[UPDATE (01/04/2011)]: Unfortunately the phone died today. I’m working with @WOMworld to see if I can get a replacement.
[UPDATE (01/07/2011)]: @WOMworld has promised to send me a new device.
Thanks to @womworld for providing me with a Nokia N8 mobile phone. It’s Nokia’s top-of-the-line phone running the latest version of the Symbian OS, Symbian^3.
A lot of stuff has been written about the n8 on the Internet (the phone has been available since October of 2010).
Some good resources include:
- The Media Guru: The Nokia N8 Review in Four Parts – The writer does a comprehensive review of the N8’s hardware,Symbian^3 OS, native apps, and 3rd party apps. He concludes that “Symbian is doomed.” ASIDE: I could have told you that..
- Engadget.com’s review – In summary, the hardware is great, but the software is half-baked. Uh, it’s also the best Symbian phone ever made.
- Ricky Cadden, the Former Symbian-Guru’s Review – If you like Symbian, you’ll love this device.
I was a huge Symbian fan up until S60, 5th Edition. Symbian was my first introduction to smartphones, and truth be told, I never got over my first love. I’ve also always liked Nokia’s hardware sensibilities—the phones were built to last. The last phone I used was a workhorse, an e61i—I loved this phone. I had purchased a 5800 XpressMusic phone, but was sorely disappointed by Nokia’s first modern touch device.
Since then I’ve been using Android as my primary smartphone OS (I use a Nexus One). I’m very happy with it. For me, Android OS provided a natural stepping stone from S60. Professionally, I make use of an iPhone 4.
What follows is my log of the first 7 days with the N8. It’s an unedited braindump of my experience. I try to sum up each day’s view into a single sentence.
Day One: December 24th
- Three days after confirming my participation in the program, I received my n8 shipment today.
- Box definitely looks different when compared to the other packages like the N1, iPhone 4 and Samsung Focus.
- Opening the box reminds me of a pie box that you get in a bakery.
- The phones sits in a plastic tray—feels cheap—but the tray serves a dual-purpose: It acts as the accessory and cable organizer for the stuff underneath. This is clever.
- Charge the phone using the external charger for about 12 hours.
- Powered on the phone—asked to sign into OVI—Umm, I haven’t used that in over 2 years. Had to find my credentials again. I really wished that they would just give up on OVI. It didn’t impress me then, I doubt that it will impress me now. After I reset my password at ovi.com, I delete all my contacts from my last OVI Sync.
- I then go to email.nokia.com and sign in. I then realize that this is already integrated onto the phone. No need for this—which is great.
- While signing in to OVI, I am greeted with the WORST keyboard ever. It is truly horrible. Especially the password field—the SHIFT key defaults into CAPS LOCK when single-clicked. This FUCKED me up quite a few times. It’s as bad as I have read.
- Why is there no portrait keyboard?
- When a 3rd party browser has to implement their own keyboard..you know you have a problem…
- Why isn’t predictive turned on by default? This would make the landscape QWERTY a bit more usable.
- Why is the time on my device wrong?
- I found this interesting—that they do a country sort first—-this seems to be a legacy from the d-pad days, with a virtual or hardware QWERTY, I expected to just search—but they do have a search, but I don’t read the heading which says country—I expected to be able to type in my city…Toronto, nope, Ottawa, nope, Montreal, nope (thinking that they are using an outdated timezone data)
- The 1st time user experience was disappointing. I cannot believe how bad text entry is on the device.
Day 2: December 25th
- I started installing apps from OVI. The N8 is the only phone I know where I have gotten installation errors. Things would download properly but refuse to install.
- I had read somewhere that YouTube and SKYPE had updated clients. I searched in vain to find them in OVI. Seriously—-why are they not there?
- The OVI store sucks. Really, really bad browse and search. Prices for apps feel too expensive having used iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7. It is god awful slow, when compared to the other phone clients.
- Where are the top-flight apps from vendors? Where are Facebook, Google, Twitter? I never understood how the marketshare leader could have such a poor development community. Symbian is obviously still too hard to develop for and has very little developer traction. There are a lot of RSS apps posing as real applications on the market. It’s really frustrating. I’m even having a hard time searching for things like “Gravity” or “Pixelpipe”.
- Hmm, 10 bucks for a twitter client? ASIDE: I tried the Gravity trial—it’s really fully featured and I take it back—given that this is the only good Twitter/Social client out there, it is probably worth the price. $10 feels a bit steep though. I am spoiled by free apps on the other clients. How must other people who have used the other OS platforms feel?
- Performance: The device feels slow. I don’t care what Symbian apologists say about S^3 being light weight, but everything feels slow. Kinetic scroll is not smooth even with GPU acceleration. It stutters. It feels like Android 1.5. Doubtful that it’s the hardware, most likely the UI layer—or rather Symbian just being Symbian.
- Searching contacts is a nightmare. It hasn’t evolved since the 5800. I’m glad that they have find as you type, though.
