Orange N8

Nokia N8 First Look: Better, but far from good.

by Ben Smith on 10th October 2010

It’s finally here.

Some six thousand (ish – I forget) years after it was announced the N8‘s shipping and I’ve got an Orange one. There’s plenty being written about it already so let’s keep this brief…

Notable ‘good stuff’:

  • The hardware is beautifully made with excellent quality materials. Nokia’s hardware people rarely get it wrong and they’re absolutely on top of their game with the N8.
  • The camera is brilliant at photos and video. It doesn’t matter what the specs say or who doctored which photos in their post. It copes with real world situations brilliantly and inspires trust when it matters.
  • It’s pleasantly quick. Menu, screen rotation and transitions feel pacey. Not the fastest I’ve ever seen, but still feels snappy and is a noticeable improvement on previous Nokias.

Gratuitous shot of Bondi beach in the early evening sun... shot on an N8 (of course)

‘Not so hot’ stuff:

  • The email client and web browser still disappoint… greatly.  HTML emails cause a rash of alert messages and forwarding  / replying crashes the client (using Mail for Exchange).  UI refinement is poor and if there’s a way to reduce the ridiculous (huge) size of plain-text in emails it’s beyond me…
  • The user experience improvements don’t go far enough.  The QWERTY keyboard is lousy, there’s enough double-taps still required to cause annoyance (a big issue for the original S60 5th edition) plus a smattering of the pointless alert prompts that almost drove me to self-harm with previous devices.
  • There are huge discrepancies in look and feel. Fonts vary between blocky and unpleasant on one screen to minuscule and unreadable on others. Screen estate is used poorly in some very odd places.
  • The touch interaction is imprecise and difficult to register close to the edges (where most of the important soft keys are).
  • The Ovi services (Maps aside) and built-in social application are still mediocre and look especially poor compared to the best of the rest.

The N8's keyboard lacks the intelligent layout of Nokia hardware keyboards.

Lets be clear: This isn’t a ‘flagship’ device for Nokia. It’s not an iPhone killer either and people saying it is are missing the point.

This is an imaging device and it’s a bloody good one. It also benefits from being attractive and well made… which is to say that Nokia are playing to their strengths. Unfortunately poor usability and software niggles remain in several core smart-phone functions and spoil the overall experience… which is to further say Nokia’s long-term problems haven’t vanished overnight either.

This neither means that Nokia is now doomed to spiral into irrelevance or that ‘the fightback‘ is manifesting itself in any appreciable ways. This is the transitional device we were promised in the roadmap promised some time back.

The issue is, Nokia fanatics aside (and I mean them no slight – we all have to be passionate about something), the user experience hasn’t improved nearly enough yet so most people will get better real world use from other devices. Only a small minority will accept – long-term – sacrificing general usability for one exceptional feature (in this case the camera)…

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