In all, the Nokia N8 with Symbian 3 provides a much better user experience. The simplified touch experience and added customization options were much-needed features. That said, it simply doesn't compare with the ease of use, flow, and polished look of competing operating systems, namely Android and iOS.
The Nokia N8 offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, voice dialing, a vibrate mode, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. The phone's address book is only limited by the available memory, and the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. There's room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, work and home addresses, e-mail addresses, birthday, and more vitals. For caller ID purposes, you can assign each contact a photo, a group ID, or a custom ringtone.
Unlike other operating systems, the N8 doesn't automatically pull and sync contact information from your various e-mail accounts and social networking sites. It does so for Exchange, otherwise you have to use other tools, such as the Ovi service or an iSync plug-in, to get the rest of your contacts synced to the N8, which is annoying.
The N8 is compatible with multiple e-mail protocols, including Exchange, Lotus Notes, and POP3/IMAP accounts, and offers HTML and folder support. We set up our Exchange and Gmail accounts, and we were able to receive and send e-mail without problem. As we noted in the User Interface section, accessing options isn't always easy or obvious. For example, if you want to get to your folders, you need to tap the Inbox tab at the top of the screen and then choose Folders from the drop-down list. It's not the biggest of problems, but again, it goes back to the usability issue.
Wireless options are well-represented on the Nokia N8, with Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), GPS, and five-band 3G support (WCDMA 850/900/1700/1900/2100). This means you'll get 3G whether you use AT&T or T-Mobile, which is great. The N8's WebKit-based browser is decent. It offers support for Flash Lite 4.0 and multiple windows, and it renders pages quite well. Navigation, however, could be much better. A simple task like entering a new Web address requires you to launch a separate menu, enter the URL, and then press Go To, and we think it really shouldn't be that complicated. (For more about the browser, check out Performance section).
The Nokia N series has always been known for its multimedia capabilities, and the N8 certainly continues that tradition and even does it better. With Symbian 3, the music player gets a nice makeover with a Cover Flow-like interface for browsing music. It offers basic functions, such as shuffle and repeat modes, on-the-fly playlist creations, and support for MP3, WMA, AAC, eAAC, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and AMR-WB music codecs. There's also an FM radio.
Hands down, the N8's best feature is its 12-megapixel camera. With Carl Zeiss optics, a Xenon flash, and numerous editing options, the N8 delivers some of the best picture quality we've seen from a camera phone. Images came out ultrasharp with vibrant and rich colors that showed details not visible on most photos taken by a phone. The camera was also able to handle shots taken in various environments--indoors, outdoors, action scenes--with very little problem. You can check out our photo gallery for some samples.
In addition to photos, the camera can record HD video and once again, the quality is impressive. Unlike some other smartphones that offer HD video recording, the N8 produced clips that were clear without any type of haziness or yellowing. A preloaded video editor, as well as a photo editor, is available if you want to cut clips or add music and text, which you can then share on your HDTV via the HDMI port. There's also a front-facing VGA camera, which you can use to make video calls with apps like Fring.
Other apps preloaded on the N8 include the QuickOffice suite, a PDF reader, a ZIP manager, a voice recorder, a dedicated YouTube app, and Ovi Maps, which offers free turn-by-turn navigation. You can search and download more apps from the Ovi Store. The store's catalog consists of around 15,000 titles, which is a far cry from the 80,000 or so apps in the Android Market and 250,000 apps in iTunes, but Nokia has done a nice job of cleaning up the store's interface. The N8 offers 16GB of internal memory and an expansion slot that accepts up to 32GB cards.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Nokia N8 in New York using AT&T service, and call quality was decent. For the most part, conversations sounded clear on our end, with very little background noise, but there were times audio would cut off the end of a sentence. Our friends reported good results and didn't have any major complaints.
Speakerphone quality was pretty good. It didn't sound quite as tinny or as hollow as other speakerphones, so we had no problems hearing our callers, and there's plenty of volume to hold a conversation in noisier environments. We also had no issue pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
We got reliable 3G coverage from AT&T in Manhattan. We didn't experience any dropped calls, and data speeds were satisfactory. CNET's full site loaded in 35 seconds; the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 7 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively. We were able to play YouTube videos from the browser, and clips loaded within a couple of seconds and played back without interruption. Our own MPEG-4 videos looked great on the N8, with good quality and synchronized picture and audio. We also enjoyed rich-sounding music playback through our On-Ear Bose Headphones.
The N8 did well as a navigator. The phone was able to get a GPS lock in less than a minute, and it accurately tracked our position even as we trekked through the urban canyons of Manhattan. Also, because the maps are downloaded to the device, redraws were quick.
General performance on the N8 is a bit sluggish. It's equipped with a 680MHz ARM11 processor, and we encountered some delays launching and switching between apps. Though it never crashed or froze on us, there were a couple of occasions where the lag was significant enough to make us think there was a problem.
The Nokia N8 ships with 1,200mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 12 hours (GSM)/5.8 hours (3G) and up to 16 days (GSM)/17 days (3G) of standby time, and as we noted earlier, it's not user-replaceable. The N8 delivered 5.5 hours of continuous talk time over 3G in our battery drain tests. So far we've been impressed with the battery life. With moderate use--checking e-mail, Web browsing, and some music playback--we've been able to go about a day and a half before needing to recharge. According to FCC radiation tests, the N8 has a digital SAR rating of 1.12 watts per kilogram.