If you don't know what to look for, it's not easy to spot the differences between the latest version of Nokia's fave mobile software, Symbian 3, compared to older phones. But the tweaks seen on the Nokia N8, the first Symbian 3 phone, have silenced some of the OS' most screaming irritations -- or at least muted them to a dull hum. Some, like multi-touch zoom and a redesigned music player, are long overdue, while others, like HDMI support, are just icing on the cake.
We've pitted the N8 against a Nokia X6 -- which runs Symbian S60 5th edition -- to highlight the differences. Although both are sleek phones with capacitive touchscreens, we're not trying to imply that the X6 is competition for the brand-new N8 -- it's just a good place to see where Nokia has made changes to the phone's brains. If you're upgrading from another Nokia, it's very likely to be a Symbian S60 phone, so these are the changes you can look forward to.
Take a walk through our photo gallery to see how the biggest new features of Symbian 3 stack up. Let's start with the picture above. The N8 may look familiar to anyone who's used the Nokia N97, but now there are three home screens you can flick between with the swipe of a finger, instead of one. These can be filled up with slightly boxy-looking widgets, which can deliver live updates of everything from your inbox to the weather.
In our tests, we weren't happy with some of the widgets -- the social-networking one, for example, is terrible. It shows your Facebook and Twitter updates one at a time, and then only a few words of each, leading to a ridiculous amount of scrolling. We're counting on developers to rush some better options into the Ovi Store.
The graphics of the user interface have had a revamp all over, making the N8 look fresher than the X6 -- although the N8 still looks old-fashioned compared to its smart phone competition. The UI update is particularly noticeable in the music player, which now has an animated list of album art you can swipe through, inspired by iTunes' Cover Flow. It's not an innovative idea, but it looks much jazzier than the list of albums on the X6 -- which isn't hard, since the Nokia music player was looking older than dirt.
The N8 is the first Nokia phone with multitouch, so you can pinch to zoom in the Web browser, for example. This is a long-overdue update -- we've become utterly addicted to this intuitive way of interacting with Web pages and images. In the browser, not only does this get rid of the zooming slider that blocks the screen in the old browser, it also gives more potential for app developers to take advantage of gestures in their creations. But the zooming isn't as smooth as on the iPhone, which is the undisputed champion of multitouch.
A mini-HDMI port to connect up to your TV is another new addition to the N8. It's not just for video -- you can show off your photos, play phone games on the big screen, and play music through your home-cinema speakers. People were hardly clamouring for this feature, but if you like to share your stuff, it's a nice perk -- as long as you don't expect crystal-clear hi-def pictures. Stay tuned for our in-depth review of HD video on the big screen running on the N8.
Nokia has always been ahead of the pack with multitasking, so you can listen to Internet radio while browsing the Web, for example. But phones like the X6 have struggled with memory-management problems, leading to error messages and forcing users to shut down apps themselves. Symbian 3 says it can run more apps at once, and the new task manager shows great big thumbnails that make it easier to switch and close applications. In our tests, we haven't seen any memory-management problems with the N8 so far, except in beta versions of apps.
Although Nokias tend to have great connectivity features, it's been an epic pain in the eyeball to get them all working, whether you're connecting to Wi-Fi or 3G. On the N8, Symbian 3 has gotten rid of some -- but not all -- of the flurry of dialogue boxes and cryptic messages that flash up on the X6 whenever you go online. We still found connecting to Wi-Fi wasn't as intuitive as on some other phones, but it was an improvement.