- The Browser is as bad as I have read. Worse even. Nokia should be ashamed for releasing such garbage. I hope the January update fixes this. That, or they just bundle Opera Mobile.
- The keyboard gives me nightmares—I don’t text or email as much.
- On setting up GMAIL: I had to use Mail-For-Exchange to setup Google so I could pull contacts. I’m really fortunate that Google Mobile supports AcitveSync.
- The email client is as bad as I remember it. The fonts are horrible. FUCKING ugly. Get some sub-pixel rendering. Fonts are very variable in size…in some cases email is unreadable. That said, all the necessary functionality seems to be there.
- Nokia needs to spend some money at a font house ….seriously.
- I am digging the hardware. It feels really good when I’m holding it. Build quality blows away Samsung’s offering. I like it. It is different. I like having phone profiles again. Using Bluetooth is as rock solid as ever.
- I’m glad to see that Wi-Fi just connects properly and transparently. It’s nice that they notify me when they are connecting. Hmm, why is FRING not picking my destination settings? It should be dead simple: If I’m connected to Wi-Fi, use it. If I’m connected to 3G, use 3G. Glad that they got “Destinations” working. It was one of the reasons why I never updated to the e71 or e72 (apparently didn’t work so hot). Come to think of it, would a person be able to set this up?
- It is an improvement at least, but I’m skeptical that a person could set this up.
- Pet-peeve: One of the things that I don’t understand is the ICONS in the status bar. Every other modern phone OS makes the 3G/WIFI choice atomic. It shows one or the other…but the N8 shows both. I find this confusing me as I don’t know which data connection is being used. Small, but if they really want to simplify you have to question every interface element on the screen. It’s nice to know that my cellular connection is 3(.5)G, but all I really want to know is cell strength.
- I like the tap-ability of buttons—nice and big. However, you can still see remnants of S60 all over the place: Like the mini tabs in the Contacts application. …sucks that the Device is so unresponsive.
- I like how I can tap the clock, and other stuff. Apparently I could have did this on my 5800. Notifications are not bad—the calendar ring / alarm is very annoying. I still like Android’s take on notifications. Neither is as good as the Palm Pre’s. But who cares about the palm pre?
- Widgets on the home screens are interesting…a different take than Android that is for sure. I wish I could expand the size of widgets to span multiple rows on the screen. Swiping between screens is so painful, I don’t use the feature. I keep losing my theme animations.
- Having used the email app a bit more: it is as good/bad as I remember it. HTML email isn’t as bad or as broken as the 5800 (when it first debut). I like how I can set the frequency of mail (peak and off hours). Push email using Nokia’s mail service is FAST. Easily as good as RIM’s offerings and MS Activesync.
- Navigation: Hmm…It doesn’t seem to understand how I’ve encoded addresses sync’d from Gmail. I seem to have to delete the last 3 characters of the postal code. Why doesn’t this thing know my home location? It should have some awareness of who I am from the outset.
- Directions work very well. It is both better AND worse than Navigon or Google Maps. I like the lane changes stuff….disappointed that it can’t read street names. GPS seems to be about 30 ft off… I like how it estimates physical address numbers. The prompts are a bit overdone in terms of frequency. I get it already. OVI maps needs tighter integration with contacts…or rather needs to support contact look up within the app—the workflow (Contacts -> OVI Maps) is a valid use case, but they need to support the opposite. Looks really powerful, will definitely try it out more often. Wish there was a way to pump it through my headset.
- I like the little things on OVI Maps—like how it shows the amount of data it uses.
- UI needs work. There are almost too many default apps on the phone. If you culled a dozen from it, you could probably use a single flat list of apps (this seems to be where people are going). The iconography could be clearer.
Day 3: December 26th
- Unplugged my USB cable from computer and the charge animation was still in effect. Rebooting the phone showed that the device was not charging at all.
- What. The. Fuck. I use the supplied charger.
- Turned off the social widget—wasn’t working very well and it was way too slow…trying out trill. I can’t bring myself to buy a $10 app for twitter, regardless of how good it is. The social app on the N8 is way too slow. It’s poor performance really sours me on anything marked Web Run Time app (WRT) in the OVI Store. Hmm…well, if only they had a better browser implementation…
- Installed YouTube and Skype. They are not available in the OVI store. Had to go to m.google.com and skype.com to download them. I feel that the phone is finally ready use. I just read that the phone only supports one MFE account. I need to use Activesync for work, so I guess I will have to do a wired sync for my Gmail contacts.
- Connecting to USB is interesting. I do not know what the “OVI Studio” option means. Regardless, I’m not installing any software on my Mac. These smartphones should be able to work without any PC connectivity. THIS IS A HUGE FRUSTRATIONFOR ME WITH iTunes/iPhone. Why do I have to activate the device on my PC?
