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  Nokia N8 in short
- Symbian ^3
- 680 MHz ARM1176
- Broadcom VideoCore III GPU
- 256 MB RAM, 140 MB free
- Capacitive, multitouch
- nHD (360x640) screen
- 12 MPix Zeiss camera
- HD 720p video recording
- Bluetooth 3.0
- HSDPA 10 Mpbs
- WLAN b/g/n
- Assisted GPS
- USB On-The-Go
- 16 GB storage memory
- microSD card slot
- HDMI mini connector
- metal case, glass screen
- Power Saving Mode


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Nokia N8 preview
Michal Jerz, September 7-14, 2010

Page 1 | Page 2


I got an early (but short) access to a pre-release test unit, so here comes an introductory preview of the long awaited and highly anticipated Nokia N8. As this time I was able to test the N8 during just three days, I don't think it is sufficient to draw any final conclusions or judge every possible detail, especially that the tested unit wasn't a final one, i.e. still subject to changes and optimizations. Therefore, this article is meant to be an "introductory preview" presenting the general look and feel of the device and the most important changes it brings when it comes to hardware and the new Symbian^3 platform, and the final, full review will follow very soon, most probably within just one or two weeks, once I get the promised final device.

First impression.....

is just THRILLING. It surely is the BEST BUILT Symbian smartphone from Nokia, if not of all Symbian devices from all manufacturers. It was cold outside when the courier delivered the package and when I was taking the phone out of its box I felt that the casing was cold. "Metal!" I thought and I was right. The casing (but the small parts on both ends) is metal. Everything fits perfectly and makes a 'monobloc' impression, like if everything was made from just one piece of material. And while it actually consists of several parts, they're all tightly joined and non-removable. That's right, the battery cover is NOT meant to be opened by end-users and while a small T screw holding it is available and accessible from the outside, it is not supposed to be touched, so it's kind of Apple way. On one hand, such a solution is surely a drawback as it does not let one use spare batteries, but on the other hand it's probably the only way to ensure such a tight and precise build quality where all parts fit like a glove, don't move or squeak. Whether not being able to replace batteries on the move is a disadvantage or not will depend on how good the battery life turns out to be, something that I wasn't able to reliably test during just three days. More about this the next time, in the upcoming final review.

The next thing you see is obviously the screen, taking up almost the whole front side of the device. It's the second (after the X6) capacitive touch screen from Nokia, but the first with multitouch support and of 3.5" size (compared to 3.2" on the X6). Whether it's made of real glass... I don't know for sure, but it definitely feels so. It's very hard and seems to be highly scratch resistant - at least I didn't manage to scratch it. Its hardness and how it sounds when tapped with a hard object VERY closely resembles glass, so it must be it. It's an AMOLED screen, so it's extremely bright and vivid. If you know the Samsung Omnia HD then you may expect the same quality.

Another advantage of the AMOLED screen is its power efficiency. It's been many years since real screensavers (i.e. the ones shown ALL THE TIME when the device is not used) disappeared from smartphones, as they were consuming too much power and required backlight in order to be visible. The N8 brings such true screensavers back and you can have it shown PERMANENTLY when your phone is on standby. You can choose between large digital clock or Music player screensaver, which will be shown during all time of inactivity. Two remaining screensavers (animation and slideshow) use full backlight so they are limited to 60 seconds max and then switch to blank screen. AMOLED screen's power efficiency also allowed to extend the screen time-out to 30 minutes (backlight goes off after 60 seconds max but screen contents remain visible). Of course, the shorter time-out you use the longer battery life you'll get as the screen is still one of the biggest battery-eaters.

Multitouch - a magic word so far reserved for users of smartphones based on iOS, Android or WM, with the N8 comes to Symbian, too. N8's screen is a multitouch one and gestures like pinch-to-zoom are supported in all applications that can make use of it, including e.g. the web browser or the image viewer. The screen is as sensitive as the best capacitive touch displays on the market, so there's really nothing to complain about here. Pure enjoyment! And due to N8's very fast hardware, scrolling or zooming is really nice and smooth.

Following the recent trends, the number of buttons and controls has been limited to the minimum. There are no Call/End buttons (you use virtual buttons on the touch screen for that) and the only button on the front is the "S60 Menu" key. Press it to open the Menu, press and hold in the Menu or in any application to open the Task Manager (scrollable list of thumbnails representing running applications; tap the one you wish to bring to the foreground or tap its "X" icon to close it). On the right there's the Camera button, Volume/Zoom +/- key and screen lock slider, on top you can find the Power/Profile button, the HDMI port (under the protective cover with HDMI logo) and 3.5 mm audio jack, and on the right side there are SIM and memory card slots (protected with covers) and microUSB port (not covered). And... that's it.

