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Nokia 5800 Xpress Music (Unlocked) review: Nokia 5800 Xpress Music (Unlocked)

Nokia 5800 Xpress Music (Unlocked)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
11 min read


Nokia 5800 Xpress Music (Unlocked)

The Good

The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic offers a sharp touch screen and compact design, it also features a 3.2-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G support.

The Bad

The user interface needs some work including the input and navigation methods. The Nokia Music Store is not yet available in the United States.

The Bottom Line

The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic offers an attractive design and feature set, but the touch-screen phone has some shortcomings compared with the competition.

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.

The 5800's physical controls sit below its display.

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.

The 5800 offers a full HTML Web browser. The interface is pretty straightforward, though it's not immediately clear what some of the onscreen buttons do. Also, while we like the pop-up sub-menus, scrolling through them can be tricky unless you know exactly where to place your finger. You'll find a great set of options beyond the aforementioned Wi-Fi. You can search for keywords on a page, view photos by themselves, access an RSS feed, save bookmarks and keep open multiple Web pages simultaneously. The browser doesn't support Flash, but that's not unusual. Like other iPhone competitors, the 5800's overall browser experience can't quite measure up to Apple's device. While moving around a large page isn't quite as jerky as on some other phones, the motion still isn't as smooth as on the iPhone. Also without any kind of multitouch functionality, you must use a zoom button to get a closer look on a page. Alternatively, you can move around a site by getting a full-page view and then selecting the area you want to see. While that's not a bad option, it's just not the same as pinching your fingers or tapping the screen to zoom in. The beauty of the iPhone browser is one area where Apple scored a home run.

The 5800's camera has a bright flash.

The 5800's 3.2-megapixel camera offers a Carl Zeiss lens that takes pictures in three resolutions. In a nifty twist, the settings menu explains the maximum printing size for each resolution and it tells you how many photos you can take using each choice. Other settings include four shutter tones, auto-focus, a 3x digital zoom, six scene settings (such as "night" and "macro"), a self-timer, and gridlines. You also can adjust the white balance, the ISO, the exposure setting, the color tones, the contrast, and the sharpness. The bright flash has four settings: automatic, red-eye reduction, always on, and off.

The 5800 has good photo quality.

The camcorder shoots clips in five quality modes. As with the still camera, the settings menu will tell you the ideal use for each setting and the available recording time. Other options include a night mode and an adjustable white balance and color tone. You can use the flash as a steady light and you can mute the sound.

Photo quality was quite good--colors were sharp and there was little image noise. Video quality was just OK, but better than on other 3.2-megapixel shooters we've seen. You can run videos out to a TV or monitor using the included video-out cable. The 5800 offers basic photo-editing features. Given the healthy 81MB of internal memory, you have a decent amount of space for storing your work, but you can use a microSD cards up to 8GB.

You can personalize the 5800 with a selection of display themes, alert tones, and profiles. You can download more options, and additional ringtones, from Nokia using the Web browser. The handset also comes with a few additional applications. There's a settings wizard, a menu for accessory setup, a shortcut to your "My Nokia" online account, an app for syncing contacts and calendar with other Nokia devices, RealPlayer support, and two games (Bounce and Global Race Racing Thunder). The latter uses the accelerometer to drive your car. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of the gameplay, but it's fun.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Nokia 5800 Xpress Music world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was strong on the whole. We enjoyed clear conversations with little static or interference. Voices sounded natural, and the volume was loud. Our only complaint was that at the highest volume levels, the audio had an echoed effect.

On their end, callers said we sounded great. Most could tell we were using a cell phone, but some of our friends had no idea. The only complaints, and they were few, were that the 5800 picks up some background noise. But that said, we were able to use a voice-automated system when we were outside.

Speakerphone calls weren't quite as good, unfortunately. On our end, we had to turn up the volume pretty loud if we wanted to hear. And on their end, callers had trouble hearing us unless were in a quiet room and we talked very close to the phone. Using an automated-calling system with the speakerphone was almost impossible. Bluetooth headset calls were better, with about the same quality as regular voice calls.

Also good news, the North American version of the 5800 offers 3G support. The phone supports the 850/1900MHz bands, which you'll be able to get 3.5G HSDPA speeds using AT&T's network but unfortunately, not with T-Mobile since its 3G network runs on the 1700/2100MHz bands. The Web browsing speeds were OK, though AT&T's network would switch from 3.5G to EDGE on and off. It took about 40 seconds for CNET's page to full load, while ESPN came up in about 45 seconds.

Music quality was satisfying. The sound was comparable to other Nokia Xpress Music phones. Our tracks had warmth and they didn't sound overly tinny or bass-heavy. The external speakers had a decent output and, unlike on voice calls, the sound wasn't distorted at the highest levels. As with most music phones, using a headset will provide the best experience. The included headset does a decent job, but you can use your own headset, thanks to the 3.5mm jack.

The 5800 has a rated battery life of 8.8 hours talk time in GSM and 5 hours when using 3G. Promised standby battery life is 16.75 days in GSM and 16.7 days in 3G. The handset offers 3.4 hours of Web browsing, three hours of video calling, up to 5.2 hours of video playback, 1.5 days of music playback and 5.6 hours of video gameplay. We were able to get 8 hours and 15 minutes of talk time in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic has a digital SAR rating of 0.97 watt per kilogram.


Nokia 5800 Xpress Music (Unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7