- Setting up SIP still sucks. It’s great that it is built-in and tightly integrated once installed, but I hate this notion of setting up aSIP profile, registering the SIP Profile, Going to advance settings, going into net settings and then having to go into NETsettings to activate it. Once it is set up—it works flawlessly. I have yet to find a better SIP/VoIP implementation on any platform. This and the camera would almost convince me to go back to Nokia. Seriously, it’s that good now that Wi-Fi connection is transparent. Great work Nokia.
- There is a great tutorial for setting up your N97 for SIP/VoIP at Winkstreaming.com. You’ll see how CONVOLUTED setting this stuff up can be. I swear though, once this is setup, it’s a revelatory experience.
- Hardware: I enjoy the fact that I can charge using either my Nokia AC adapater or Micro USB cable. I hope that Nokia keeps this up. I always prefer to use an AC adapter because it charges faster.
Day 4: December 27th
- This camera is amazing. I was impressed by the iPhone 4’s camera, but the N8 is—just WOW.
- You will ditch your point-and-shoot if you have this phone.
- That said, the software sharing options are non-existent. PixelPipe to the rescue. They really should just include this on the phone.
Day 5: December 28th
Today is the first day I’m back at work.
- EMAIL WOES: Come to think of it, why can’t I add 2 MFE email accounts? I had to delete my Gmail MFE account (which deleted the majority of my contacts) to add my work email. I added my work email which made the n8 unresponsive for about a half-hour (I have a lot of work email).
- Adding GMAIL to the Mail app was a breeze.
- THIS IS HUGE: Holy shit Nokia—you’re WIFI setup still sucks donkey balls. Why can’t I connect to my Work’s enterprise wireless network. Are you kidding me? I have to copy the cert from my PC and install it on my phone manually? Really? How can Android, iOS, PalmPre, etc. get this to work and you can’t? Seriously….you guys were the first manufacturer to even have WiFi….WTF….WTF….
- Hmm, I am having a hard time transferring files on to the phone. Files over 4GB are a no go, smaller files in the 2 – 3 GB range error out. I’ve tried both USB Mass Storage mode AND Nokia media transfer.
- Will try out MKV playing and HDMI out Tomorrow.
- *HOLY SHIT! YOU GUYS FINALLY FIXED THE CALL LOG BUG! THANK YOU! *
- I really want to be able to look up the entire contact’s details from the call-log. It gives me the ability to dial another number rather than having to go and search for the contact in the phone book app.
- I tried the Nokia Panaramic app…crashed the phone. I had to do a restart.
- The RF reception on the phone is pretty amazing. I’m able to get cellular service while on certain parts of the underground that my iPhone4 or Nexus 1 typcially can’t.
- I found this crazy quote regarding WiFi:
Yeah, the Authority Certificate is a must. That’s what the documentation I have (from my IT people) says. The darn thing is, they are using some sort of RADIUS certificate which is not available on the N8. They say (2 months ago) that they will come up with a “how to download this certificate guide” soon, but that has been 2 months and I’m still waiting….The setup for the iPhone was so easy though which really makes me wonder why the setup for Nokia is so convoluted.
I find that my habits are different when using this phone:
- In terms of ambient awareness, I feel that I am ore connected when using android. On my iPhone I feel really disconnected (due to no widgets, push notifications and a horrible notification system). On the N8, I’m somewhere in between.
- I dick around a lot less on my N8 than my iPhone (which has amazing apps) and my Android (which is a tinkerer’s dream). Social components on N8 suck hard.
- I am falling back on my old habits because of the poor experience. E.g., I only check email on my N8 as a last alternative (it’s that bad compared to iOS or android).
- Generally, there isn’t anything I can’t do on the N8 that I could do on iOS or Android. I find it just slower.
- The widgets are not terribly useful. Outside of the email widgets, I don’t see much use for any of them. They suck compared to Android’s.
- Where is the Weather widget…not included by default.
- Hmm, interesting, the search widget has a portrait keyboard. Huh?
- One weather app that I’ve seen is a virtual copy of the iPHone app…sells for 3-4 dollars. It’s like people who shop on OVI don’t know any better.
Day 6: December 29th
- HDMI out on and HD playback really wow’d a lot of people in the office. It’s nice to be able to drop an MKV or XVID file and have it play without additional software.
I ended up discharging the phone because i left the video player on….goes through the battery like water through a sieve. This is where you see the limitations of 1200 mAH battery come into play.
- Overall the device feels real slow. Lots of latency when all the visual effects are turned on. Say what you will about how light-weight Symbian is, but it feels sluggish. Some of this stuff is cosmetic—transitions take place after the gesture takes place. Others are just bloody slow, like navigating application menu and seeing two images (the previous menu and the applications folder list) appear on top of each other. The browser is ridiculously slow (I guess it can’t use the GPU to render the page), as is email. Scrolling feels horrible in general. Then again—I’m able to take 12 MP images, play 720p video etc without much problems. Strikes me as a dichotomy in performance.
- Text selection could be better.
Day 7: December 30th
Work Wifi is unacceptable.
They really need to fix this before they release the E7. Seriously—the fucking certificate?