As mentioned, the tested unit is not a final one, so it didn't come in a retail box. I only got the phone and two adaptors this time. One of the adaptors is a HDMI-mini to the full-size HDMI, and the other one is a micro-USB to full USB, letting one connect USB accessories (the N8 supports USB OTG and thus can use e.g. pendrives or other USB based mass storage media).

Hardware

Nokia N8 is powered by the ARM1176 processor running at 680 MHz. This is the second fastest processor ever used in a Symbian device; only Sony Ericsson Vivaz/Vivaz Pro use a faster and more advanced one (ARM Cortex-A8 @ 720 MHz). Additionally, it contains a Broadcom VideoCore III GPU (hardware graphics accelerator) for superior graphic performance.

OK, so if it has a slower CPU than Vivaz then it should be slower, right? Well, it isn't. On the contrary, it is the Vivaz that feels like running at a snail pace compared to the N8. How come? Well, it seems that it's Symbian^3 that brings new life to Symbian smartphones, including a series of optimizations and improvements. It is also N8's VideoCore III GPU that seems to be considerably faster than the PowerVR SGX530 GPU used in majority of the remaining Symbian devices, including the Vivaz (and also e.g. the Omnia HD).

Just three days wasn't enough to run detailed tests but even just GLBenchmark 1.1 provided very interesting results. In almost all graphic tests the N8 performed about twice faster than the Vivaz, which in turn in most cases was up to twice faster than the Omnia HD. If the N8 outperforms the Omnia HD in graphic applications by up to four times then you can surely imagine how much faster it is in this regard compared to other Nokia S60 smartphones mostly using ARM11 434 MHz processors...

Operating memory. The N8 is the first Symbian smartphone from Nokia to *FINALLY* include 256 MB SDRAM. Gosh, why did it take them so long? All other manufacturers of S60 phones like Sony Ericsson (Satio, Vivaz, Vivaz pro) or Samsung (Omnia HD) clearly understood long ago that 128 MB was far from being enough. Only Nokia kept using such a small memory configuration until now.

Why is it so important? Because SDRAM is the operating memory of the phone, i.e. the memory needed by programs to run. Insufficient memory means limited, compromised multitasking not letting one run too many applications at once or restricting the number of possible web browser windows opened simultaneously. On S60 5th Edition devices with 128 MB onboard only about 40-50 MB remains free as the rest is used by the operating system. Compared to this, phones with 256 MB SDRAM leave about 140-150 MB free for the user and 3rd party applications, i.e. three times more. And so it looks with the N8. Shortly speaking, on the N8 you get three times more RAM than on e.g. the N97 or the C6. You need to push the device MUCH harder to ever see the infamous "Insufficient memory. Close some applications and try again" message. During my tests, I haven't seen it at all.

Storage. The N8 has about 170 MB free internal memory (disk C:) and 16 GB of built-in storage (disk E:). Additionally, it has a memory card slot supporting memory cards up to 32 GB, thus allowing storage memory expansion up to a total of 48 GB.

USB OTG. As aforementioned, the N8 supports the USB-On-The-Go mode, which basically means that you can connect other USB devices to it like you do it on your computer and the N8 will act as a host and will power these devices. It comes with an adaptor "converting" its microUSB port to a full USB connector. Of course, a smartphone is not a desktop PC so there are certain limitations. First of all, being a phone it cannot supply as much power through the USB port as computers. Nokia suggests that in case of any device drawing more than 200 mA of power, an external power supply should be used. And that's correct: the 2.5" hard drive I tried to connect to it (without external power supply connector) couldn't even start rotating. On the contrary, all USB storage memory devices (like pendrives) worked just fine and without any problems, getting instantly recognized and accessible. Once you connect a pendrive, File Manager launches automatically and lets you browse/manage the connected storage device. I also managed to successfully connect a digicam and get access to all images on its memory card. Just for fun, I also tried it with other USB devices including e.g. a USB gamepad, but I got a message about unsupported USB device and a request to disconnect it. I guess the rule is that all "fully plug&play" devices will work OK, while devices requiring installation of specific drivers will not be recognized, just because of lack of drivers... A memory card reader that needs a driver in Windows didn't get recognized on the N8, but another, fully "mass storage" complaint one, worked perfectly. All in all, out-of-box you get support for pendrives and other devices like e.g. memory cards in digicams properly connecting as mass storage without requiring specific drivers. Support for other devices depends on driver availability.

Multimedia. The N8 has a 12 Megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss Tessar f/2.8 28 mm equiv. lens and supports HD 720p (1280x720) video recording at 25 fps. It's Nokia's first (and Symbian's second after the Sony Ericsson Satio) Symbian smartphone with this camera resolution and also Nokia's first Symbian phone with HD video recording (a feature already brought to Symbian by Omnia HD, Sony Ericsson Satio, Vivaz and Vivaz Pro).

