While other manufactures (hello, Samsung) rushed headlong into the touch-screen phone craze, other manufacturers were more cautious. For example, just look at Nokia. Though the cellular giant pumps out phones by the dozen, it wasn't until the Nokia 5800 Xpress Music that the company explored touch-screen cell phones with gusto (the Nokia 810 doesn't count). Positioned as a rival to the Apple iPhone, the 5800 is packed with a range of multimedia features. And it all comes in a sharp, slim package with an expansive touch screen.
We were lucky enough to check out a preproduction model of the 5800 back in October and found it to be very promising. Well, we've now had a chance to play with the final product. While our opinion of the phone hasn't changed too much, we think it has some shortcomings when compared with its competition. The user interface and input methods aren't the best and could use some refinement to take advantage of the touch screen. Also, until the Nokia Music Store launches in the United States, the 5800 doesn't offer the full functionality or advantages of an XpressMusic phone, giving the iPhone the edge with its seamless iTunes integration. The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic isn't a bad phone, but when you factor in the $399 unlocked price, it's a little harder to give the handset's drawbacks a pass.
The Nokia 5800 shares design characteristics with the iPhone and Samsung touch-screen handsets like the Omnia. The candy bar shape offers clean lines with rounded corners and a black and burgundy color scheme (there's also a thin red stripe). At 4.37 inches tall by 2.04 inches wide by 0.61 inch deep, it is relatively small as touch-screen phones go, though it is a bit thicker than average. Still, at 3.84 ounces it won't weigh you down. The 5800 also offers a sturdy, comfortable feel in the hand.
The touch screen measures 3.2 inches, which makes it almost as big as the iPhone's. It supports 16 million colors (640x360 pixels) and has an aspect ration of 16:9. With that kind of resolution, colors are bright and vibrant and graphics and photos are sharp. You can change brightness, font size, and backlighting time. During a call, the 5800's display will go dark when you raise the phone to your ear. The brightness will adjust automatically to different lighting environments.
The menu system has a standard design, with icons in a grid format. For the most part, submenus are equally intuitive, but sometimes we felt that Nokia didn't really optimize the user interface in some applications. (See our notes about messaging below as an example). Thanks to the accelerometer, you can change between landscape- and portrait-menu views simply by rotating the phone. The accelerometer works in most applications.
The display is relatively responsive; you can use your finger or the included stylus. However, it's a little confusing in that some items respond to a single tap, while some require double taps. There were times where we'd be waiting for a few seconds for an application to launch only to realize that we had to tap it again, so it'd be nice to have a more unified system. Items opened quickly when we selected them and we didn't have to press too hard on the display. Scrolling through long lists takes some acclimation--you have to use a narrow scroll bar on the left side--but we got used to it. But like most other touch-screen phones, scrolling is not quite as fluid as on the iPhone. You can adjust the calibration and have a host of choices for the handwriting option. The display has vibration feedback, but the intensity is not customizable.
On the home screen there are icons for the phone book and the phone dialer. You also can add a customizable shortcut bar or a favorite contact to the home screen for instant access. The phone dialer has large virtual buttons with larger numbers, yet the phone dialer does not show the corresponding letters on each numeric key. Yes, we realize the phone has a full keyboard for dialing, but you'll still need the letters to dial some phone numbers (like 1-866-402-CNET) and when spelling a person's name in an automated phone directory. We're not sure why Nokia left this out. Once you dial a number, onscreen shortcuts appear on the display for activating the speakerphone, muting a call, and placing a call on hold.
The 5800 offers several ways to type messages. The full QWERTY keyboard takes full advantage of the 5800's display. It should be spacious enough for most users; just be aware that the space for composing your message is rather small. There's a separate keyboard for numbers and symbols, and you can switch language alphabets and writing languages at the touch of a button. You'll also find dedicated shift keys, a large space bar, and back and return controls. You can scroll through text you've already written by tapping the chosen area on the display.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can type messages using a standard alphanumeric keypad. We're not sure why you'd want to compose texts with the multitap dance, but the option is there. Still, as we said before, we can't understand why Nokia didn't give us the alphanumeric keypad in the phone dialer. The 5800 also offers handwriting recognition and a mini QWERTY keyboard, the latter of which is painfully small.
Above the display, there's also a little icon next to the XpressMusic sign. It's not obvious at first but by touching the little logo, a dedicated multimedia menu will appear onscreen where you can launch music, view your photo gallery, play videos, share files online, and more.
Below the display are three physical controls: Talk and End buttons and a menu control. The keys are thin, but they're tactile. On the right spine you'll find a volume rocker, a handset-locking switch, and a camera shutter. On the left spine there are slots for the SIM card and a microSD card. A dedicated power switch is located on the top of the device next to a 3.5mm headset jack (yay!), a Micro-USB port, and the charger port. The 5800 has two camera lenses. The main 3.2-megapixel lens is located on the back of the phone above the flash, while a second VGA lens for self-portraits is located just above the display.
The 5800 comes with a fair set of features in the box. You get a USB cable, a video out cable, a 3.5mm headset with a separate adapter for making calls, a wrist strap with a stylus plectrum (resembles a guitar pick), an 8GB microSD card, and a nifty stand for perching the phone on its side when watching videos. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Each contact in the 5800's phone book holds 10 different of phone numbers, three video-calling numbers, three e-mail addresses, three URLs, a birthday and anniversary, a department and job title, an assistant name and phone number, spouse and child names, and notes. You can save an additional 250 contacts on the SIM card. You can add callers to groups, but only groups can be paired with a ringtones and photos; that's rather odd for such a high-end phone, but the phone offers plenty of tones and you can use your own melodies, as well.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging (with the capability to delete multiple texts at once), a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a notepad, a currency and unit converter, a voice recorder, a speakerphone, and a notepad. You'll also find full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, file and application managers, speaker-independent voice commands, PC syncing for music and photos, instant messaging, USB mass storage, and a file manager. Best of all, however, is the integrated Wi-Fi. That is a must for a phone with a full HTML browser so we're very glad to see it here. You'll also find full GPS support with access to Nokia Maps.
For all its hype, the 5800's music player is comparable with most Nokia N-series models. The interface is simple and it offers album art, but it's not particularly flashy. Settings are plentiful, however. You can adjust the balance, use a bass booster, activate stereo widening, and select one of five equalizer settings. Other options include playlists, an airplane mode, and shuffle and repeat modes. What's more, the 5800 offers an FM radio and support for podcasts. Getting music on the 5800 is an easy process. We plugged it into our PC using the USB cable and synced our tunes using Windows Media Player. You also can choose USB transfer mode and simply drag and drop files using Windows Explorer. In both cases our computer recognized our phone instantly. Nokia should include software with the final production version, though we didn't get a copy with our advance model. Depending on your region, you'll also be able to buy tracks from the Nokia Music Sore. It's not available in the United States yet, so we couldn't give it a test run.