result of packing in the monstrous 12 megapixel camera unit, with the largest image sensor ever fitted to a mobile phone.
Despite the general high build quality of the phone I found that the memory card and sim card slots, found on the left hand side of the phone are a bit iffy to use. They were difficult to pry open, and I was concerned I would damage them from using excessive force, more than I would think should be required. Once open they hang rather loosely and are a bit in the way, and again being on the clumsy side I am a little concerned about their durability. As such getting the sim card into the phone was a bit of a mission, and I do dread performing the reverse operation come the 30the November. The same can be said for the flap that conceals the HDMI-out port at the top of the device.
These minor gripes were all but forgotten however when the phone was turned on for the first time. The AMOLED screen is just simply astonishing. Looking at it side by side with the screen of the foot soldier, the differences are phenomenal. The display on the N8 is just simply more beautiful with all the screen elements so much more sharper and the colours more vibrant. The screen is also a heck of a lot more brighter even with both displays set to the lowest brightness. Think of a freshly painted wall, with rich warm colours. After prolonged exposure to the elements, the wall fades and looks horribly washed. That is the visual difference between the AMOLED screen of the N8 and the TFT of the 6710 Navigator. It’s that sort of wow moment that really breathes life into a new device.
The all important set up
Once the phone is switched on, the user is asked to enter their Ovi (Nokia’s service layer) credentials. This is used for the Store, Maps, and the Social apps. If you don’t check the ‘sign on automatically’ box you will be required to enter the password again when each of those services is launched. Nokia’s phone set up process is quick and painless. The usual things like ring tones, message tones, time and date are handled here, and can of course be changed in Settings later. There is the option to transfer data from your old phone if it was a Nokia to the N8 using the handy Phone Switch application. Lastly you have the option to set up existing email accounts or sign up for a new Ovi email account. I skip the phone switch step as all of my improtant data is retrieved from Google. Google Sync supports Gmail, contacts and calendar sync. To do this, Mail for Exchange needs to be configured when setting up email and there is a handy step by step guide available from Google.
My contacts and Google calendar entries were synced flawlessly and I was good to go. The next port of call was to set up the homescreens. The N8 has three homescreens supporting six widgets each for quick access to apps and your data. To add a widget to a homescreen you simply tap and hold anywhere on the screen and it switches to edit mode. Clicking on an empty slot brings up the widget catalogue. Clicking on an existing widget brings up to option to either change its settings or to remove it. Widgets can also be moved into other slots by tapping and holding, and then moving to the desired location. Widgets that I’ve added to my homescreens include a couple of email widgets, the social app widget, music player, Accuweather, Nokia Battery monitor utility, the awesome Favourites (for up to 20 contacts) widget and a host of application shortcut widgets to limit time spent in the menus. Each homescreen can have it’s own wallpaper which I’ve duly setup. All in all I would estimate that it took about an hour in total to get the basic phone set up right. Quick and painless, just the way it should be.
Lights, Camera, Action!!!!
With that out of the way, so the real fun began. Having never used a touch screen phone before I decided to spent the first day familiarising myself with the basics. One thing I was concerned about was typing on the N8’s virtual keyboard(s). Indeed the first sms I sent was something of an unmitigated disaster. I couldn’t get through a single word without making countless typos, then missing the space bar, launching the symbols selection box, and inserting random uncalled for emoticons! Thankfully things settled down and this was partly due to the fact that theN8 has a T9 keyboard in the portrait orientation (the QWERTY is in landscape mode). Twenty four hours later I can safely say the ins and outs of the virtual keyboard, in both orientations is fast becoming second nature.
One important aspect that makes a smartphone well, ‘smart’, is expandability through third party apps. So I set up loading the few apps that have become almost indispensable to my phone experience. Opera Mini is great for browsing especially here considering the cost of data and is effectively my go to browser unless I’m in free Wifi range. Other apps I use regularly are Mobbler for last.fm scrobbling, Nimbuzz for IM and Symbian’s Podcatcher. I’ve used Noki’s Ovi Store before but the version on the N8 is far superior to the non-touch version. It looks great, is slick, and the searching has been improved from earlier versions.
My phone has all but removed the need for carrying around an MP3 player so I loaded up roughly1200 tracks onto the N8’s mass memory using Nokia Ovi Player. I would never recommend it as a stand alone player on your PC, but for transferring music it is fast, reliable, and it also removes the need to constantly refresh the music library after each update. The music transfer took about half an hour. Early impressions are good, the N8’s music player is one of the best I’ve used thus far.
I’ve also fiddled with the much derided web browser. It gets trumped by Opera Mobile which I downloaded from Ovi Store by way of comparison, but is more than usable for quick browsing. Opera Mobile is faster though and renders pages better, and has a better user interface but as I said I use Opera Mini for the most part anyway which is blazing fast. The email client seems like an improvement on the version found on non touch Nokia’s and thus far has been syncing well with my Ovi and Gmail accounts perfectly. Sending emails has also been a simple task. I also downloaded EA Sports Need for Speed Shift (all 81 MB of it) and despite having generally little time for gaming I found this quite fun. The rich graphics and responsiveness of the game were particularly impressive.
And of course the camera. I haven’t had much time to try it out but the few pictures that I have taken have been impressive. The amount of detail, for a cell phone, is frankly quite ludicrous, the colour fidelity is impressive, there is a lot less digital noise than other phones I’ve used and it has a proper flash! Here are some shots that I have taken so far (click thumb to view full size 12 mpx images).
So my initial impressions of the N8 are very positive indeed. Most of my fears regarding the touch only input are all but eradicated after a mere day. The build quality of the phone is excellent, the touch screen quite responsive, the screen quality is phenomenal with great outdoor visibility, and getting around the phone is actually quite simple. What is also impressive is that even though I’ve basically been unable to put down the phone, I still haven’t hit any low battery warnings yet. This bodes well for the battery life of the phone, something that seems to have taken a back seat lately in other phones. There are a of course few quirks here and there, which will be mentioned in more detailed as this review takes shape, but nothing to frighten me off just yet