For now (due to very short access to the device) I can only provide a handful of samples (below) but expect a plethora of them in the upcoming final review. Long story short, the quality is really EXCEPTIONAL, both for video and stills. And the same can be said about the performance: focusing is EXTREMELY fast, even in very poor lighting conditions (where the red AF assist light helps it), I'd say one second or so, like on high-end digicams. What's more, it is also highly reliable. Even in poorly lighted room at night, I had to try really hard to get a missed focus. And in good light during a sunny day it is simply instantenous and 100% on target.

Both videos and stills are also EXTREMELY low noise, again, on par with the best digicams on the market. Even in low light, you can safely disable flash and the device will automatically use higher ISO sensitivity to ensure sharp shot, yet the resulting image will be almost free of noise. Really impressive!

Oh, and I almost forgot to praise the camera for its very strong Xenon flash and its tiny, internal, automatic cover (under the protective glass) that opens when you launch the camera app and automatically closes when you shut it down (or when the camera switches to standby) to protect the lens and the imaging sensor.

All in all, in the imaging and video recording department, the N8 turns out to be really EXCELLENT, in the strict top. And it's NOT any worse when it comes to video playback. Connect the N8 (using its HDMI mini slot and the budled converter or your own HDMI mini cable) to a HD TV and enjoy true HD quality on a Blueray level. And it's not just a gimmick; as the N8 supports DivX out of the box it'll surely be used as a portable movie player quite often. There's really not much else I can say here: multimedia quality is simply stunning, take my word.

Maybe the only thing which still can be described as good, just not exceptional, is the audio playback. The N8 has stereo speakers, but located next to each other and sounding through one common "hole" located below the camera lens. While their output is directed in opposite directions, for my liking it's too little for real stereo effect. But who really expects true stereo from phone's built-in speakers? It's got the 3.5 mm audio jack connector so you can connect some decent headphones or an amplifier to it, or in case of video content you can send the audio digitally via HDMI. And in such case you get audio of really good quality. I'm not an audiophile so I won't give any final judgement on it as it's very personal thing, but I don't thing anyone will be disappointed with audio quality.

Connectivity, data transmission. The N8 is the first Symbian device with Bluetooth 3.0. The first thing you notice is how fast it is. A rocket. Of course, it supports stereo audio and the whole set of profiles, including A2DP, AVRCP, BIP, DUN, FTP, GAP, GAVDP, GOEP, HFP, HSP, OPP, PBAP, SAP and SPP. Is there something missing? Unlikely.

Quad-band GSM/GPRS (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and full choice of WCDMA bands (850/900/1700/1900/2100), 10.2 Mbps HSDPA, 2.0 Mbps HSUPA and WLAN b/g/n should not disappoint anyone, either. Needless to say, the N8 obviously also has a secondary front-facing camera for video calls, Assisted GPS receiver (well, apparently less sensitive than the one on phones with OMAP3 processors like the Omnia HD, the Vivaz or the Maemo-based Nokia N900; unlike with them, I wasn't able to get fix indoors and had to place the phone much closer to the window), accelerometer, proximity and light sensor, as well as compass (magnetometer) sensor. It also has two microphones for improved voice quality and noise cancellation and FM transmitter.

Have I forgotten something? If I did, please drop me a note in this thread on our Symbian ^3 Discussion Forum - all questions posted there will be addressed in the upcoming final N8 review.



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  Readers' comments for  Nokia N8 Preview

NameComment and rating
  temb c tembo
from Somewhere on Earth
on 2014-03-13 14:59 CET
the best [Rate: 10/10]
  aryan
from Somewhere on Earth
on 2012-09-12 12:28 CET
nice ...lyk silk gud prosessing n superb photo quality [Rate: 10/10]
  sumit maurya
from INDIA
on 2012-04-16 17:02 CET
awesome friends... [Rate: 10/10]
  DoubleD
from Somewhere on Earth
on 2011-04-18 16:14 CET
I have hard this phone for 2 month and it is fantastic [Rate: 9/10]
  Michal
from POLAND
on 2011-02-17 06:13 CET
@ deepankar: the N8 (as well as C7 and E7) has Samsung K5W4G2GACA-AL54 SoC. The processor core in this SoC is - as written - ARM1176. The GPU in the N8, C7 and E7 is Broadcom's VideoCore III (product code BCM2727). So yes, the information contained in the preview above is correct. [No rate]
  deepankar
from INDIA
on 2011-02-16 06:09 CET
Nokia N8 is powered by the ARM1176 processor running at 680 MHz. are u sure n8 runs on ARM1176 ? [No rate]
  N8 User
from INDIA
on 2011-01-31 15:43 CET
I love the N8. Best made cellphone ever. Good job Nokia! [Rate: 10/10]


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