A year ago it seemed Nokia was happy to let the whole touchscreen music phone phenomenon pass it by, sticking with more traditional form factors. But times they are a changin', and Nokia has finally caught up with the Joneses, releasing its first true touchscreen device.
Opening the 5800's retail box with a head full of iPhone expectations is sure to lead to one predictive first impression, it looks kind of like a toy phone. The 5800 has a playful aesthetic, with its electric blue (or red) trimming and glossy black plastic, but it doesn't have the premium look or feel of Apple's phone or the , another excellent touchscreen. It's thicker than these other phones as well, measuring in at 15.5mm deep, but we quite like this — it doesn't stretch the pants pocket and it felt secure in our grip.
The front of the phone is 90 per cent touchscreen with three slim mechanical buttons below; the calling keys and a menu button. The right side of the 5800 houses a volume rocker, camera key and spring-loaded switch used to activate the touch-sensitive display. On the top of the handset, alongside a USB slot and power button, is a 3.5mm headphone jack. This is what we like to see on a music phone and the exact location we hope to find it. On the rear of the phone is a 3.2-megapixel camera featuring Carl Zeiss topics and an LED flash.
The home screen of Nokia's new fifth version of its Series 60 operating system is strongly reminiscent of previous versions, but with a few key differences. Replacing the standard shortcuts bar is a new contacts bar, giving you quick access to your four favourite people. Selecting one of these four icons (or profile photos) bring up options to call, message or change the settings for that contact. Beneath these icons is a list of the most recent communication you've had with your friends, hot-linking you to recent SMS messages and details about your last call to them. There's also a shortcuts drop-down menu located to the top-right of the screen for quick access to media and the web.
Entering the menu is a more familiar experience for those accustomed to using Nokia's Symbian platform. The menu may have had a make-over, with new colourful icons, but the placement and purpose of each is similar to what you'd have found in previous releases. Drilling down into the phone settings, for example, is mostly identical to doing so on a Nokia N95.
The inclusion of the guitar pick stylus Nokia has included with the 5800 tells us two things: that the screen uses resistive technology, and that using a pick to tap out an email does make us feel like a rock star. Resistive touchscreens have had a bad rap for being less sensitive than their capacitive touchscreen counterparts, however, the screen on the 5800 goes a long way to proving this is a speculative falsehood. This screen is as sensitive as we've seen from any of the touchscreens in market at this time. It responds to light touches, and the menus scroll comfortably with little input.
Our only criticism is that Nokia seems unsure about whether it should use single touch input or double-clicks, the way Windows does on PCs. For instance, if you want to read an old text message the process would be as follows: press the mechanical menu key, touch "Messaging" once, double-tap "Sent", single-tap the message you wish to read. Switching backwards and forwards from one method to the other is a tad confusing, but is a minor issue. We wish Nokia would use single touches only, but this issue isn't going to stop us from using the 5800.
Media and the web
Being part of the XpressMusic family, the 5800 shouldn't be a slouch in the media department. Luckily, it isn't. The media player is easy to use, quite attractive and the music sounds great, particularly if you're not using the lousy bundled Nokia headphones. The screen is 360x640 resolution, just shy of VGA, and displays videos in true 16x9. The 5800 also has built-in stereo speakers which may have given us the biggest surprise of all. While the bass is predictably low, the volume of these speakers is amazingly loud. Often during our review we'd play music directly through the handset while chilling out in a quiet room.