Nokia N8 review: Nokia N8

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good

Average User Rating

3 stars 47 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Funky good looks; 12-megapixel camera can challenge a compact snapper; responsive capacitive touchscreen.

The Bad Software is confusing and frustrating in places; fewer apps available than with rival phones; poor social-networking integration.

The Bottom Line The Nokia N8 looks fantastic on paper, but Symbian 3 is frustrating to use compared to competing smart-phone operating systems. A slick case and great camera help to make this the best Nokia touchscreen phone ever, but it's just not fun to use.

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The bigger they come, the harder they fall. Indeed, it's hard not to hear the sound of phone giant Nokia's face slapping on the pavement when you play with the N8, despite its sleek aluminium case, insane plethora of features, and 12-megapixel camera.

It's available SIM-free for around £430. You can also get it for free on a £25-a-month, 24-month contract.  

Symbian monkey business

We don't like to point fingers, but we blame Symbian for the N8's problems. This is the first phone with the latest version of the operating system, Symbian 3, and, although there are improvements, it's just not good enough.

If you've ever used a Nokia before -- and who hasn't? -- the N8 will feel very familiar. On the plus side, there's now multi-touch zoom support in the browser, email and photo gallery. And you no longer have to double tap options to open them, a welcome change that makes moving around the phone feel faster. Also, the 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen on the N8 is miles better than the resistive screen on earlier phones like the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic  -- it's pleasingly responsive. 

On the down side, you'll still have to wade through heaps of screens and pop-up notifications to do anything. These have been reduced, but we still had to log into our Ovi account twice to add our Facebook and Twitter accounts to the N8. After being prompted to load the Ovi Store -- it really should be ready to go, right out of the box -- we then had to approve a secure connection, approve the download, and approve the installation.

Also, when setting up email for the first time, a message popped up saying that we couldn't use email on the phone unless we were registered for Ovi Mail, although that actually turned out not to be the case. And why the unnecessary prompt telling us to 'contact our operator'? We hope that people who buy this phone on a contract won't be troubled with this nonsensical warning. 

It's not uncommon for mobile phones to sport a few grammatical mistakes here and there, but, since Symbian is a more established OS, we expect better than to be asked if we want to 'log in automatic'. 

Keyboard hell

The on-screen keyboard on the N8 also feels like an afterthought. In portrait mode, it's the 12-key alphanumeric kind, which takes ages to use and is an unwelcome blast from the past. We've seen usable Qwerty keyboards on touchscreens that are narrower than the N8's, and we wish Nokia had given this kind of keyboard a try.

We also hate the fact that, when typing, the screen is totally covered by the editing area and keyboard -- there's no sign of the original screen that contained the typing field. This means that, if you forget which field you're typing in, you'll have to approve what you've typed -- since there's no cancel or back button -- to go back and refresh your memory.

Both the iPhone and Android phones  have long, scrollable menus of icons that let you access your phone's features and apps. Nokia prefers a single non-scrolling page of icons for its main menu, with plenty of sub-menus and nested options. That means options can be harder to find on the N8 than on its competitors.

We spent ages searching for the option to turn off the haptic feedback, but it wasn't under 'touch input' under 'settings' in the 'phone' menu -- instead, you have to change this option individually several times in each of the phone's profiles. You may love haptic feedback -- we think it feels like there's a small cockroach living in your phone -- but, whatever you're looking for, the N8 makes things too hard to find.

We also missed having a back button, since the on-screen navigation system isn't always crystal-clear. We were often faced with a pop-up box that had two buttons -- one labelled 'cancel' and one that was blank. You'll see this unhelpful box when, for example, you click an album to play a song in the music player. The solution is to click the song name that appears in the box, rather than either of the buttons, but that's not obvious, and it's not good design policy to have a blank button anywhere in a user interface. 

This isn't anything new for Symbian phones, so, if you love your Nokia handset now, you won't find anything to complain about with the N8. But, as Nokia's new flagship phone, we're comparing the N8 to its competitors, such as the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S and the HTC Desire . Although Symbian 3 offers some improvements, the operating system isn't getting better quickly enough to keep up with Android, which is getting slicker and more fun to use with each new release.

Twelve angry pixels

The N8's software may have a whiff of a retirement home about it, but the hardware is cutting-edge. The aluminium body is sleek and modern, and we love its metallic good looks. Nevertheless, its appearance did divide opinion in the office, mainly due to the raised camera on the back.

But what a camera it is -- the N8 packs 12 megapixels of goodness. There's a reason for that raised area too -- it gives the sensor more space to focus. There's also room for a xenon flash, which we found very bright and fast to respond.

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Where to Buy

Nokia N8

Part Number: CNETNokia N8

Typical Price: £429.00

See manufacturer website for availability.